The Drawing of the Three (Dark Tower Series #2) by Stephen King (#20BooksofSummer book #1)

Confession:  before last month, I’d never read a novel by Stephen King.  I’d read his book On Writing some years ago (very good,) and I’d enjoyed his regular columns about pop culture in Entertainment Weekly when he was doing that.  But the farthest I’d ever gotten with one of his novels was my attempt to read The Stand when I was about 14 years old.  I’d seen the TV miniseries with Gary Sinise and Molly Ringwald and was totally taken by it (scared witless by it too – pandemic stuff always totally freaks me out.) But it was just too terrifying and gory for me to stomach.

418T3GHQAQLLeave it to another movie adaptation to get me interested in reading King again.  When I heard that Idris Elba and Matthew McConoughey were going to star in the upcoming Dark Tower movie, I knew I wanted to see it – but I wanted to read it first.  I’ve always had a thing for Matthew McConoughey ever since I saw him in A Time To Kill back when I was in college.  I now think he might not be that awesome IRL, but on screen he is magnetic and fascinating.

So last month I read the first book in the series, The Gunslinger.  I didn’t review it because I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT THE HELL I READ.  Honestly, I was as confused as I was entertained.  If you’ve not read it, all I can tell you is that there’s this Gunslinger named Roland, and he’s SUPER talented with guns, and he’s on a quest to find The Man in Black. Finding The Man in Black is the first step towards getting to The Dark Tower, which is Roland’s obsession.  He’s traveling through a desert area that resembles the American Old West, but it’s not our universe – it’s like a parallel universe with some echoes of things we’d recognize.  His language is a weird mix of archaic English and modern-day English.  He meets up with a boy named Jake, who is from our world and time, and we find out that in his world Jake was pushed into oncoming traffic and died crushed by a car.  They go through these ridiculous mountains pursuing The Man in Black, and then bad stuff happens, and then Roland and The Man in Black have this weird, trippy talk where TMIB takes Roland on this tour of the universe and reads his tarot cards…  yeah, it’s bizarre.  But I had read and heard that the first book in the series is the weakest, and that the second book is much better and more compelling.

I liked The Gunslinger enough to continue with the second book, The Drawing of the Three.  And people were right – the second book really delivers.  It’s just as hard to describe as the first book, but not as confusing. Roland wakes up on a beach, and he immediately encounters these terrifying lobster-like creatures that are as big as dogs that he calls “lobstrosities.”  One of them gets his hand and chops off two of his fingers.  Infection ensues. Short plot summary:  He sees these doors on the beach, totally unsupported by anything, which are portals into our universe at different times.  Three doors.  Each one leads him to a person who is vital to his quest for reaching The Dark Tower.  We have Eddie, a young heroin addict in modern time; Odetta, an African American woman in a wheelchair in the 1950s; and Jack Mort, a psychopath sadist with a connection to Odetta. Roland can go through these doors and into the minds of the three while his physical body is left behind on the beach in his universe.  It’s weird, I know.

But I couldn’t stop turning the pages.  King has this way of leaving you wanting more with every chapter’s end.  I was totally immersed in this strange tale – would Roland make it before the infection killed him? Would the three people he inhabited help him, or would they turn on him? Why does Odetta seem to be schizophrenic?  Would they ever get off the damn beach??  If you couldn’t tell, I’m hooked.  I have to continue with the next book, The Waste Lands.  I’m really regretting not putting the rest of these on my #20BooksofSummer list.  I may have to switch out one or two of the books for the third and fourth in the series!  We’ll see.  (Oh, and I just remembered that I have my book group books for June and July to consider and fit in as well. Ugh, I STINK at planning my reading!)

So have you read this series?  Are you interested in the movie?  Have you read any Stephen King before?  What’s your favorite Matthew McConoughey role?  I’d love to know your thoughts.

#20BooksofSummer: Taking the Plunge

Last year I joined Cathy’s #20BooksOfSummer Challenge but chose the option of reading ten books instead of twenty.  I know myself, and I know that I am a mood reader. Writing down a list of books that I MUST read ignites my inner rebel and instantly makes me want to read anything but.  And when I began thinking of my lists for this year’s challenge, I was going to go with the 10 books again.  However, having seen many lists going up this week, I’ve started to question my decision.  I think I’m going to go ahead, roll the dice, and do the FULL TWENTY!  So what if I don’t finish?  So what if I decide to swap out books?  No one is going to notice, because they’re too busy reading their own books and writing their own posts, right?  I’m not being graded on this, so why not?  Quit being such a perfectionist, Laila!  So, here is my list. (BTW, the picture below is not the full twenty – some of them will be library books I haven’t checked out yet.)

