Who do you think you are?

Anyone who has ever enjoyed an audio book probably felt like the experience was enhanced by the voice performance of the reader. Anyone who has ever disliked an audio book probably had their negative opinion influenced by the voice of the reader, the pace of the reading or their attempts to give different voices to characters. Bad accents, annoying trills and lack of inflection are some of my biggest complaints about readers because these detract from the story rather than add to it. I have not had much experience with the author as the reader and I can see how it would work for memoirs, but for fiction, I’m curious if it’s always a hit. In the case of this book, you couldn’t have had a better reader than the author herself!

Book #16  The All Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion, Fannie Flagg

filling stationRating: 4- Would recommend to a friend

Synopsis: Sookie lives in Point Clear, Alabama. She is Mrs. Earle Poole Jr: her gentle and grounded husband a dentist in town. She lives in the shadow of her ostentatious and overbearing mother, Lenore Simmons Krackenberry. She has 4 children (the 3 girls have just gotten married in succession). She thinks she knows exactly who she is as wife, daughter and mother until she receives a letter indicating she was adopted.

Fritzi Jurdabralinski grew up in Pulaski, Wisconsin next to her family’s business, a Phillips 66 gas and service station. Itching for bigger and better things, Fritzi learns to fly airplanes in a flying circus until WWII America calls her home to run the filling station. She and her sisters keep the station going through most of the war until her services are needed by the US government to fly military planes. Fritzi is spunky, strong and passionate about life.  She is also the mother of Ginger Jurdabralinski, the name on the birth certificate in Sookie’s discovered papers.

Sookie takes off on a journey of self re-discovery and historical research to learn who and where she really comes from.

My Impressions: This was a fun book! Sookie’s sweetness and innocense  are felt all through out the book. She is so quirky! And Fritzi’s  personality makes you want run out and learn to fly and airplane! She was the poster girl for Rosie the Riveter!  Such spirit of duty and adventure.  The story unfolds  between the two women in a third person narrative, jumping between Sookie and Fritzi, 2005 and 1940’s. It’s not hard to follow because the story line in each time period is chronological and the theme of events tend to mirror each other. The  relationships between family members is a central theme in this book, and is very strongly developed. For that matter, all of the characters are well developed and very distinguished from one another.

I’m sure that my impression of each character was influenced by the voice that the author/reader gave to them in the audio book experience. She was able to pull off that “deep-south”  accent perfectly to help you better understand the kind of person and presence Lenore really was, and she did justice to the “deep-snow” mid-west accent to add flair to Fritzi and company.  Such an enjoyable experience that I didn’t want to stop listening! Ms Flagg is truly a story teller.

Why you should read it:  Did I mention how fun it was? Okay, this is not a book I can see my boyfriend enjoying anytime soon. It might be a little girly for his taste. But I could see my Mom and Dad enjoying the audiobook on a car trip together.  There was a little bit of WWII history that I wasn’t aware of, and some insight into immigrant culture too. All in all, a fun story, read or heard.

Book #16 in the bag.

“Reading one book is like eating one potato chip”– Diane Duane, So You Want to Be a Wizard

Practice makes Perfect…YOLO?

Some definitions:

Booketarian: a person who reads a lot of books, thrives on books, reading is a basic need.

Booket list: All the books I’d like to read before I die.

Book fog: when one is interrupted from reading causing them to give glazed look, require several repeats of a statement or become angered by a needless interruption.

Book-hurt: when a book renders you in a state of immense sadness and melancholy.

Book hangover: When you’ve finished a book and you suddenly return to the real world, but the real world feels incomplete or surreal because you’re still living in the world of the book.

Anyone who calls himself a reader will identify with the last three of those. I’m sure I felt all 3 at once while reading this book. And while I have to resort to Urban Dictionary for a made-up word to describe a condition, other languages have the perfect word already. For example Ohrwurm in German is the word for a song stuck in your head (that’s where we derived “earworm”), or in French, that funny feeling that something, someone or somewhere in the present is familiar from the past, or déjà vu

Book #15- Life After Life, Kate Atkinson

life-after-life Rating: 5- I’d read it again!

