Light Bulb Moments (Bookish Edition)

Two things I’ve recently realized:

  1. I can’t put down The Count of Monte Cristo for any length of time and expect to pick it back up again with a good memory of what I’d read before. And…
  2. I’ve got to quit getting new books on hold at the library if I want to read all the books on my TBR list that I say I want to read.

So I’ve delved back into my gigantic Dumas classic, after letting it sit on my shelf for most of March. I’ve already made some good progress – I’m now at 70% complete! That Count is quite the master of disguises. I feel like Villefort is juuuusssttt about to figure it all out but he’s not quite there yet. It’s still a wonderful, entertaining read. I just have to maintain my momentum and not let it sit for too long. Then it becomes too easy to not pick it back up again.

Also, I’ve used the “vacation stop” function on my library holds and pushed them all back until next month so that I can focus on what I’ve got checked out now and what I’m reading from my own shelf. I was getting inundated with holds and could feel the others looming.

I was going through my Goodreads TBR list, which I do from time to time to assess whether or not I really want to still read these things. And I kept thinking, Oh I really want to read that! Why haven’t I read that yet? You know why? NEW BOOKS. Shiny new books that keep coming out every week and sound so amazing and I have to get on the holds list right now! Perhaps as my holds stop date gets closer I’ll extend it further. I really want to make a dent in my TBR list, which at the moment is 363 books.

What am I reading now?

 

My Sister the Serial Killer is SOOOO compelling. I just started Notes of a Native Son and so far it’s wonderful. It’s my choice for April’s Instagram #Unreadshelfproject2019. The prompt this month is to read the latest book you’ve acquired. I’ve only read three stories in the Gallant collection but I will finish it by the end of the month.

Have you had any bookish light bulb moments lately?

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The Lost Man by Jane Harper

At night, when the sky felt even bigger, he could almost imagine it was a million years ago and he was walking on the bottom of the sea. A million years ago when a million natural events still needed to occur, one after another, to form this land as it lay in front of him now. A place where rivers flooded without rain and seashells fossilized a thousand miles from water and men who left their cars found themselves walking to their deaths.

Jane Harper writes consistently thoughtful, gripping mysteries. Her third and latest book, The Lost Man, isn’t shelved in the mystery section at my library (but I think it should be.) Taking a break from her Agent Aaron Falk series, Harper keeps the setting in Australia, this time in the sweltering Christmas time Outback of Queensland. Once again, she creates a vivid portrait of an unforgiving landscape and, in this outing, a seriously dysfunctional family.51XFkVOYqOL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_

The Bright family owns a lot of land, giant cattle ranches split between the three brothers, Nathan, Cameron, and Bub. Vast distances separate their homesteads – a three hour’s drive from Nathan’s to Cameron’s, which was the original family home. The land is rather bleak and Harper once again does a wonderful job of situating her story into a very atmospheric setting. The book opens with a gruesome death – middle brother and golden boy Cameron’s body is found dehydrated and heat-stricken in the meager shadow of a local landmark, the Stockman’s Grave. His car is later found fully stocked with water and supplies and in good condition but miles away from his body. No one in their right mind would walk away from safety into the extremely dangerous temperatures of the Outback. Was it suicide? What had his state of mind been lately? Little by little, eldest brother Nathan, a divorced dad and black sheep of the family, starts peeling back the layers of the mystery. In doing so he has to relive and confront some very ugly truths about his family’s past.

I read this quickly, in just a few days, and when I had to put it down I longed to pick it back up as soon as possible. I found that Harper has a wonderful way of ending a chapter with a little revelation or a question so that I felt compelled to keep reading. In spite of the relative isolation of the setting, Harper gives the reader plenty of characters who act just a little bit shady and may have the motive to commit murder. I confess I didn’t see the solution coming. While the family dynamics at play here may seem just a shade over the top, I felt the characters were credible enough for me to enjoy the story. Nathan in particular was a compelling character, trying to break free from the mistakes of his past and the walls he’d put up in the meantime. If you’ve not read Harper before this standalone would make a great place to start. (Although there is a fun little Easter egg connection to her first book, The Dry.) Just know that she’s more of a slow burn kind of author with great attention to detail rather than a breakneck pace kind of writer. I really liked this one. 4 stars.

