Category Archives: What I’m Reading

The Good

For the past month, I’ve taken off on a bit of a long-delayed summer reading jag. First, a graduate school commitment that required spending all but two weekends during June and July sitting in classrooms curtailed my ability to read for pleasure.  Oh, I did plenty of reading, but none that I’ll discuss in any detail here.  Next came the absolutely heady feeling of actually finishing those classes.  Even better, I’ve only scheduled three hours rather than six for the fall semester thanks to having taken a few courses before officially beginning my Ed.D. program.  The rest of my cohort will take a course I’ve already completed, which timed out nicely in giving me a little breathing room at the start of the school year.  Top all of that off with discovering the Overdrive app–which allows for downloading digital copies of books from my local library–and I needed no excuse for spending most of my free time adding to the “Read” column of my Goodreads page

I’d like to say all that time was well-spent.  As usual, though, a few books rose to the top while a few others sunk to the bottom (fortunately, not literally, considering much of this reading occurred poolside). 

Those that rose high:

No, I’m not schizophrenic.  I like to think of it as “eclectic.”  I will admit I tend to gravitate to mysteries/crime fiction when I’m seeking distraction and a bit of an escape via print.  The House at Seas End and The Hypnotist fall into that category nicely.  I found Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway series earlier this year, and read the first two books back to back before bemoaning the fact that I’d have to wait for the publication of the third installment.  These books remind me somewhat of Elizabeth George’s early work–back before I had to break up with her for killing off one of my favorite characters unnecessarily.  It’s probably the English setting and the relationship between the female protagonist and a male detective that leads to the comparisons.  In this case, Ruth Galloway is a forensic archaeologist rather than a police officer, but she still gets involved in lots of crime solving with a bit of romance thrown in for good measure.  The Hypnotist also can’t avoid comparison to other well-known books–in this case the Girl With The Dragon Tattoo series.  Like those books, The Hypnotist comes to American audiences via translation from the original Swedish.  Those cold winters must lead to lots of opportunity for thinking up crime novel plots.  Dark, twisted, crime novel plots.  I did find this book disturbing in places, but I couldn’t put it down once I started.  Evidently, the authors (a husband/wife team writing under a pen name Lars Kepler) plan a series with their lead character, Detective Joona Linna.  I’ll be reading more.

I did attempt to branch out a bit in my selections, and the next two books on my recommendation list reflect that.  Kevin Roose’s The Unlikely Disciple fits in to another favorite genre of mine–the memoir.  In this case, Roose shares his experiences during the semester he transferred from Brown University to Liberty, the university founded in Lynchburg, Virginia, by Jerry Falwell.  Roose previously interned with one of my favorite writers, A. J. Jacobs, as Jacobs wrote The Year of Living Biblically.  The idea of getting to know young people of the religious right from the inside came to Roose after he visited Falwell’s Thomas Road Baptist Church during his work with Jacobs.   I enjoyed the book both for the peek inside a very different kind of college experience and for Roose’s perspective as someone to whom the beliefs of this segment of our population were completely foreign.  Roose reports that before enrolling at Liberty, he didn’t know anyone who identified himself as a born-again Christian.  Having grown up in the middle of the Bible Belt, it’s hard for me to even imagine not being immersed in a fairly fundamentalist religious climate.  What’s impressive about Roose’s account is that he manages to take in his experiences and tell his story without sounding condescending or painting a one-dimensional picture of his fellow students.

The last book, Sisterhood Everlasting, likely got a four-star rating on its nostalgia factor alone.  I picked up Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants after my middle-school-aged daughter raved about it.  I wanted to find out what had her so intrigued at that juncture between childhood and the teen years.  The books captured so well all the angst that inevitably comes with growing up.  I loved them, and I loved talking to DD1 about them.  The most recent entry in the series comes after a hiatus and catches up with the four main characters as they struggle with life after college and dealing with adulthood.  It’s definitely worth the read if you’ve enjoyed the previous Sisterhood books.

