I’ll Fly Away

Well, I’m certainly delinquent in my posting and my reading as of late. It would be safe to say I’ve had a lot going on in the last 2 weeks and not a lot of free time or concentration remaining. I usually escape to reading as a stress relief, but that is assuming that I have a book that I am eager to read and that I have a bit of time to sit down and read it! I had neither. Also I’m usually good about reading before bed; at least until I’m startled awake by the book hitting the floor after falling out of my sleeping hand! But I read the same page of the same book about 5 nights in a row before I gave up on it and decided I would come back to that book another time (The Daughters of Mars, Thomas Keneally). I always have an audiobook going in the car too, but I picked one that was read by a reader that I didn’t like in the past, and I immediately recognized her voice as annoying me before and my objectivity for the story suffered because of it. (See, no concentration at all!) What’s going on? Well for starters, I’m buying a house… Exciting and scary all at once! I’m buying on my own, so there is a lot to do, all resting on my shoulders. But I found the house, got the loan and now I’m just moving forward with the process until settlement. In the mean time, my little dog got sick, requiring a night in the hospital, followed by 3 days at home of not eating. That sent us back to the hospital and he had to have surgery to remove a foreign object from his stomach. I don’t know what he ate, but they were kind enough to save it for me so I could guess what it was after it spent a week in his gut… Gross! We are only just recovering from that (I mean WE. He may have had surgery, but he wasn’t the only one with an upset stomach after all that worry!) as he snores on the sofa next to me. But before my world went insane, I read a great book and I can finally share it with you!

Book # 28- The Invention Of Wings, Sue Monk Kidd

suemonkkidd Rating: 5- I’d read it again

Synopsis: In 19th century Charleston, SC, slavery is in full force as a way of life. Sarah Grimke, at age 11,  is gifted a slave named Hette to be her handmaid. Sarah is appalled by the idea and by slavery in general and tries to give her back, but her father won’t have it. Sarah is trapped in a world where she can do little but accept her place in society, learn to hold her tongue,  and try to make a good match of a husband. But she feels she is meant for more. Hette is 10 when she is given to Sarah. She is forced to leave her mother’s side and live in the house, sleeping outside of Sarah’s door at night in case she rings her bell to call. Hette is what she is called by the Grimkes. Her mother called her Handful. And she, like Sarah, isn’t content to accept her place. As she grows up in the household, she takes over for her mother as seamstress, and is granted privileges to leave the house and go into town. Once she gets a taste of the world, she has to have  more. Sarah leaves Charleston to join the Quaker church in their abolitionist movement; and she and her fearless little sister Angelina make a name for themselves, as well as a few waves as they go. Handful remains under the close watch of Sarah’s mother and her gold-tipped cane, yearning for the freedom that is so often promised but never bestowed.

My Impressions: I could write pages and pages and never truly describe how beautiful this story really is. There is so much depth and detail in every page. The characters of Sarah and Handful are so strong, that their convictions conflict. Handful, takes her freedom from Sarah’s shyness and Sarah gains strength from indignation. The girls both cross boundaries that society sets for them, despite the ridicule that Sarah edures, and the physical consequences that Handful endures. And as they find their courage, their place, their purpose, they find more meaning in each other.

Another thing I loved about this story, is how well researched it is! The Grimke sisters, Sarah and Angelina, are historical figures, who were very involved in the Quaker abolitionist movement, and Sarah went on to advocate for women’s rights. Their sister, Mary remained pro-slavery throughout her life. And Sarah was in fact gifted a slave named Hette to be her handmaid on her 11th birthday. All of these details are so intricately woven into this beautiful story to add to the depth and create powerful imagery.

Why you should read it: In a few years, I can see this book on a list of high school required reading. Add it to the list of fictional works that paint the picture of American history through literature; To Kill a Mockingbird, The Grapes of Wrath, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Raisin in the Sun, The Jungle. This is a book not to be missed, but I personally recommend the incredible vocal performance of the audiobook.

Read if you liked: The Secret Life of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd), The Help (Katheryn Stockett), Beloved (Toni Morrison)

Book #28 in the bag!