The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan (Reading Ireland Month)

For Cathy’s annual Reading Ireland Month celebration and exploration of Irish literature, I chose an author I’d read and loved before: Donal Ryan. The Spinning Heart is a short book (156 pages) but it packs a huge emotional punch. I kept having to put it down because each chapter was so weighty and gave me so much to consider. He is an absolutely beautiful writer, and if you’ve never tried him before I highly recommend him. But be warned, this is not escapist reading.

712fj-pYwALEach chapter of the book is narrated by a different character, and they don’t come back to narrate another chapter later as in so many other books told from multiple perspectives. Because this takes place in a small town everybody knows everybody else, so we hear about characters again and again from different points of view. In this way the action of the story keeps moving forward despite not having continuity in storytellers.

Set just after the booming economy of the “Celtic Tiger” burst, everyone in the town is feeling the after effects. Jobs vanished, men who’s self-esteem depend on bringing home a paycheck are angry and depressed. Some consider moving to Europe or Australia to look for work. But underneath the narrative of the economic crisis is another story about long-buried secrets and emotions. Emotionally abusive or withholding fathers, boyfriends and husbands who can’t find the words to tell their women how they really feel, women who have lost children and lost their way. A surprising act of violence sets everyone on edge and tongues wagging, and then another surprising twist makes everyone doubt whether they know their neighbors at all.

“The air is thick with platitudes around here. We’ll all pull together. We’re a tight-knot community. We’ll all support each other. Oh really? Will we?”

I kept putting down this novel after every chapter initially. The weight of each character’s separate sadness felt too heavy for me to continue on. Like Bobby, the foreman of the local construction outfit, who everyone views as an upstanding man. His father was emotionally vicious and his mother died too young. The fear and shame of no work is eating him alive, and the bond between he and his wife Triona is all he has with which to steady himself.

“I couldn’t stand her smiling through her fear and having to coax me out of my misery like a big, sulky child. I wish to God I could talk to her the way she wants me to, besides forever making her guess what I’m thinking. Why can’t I find the words?”

This is a beautifully written novel about people who are hurting from emotional wounds both long scarred over and fresh. Donal Ryan is a gorgeous writer who portrays even the most appalling, unsympathetic characters with a measure of care and gives them many layers. The Spinning Heart is a moving exploration of the ways families hurt and heal one another, and the ways a terrible event can expose the frayed seams of a small town community. Four Stars, and a very good pick for Reading Ireland Month.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books on my Spring TBR

By now y’all know that I am a major mood reader and don’t make ironclad TBR lists for months or even for seasons. But I do love looking at a good TBR list, so I decided to post on the topic for today’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl). It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these. Here are some books I might get to this Spring:

Currently Checked Out from the Library:

 

Currently In the Holds Queue and Nearing Being Number 1:

 

Three Books I Own That I Might Get To this Spring:

Have you read any of these? What’s on your Spring TBR?

Reading Goals Update – March 2019

How’s it going, gang? I don’t know about you but I’m really ready for Spring. Yesterday we had a beautiful day, 70 degrees F and sunny. I was able to do a bit of weeding and soil amending in my garden, and I can’t wait to get out there and do some more on a regular basis. I’ve got way more seeds than I have actual room for plants, LOL. That’s the optimist in me I suppose. Anyway, it’s time to check in with my yearly reading goals.