IMG_1646The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

The Drawing of the Three (Dark Tower #2) by Stephen King

Passing by Nella Larsen

Now You See Me (Lacey Flint #1) by Sharon Bolton

In the Country by Mia Alvar

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Saints For All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan

Discontent and Its Civilizations:  Dispatches From New York, Lahore, and London by Mohsin Hamid

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Apex Hides the Hurt by Colson Whitehead

The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie

The Reckoning (Maeve Kerrigan #2) by Jane Casey

Lady Susan, The Watsons, and Sanditon by Jane Austen

Ghana Must Go by Taye Selasi

American Street by Ibi Zoboi

At Mrs. Lippincote’s by Elizabeth Taylor

Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery

Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery

Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery

(Yes, I’m combining my #AnneReadAlong2017 with this challenge!)

20-booksThere it is!  Have you read any of these?  Are you joining the #20BooksofSummer Challenge?  

#AnneReadAlong2017: Thoughts on Anne of Green Gables

Note: Jane at Greenish Bookshelf and Jackie at Death By Tsundoku are co-hosting an Anne of Green Gables series readalong for the remainder of the year.  Check out their blogs for more info on how to join the fun!

IMG_1643Having somehow not read any of the Anne of Green Gables series as a child (too busy reading Sweet Valley High and Babysitter’s Club, I guess) I read the first book as an adult in 2009.  I remember being quite charmed by it, but I didn’t feel the need to continue with the series for some reason.  (I get like that – it usually takes me years to complete series – too many books calling me!)  But since I’ve been book blogging, I started feeling left out of the know when it came to L. M. Montgomery’s classics.  It seemed everyone was speaking a language that I didn’t understand as I kept seeing posts about the series.  So when the #AnneReadAlong came up, I knew I wanted to join and give myself the push I needed to complete the series.  I read my library branch’s copy, which is a donation to our collection.  It’s a Canadian edition from 1942, and it has some nice illustrations.

On a second reading of Anne of Green Gables, I immediately questioned whether or not I was a horrible person.  At first, I felt irritated by Anne’s cheerfulness, her constant chirping about “how splendid!” everything was. Had I grown that cynical and cranky in eight years? I worried, is this a taste of my future as a crotchety old woman?!?

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Gilbert teasing Anne.

And then, thankfully, I began to let Montgomery’s sweet story work its charms on me.  I started to feel envious of Anne and her friends walking to and from school and one another’s houses, enjoying the beautiful natural world of Prince Edward Island.  I spend almost no time outdoors on a regular workday, sadly, and I almost never walk anywhere – to the park and back with my son when I’m off, but that’s about it.  I do love noticing birds and flowers and trees, so I feel like I connect with Anne in that way.  But my experience of modern life is probably true for many other people who live in suburbs, commute to work in cars, and work inside air-conditioned buildings.  What it must have been like to be that connected to the natural rhythms of the seasons, to be so attuned to every flowering of buds and beautiful sunset.  Yep, I’m jealous.

I was also struck by how different children seem to be now compared to the early part of the twentieth century.  When Anne was 12, she seemed so much more innocent and naive than modern twelve year-olds.  But when she was 16 she seemed so much more independent and organized than many sixteen year-olds today.  Children became “adults” much faster than we seem to now, in that they started working and getting married so much earlier, and yet while they were children they were able to fully be children and indulge their imaginations and be silly and playful.

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Anne on the Barry roof

I fell in love with Matthew Cuthbert, of course, and his devotion to Anne.  (“Matthew would have thought that anyone who praised Anne was ‘all right.'”)  His quiet determination to let Anne have a dress like the ones the other girls wear and his being flustered in the store is just priceless. I’m so glad that Anne had Matthew’s gentle adoration to counter-balance Marilla’s undemonstrative demeanor.  And yet I found myself liking Marilla more and more as the book continued.  I especially identified with her once Anne had gone to study at Queen’s, and Marilla came home to a quiet house with a “gable room at the end of the hall (that) was untenanted by any vivid young life and unstirred by any soft breathing.”  Any parent can empathize with Marilla’s grief, whether or not their child has left the nest yet.

So many of you have read this series that I’m not going to do anything like a plot summary, but I do want to highlight some of my favorite quotations and passages.  Some are funny; some are just highly quotable words of wisdom.

Marilla to Rachel Lynde when she expresses doubts about them adopting a child:  “And as for the risk, there’s risks in pretty near everything a body does in this world.”