“People don’t realize how a man’s whole life can be changed by one book.” ― Malcolm X


Everything’s coming up Rosie

I can’t say enough about books from a character perspective that ventures outside the social norms. Of course I want to read a story told by a dog, or an imaginary friend, or even a child who spent the first years of his life in one tiny room. But it’s also fun to read about a character that may not be aware of their own strangeness (think Screech from Saved by the Bell!) This book was recommended by a friend, so thanks Lauren!

Book #27- The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion

ROsie Rating: 4- Would recommend to a friend

Synopsis: Don Tillman is a genius in the world on genetics and a bit of a imbecile when it comes to social interaction. He is rigid with his routine and abhors lateness by even 2 minutes. It’s just a waste of time!  And he really knows how not to waste time. He jogs to the market to combine exercise and errands. He prepares the same meal every on the same day every week to simplify the shopping and prep time. He books face-to-face conversations with friends to ensure their availability. So when Don decides he want a mate, he develops the Wife Project. He creates a questionnaire to be filled out by his dates and weed out unsuitable candidates. His best friend Gene, a bit of a cad, commandeers the forms and suddenly Rosie shows up at Don’s office door. She is beautiful and smart, but totally unsuitable. She smokes!

Rosie and Don develop an unconventional friendship and flirtation as Don helps Rosie to learn the identity of her father. And as they become closer, Don teaches Rosie to button up, while Rosie teaches Don to deviate.

My Impressions: What a sweet story. Don is, to quote a 90’s teen flick, so adorably clueless. He has some idea that he does not behave within social norms, and he plays the role to be laughed with instead of laughed at. For Rosie’s part, she is rough around the edges and has a bit of a chip on her shoulder. Don’s failure to take social cues helps to break down her tough shell, and Rosie’s emotions seep through Don’s general attitude of apathy. By the end of the book, they both make each other better people.

Why you should read it: This is a quick and quirky little book. It’s perfect for traveling, since you’ll finish by the end of your trip. But it’s also a different spin on romance and told from the gentleman’s perspective.

Read if you liked: Look Me In The Eye (John Elder Robison), House Rules (Jodi Picoult), Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend (Matthew Dicks)

Book #27 in the bag!

“There is no mistaking a real book when one meets it. It is like falling in love.” ― Christopher Morley, Pipefuls

Why be ordinary?

I’m continually fascinated by an author’s ability to create a work of historical fiction. I can only imagine the extensive research that must go into the time period alone, not to mention the context and specific details of the characters’ story. I find that I devour the books that drop me into the middle of place and time from the past and immerse me in the world of story. The really good ones do it so well that you don’t have to think to yourself about when certain inventions came about or what other significant historical events may have been happening because all of that becomes woven into to the telling of the story in some way or another until you get a genuine sense of what it was like to live the life of the character. You are walking a mile in their shoes for 400 pages or so…

Book# 26- The Museum of Extraordinary Things, Alice Hoffman

Museum Rating: 4- Would recommend to a friend

Synopsis: Freak of nature or living wonder? That is what you’ll find behind the doors of Professor Sardie’s Museum of Extraordinary Things in Coney Island, Brooklyn. In 1911, Coralie Sardie is among the living wonders in her father collection on display in the museum. Her webbed fingers, a deformity of birth, and her extensive training and cultivating, find her submerged in a tank of crystal blue water with a mermaid’s tale and an uncanny ability to hold her breath. She is in good company with the butterfly girl, the sword swallower, the wolfman and an ancient tortoise. Her father, the curator of these “wonders” is a strict and sinister man.  Intent of making his money above all else, he sends Cora swimming in the Hudson late at night to create the suspicion of a sea monster to draw a bigger crowd. Only she uses these swims as her opportunity for freedom and one night stumbles on a man she cannot forget.

Eddie, a photographer, wasn’t always in that profession. He started out as a tailor like his father, then took up work as a runner for a man who did underground dealings for the local Jewish community. Eddie was good at finding things. So after his father’s friends recognize him taking photos of the great Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, they employ him to find a missing girl. As his path collides with Cora, their journeys intertwine to draw them inexplicably together.

