Monday, July 21, 2014

What's on Your Nightstand: Mid-Summer Edition

The Best of July

Is there a reader alive (or dead!) who hasn't spent at least a few minutes daydreaming about owning a great little bookshop? A.J. Fikry's Island Books is a quirky little shop populated with great, quirky book reviews, a quirky staff and a fascinating story. Looking like "a depressed, malnourished superhero," A.J. believes you can know everything you need to know about a person based on how the answer the questions "What is your favorite book?" A fun little book that will make you stop and think and also add other books to your to-read list. The Storied Life of A.J. Firkry by Gabrielle Zevin.

I know! I know! A book about sewage and other icky things? But wait! It's so well worth it! This is a fascinating story of science, research and humanity. Now, if I can rave about a book that discusses SCIENCE you can surely read it and enjoy it, too! I was drawn to this story due to my love of Anne Perry's William Monk books, but I stayed because it was just so fascinating. It reads like a novel, not like a science book (oh the relief!) so just try it! The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson.

Author Lily King has put together a good read based on the lives of three famed anthropologists.I thoroughly enjoyed this well-researched, well-told tale set in the South Pacific in the 1930s. The details rang true and no one was give ridiculously modern PC views--a huge plus in historical fiction these days. Well-told though the story is, what stuck with me most was the description of one man's "member" as "flushed purple...." That has to go down in the annals of writing as one of the most vivid descriptions of that oft-discussed organ ever! I look forward to more from this author. Euphoria by Lily King.

I'm not a big fan of so-called "Young Adult" literature. I can't get into vampires! I found this one while watching the trailers before the movie Fault in Our Stars and since it featured a teenage cellist, I was all for it. The problem I had with this book was simply the Y.A. genre label. This, like sexy "teen" clothing and other things meant originally for the 16--19 year old age bracket, makes it attractive to 11--13 year olds today. Are kids that young really ready for topics like abortion, foreplay, religion-bashing, disrespecting authority figures, kids being "queer," Moms who immediately offer birth control and condoms when a teen starts a relationship, a teenage lesbian couple, Mom being "ok" with turning down a very prestigious college for a boyfriend,  a guy dressing in drag and trying to enlist in the military or the boyfriend stealing the covers? In all likelihood NO!  But my other self asks "Would they even notice those lines in the conversation or narrative?" Probably not. I found it MORE interesting that Mia thinks of the cello as a "solitary" instrument and only encounters playing in an ensemble at a competitive music camp! I've come down very hard here because these topics are in here--yes they are all current and "relevant" to teen culture today, but the kids who will WANT to read this are barely into puberty! That's the conservative side of this review. The flip side, the liberal side, says there are kids out there who will be validated by those things being in the story. I would have devoured this book at 14 or 15 for the music story and ignored most of the rest. As an adult I loved that the family had parents who were only ever married to each other, who loved and supported their children, who cared about their friends and their community. THAT is the take-away from this book: The loving caring family who have views that are theirs and for which they make no apologies. That I truly loved. I can't wait to see the movie! If I Stay by Gayle Forman.

The Rest of July's Books

I LOVED Jeremy Irons in the tv series The Borgias, so when I saw this I hoped it would be good and it was! This is a vividly told page turner! The setting, the characters, the gamesmanship--all were exciting. The wily Rodrigo Borgia, aka Pope Alexander VI, and his family had  fascinating, if ruthless, lives! The notes at the end were very good as well--pointing out what was "legend" and what was documented "history." I will definitely read more by this author. Blood and Beauty: The Borgias : A Novel by Sarah Dunant

I've had Gilead on my to-read list for ages, so when my friend Jeanne started reading it for her book club I decided to read along. Well, I did like it. It is an interesting way of telling the story, but for me it was like being stuck at the dinner table circa 1968 with my great Uncles Paul and David holding forth about their childhood. A bit too "meander-y." I LOVED that there was a cross-generational marriage that was loving and true and adored the man's love for his only son. If you are not a Midwesterner this story will a look at a different culture. When it was all done I was happy I had read it and that I can recommend it. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson.

WT???? What editor let this be published with Part 9 still attached?  SPOILER A perfectly reasonable piece of not-too-heavy -handed revisionist  historical fiction ends with reincarnation in the Nile?  Water borne diseases thrive in the Nile, not lunacy!  We'll skip a 1920s maiden teacher voting for Debbs and keeping her job.  Small change. A German Jewish character prescient enough to equate the Armenian genocide with the future fate of Jews (but then doesn't leave Nazi Germany? ??)...that's a stretch. Still, it is one line in the whole book. But the (at a loss what to call it) bizarre rant against all religions (except maybe Buddhism??), war, politicians, etc., sounded just plain absurd. The author sounds like a college freshman at best from this. Oh, and naturally, the "spinster" not only must have an affair with a married man  to set her free! Then.....wait for it!!! She is a librarian..... Oh one helpful tidbit-- unless you are a T.E. Lawrence scholar the hinted-at episode involves same sex rape. At least she didn't recount what supposedly happened in that. In spite of this, she does tell a great story and I will likely read more of her books. I just hope the ending is more mature. Dreamers of the Day by Mary Doria Russell.

Check out all of this month's reviews at 5 Minutes for Book's monthly "What's on Your Nightstand."


Susan said...

I look forward to your reviews each month! The Ghost Map does intrigue me ... are the Borgias the same era as the Medicis? I would like to know more about them; I apologize for my ignorance! Some of the others sound good as well. I'm trying to finish a few not-so-great ones I've agreed to review. Sigh -- why do I keep getting into this bind?

Lisa notes... said...

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry sounds fun. I tried reading Gilead a few years back, but I could never get past the rambling. I felt like a failure since so many people love it. ha. Oh well. Maybe another time I'll start again and stick it out til the end.

Lots of interesting books here! Thanks for sharing.

Tonia L said...

Nice list. I'm another fan of Anne Perry's Monk books - I've been steadily working my way through them. She's so detailed in her storyline.

Barbara H. said...

I've been wanting to read Gilead, but I am not a fan of rambly narratives. But I've heard it so highly recommended that I still might look into it some time.

Bluerose said...

I've had the dream of a bookshop! (Maybe during the empty nest years!) ;) The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry just went on my list. It sounds like something I would like.

Kelly Polark said...

The Storied Life of AJ Fikry sounds so amazing! I had never heard of it, but will definitely put this on my TBR list. I enjoy many young adult books, and will probably pick that one up too!

Thanks for sharing!

Sharon said...

AJ Fikry looks interesting. Thanks for sharing your list.

Silvia said...

Oh. I did not know you had a blog.
I am following you now.

bekahcubed said...

I have placed the top two on my TBR list - they sound absolutely fascinating. I love when nonfiction (The Ghost Map) reads as good narrative.