Tuesday, March 25, 2014

What's on Your Nightstand? March 2014 edition

I did not finish this.

Like  The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka, this book is told in a slightly odd, almost poetic, plural voice that generalizes everything. "Our Marcias got chicken pox..." (p. 14) "We were round-faced, boisterous, austere, thin-boned..." (p. 12). It does not read like a novel, but does tell the story in its way. Like reading a montage of photos. I  hope this isn't the new cool literary fad of the year. It's very difficult to follow the thread of the story--all the "we" and "us" get in the way. There is no one to focus on. A group is too much.

Minor historical errors of this magnitude: Soldiers in World War II weren't issued black glasses.
The Wives of Los Alamos by Tarashea Nesbit.


I started to reject this out-of-hand: a woman impersonating a man to fight in the Civil War? Please! I'm so glad I didn't. While there is a rather odd little sub-story of (I am confused which!) of a Christian guy falling for the woman while presenting as a man (or did he see thru that?) or was he gay and attracted to her as a man? Very odd. Otherwise, this is an amazing story--the reviewers were right--the battle scenes are almost too vivid. This is a love story of the highest order as well as being as story of self-discovery (not discovery of sexual "identity"), of marriage, of coming-of-age, of so much more. This is not to be missed! I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe.

Having named the author's previous novel, Loving Frank, as one of  my favorite books of 2008, I was pretty sure I would love  her newest book--the story of Robert Louis Stevenson and wife Fanny Osbourne and I was right. Like Loving Frank, this story was enthralling! I found myself sitting in the parking lot at work or the driveway at home and listening to "just a little more" each time. Fanny, likely bi-polar, was a fierce protector of her husband [Robert] Louis Stevenson. Their shared quest to find a place to restore his health, their love, their passions for their work--all added up to a very fascinating story. No spoilers, but the end hand me in tears--it hit very close to home mirroring a scene in my own life. Nancy Horan has quickly become one of my favorite authors as well as a role model for me as a writing. Under the Wide, and Starry Sky  by Nancy Horan. Very Highly Recommended.

As a non-fiction account of the Civil War, this time from the Rebel side, to go with I Shall Be Near to You, I happily chose Mary Chestnut's Diary. I love reading diaries and collections of letters and this one NEVER disappointed. He sage comments on men, especially her husband, alone made it worth while. She has a wry humor, a broad appreciation of literature (and an annoying habit of using French phrases!) that made me not want to put this down. Her comments on slavery and government are arch and meaningful. In today's vernacular, "she gets it." Mary Chestnut's Dairy.


If you've read this blog before, you know I love non-fiction that reads like a good novel. Monuments Men is one such book. Here are "be still my heart me"--military men who love art and literature! This is the story of the race to save the cultural and artistic treasures of France, Belgium and Germany at the end of World War II. This is the book the new movie with George Clooney, Matt Damon and Hugh Bonneville is based on. Monuments Men by Robert W. Edsel

This was a light "listen"--a short audio book for my daily commute. I nearly threw it back--every cliche of a "sophisticated" (i.e. stuck up) Manhattanite trasported to the "sticks" and finding life without the corner deli to be unlivable. Happily, in disc two, it gets better and by the end I quite liked her! Still Life With Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen

 Received this in a Goodreads.com giveaway.

A spoiled rich city girl meets a hardworking rancher and the attraction is immediate. A young teacher pines for the rake she's loved since childhood, but finally agrees to marry the good guy who has loved her since first grade. Along the way there is warm story of family, faith, and personal growth that is touching and very memorable. The author does a lovely job of creating the feel and sense of her characters' lives and I would like to hear the rest of their story.

Sadly, I did not realize when I signed up for the giveaway, that this was #4 in a series! That's where one problem came in--a problem any editor should have had corrected. Nothing in this book gave a date! The story started with a letter, yet it wass an undated letter. Also, unlike many series there was little to "orient" a new reader stumbling upon the book out-of-sequence. I pegged the story somewhere between 1880 and 1900.