My Impressions: I’ve been a fan of Alice Hoffman since I saw the movie Practical Magic and learned it was based on Hoffman’s book. While much of her writing gets a little dark, it’s her ability to paint the emotion within the words that I so enjoy. This book did not disappoint. The historical topic was fascinating and unique. New York in 1911; all of the world changes happening, the differences in classes, the immigrant workers, the re-development of Coney Island, and the birth of the city as we know it. All of these are described beautifully. The character voices are also very well differentiated. There is a general narration to move the story along, but there is also narration from both Eddie and Cora that gives a rich perspective to their individual stories. There is real life, whimsy and human darkness to weave a story together; with themes of water and fire to create a metaphor for good and bad, oppression and freedom.

Why you should read it: This is such an interesting work of fiction, that tells a story wonderfully entwined with history and actual events. While there is an underlying romance, the real focus is self reflection and what is perceived to be true battling against what is unseen and unknown. This would make a fantastic book club selection!

Read if you liked: Orphan Train (Christina Baker Kline), Blackberry Winter (Sarah Jio), The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern)

Book #26 in the bag!

“What she was finding also was how one book led to another, doors kept opening wherever she turned and the days weren’t long enough for the reading she wanted to do.” ― Alan Bennett, The Uncommon Reader


Silence is Golden

The last time I went to a public library was 9 years ago. I went daily for 5 weeks straight to study for my physical therapy board exam. It was NOT a quiet place! I was settled at a table in the center of the stacks (adult fiction, G-J) with people milling around me, chatting with their friends, the other “regulars.”  I was only a few feet away from the bank of computers where people could access the internet, so that brought its own special noise as people laughed at their screens or asked help of the attendant. Patrons held cell phone conversations, and listened to music through headphones at a volume that could be overheard. And the best part by far; the library was housed below a senior center where shuffle board was played regularly on the floor above. Scrape, shuffle, collide and begin again at regular intervals with a drop ceiling buffer. A McDonald’s PlayPlace may have been a quieter environment to study! With the convenience of mass-market book stores and the advent of the Kindle, I haven’t needed to re-visit the library since, but I do appreciate the concept of free use of books. Now that I can borrow from my Kindle, I’m more inclined to try the title that doesn’t cost me anything and return them when I’m done. That’s how I crossed paths with this title and I enjoyed its price as well as its content.

Book# 25- Conspiracy of Silence, Martha Powers

silence Rating: 3- It was a good book

Synopsis: Grand Rapids, Minnesota is a quiet little lake-side town. Unassuming and uneventful as far as small towns go. It’s home to renowned author Nathan Hassan, and that is the reason for Clare Prentice to travel there from Chicago; to interview him for her literary magazine. But she has another reason as well. She recently discovered she was adopted after her mother’s death and her only clue to her identity is a class ring from the town from 1962. Clare’s best friend also has a connection to the town; her father grew up there, and her aunt still lives there with a cottage for rent by the lake. As Clare begins her research, she discovers her adoptive mothers real name is Rose Gunderson, and that her sister Lily Newton was murdered in 1982. It becomes clear very quickly that Clare is really the Rose’s niece, Abigail Clare Newton and was sent away because her father was responsible for the murder. As Clare uncovers more details, she grows closer to Nate and his daughter Erika. But she also clearly stirs up a past that someone doesn’t want uncovered. There is more to this murder that meets the eye and someone doesn’t want Clare sticking her nose into it. Who is it, and what lengths will they go to to keep the past quiet? That is what Clare is about to find out before she can find out who she is.