Synopsis: On a snowy February night in 1910, Sylvie Todd gives birth to her third baby; a daughter to be named Ursula, meaning little bear. They live in a small village outside of London, in their home Fox Corner. Ursula’s birth is challenged by the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck and the doctor, the maid and the cook all advise Sylvie that nothing can be done. And on the first occasion, they are correct. On the second occasion of her birth, Ursula lives until a childhood accident causes darkness to fall over her again. Simply surviving childhood becomes a multi-step process, but as Sylvie tells her about knitting and handwriting, practice makes perfect. As her years progress, Ursula is faced with challenges and tragedies,  2 world wars, hunger, cold, husbands, human cruelty and caring and even Hitler as she fumbles her way through lifetimes; with an odd knowing of certain things that are about to happen, as if they’ve already happened before.

My Impressions: I so thoroughly enjoyed this book I had a hard time putting it down and definitely had a hard time starting my next book because I was still so caught up in this story. I simply loved the concept of life starting over, resetting upon death and playing out with a different set of cause-and-effect circumstances each time. Each life occurs with echos of memory from the previous lives with Ursula unsure why she recollects a person, voice, place or has a sudden feeling  that something bad will happen. There is an innocence about the character and her perspective on the world that is very intriguing. She is curious and studious but also hesitant because of her past-life intuition. Sometimes this strange intuition allows her to effect the impending circumstances, for better or worse, and sometimes she learns to make the same mistakes with grace. The characters in her family and the friends she makes throughout her lives are each unique and also experience changes from life to life.

The only criticism I have is, that because similar events happen over and over, it can be hard to recall exactly which set of circumstance lead to a point in the book; especially if you pick it back up in the middle of a chapter.

Why you should read it: This is such a unique story and so well told. I’m sure I could re-read it and find new subtleties to the story that I missed the first time. It’s historical fiction with fantasy and philosophy thrown in. Whether you believe in reincarnation, gaps in the space-time continuum, or deja vu, this is definitely a book for your “booket” list!

Book #15 in the bag!

“Show me a family of readers, and I will show you the people who move the world.”  -Napoleon Bonaparte

Boys will be boys

Well after it took so long to get through Night Film via audio book this fall, I opted for a shorter selection next. Except I chose rather badly and it took me a really long time to get through this one too! I recognized a similar M.O. in this book choice as well. I didn’t enjoy or finish the first book I read by both authors and I struggled to finish the second book.

Book #14- The Burgess Boys, Elizabeth Strout

BurgessRating: 2- Not my fav!

Synopsis: Jim and Bob Burgess are brothers. They are both attorneys and live in New York. They grew up in a small town in Maine and their sister Susan, Bob’s twin, still lives there. Susan’s son, Zach, gets into a bit of trouble and is arrested for throwing a pig’s head through a Somali mosque. Bob and Jim must return to Maine to help sort out the whole mess. Like any family, their dynamics are a bit strained by their past; Bob carries the burden of having caused their father’s accidental death at the age of 4, Susan lives with the knowledge that she was never her mother’s favorite and Jim is something of a celebrity after defending a famous musician in a publicized trial. Jim is the golden boy, older brother who will fix everything and Bob is the second fiddle who can only hope to hold things together to help Susan. When they finally get Zach’s situation under control, Bob and Jim each have to work on getting themselves back in line.

My Impressions: I did not like this book. I kept listening, hoping that it was going somewhere, but I was disappointed start to finish. The book starts with someone recalling the Burgess Boys from childhood. I’m not sure who that was or why because that part of the narration didn’t go anywhere. Then there is the conflict with Zach and the steps required to deal with it drive the story, but it resolves fairly quietly. Then there is conflict between brothers, but it seems to always have existed and so there’s no real plot point to be made.

I really don’t know what this book was supposed to be about. There was a lot of book for not a lot of plot. Even as the book ended, I don’t know what it meant. I suppose it was about re-ordering a family, but I would have appreciated a little bit more direction to the story. For me, it was kind of like listening to someone tell a really long story only to have them forget why they were telling it to start.