Tune in later this week for the rest of the story…I’ll be reviewing the (not so) bad and the ugly entires on my summer reading list as well.

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Someday Is Not A Day of the Week

I hear some people actually clean their houses or tackle organizational projects rather than take on things they’d rather not do.  As evidenced by the state of my shoe collection–currently residing in multiple locations across the floor of my closet–I choose other activities.  Namely, reading–a somewhat ironic choice since it’s typically reading of another kind that I’m avoiding.  For the past several weeks, I’ve powered through multiple novels of varying complexity rather than face a mound of scholarly journal articles I must finish in preparation for my summer school class which begins Thursday.

Only a certain type of book serves my procrastination purposes.  While I usually shoot for a tier above the usual “chick lit” offerings, when work avoidance is the ultimate purpose of my reading, I like  books that provide distraction without requiring a great deal of concentration.  I find myself drawn to mysteries.  That and the fact that I also can’t resist a good series made my most recent choices the perfect distraction.  Julia Spencer-Fleming’s novels featuring Claire Fergusson, an army helicoptor pilot turned small town Episcopal prient drew me in immediately after I started the first of the group, In The Bleak Midwinter.  As a cradle Episcopalian, many of the details Specer-Fleming includes brought back childhood scenes of Rite One services and the liturgy that resides deep within my memory.  But the real action takes place outside the sanctuary, when Claire finds herself involved not only with solving a series of crimes but also with the town’s chief of police. I sped through all seven books in the series in a little less than a month, a timeframe which was evidently quick enough to avoid Adventure Guy’s perrenial question in these circumstances which is, “Exactly how many of these books are there, anyway?”

Having gotten my fill of mysteries during the month of May, I was pleased to find a preview copy of Anne Easter Smith, Queen By Right in my mailbox to help me continue in avoidance mode until my book club made its next selection.  If I’m not reading mysteries, historical fiction definitely comes in a close second for its distraction potential.  Smith’s strength lies in her ability to weave the information gleaned from her meticulous research into entertaining prose.  I loved the novel about Cecily Neville, Duchess of York, and the events leading up to the outbreak of the War of the Roses.  By far, the most engaging parts of this novel covered Cecily’s childhood and early married life.  After all, it’s hard to live an exciting life once you’ve commenced to producing a dozen children.  An enduring lesson from Queen By Right?  Being a woman in the 15th century left a lot to be desired–things like self-determination and the like.

My favorite recent read, however, was a return to the mystery genre.  I heard a review of The Devotion of Suspect X on NPR several months ago and added it to my “to read” list.  In an interesting twist, the reader of this Keigo Higashino novel knows the identity of the murderer in this case from near the outset of the book.  The remainder of the novel involves the investigation from both sides of the equation–that of the police detectives attempting to solve the crime and the suspects efforts to conceal their actions.  I don’t read a great deal of literature in translation, but I found that this book lived up to its reputation as one of the most successful Japanese novels in recent years.  I enjoyed both the experience of delving into life in Japan and the surprising twist near the end.

I’ve learned a lot about solving crime, Japanese culture, and British history in the past few weeks.  I’ve learned that my Kindle is far superior to my iPad for reading in the sun (and much less risky for taking onto the pool float, thereby achieving the truly perfect reading environment).  What I haven’t learned is how to stop time.  Unfortunately, that means that I’ll have to postpone any further book reviews until after I’ve read those articles I’ve managed to avoid up until now.  Because, yes, they are due.  Right about now.

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Search Party

Searching For Tamsen Donner

Sometimes I think my life is hard.  This tends to happen more often when I’m coming off a series of events like the recent combination of catching up at work from all the missed snow days, a business trip, back-t0-back weekends spent in graduate classes, and sending a child to China for three weeks.

Searching For Tamsen Donner is a book that makes me reconsider that characterization.  After all, when I was “snowed in” it involved a lot of reading while snuggled up in a cozy blanket and the cooking a crock pot meals for my family to eat when they took a break from sledding.  At no time did I have to consider how to feed my family, shelter them, or just keep them alive.