My Impressions: I do love a good murder mystery. In fact I think I’m a bit of a sucker for them. This one was pretty good, though slightly predictable… I figured out that the boy would get the girl after their first meeting; as happy endings tend to go. And I figured out the source of secrecy about half-way through, even though the unveiling of details still made for an interesting journey to the ending.
The ending of the story itself was rather abrupt. I would have liked an epilogue to tie a bow on it. Perhaps since Clare’s cover story for the investigation was an update of the 25th anniversary of the murder, the epilogue could have been her article on the subject. I think it would have been nice to have a brief telling of all of the facts surrounding the story. Or a first person narrative of her journey to the truth since that is how she ultimately found her identity.
Overall the voice and the character development were fitting, and not forced. Even when I thought relationships were progressing unnaturally fast, the characters would recognize it and accept responsibility for it before backing up a little bit for a reality check.

Why You Should Read It : A sweet, if not a little clumsy heroine, a handsome hero. Murder, suspense, intrigue and small-town charm. It’s a recipe for success! Plus if you are a Kindle/Prime user (this is not a plug, I have no financial interests here!) it’s free. I guess also if you are a library user, than so is every other book; so there’s that…

Read if you liked: The Bean Trees (Barbara Kingsolver), The Secret Life Of Bees (Sue Monk Kidd), Lost Lake (Sarah Addison Allen)

Book #25 in the bag!

“You can find friends between the pages of a book, wonderful friends.” ― Cornelia Funke, Inkspell

Universal Theory

You’re not supposed to judge books by their covers, and since reading primarily on a Kindle for the last 3 years, I hardly ever see the covers, so problem solved! You’re probably not supposed to judge books by their titles either. I’ve come to learn that the author generally doesn’t get input on the title of the book, the cover art and so on. But sometimes it’s a catchy title and it makes me think it might be an interesting story (I recognize that’s really the point). That’s how I chose this book, and well… You win some, you lose some.

Book #24-  The Theory of Opposites, Allison Winn Scotch

opposites Rating: 2- Not my Fav

Synopsis: Willa Chandler was actually born William. She did not have a sex-change or an identity crisis, she had a father who firmly believes in the ebb-and-flow of the universe. So when the doctor said it would be a boy, they chose the name William, and that was that, no turning back despite the absence of a penis upon birth. Willa dad is actually quite famous for his theories, having written a widely published self-help book about the absence of choices in life. Willa subscribes to these theories because she has had them ingrained since, and since the whole idea is to allow the world to happen as it will, she doesn’t protest.

That’s how she ends up with a husband who is asking for the summer off from their marriage (she didn’t think anything was wrong?), fired from her job (who can make adult diapers sexy? Who?), and thrown into a project with her best friend that forces her out of her comfort zone. Vanessa is challenging her to resist inertia, react in the exact opposite manner than she is inclined, all for the sake of stepping out of her fathers shadow and testing “the theory of opposites.” What happens to you when turn left if you have always turned right? Can you go back and correct a wrong turn?

My Impressions: This isn’t a very complicated story. Things go wrong early on and Willa, a general peace-keeper, not one to make waves, just sort of lets them go on. Her husband wants to leave, so she watches him go. She gets fired, so she needs a new job. Her dad gets sick and she faithfully stays by his side. Her mom has a bit of a life change and she casually accepts that too. Her friend Vanessa thinks she knows what Willa needs and Willa goes along (only protesting slightly). Blah, blah, blah…DOORMAT! I really had a hard time reading a story about someone who was so accepting of their own unhappiness and thought there was nothing they could do since that’s the hand they were dealt. I just couldn’t enjoy this story for all the apathy of the main character and the lack of responsibility for her own part in her circumstances. I kept reading because I was waiting for this great revelation about her trending behavior because everyone around her was happy to hint at it, or just say it out-right. But it never happened, until the very end. The very far-fetched end…

Why you should read it: Well, it’s a short book… It may make for an interesting discussion in a book group because of the basic philosophies presented. But it doesn’t really get a high recommendation from me.