Why you should read it:  I can’t really recommend this book. Not for the story and not for the audio performance that I heard. As I said earlier, I didn’t like this author’s previous book Olive Kitteridge, and I’m aware that I’m in a small camp for that opinion. So if you liked that book, maybe this one is for you. But for me, lesson learned. I’m done here.

Book #14 in the bag.

“It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.” ― Oscar Wilde

It’s raining in Baltimore, baby

I reached out on Twitter to ask my followers what they were reading and one answered back ” Baltimore Blues.” I was immediately intrigued! A book set in my home town? That never happens! Oh wait, crime novel? That makes more sense… Most people know Baltimore from Homicide: Life on the Street and The Wire. Hopefully by now you also know the 2013 Superbowl Champion Ravens! And then there are a handful of famous folk who have hailed from these streets; John Waters, Barry Levinson, Tom Clancy, Jada Pinkett-Smith, Julie Bowen, Sysqo, Michael Phelps, Cal Ripken, Babe Ruth,  and 2Pac. You can see the Baltimore landscape highlighted in movies like Ladder 49, He’s Just Not That Into You, Cry-Baby, and Netflix series House Of Cards. Baltimore is the birthday place of The Star Spangled Banner, and we sing with an extra O! in the last line; which began as a nod to our Orioles, but now just let’s you know that Baltimore is represented! And how ’bout dem O’s, hon?

Book # 13- Baltimore Blues, Laura Lippman

Baltimore bluesRating: 3- It was a good book.

Synopsis: After losing her job to the fall of print media, Tess Monaghan is hard up for cash and a little bored. She is early to rise every day to stick to her training as a rower in the Baltimore harbor, until she is approached by a friend to do some investigating. Rock wants Tess to follow his fiance and find out what she’s really up to. Tess follows her bizarre behavior to a hotel where she enters a room with her boss; an attorney known for defending the worst of Baltimore’s  criminals. Tess reports back to Rock who snaps and tracks down the lawyer at his office and roughs him up. Except that when he is found he has been murdered and Rock is the number-one suspect. Tess is certain of his innocence and to prove it, she links up with Rock’s defense to investigate. As it turns out, too many people had motive for this murder, and someone wants Tess to stop poking around!

My Impressions: Well who doesn’t like to read about places they know like the back of their hand? I live in this neighborhood, eat at these restaurants and shop in this mall! I know the swampy smell that oozes from the harbor when it’s hazy, hot and humid in summer. But my first hand knowledge aside, I think this author did a great job describing it all. She tells a really detailed story here, bringing in perspectives from law enforcement, the prison system, local news media, and government offices. Like and episode of CSI or Murder, She Wrote, there is a great depth to the story with lots of layers to uncover.

At first, I found it hard to connect with the main character and  keep all of the details straight. I found myself wondering what was really driving her behavior. But as I read on, I realized that she was just a little lost in herself, and began to rediscover who she was as she pressed on in her investigation.  Still there were many plot points keep in mind. This helped keep the suspense going but also caused me to get a little lost a few times. In the end I think the story wraps up quite nicely with an unexpected outcome.

Why you should read it: As I said in Murder He Wrote ( http://wp.me/p3WfxY-13 ), I’m a fan of these murder mysteries. Full of suspense and intrigue, romantic twists and insight into the pure corruption of  ‘the system’. This one had the added benefit, for me, of being set in Baltimore (hence the Counting Crows lyric in the title; Adam Duritz is Baltimore-born). This book could easily be an episode of a TV crime drama, a female counter to Alex Cross and  Jack Ryan, or even based on a true story. This is the first of a series featuring Tess and while I won’t be reading them marathon style, I’ll definitely be checking out Charm City and Butcher’s Hill in the future.

Book #13 in the bag!

“Always read stuff that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.” ― P.J. O’Rourke

Let’s Do Lunch…

There is a new-ish trend in foodie novels to include recipes either throughout the bo0k or at the end. Not completely new since Nora Ephron was doing it in the 80’s with Heartburn. One of my favorite authors/bloggers is full of great recipes as well as tips and tricks for home cooks and budding foodies. She has a great perspective on flavors and her books combine my favorite things, cooking, reading and wine (okay, I add the wine myself!).