Anne, anticipating a picnic: “I have never tasted ice-cream.  Diana tried to explain what it was like, but I guess ice-cream is one of those things that are beyond imagination.”  SO TRUE, ANNE.

Marilla, after Anne’s adventure on the roof:  “There’s one thing plain to be seen, Anne,” said Marilla, “and that is your fall off the Barry roof hasn’t injured your tongue at all.”  Ha!

Anne, to Marilla at age thirteen: “It’s perfectly appalling to think of being twenty, Marilla.  It sounds so fearfully old and grown up.”

Anne: “Look at that sea, girls – all silver and shadow and visions of things not seen.  We couldn’t enjoy its loveliness any more if we had millions of dollars and ropes of diamonds…”  Jane: “I don’t know- exactly,” said Jane, unconvinced.  “I think diamonds would comfort a person for a good deal.”  I like how you think, Jane!

I’m so glad I have an excuse to continue with the series!  This is just the breath of fresh air I need to inject my reading life with a little sweetness and wholesomeness.  Modern fiction can be so…you know…depressing!  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I like depressing as much as the next 21st century bookworm, but this is a nice change of pace.  On to Book 2 – Anne of Avonlea!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

40 For 40 Update: Some Progress Is Made, And A Poll!

So a while back I wrote about turning 40 this year, and how I’d made a list of 40 small “challenges” I wanted to complete before the year is out.  Well, since my birthday’s come and gone, I thought it was time to share an update on my progress and give you a look at the whole list.  (It wasn’t complete the last time I wrote about it.)

IMG_1628Here are the challenges I’ve completed:

  1. Memorize a poem (The Summer Day by Mary Oliver)
  2. Eat a salad for lunch every day for a week
  3. Meditate at least 5 minutes every day for a week
  4. Plant something new in the garden (watermelon and pumpkin)
  5. Read one book of the Bible (Mark)
  6. Don’t get on Twitter or Facebook after 6 pm for one week
  7. Do a three-star sudoku puzzle
  8. Thoroughly de-clutter my chest of drawers
  9. Drink 8 glasses of water a day for a week
  10. Work out in the 30 Minute Fitness area of my gym

Here are some challenges that I’m currently working on:

  1. Learn some ASL signs/phrases
  2. Watch all the Iranian films in my library system’s movie collection (we have a lot!)
  3. Get rid of 40 possessions (I’ve gotten rid of ten so far)

Challenges still remaining:

  1. Read a classic book that has intimidated me (I’ve not yet chosen which book!)
  2. Go see a play
  3. Bike from my house to a local landmark (I still haven’t gotten a bike yet!)
  4. Cook something that intimidates me
  5. Bake something complicated
  6. Take a dance class
  7. Start learning how to knit
  8. Get my passport renewed
  9. Go to Toronto to visit my cousin and sight-see
  10. Visit a church
  11. Go on a hike with my Dad
  12. Play with my son right after dinner every night for a week instead of immediately washing the dishes
  13. Camp overnight with my husband and son (I’ve never camped)
  14. Take a yoga class
  15. Read a book that my husband picks for me
  16. Volunteer with an organization for an afternoon/a day
  17. Write a paper letter to a faraway friend
  18. Do one random act of kindness every day for a week
  19. Call an old friend who is faraway
  20. Go to a museum
  21. Visit Parnassus Books in Nashville
  22. Take a class – art, cooking, gardening, etc.
  23. Begin learning Farsi
  24. Spend 15 minutes reading poetry daily for one week
  25. Bake bread (I’ve never tried)
  26. Swim with my son at the neighborhood pool this summer (I’m notorious for avoiding a bathing suit)
  27. Attempt to make tadig or tahdig (a Persian crusty-rice dish that’s very popular – and delicious!  My mom used to make it when I was a kid.)

Lately my attention to the list has been poor.  The first few months of the year I was gung-ho about the project, but I’ve slacked off the last couple of months. I still want to accomplish as many of the goals as possible before the end of the year, though, so I’m renewing my focus!

Here’s where you come in:  You get to help decide which classic book I read! Take a look at my choices, all books I want to read sometime in my life.  Vote in the poll!

If you have any tips on making any of my challenges easier, I’m all ears.  I’ll be sure to post an update later in the year, and I’ll let you know the results of the book poll shortly!

 

No One Is Coming To Save Us by Stephanie Powell Watts

Sometimes you read a book that quietly sneaks up on you, becoming more engrossing and more moving as you turn the pages.  I wasn’t initially sure about Stephanie Powell Watts’s No One Is Coming To Save Us, but I came to really enjoy being in the company of these flawed, authentic characters.  This is a novel filled with people who are stuck and people who are yearning, and I became totally invested in their lives.  The book jacket and pre-publication buzz may have led you to believe that this is a contemporary African American version of The Great Gatsby, but I took this novel for what it was:  a compelling family saga set in an economically depressed North Carolina town.

51u0JxuMEWL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Pinewood has seen better days – the furniture factories are almost all shuttered and even the town’s beloved greasy diner that’s been there since the 1950’s is about to close for good.  JJ (now Jay) Ferguson, former foster child,  has come back to Pinewood with money, and has built a showcase home on the hill high above town.  It’s obvious to anyone who knows him that he’s returned to win the heart of his high-school love, Ava.  Ava, meanwhile, has a good job at the bank but a sham of a marriage, and has been desperately trying to conceive a child unsuccessfully for years.  Her mother, Sylvia, is the heart of the novel.  She’s contemplating aging, secretly conversing regularly with a young convict named Marcus, and has never moved through the grief of losing her son, Devon, years ago in an accident.

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Stephanie Powell Watts

Watts knows how to write realistic dialogue and knows how to portray flawed characters sympathetically.  She’s a beautiful writer, mixing contemporary feeling conversations with astute observations about life.

Some passages I liked:

“These days when she got a glimpse of a beautiful man, she sized him up like a jeweler. Good cut, good sparkle, nice setting, but not something she herself could afford.”

“She wanted to tell Lana that for years she’d heard whispers that sounded like her son.  She almost confessed that when she found herself alone she spoke into the air until it vibrated with her voice and waited for her son’s voice to echo back.  She wanted to say that in waiting for her son she had almost surely failed her daughter who clearly need her, who probably knew better than to ask for her attention.  She wanted to tell Lana everything that would identify her as total-lost like a wrecked car and the county people could certify her gone in the ways that they do and finally, finally she could experience the peace, the calm of the diagnosis.  Everybody has a disease.”

“But soon and in clearer moments she knew she had made her own choice not to lose him or at least not to lose all of her memories of him.  She wanted the past where they lived and struggled and loved each other.  A past that couldn’t and shouldn’t be erased.  The possibility of the past, if it is a good one, or even if it has good moments, is that it can be alive, if you let it.  All of it alive, not just the terror, but the beauty too.  And the young encompassing and smothering love she’d felt for her lovely man – all that alive too. Otherwise all those years, her years, her life had not meant a thing.” 

There are no easy answers for the inhabitants of Pinewood, no outside saviors, no miracle solutions.  There is only going through, straight through the hard stuff of life – aging, infertility, depression, regrets.  And yet I wasn’t weighed down by this book. I continued to reach for it and looked forward to visiting these characters.  Perhaps the only salvation to be found is in the determined survival of Sylvia, Ava, and the rest of the characters.  Stephanie Powell Watts has written a moving story with a glimmer of hope, and I most definitely recommend it for fans of family sagas.

 

Anne of Green Gables Readalong!

Jackie at Death By Tsundoku posted today about the Anne of Green Gables Readalong.  She is co-hosting with Jane at Greenish Bookshelves.  I read the first book in the series some years ago, as an adult.  I don’t know how I managed to get through childhood without reading them!  But I never continued with the rest of the series.  I feel like I’ve missed something! Hardly a week goes by that I don’t see a post somewhere referencing those books. I’m tired of feeling left out of the loop.  So I’m joining up now, even though May is over halfway finished.

Here are the details (per Jackie) in case you’re interested in joining:

  1. Each month, starting in May, we will read and review one book in the series. Not sure if you can read all 8? No worries! Just join in for what you can, even if you are posting “late”.
  2. Post your review on your blog, website, YouTube channel, etc. and link in our monthly posts! 
  3. Read, comment, and participate on other Anne lovers’ posts, and on Twitter with #AnneReadAlong2017.

May – Anne of Green Gables

June – Anne of Avonlea

July – Anne of the Island

August – Anne of Windy Poplars

September – Anne’s House of Dreams

October – Anne of Ingleside

November – Rainbow Valley

December – Rilla of Ingleside

 

anne-of-green-gables-paperbacksAnyone interested in joining us?  Have you read this series – once or more than once?

Mini Reviews: Barbara Pym, Jess Walter, Cristina Henriquez

My reading has been far outpacing my blog writing lately.  I feel like maybe I’m in a blogging funk.  The past couple of weeks I either want to spend my evenings (after the kiddo goes to bed) reading, zoning out with television, or sleeping.  I hope to find my blogging vigor again soon!  I’m pretty sure it’s a phase.

But before I get too far behind, I thought I’d play catch-up with a few mini-reviews.

18899436I adore Barbara Pym.  I’m slowly making my way through all of her books.  A Few Green Leaves is my eighth Pym novel, leaving five more works to go.  Published in 1980, it was her last completed novel.  Not quite as sharp in focus as some of her earlier works, it still contains many elements of Pym-ish goodness:  British small village life, clueless but well-meaning and unfailingly polite characters, romantic misunderstandings.  Our heroine is Emma, an unmarried anthropologist in her 30’s, coming to the village to get some peace and quiet to work on her notes.  We also meet the rector Tom, who lives in the too-large rectory with his sister Daphne.  Daphne swooped in to help Tom after his wife died some years ago, and is now chafing at her life in the village, dreaming of moving to Greece, where she vacations annually.  Pym portrays traditional gender roles in a changing time with subtle skill –  men are usually oblivious and self-centered and women are ambivalent about their unappreciated efforts.  Country doctors, elderly spinsters, people behaving incredibly politely to one another while thinking something else entirely… the rambling cast of characters circle around one another throughout the novel, and nothing much happens but the stuff of life  – conversations, garden walks, “hunger lunches,” a few halfhearted romantic assignations.

A Few Green Leaves was delightful.  It’s not my favorite Pym ever, but it’s a worthwhile, most enjoyable read.  If you’ve never read Pym before, I wouldn’t recommend that you start with this one; I’d pick Excellent Women or Jane and Prudence.  Still, if you’ve read a Pym or two and you’d like to continue, feel safe that this one will provide you hours of intelligent, amusing, entertainment.

51crAY8ox2L._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_I don’t even know how to begin to describe The Zero by Jess Walter.  The jacket blurbs mention satire many times, and Kafka and Heller are referenced twice.  Jess Walter is another of my very favorite authors, and he has a terrific gift not only for scathingly funny black humor, but he also portrays his characters with a genuine compassion and humanity – even when they’re not “nice”  people.  This is a book about 9/11, published in 2006, with a reverent eye on the tragedy and an irreverent one on America’s response.  Brian Remy is a New York City cop who was among the first on the scene of the Twin Towers falling.  He now is experiencing alarming gaps in his memory, waking up in the middle of scenes and acts that he has no idea how he got into.  No one seems to want to hear about his problem, or they think he’s being funny when he tries to tell them about it.  So the reader is pulled along into this bizarre mystery/political satire, trying to piece together just what the heck Brian’s gotten himself into.  A shady secret government organization chasing paper scraps that flew out of the towers?  Infiltrating a terrorist cell?  His own son is pretending Brian died in the towers, and Brian’s just desperately trying to stay one step ahead of the other person living his life.  It was trippy, weird, dark, funny, sad, smart, and a page-turner.  Jess Walter does it again!  Seriously, this guy can do anything.

51pATEiEJnL._SX337_BO1,204,203,200_Last, but not least, my book group book for April was The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez.  It made for an excellent discussion last weekend.  Told from multiple points of view, this book highlights Latin American immigrants from various countries all living in one apartment complex in Delaware.  The main characters are the Riveras, a husband and wife and their teenager daughter,  Maribel.  Maribel sustained a traumatic brain injury in an accident in Mexico, and the Riveras are told that special education in America is the best hope of recovery for their daughter.  So Arturo gets a work visa for a mushroom farm, and the Riveras pack up everything they own.  The realities of living in a country where you don’t know the language, have no transportation, and face bigoted individuals is humanely portrayed by Henriquez.  She puts a human face on Latinx immigration in America. Others in the apartment complex have their own stories, from a Panamanian-American teenage boy named Mayor who falls in love with Maribel, to a Guatemalan man named Gustavo who’s working two jobs to send money to Mexico for his children’s education.  These strangers become like family to one another.  I empathized with them, and greatly appreciated Henriquez’s message.  These are voices we need to hear more of in America, now more then ever.  However,  there was something about the novel that didn’t work for me as much as I would have liked.  I felt like it was a bit heavy-handed at times, and Mayor’s actions towards a mentally compromised Maribel were problematic for me.  I cried, so obviously I was emotionally invested, but I couldn’t give it more than three stars.  Still, I would recommend it for book groups because it offers a lot to discuss, and I think it’s a book that deserves to be widely read on the strength of its message alone.  Plus, it’s a quick read.

Have you read, or do you plan to read, any of these books or authors?  Have you ever been in a blogging funk?  Have you ever read a book that you felt almost guilty for not liking better?  I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.