Read if you liked: Delusional Thinking (Bonnie Trachtenberg), 20 Times a Lady (Karyn Bosnak)

Book #24 in the bag

“A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.” ― George R.R. Martin, A Game of Thrones


A girls best friend

For women of a certain age it does seem that diamonds are shoved in your face from every angle. It’s the thing you’re supposed to want most from a man, the thing you aspire to buy for yourself, the things that should be passed from mother to daughter, grandmother to grandson to new bride. If you are anything like me (ie: fall into the key demographic for the diamond engagement ring) they pop up in Google and Facebook ads on the daily.  They are everywhere, a symbol of status from where and how it’s worn to how big, how it’s set and how perfect it is. The subject of many a song, tag line and catchphrase, diamonds are FOREVER!

Book# 23- The Engagements, J. Courtney Sullivan

the-engagementsRating: 3- it was a good book

Synopsis:  Meet Frances Gerety: a young advertising copywriter in 1947 working on the De Beers campaign. A young woman in mans world. All she needs is a signature line, but she has procrastinated as usual so, on the night before her meeting as she falls into bed, she scribbles a phrase on a scrap of paper: “A Diamond Is Forever.” And that line changes everything.

Evelyn has been married to her second husband for 40 years, and is now dealing with the breakdown of her son’s marriage to the best daughter-in-law she could have hoped for. Delphine has been married for 10 years to the same rather predictable man, and has left him to run away with a 24 year-old violin prodigy. James is a paramedic up to his eyeballs in debt with two kids and a wife who probably believes she could have married better. And Kate is partnered with Dan, not married, because after having been to every imaginable wedding, seen every kind of bride and heard horror stories about diamond trade, the only vow she ever made was not to get married.

Their stories are layered together across time, families and cities. Linked by diamonds in truly unique ways, all because Frances worked her entire career to create the perception that diamonds symbolize everlasting love.

My Impressions: After struggling to follow all of the stories for the first part of the book, the jumping around slowed a little and I was able to invest in the characters and their stories and really enjoy the book. The underlying theme of diamond and diamond sales was a very interesting one. I appreciated a narrative based on a real person and true events. And I liked that Frances was a bit of a  trailblazer for independent women in the workforce. Each of the women in the book were a caricature of the time period they were set in; representing a specific kind of woman, a relatable set of circumstances, familiar choices. And while each are uniquely different, if put together in a room they’d likely find an understanding of each other.

If I were to pick a favorite, I think Frances was the most enjoyable story line, just because of her strong sense of self, followed by Evelyn ,then Kate, then Delphine, then James/Shelia. I enjoyed the historical story lines more, because the characters had a stronger point of view and more forceful personalities, where the later characters are a little more subdued and passive. Their feelings about diamonds are each unique. For Frances, they are her bread and butter, for Evelyn, it’s a representation of her first and second husband and her life with them. For James, the diamond is a symbol of everything he doesn’t have, for Delphine, it’s a symbol of the life she chose and left behind and for Kate, it’s a representation of everything she loathes about the tradition of marriage.

“Time rolls on, And youth is gone, And you can’t straighten up when you bend. But stiff back, Or stiff knees,You stand straight at Tiffany’s. But diamonds are a girl’s best friend.”- Marilyn Monroe

Why you should read it: This was a unique take on the chick-lit genre, even if it does make me feel a little like a target for marketing and nosey questioning (When are YOU getting married?) I think it would make a great beach read for anyone taking a warm weather vacation this spring!

Read if you liked: The Storyteller (Jodi Picoult), Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe (Fannie Flagg),  Chasing Harry Winston (Lauren Weisberger)

Book #23 in the Bag!

“We don’t need a list of rights and wrongs, tables of dos and don’ts: we need books, time, and silence. Thou shalt not is soon forgotten, but Once upon a time lasts forever.” ― Philip Pullman


Forget me not

I really love the concept of a book that asks the question: “what would life be like if this one thing were changed?” Characters go back in time and undo a wrong, or turn left instead of right and then fast forward to see where life has taken them instead. Or someone (something?) comes to them from the future to show them who they will become if they continue down the current path and gives them the opportunity to change (thank you Charles Dickens). Many of us have wondered before what would my life be like if I… I don’t think I’ve mentioned here before, but I’m a huge fan of the show Friends. (Seriously, super-nerd, can quote it line-for-line.) (It’s a little sad.) (Don’t judge!) One of my favorite episodes is The One That Could Have Been (see?) where they imagine what would happen if Monica were still fat, Chandler quit his corporate job, Joey were still a Soap star, Phoebe worked for Merrill-Lynch, Rachel got married and Ross didn’t get divorced. They’re still the same people a the end of the day, but they behave differently and have a different definition of happiness because of the choices they made. Instead of wondering what you like would be like in the future, what if you just showed up in it?

Book #22- What Alice Forgot, Liane Moriarty

Alice Rating: 4- Would recommend to a friend

Synopsis: Alice and Nick are newlyweds who have bought a massive fixer-upper house and know they are in over their heads, but at least they are in it together! So imagine Alice’s surprise when she finds out she a Nick are getting a divorce! Poor Alice has hit her head on a spin bike at the gym and thinks it’s 1998, when she and Nick were 29 years old, deliriously happy and expecting their first baby. Only it’s actually 2008, she is about to be 40, she has 3 kids and gorgeous remodeled house with a pool and is in the middle of a nasty divorce. Some other things she is surprised to find out: she is quite thin, she has chic hair and fancy make-up, she drives a monster SUV (whatever that is), she is a super-mom at her kids school, her own mother is remarried (to Nick’s father!) and she has a boyfriend, apparently! The problem is, Alice has no memory of the last 10 years whatever. She doesn’t even know the names of her 3 children. Every time someone reveals information about her life and her personality, Alice struggles to connect to this outgoing, organized, upper class woman they describe. How could she possibly like coffee? How could she ever stand up in front of all the other parents at school and lead meetings? How could she possibly ever hate Nick and let go of their marriage?

As little snapshots and whiffs and voices begin to fill back in, Alice has a hard time deciding what is real and what is memory. Over the course of a week she goes on pretending to be 40 year-old Alice and lives the life she is supposed to, but with one goal in mind; she must stay married to Nick. When her memory comes flooding back to her, Nick knows immediately, just by the way she looks at him. And the spell is broken that quickly. But Alice can’t forget what happened while she forgot who she was and she must sort out who she is; young Alice, old Alice, or just this Alice.

My Impressions: I always write a longer synopsis when I like the book! And use excessive exclamations! I really enjoyed the concept of this book the most- what would happen if you woke up one day 10 years into your life with no memory of it? Panic probably. But the character structure of the story was so good too. Alice of course has a bit of a split personality from who she was and who she is. Her sister serves to be a bit grounding for her, as she was when they were young. But she is really quite a mess and it seems their roles have reversed over the years. Her mother and stepfather are comic relief. There is the outsider perspective of Frannie, the grandmother, and the voice of reason and wisdom. Her children are tension and interest and conflict. And then there is the dichotomy of Nick and Dominick (the boyfriend) also representing Alice’s past and present. And then, buried in Alice’s memory is a character (Gina) that had much to do with how her life turned out, and Alice has no idea who she is! The beauty of all of this is that the story could happen in any city, any (modern) time period, and it would still be the same because of the network of characters surrounding Alice.

I also just really liked the premise of this book. What would happen if you could hit reset and forget about a stressful chunk of time? Or go back to when you were just blissfully ignorant, or stupid happy? Even if things weren’t perfect, you hadn’t yet managed to foul them up so completely. I like the idea of a do-over. Not entirely a you-live-you-learn senario, but if you could examine your current life with the innocence of youth, what would you think of who you’d become? That’s a lot of what this story is about and it poses an interesting philosophical question for the reader.

Why you should read it: I was accused this week of only reading chick-lit and nothing that a guy would be interested in; could I please read a little sci-fi? Maybe next time; this is pretty much chick-lit through and through! But it takes a unique approach and it’s definitely a good all-girl book club pick. Open up the sauvignon blanc and get chatting!

Read if you liked: Skipping a Beat (Sarah Pekkanen), The Violets of March (Sarah Jio), Before I Go to Sleep (SJ Watson)

Book#22 in the bag!

“Everything in the world exists in order to end up as a book.”― Stéphane Mallarmé