Book#12– Out To Lunch, Stacey Ballis

Out-to-Lunch-by-Stacey-Ballis Rating: 5- I’d read it again!

Synopsis: Jenna and Aimee have been BFFs for over 20 years. They met in college and became fast friends, closer than sisters and eventual business partners.  Now Jenna is  semi-retired after she and Aimee sold their event planning/catering company for millions. For the last 3 years she has dedicated her time to Aimee who developed a rare disease, and now Aimee has died and Jenna’s world is completely changed. She hasn’t just lost a friend, she has lost the person in her life that knows her best, can help her through anything and keep her from feeling alone in the world.

In her will, Aimee has given Jenna financial custody of her husband, Wayne.  Wayne is something that Jenna has never really understood about Aimee. He is a clumsy, geeky, Sci-fi fan who only eats 11 things and is always cooking up crazy business schemes; the opposite of the wise and ever elegant Aimee. Jenna can’t imagine what Aimee was thinking! She vows to give it 1 year before turning Wayne back over to the lawyers. But Jenna begins to soften towards Wayne and actually accept his friendship. With Wayne’s quirky presence, her strong support group of friends and Aimee’s conscience-like voice in her head, Jenna starts to heal from her losses and move forward with her life sans best-y.

My Impressions: There is a lot going on in this book! There is a real depth to the story and the relationships between characters. I think the best example is the relationship between Jenna and Aimee that exists for the reader in Jenna’s head. She is always allowing Aimee’s voice (or the Voix, as she calls it) to come through when she is juggling something that she may have hashed out with Aimee, or that Aimee may have weighed-in on as best-ies tend to do (for our own good, of course!). It may only be Jenna’s way of coping, but having Aimee tell her what to wear or who to date is her way of dealing (or not) with the loss. Much of the time, the banter comes down to ‘yeah, well I’m dead so…’ which is actually more funny than morbid.

The evolving relationships with Jenna and Wayne and Jenna and others (significant and less so…) is interesting to observe as well. She really comes out of a shell of comfort that she created around herself with Aimee and becomes a stronger and an admittedly more likable person as the story evolves. Interestingly, all of Jenna’s friends are very likable right off the bat and you can appreciate how they tease out the best in her. If this is intentional on the part of the author, it’s very subtly done so you can see her grow as a character and adapt to such a huge life change rather than just overnight decide to be this different person that everyone told her to be. I guess I appreciate the realness she brings to this aspect of the story.

One side of the writing style that where I’m not a super-fan is the instructional ‘Jenna puts on a cooking show’ sections. Don’t get me wrong, I love the recipes and the foodie descriptions of elaborate meals and unique cultural comforts. I also love this author for her blog where she does just that, explain step-by-step how Stacey does “X.” (BTW, Ms Ballis, thank you for live-tweeting your Thanksgiving prep, for sharing your left-over transformations and out-of-this world go-to’s for chocolate cake and one pot pasta, and for your mutual distaste for hipsters and pumpkin spice!) But in my fiction world, I just want to story to flow a little more and not feel like I should be taking notes. That said, I love love love the back section full of recipes and additional narratives from the story to try out for my self! I’ve been making the same dark chocolate cake from Bon Appetite for my boyfriends’ birthday for the last 3 years, but this March he will definitely get a Blackout Elevator Cake! I’m making Salad Bar Soup all winter long, and Dutch Baby pancakes are my new guilty pleasure! Another fun the side of Stacey’s books is the tie-in to her previous book, Off the Menu, which I also recommend. (Follow Stacey Ballis on her blog here:  http://thepolymathchronicles.blogspot.com/ )

Why you should read it: This is a book about friends and love and finding your way, with and without both. It’s about exploring your passions and turning your dreams into a bigger, better reality. It’s about embracing things you may not understand for the people you love, and discovering why they love them. This is a feel good story, whether you relater to the characters or cook the recipes; it’s comfort food for mind and body!

 

Book# 12 in the bag!

“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson