The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

April 15, 2014


Very good historical fiction based on the lives of early abolitionists and feminists Sarah and Angelina Grimke (women I only vaguely knew about) and the imagined life of an enslaved woman “given” to Sarah on her 11th birthday.  Really well written, memorable book.

Dogtown, by Elyssa East

January 19, 2014

[Lesley]  I have seen this book going in and out at the library for years and every time I think – “that looks interesting… I should read that.” Well, I finally checked it out and I was right! This is an intriguing book looking at one small area of Cape Ann from historic, artistic, spiritual, true crime, and anthropologic perspectives. The entire book is framed by the author’s own interest in this area, sparked by her admiration for and connection to the paintings of Hartley Marsden that center on the rock formations in Cape Ann’s dogtown. As she searches for an epiphany in her own life she discovers the fascinating history of Dogtown and other “towns” like it as well as more recent events (murder, conservation efforts, and invasive species – plants and people) that become more “proof” of what people already feel and think about the transcendent and dark qualities of this mostly unclaimed piece of earth. A great read – I’m sorry I waited so long to discover it!

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage, by Ann Patchett

January 2, 2014

[Lesley] I’m definitely a fan of Ann Patchett. I think I read The Magician’s Assistant first and loved that. Then Bel Canto, which I liked but not as much as the hype might have predicted. Truth & Beauty, however, took my head off (even though it is prose and not poetry). I find this kind of a relationship with a writer’s work to be very comfortable — I don’t love everything she writes but I always admire her writing and when a particular story speaks to me, I am 100% involved.
This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage is a collection of essays published in a variety of places and on a narrow range of subjects that all amount to her particular viewpoint on her own life, relationships (with other humans and dogs), writing, reading, bookstores, family, and home. I really liked this book and find myself also feeling that I like Ann Patchett as a person even though we have never met. Her nonfiction writing is well-crafted and at the same time seems effortless — certainly it is effortless to read. Some of her thoughts on writing are the best I’ve ever read (and, yes, she received many of the ideas from her own mentors, but she relays them in her context) and it would be hard to find a more frank look at divorce in all of its particular and universal characteristics.
There is a particular type of semi-memoir essay collection (this one, Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver, several by Annie Dillard) that is just a pleasure to read and makes you feel like you have gotten to know someone very worthwhile who has given you some new things to think about. Highly recommended and feels like a great way to start a new year.

Someone, by Alice McDermott

December 26, 2013

[Lesley]  Can you tell that I’m catching up on reviewing what I’ve been reading??  Someone is a beautiful book – filled with hope, optimism, and humanity in the face of difficult circumstances. It reminded me of how I loved A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and its characters and setting. Alice McDermott writes gorgeous prose with touches of humor and insight and always compassion.

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt

December 26, 2013

[Lesley]  Donna Tartt is a genius. I don’t know how she creates such long, fascinating, slightly creepy, complex, mysterious, beautiful, epic stories but she does it every time. With characters that you like, hate, love, find distasteful, empathize with, and cannot understand. Her books are very different from each other, and yet so distinctly written by her and with similarities that resonate between them. The Goldfinch is a reverse art mystery — you know what has happened to the famous artwork, but you don’t know how or if it will ever be recovered. Every life touched by the event that precipitates the painting’s “disappearance” is unalterably changed in ways that manage to be negative and positive at the same time. There are few straight lines or black/white divisions in Tartt’s fiction — it’s nearly impossible to take sides or to find your footing in what amounts to an amoral universe. One of the best books I’ve read this year.

Lexicon, by Max Barry

December 26, 2013

[Lesley]  I first read Max Barry with his book Jennifer Government and I loved the directness of his writing/storytelling and his clever mind and characters. This book was equally as good in exactly those ways. Lexicon takes on weaponized language & words being used by a secretive agency in ways we never entirely understand. Like most successful secret agencies, the agents are mostly isolated, never knowing more than what they “need-to-know” which limits their power even as they are given very powerful tools to use as they are instructed. Sharp, funny, techno (ish), sci-fi.

Enon, by Paul Harding

December 26, 2013

[Lesley]  I couldn’t imagine how Paul Harding would do with his second book after his first one won the Pulitzer (no pressure, right?). Tinkers was such an unusual blend of stream of consciousness, dream state, and fictional memoir, it’s not like he could write another in the same vein like so many authors do to capitalize on his breakout success. Somehow he has written a more readable/mainstream story about a character who lives in a similar dreamlike and interior world, but not to the exclusion of real life events and tragedies. Beautifully written, Enon strikes much more of a balance between lyric storytelling and actual character development and an emotional journey. This is a hard story to read – the events and the choices that the main character makes are heart-rending – but well worth it.

Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson

July 17, 2013

[Lesley] This was a great read. The repetition never got repetitious and the characters – especially Ursula – are very compelling and unfold in intriguing ways. I couldn’t put the book down EXCEPT for the parts in Germany and then when Ursula is part of the Watch. Those sections abandoned the snapshot style of the rest of the book and were simply too drawn out. Clearly Atkinson felt that those sections needed to be there to more fully illuminate Ursula’s motivations, but I disagree. We could have had those sections be more fleeting like the others and still have ended up in the same place. The Watch section at least gave us more of the family and that helped. I would have given this 5 stars except for the slow parts.

It is fascinating to see all the different possibilities for a life from birth through school, marriage, and adulthood. Sometimes the changes are minute – so small that the eventual outcome is the same. Sometimes the changes mean that many people’s lives take entirely different paths than they might have. Beyond this structure, the novel raises questions about memory, perspective, our impact on others, and the infinite number of choices we face daily. Highly recommended to anyone.

We are All Completely Beside Ourselves, by Karen Joy Fowler

July 5, 2013

[Lesley] This story is revealed to us starting “in the middle” according to our narrator, Rosemary, and we come to learn why she starts there and much more about her unconventional family. Some of these characters are familiar – the angry brother who leaves home, the sisters who compete with each other for attention, the scientist father who has trouble seeing his family as separate from his studies, the emotional mother who withdraws after a family crisis, but this particular family makes those roles new given their unusual situation. In some ways this is a complex story, made more complicated by the order in which things are revealed, but it is told so compellingly and is so interesting that readers won’t be lost even when they don’t understand everything. Rosemary is a likeable character, but also honest about her own flaws (even the ones she is just discovering). The writing and the way this story is told are both excellent – Highly recommended.

Sisterland, by Curtis Sittenfeld

July 5, 2013

[Lesley] This is a great book about sisters (twins even, though they are different enough that all sisters will relate to their dynamic) and how much of who you are is choice and how much is nature. Kate, aka Daisy, is a great narrator. We learn about her through her first-person narration but also through her relationships with her distant father, her husband, her friends & neighbors, and her sister. The psychic storyline is integral to the plot but is only a small piece of what Kate needs to come to terms with in herself. Sittenfeld writes a good story and keeps everything moving along and interesting.


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