And, yes, I’ll go ahead and mention it.  I never had to figure out if I was going to eat one of my fellow travellers or if I was at risk of being eaten myself. So, really, life isn’t hard at all.

Gabrielle Burton weaves the story of the Donner Party’s ill-fated quest for California into her own family’s journey over one hundred years later when she, her husband, and their five daughters set out to retrace the Donner Party’s route.  Her interest in Tamsen Donner, wife of the group’s leader George, goes further than just morbid curiosity.  Burton sees Tamsen as battling some of the same questions that face her as a woman.  How can she be sure her voice is heard?  How does a mother balance her own needs and wants with that of her family?  Is there more to life somewhere over the next seemingly insurmountable mountain?

Burton, the product of a traditional Catholic upbringing, shares her angst over pursuing a writing career in the 1970s while simultaneously raising five children.  She takes her girls along with her to women’s rights and anti-war demonstrations and attends consciousness raising sessions whose success she rates according to how many of the group members fight with their husbands upon returning home. 

Burton’s second wave feminist experiences seem foreign to me in many ways, but her struggles to balance work and family ring true.  She describes the conflict between her career as writer and her duty as mother,

The writer had to explore, act on impulse, take risks, plunge to the core of things; the mother had to constantly weigh and measure, watch out, pull back.

When Burton decides to scrap a solo trip out West–via motorcycle, no less–in favor of a cross-country family trip by way of the family station wagon, she combines her dual identities of writer and mother.  The goal?  A novel with parallel plots involving the Donner Party and, who else, a mother in the 1970s.

That novel never saw print. But the resulting memoir provides plenty of interesting reading, especially for anyone whose ever wanted more but hasn’t quite known where to find it.

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What’s In A Name?

Cover of "Acceptance: A Legendary Guidanc...

Cover via Amazon

College.  Seemingly as soon as Adventure Guy and I arrived home with DD1–having driven more carefully those few miles from the hospital than on any other trip in our lives–someone warned ominously, “I hope you’ve started a college fund.  Do you know what it’s going to cost by the time she gets ready to go to school?” We’d nod in agreement and go back to thinking about paying for diapers and daycare. 

Now suddenly, DD1 is halfway through her junior year of high school.  She hasn’t needed diapers in years, though it’s amazing how other expenses took their place–swim team, cello lessons, car insurance payments.  I understand now how they come up with that six figure estimate of how much it takes to raise a child. And I have three of them!

I also, much to my relief, have inlaws who set aside money for our children’s education.  That fact alone opens up some options that the kids simply wouldn’t have otherwise, since we fall in that difficult category of making too much to qualify for need-based assistance but not enough to either have set aside a large college fund for each child or to pay college costs entirely out-of-pocket.  I firmly believe that it’s a mistake to saddle students with large amounts of college debt just as they begin their adult lives, and I would have a hard time encouraging one of my kids to go to a school that would require taking large loans to complete.

With all that said, it should please me that DD1 has narrowed her college search to public universities in states surrounding our own.  On her want list for a school:  strong science program, mid-size to large student enrollment, college town setting, winters no colder than here in Suburbia, and a location within driving distance from home. 

So this summer, we’ll make some visits to each of the campuses she’s identified so that she can get a feel for each of them.  We’ve also discussed visiting the Boston and Washington, D. C. areas to see some of the alma maters of various relatives.  Her grandmother is rooting for Georgetown, her school, while Adventure Guy’s uncle talks up Boston College.  But, DD1 shows little enthusiasm for those options.

And, it’s not that she couldn’t get in.  Her test scores are strong, her extracurricular activities both varied and deep, and she has a distinct advantage in the “geographic diversity” category.  None of that is a guarantee, but she hasn’t done anything to rule herself out of consideration for more competitive universities. 

My question.  Is it worth it?  Should we push her to apply at some of those schools or be thankful that she wants to stay closer to home and pursue an education that will not leave anyone in debt?  In fact, those scores above qualify her for some pretty nice merit-based scholarships at many of the schools on her list.

I just finished a great book on this topic–because as Adventure Guy once said if I’m doing something I’ve got to have a book about it–David L. Marcus’ Acceptance: A Legendary Guidance Counselor Find The Right Colleges–And Find Themselves.  I added it to my Kindle one day and finished it the next. In between I often found tears running down my cheeks as I read about the students and their individual challenges and triumphs, and I picked up some helpful tips to use when it comes time for DD1 to write those entrance essays.

Ultimately, I want her to find the school that fits for her.  The challenge is how to make sure she has a full understanding of all the options without hijacking the process.

I think it was easier changing those diapers!

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Reclaiming The “F” Word

Cover of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Electi...

Cover via Amazon

Is it possible to write a post about feminism while doing laundry and watching What Not To Wear?

Thanks to Rebecca Traister’s Big Girls Don’t Cry, an account of the 2008 election and its two high-profile female candidates, I began thinking about feminism in a way I haven’t previously.  If I’m going for honest self-reflection, I’ll have to admit to not spending a great deal of time thinking about it at all. I fall firmly into the generation Traister describes as the “backlash inheritors” of the ’80s and ’90s, the girls who came of age saying, “I’m not a feminist, but…”  Because, after all, weren’t feminists people who burned their bras and refused to shave their underarms?  Heaven knows no self-respecting Texas girl at the height of preppydom would have willingly admitted to supporting something like that.

But I remember even then feeling outrage when the media recrimination rained down on Hillary Rodham Clinton’s head during her husband’s first campaign in 1992 when she showed enough spunk when questioned about her career choices to state, “I suppose I could have stayed home and baked cookies and had teas, but what I decided to do was to fulfill my profession.” Traister adds in Big Girls Don’t Cry that few remember the follow-up to that comment,

I’m a big believer in women making the choices that are right for them.  The work that I have done as a professional, as a public advocate, has been aimed at trying to assure that women can make the choices they should make–whether it’s full-time career, full-time motherhood, or some combination…[That] is a generational change.

 And, of course, Clinton went on promote that change in a completely different way in 2008.  A generation of young girls witnessed someone like them stand on the podium as the winner in state presidential primary–in multiple state presidential primaries–even if, like my daughters, they didn’t witness their own mothers supporting those efforts.

No, I didn’t vote for Clinton in 2008, and I don’t regret my decision.  But isn’t that what real feminism is all about?  It’s about choosing a candidate on merit and not on gender identity.  It’s about the opportunity for equal education and equal job prospects.  It’s about making our own choices about marital status, reproductive health, and professional work. 

So my answer, is yes.  I can thoroughly enjoy caring for my family and looking fashionable (and, trust me, no one wants to see me going braless these days) while pursuing my own interests and career ambitions. And that said, I admit it. I am a feminist, no “buts” about it.

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Books I Read As An Excuse To Drink Wine With My Friends

Each and every time I announce to Adventure Guy that I have my once-a-month book club meeting, he says, “Wait!  Remember!  The first rule of book club is that we don’t talk about book club.” Yes, really.  Every. Single. Time. 

While my book club get together doesn’t rise to quite the level–or the Brad Pitt scenery–of Fight Club, I do love both the chance to read some books I might not have selected on my own and the opportunity to get out to a nice restaurant every month with a group of ladies I enjoy.  Our group provides a mix of both new and long-term friends, and, yes, we meet in restaurants.  Several of the women have small children, and no one wanted the pressure of both finishing a book and cleaning house in preparation for hosting our group. 

In 2010, we read…

  1. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
  2. The Postmistress by Sarah Blake
  3. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
  4. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
  5. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
  6. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
  7. Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
  8. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
  9. For the King by Catherine Delors
  10. The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls
  11. Saturday by Ian McEwen

Yes, there are only eleven titles for the year.  We sometimes get distracted by life and other little details, especially in the summer when kids and vacation plans tend to take time away from reading, or at least from meeting to talk about reading.  Also, I see the makings of a New Year’s resolution in my linking pattern (though I make it a rule not to actually make New Year’s resolutions).  Obviously, I’ve gotten away from doing book reviews on everything I read.  I’m especially surprised at my lack of detailed reviews for Cutting For Stone, Unaccustomed Earth, and The Glass Castle, all of which definitely make my personal favorites list for 2010.

I know a few of my readers belong to book clubs.  What books did your group tackle last year?  What should my group read in 2011?

P.S. If you’d like a chance to win a set of free books for your club, click over to Reading Group Guides  and post your list for last year.  I did, and I’m keeping my fingers crossed until February when they draw the winners!

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The Confession

Cover of "The Confession: A Novel"

Cover of The Confession: A Novel

It’s not every day that my hometown makes a cameo appearance in a best-selling novel.  But East Texas provides the setting for John Grisham’s latest installment, The Confession–a novel that takes on both the death penalty itself and the culture that allows it to thrive in many parts of our country. 

Grisham gets a lot right in this novel.  I could dither about a few details–for example there is no term limit for the Texas governorship, a fact unfortunately recently demonstrated by the re-election of Rick Perry to a third term–but he captures to feel of the place, especially the area of the state one of my high school friends describes as “behind the pine curtain.”

The trees stretch tall and the rolling hills surprise visitors expecting a scene ripped from all those Westerns, but the beauty of East Texas masks an ugly tension lying only marginally below the surface. Having spent twenty years of my life there, my stomach clenched when I read the dialogue Grisham wrote for scenes when a young black man found himself wrongly accused of murdering a white girl and later when he related the white community’s response to the outrage coming from the black side of town. 

And, of course, there’s a black side of town in Grisham’s fictional Slone, Texas.  One scene in the book, in fact, has a shotgun totting white homeowner warning a group of  black teenagers to get back to “where they belong.” 

Belonging.  Who belongs and who doesn’t?  Court-ordered school integration came slowly to our part of the state, happening only a few years before I started school in the early 1970s.  After that, black and white students (at least those whose families didn’t flee to smaller, whiter, districts) attended school together, played on sports teams together, sweated together through summer marching band practices.  But in many ways the chasm between “our” side or town and “their” side of town remained. We danced together, albeit on opposite sides of the gym, at high school homecoming events but then adjourned to our separate invitation-only after parties.

To their credit, though my parents never took a stand regarding segregated social events, they vehemently opposed the death penalty, in both principle and because of the unjust racial distribution found in any look at the death row population in Texas.  My father, an attorney, shared his concerns about the justice system and the unequal representation poor, and especially minority, defendants in our state.  With that kind of childhood dinner table conversation in my history, it’s not surprising that I  found myself cheering the efforts of the crusading defense attorney in The Confession and holding my breath as the clock ticked down toward the scheduled execution of an innocent man. 

Read Grisham’s latest novel for an installment of the fast-paced legal suspense he made his career on.  But more importantly, read it to understand the importance of convening a national conversation about the death penalty.  Because Grisham’s novel may be fiction, but unfortunately in Texas it falls much too close to reality.

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On My List

the girl with the dragon tattoo
Image by tantillus via Flickr

As an official member of the summer 2010 doctoral cohort and my new university, I now find myself required to take six hours each semester to stay on track to graduate with the group.  Prior to my admission to the program, I had the luxury of taking twelve hours of courses on an ad hoc basis, and I spread those twelve hours over several semesters, taking six hours only once. Overall, the course load is not too daunting, since our program is taught on a condensed class schedule–three weekends consisting of a Thursday evening class and all-day Saturday class.  Typically, there’s also a concluding assignment that extends beyond the dates of the actual classes, and the two classes each semester are split so that students take only one course at a time.

I like that I don’t always have something I need to do for school hanging over my head.  But when I find myself in the midst of a class, I have little time to spare for anything else…such as pleasure reading.