I may have been given a pre-publication copy (I'm not sure) but the editor really let the author down. In addition to allowing her to overuse the odd term "voiced" for "said," the editor also allowed "comforted" for "said." Both sounded just plain odd. But it was the completely incorrect word usage that the editor allowed to stand that most dragged the book down. Examples:

"I think it would be best to prolong this conversation until later" (p. 201)
"my father is possible of anything" (p. 287)

Very early in the story "chauffeur" is used incorrectly to mean someone driving horses. This is an odd error to make in historical fiction, but it is not the worst. Worst was the food! I burst out laughing when I read that at a church gathering in late 19th Century or early 20th Century rural Oregon someone brought SPINACH DIP and another GREEN BEAN CASSEROLE!! Really?? Banana cream pie was a stretch, but bananas can be shipped very green so I gave that a pass. Another odd thing was someone just happening to "find" a book that shows how to make paper roses. Then there was the girl going all the way from Oregon to Boston for nursing school at a time when there were only, at best, a handful of such schools in the country. I let this pass because it was necessary to the story. Finally, there is mention of a grand house in Boston having a female gardener--it could happen, a pleasant eccentricity perhaps, but on the whole it's not very likely.

Overall, these are very picky things--the story stands on its on merits, its on charm and warmth. I would like to read any further books in this series to see how these characters' lives continue.

Freedom to Forgive by Rhonda Kulczyk


Obnoxious adult takes gap-year to get over indulged fear of everything. Hijacks my idol,  Eleanor Roosevelt, as a gimmick and uses her publishing connections to try to make back some of the money she spent. Unless you like listening to someone whine, or enjoy hearing of people breaking into hotel suites they are not registered in to have quickie sex, want to hear about other about-to-be-30-somethings still engaging in their college hook-up culture or like hearing men say they have crows feet on their balls now at the god-almighty-ancient-age-of-30 then skip this self-focused story of privileged escapism. The author squanders her post Yale-earned blogging savings to overcome her ridiculous fears based on one Eleanor Roosevelt quote about doing something scary every day. A more vapid, self-focused individual would be hard to find if you looked above age 16. Sadly the author is 29. She has a typical 20-something's complete ignorance of history even remarking she feels like a "1930s British colonialist..." A decade or so late for prime colonialism, even in East Africa. Also she finds it impossible to believe that the current politically correct world hasn't always existed. She was almost depressed to learn that Eleanor had once made anti-Semitic comments. Since they were 100% typical of the time, I can't really see the need for therapy over this. She does at least have enough sense to say Eleanor got over it. She's hooked up with so many guys she can't decide if her way-too-indulgent boyfriend is husband material--after all, she really isn't old enough to marry. Oh? Did I mention she's blithely addicted to prescription painkillers, doctor-shops and pharmacy shops like any other addict? Yeah. That's how mature this book is. Now, if the author would please get over herself. Glad I got this turkey on deep discount for my kindle. My Year With Elanor by Noelle Hancock.

Although sanitized to remove the name "Bill Gothard," this book is nothing but a parrotting of his teachings. The so-called "conversation" we get to have with the four eldest Duggar girls is no-where to be found--even in spirit. If the girls (note they are always "girls" because they are not married so can't be "women") are so well educated by Switched on Schoolhouse and the Wisdom Booklets, why do they need a ghostwriter? The "touching" antecdotes are so contrived in many cases as to be totally unbelievable. This book does do one positive thing: It makes me want to spring those girls loose from their mental prison and let them experience the true love and GRACE that God offers. Growing Up Duggar by the Ghostwriter.

Need more ideas on what to read next? See all of this month's great posts at 5 Minutes for Mom's "What's on Your Nightstand."


Amy @ Hope Is the Word said...

I enjoyed reading your picks and pans! I'll add a few of your picks to my list, especially the one about the girl in the Civil War (the name of which escapes me now),

Susan said...

Gee, almost all of your first few look like ones I'd enjoy (except -- sob -- not the LAlamos one). Not sure if I'll pick up this Duggar one or not. Sounds like it's not as interesting as the first one ...

Jennifer Donovan said...

Great list! I have heard so much about Horan's new book (and haven't read her first one yet either)> Good to read your thoughts on it.

I also loved your take on why you didn't like certain books.

Mine is at my personal blog: What I'm Reading Now

Carrie said...

I read The Monuments Men when it first came out but it's been several years and I've forgotten if I really liked it or not. I can't decide whether to just watch the movie (which I want to see) or re-read the book before hand.

I recently read The Duggar Book and while I disagree with your overall assessment, I do agree that the book reads off as a sharing of the teachings of Bill Gothard (who I disagree with). Bottom line: I believe that their family life is a very happy one.