If you follow this blog at all, you know I’m an avid reader.  And, interesting though they may be, the scholarly works I read for my courses don’t quite fit the escapism and/or relaxation bill.  Like many addicts, I’ve discovered that I react to a forced withdrawal from my drug of choice by bingeing.

Since I’m on hiatus from coursework for another week or so, I thought it would be nice to do a bit of an update on what I’ve devoured after I hit the send button to deliver my final paper to the professor for this semester’s first course.

  • Steig Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy:  The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played With Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked The Hornet’s Nest.  For some reason I’d avoided this hit series, even though I’d actually picked it up more than once during my browsing trips to the bookstore.  Once my book club selected the first novel, however, I not only sped through it but also couldn’t wait to download the remaining books to my Kindle.  The worst part about this series is the fact that its author died soon after delivering the manuscripts–these characters are ones I’d like to follow through more adventures. The good news is a friend just let me know that the Swedish movie versions will be showing at our local independent theater soon–definitely something that calls for a girls’ night out!
  • I left the modern world behind and delved back into one of my favorite genres–historical fiction–for the next book club selection.  We read For The King by Catherine Delors as this month’s choice.  I was underwhelmed by this story of Napoleonic France.  To many confusing characters, to little overall action.
  • Chick lit is clearly the cure for all that ails me when I’m powering through my “to read” list.  So, I ran through the next installments in quick fashion, enjoying some more than others.  The Wednesday Sisters by Meg Waite Clayton, Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner, and The Good Daughters by Joyce Maynard all managed to provide the kind of distraction from my own daily life that I’ve needed lately.  Who can worry about the little day-to-day details when  these characters face things so much more daunting–infidelity, babies switched at birth, infertility and unexpected pregnancies.  It’s all there.  Of the three books, I have to say I enjoyed The Wednesday Sisters the most for its take on suburban home life in the infancy of the Silicon Valley boom. 
  • And now, at least until I download some new titles for our upcoming plane trip, I’m taking a break from fiction.  Instead I’m enjoying A. J. JacobsThe  Guinea Pig Diaries:  My Life As An Experiment. Jacobs is one of my favorite memoirists–with his The Know-It-All ranking high on my list of funniest books ever.  I laughed; I cried; I annoyed my husband by insisting on reading parts of the book aloud to him. So far, this most recent installment is not quite rising to that level of funny, but I’m enjoying it nonetheless.

I have two more weeks before my next self-imposed pleasure-reading ban kicks in.  What should I be sure to tackle before then?

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What’s On Your List?

Summer reading takes on a whole new meaning once you move out of the realm of required school preparation. Though both DD1 and DD2 have some great books on their list this year, I see them in full procrastination mode–choosing to immerse themselves in other things, avoiding the inevitable until the calendar shifts toward August.  I, on the other hand, find myself powering through even more books than usual, especially in light of the fact that our weekends lately proved unusually rainy for July.

And, yes, I’ll admit my selections so far this month appear a bit eclectic when grouped together!  I discovered the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich a few years after the first lingerie buyer turned bounty hunter novel came out.  Much to Adventure Guy’s dismay, I couldn’t put the books down and sped through the first eight or so in record time.  I seem to recall him asking something along the lines of, “How many of those things are there?” To which I replied, “Did you say something?”  He was happy when I ran out readily available titles and had to resort to waiting for the June release of the newest installment each year, but, to his great credit, I must note he actually picked up this year’s book as an impromptu anniversary surprise for me. The recent offerings, say numbers twelve through fifteen or so haven’t lived up to the fun of the first few books.  However, with Sizzling Sixteen, I found Evanovich back to her original form.  This stuff is great escape reading, perfect for the lake, which is where I polished off Sixteen while the rest of the group caught our dinner. 

I also thoroughly enjoyed The Devlin Diary, which is a follow-up to Christi Philips’ earlier book, The Rosetti Letter.  Both books combine two of my favorite genres, the historical novel and the mystery.  I enjoy the format Phillips uses–alternating back and forth between historical events and the modern-day historian researching those same happenings.

While The Devlin Diary incorporates a bit of a time travel feel by blending the story lines of the past with that of today, My Name is Memory, by Ann Brashares, takes that idea to a much different level, telling the story of two souls meant to be together. Unlike most people, Memory‘s main character has just that–a memory not only of his past lives but also of his great love.  His search for her and her recognition of him drive the plot, right up until the end–when the novelist seems to simply stop.  Not wrap things up, not even leave us hanging in a meaningful way.  It just ends.  I enjoyed this book, and it has stayed with me longer than many of my lighter summer reads, but I’ll admit to being thoroughly annoyed by the ending.  You’ve been warned!

The final book, Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay, flitted off and onto my book radar for a while before a friend loaned me her copy.  I’d heard the premise, and I wasn’t sure I felt up to an emotionally challenging read.  For some reason  novels with the Holocaust as a setting have figured heavily in my selections lately.  I’m glad I decided to read this one.  Though certainly sad, the book moves beyond the tragedy of the events of that time and reminds us of the need to open our eyes and be willing to see the truth about both our past and our present.

I’ve slowed a bit on my leisure reading since I have a graduate class this weekend and next which brings plenty of required reading (policy planning theory, anyone?).  I’m looking forward to my book club meeting on Tuesday and this month’s selection, plus I managed to find a few titles to add to my Goodreads “to read” list during a recent outing to the book store with DD2. 

I’ll keep you posted on what I read next, but I also always need suggestions!  What are your recommendations for the best read of this summer?

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June Gloom and Doom

This month marks a big milestone here in Suburbia.  On the 30th, Adventure Guy and I will celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary.  And, I can honestly say that our marriage feels oddly both enduring and fresh at the same time. 

While I’m sure I’ll come up with an appropriately sentimental post as we near the actual date, I’ve found it a bit ironic that my reading selections lately tend toward novels delving into the dissatisfaction that can set in when couples find themselves immersed in the mundane tasks of day-to-day life.  For the most part, I feel very little of that type of dissatisfaction with my life (though Adventure Guy and I just had a “discussion” about who had more useless television programming set to record on the DVR).

Emily Griffin’s Heart of the Matter started the trend.  I thoroughly enjoyed Griffin’s earlier novels, Something Borrowed, Something Blue, Baby Proof, and Love The One You’re With.  Yes, I’ve read all her novels.  So, I happily downloaded the latest for my Kindle.  Part of the fun of the earlier books resides in the escapism.  But Heart of the Matter plops the reader right into what is depicted as the petty, social climbing world of Wellesley, Massachusetts, where the main character has nothing more important to worry about than keeping up with the other moms in the preschool snack arms race.  That is until her husband becomes involved in an affair.  The plot twists made for a quick read, but it’s not a novel I’d recommend.

As far as literary strength, I’d certainly give the edge to Anna Quindlen over Emily Griffin, so I was even more excited to learn that she had a new novel out.  Maybe it’s because I tend to remember her nonfiction, such as A Short Guide To A Happy Life, before I think of her other novels such as Black and Blue and Blessings, but I have to admit finding myself blindsided by the major plot twist in Every Last One.  That would not have been as much the case had I spent any time looking at reviews before popping this one onto my Kindle.  Even the “non-spoiler” versions mention that something tragic happens in the course of the novel.  I will not go into detail, but I will say the viciousness of that tragedy shocked me. 

Every Last One really divides into two novels.  The first, depicting–again–life in suburbia complete with the daily details of raising a family, running a household, and keeping up a marriage–all while throwing in a successful small business career. The remainder of the novel shows just how little any of that matters once something happens that forever changes that family and community.  Every Last One was a better, but far more disturbing, read that was Heart of the Matter, but I can’t quite bring myself to say I enjoyed it. 

What I do enjoy is living my own life here in Suburbia.  And, though it comes with its share of day-to-day minutia, I find it far from boring.  That said, I’m vowing my next venture into summer reading will having nothing to do with domestic dissatisfaction!

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