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Photo by Mohammad Amiri on Unsplash
  1. Read from the New Books Shelf at work. Well, I tried a book in February that didn’t work for me (The Bookshop of Yesterdays by Amy Meyerson.) I read about 35 pages and wasn’t hooked. And I haven’t yet picked my choice for this month’s New Book Shelf read. So not much progress has been made since the last update.
  2. Read The Count of Monte Cristo. I’m on page 799, which is 55% finished, according to Goodreads! So quite a bit of progress.
  3. Read more poetry. I’m enjoying Kevin Young’s collection Jelly Roll. download (1)Really playful, earthy, musical, vibrant stuff. It’s been a long time since I’ve taken a poetry class, so I’m rusty in all the correct poetic terms to describe and analyze a poem. But in terms of pure emotion, this is stuff I can connect to. Also, I’ve found an awesome poetry podcast: The Slowdown by American Public Media. U.S. Poet Laureate Tracy K. Smith, who has a lovely voice, by the way, gives the listener a little emotional context for a poem, a personal story from her life, perhaps, and then reads it. It’s five minutes and a new one comes every week day. I highly recommend it if you’re wanting to explore poetry.
  4. Read My Own Darn Books. As part of Whitney’s Instagram #UnreadShelfProject2019, this month’s prompt is to read the book that has been on your shelf unread for the longest time. As my longest unread book is Anna Karenina and I’m already reading a monster classic at the moment, I decided to pick the book that’s been on my Goodreads TBR the longest: Lady Susan, The Watsons, Sanditon by Jane Austen. 51dmPYYOzjL._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_(It’s also on my Classics Club list.) I finished Lady Susan today and it’s wonderful – what a piece of work she is! Not only is this project making me choose at least one book from my own shelf every month, it’s making me look at my books with a more critical eye. I’m asking myself, Am I really going to read this? Am I still interested in this? And if the answer is no, it’s going to the Friends of the Library.

How are you coming along with your own yearly reading goals? Have you heard The Slowdown podcast? Are you desperate for consistent Spring weather like I am? Oh, I started a book for Cathy’s Reading Ireland Month today. It’s Donal Ryan’s The Spinning Heart. The first chapter was excellent so I have high hopes. I hope you are all well, my friends. I say this a lot, but I really do love this bookish community. Talk to you soon.

 

What I’ve Been Reading Lately

I’ve been reading some good stuff lately, y’all. These books probably deserve individual posts but I’m just trying to get back into the blogging groove, so here I am with a round-up. Let’s start with the most recently finished.

36300687French Exit by Patrick deWitt. I have a weakness for books about what I call “rich people problems.” You know, where urbanites with a lot of money and family squabbles get together and hash it all out. (Think The Nest or Seating Arrangements.) So I was immediately charmed and entertained by deWitt’s novel of a fractured family, mother Frances and her thirty-something son Malcolm. (They reminded me of Lucille and Buster Bluth from Arrested Development only not as ridiculous.) They are running out of money and are forced to make a serious life change. This novel was so witty, inventive, absurd, and went in a slightly darker direction than I had anticipated. And I loved every second of it, devouring it quickly. I’ve never read deWitt before. I’ve added his The Sisters Brothers to my TBR list.

Before that I gobbled up Ian Rankin’s Knots and Crosses, the first Detective Rebus 634407mystery. I’d been meaning to try this series for years now and I finally felt in the mood for a mystery. I have to say that Rebus is a very tortured detective, more so than I’m used to.  I’m not quite sure that I like him, but I’m willing to read another one to see if I do. In this one he has to deal with not only a brother that is doing something shady, but a deranged serial killer going after young girls in Edinburgh. His very deeply buried past experiences may hold the clue to catching the killer. This was a quick read and I’ve checked out the second one, Hide and Seek.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry was another book I’d been meaning to read for a while. Rachel Joyce had made a big impact on my with last year’s The Music Shop and I’d heard good things about Harold. I really liked it, and boy did it make me cry. Keep your tissues handy for this one if you’ve 9780812993295_p0_v1_s550x406not read it. Harold gets a letter from an old co-worker, Queenie Hennessy, who’s dying. Instead of posting his response in the nearest mailbox, as he sets out to do, he ends up walking hundreds of miles to see her, convinced that if he keeps walking she will live. I enjoyed the vicarious walk through England and getting to know both Harold and his wife, Maureen. They’ve gone through some things and not dealt with them very well, and as the book goes along it was lovely to see them both break out of old, destructive habits. This is a lovely, touching read. I added Joyce’s  The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy to my TBR list.

The best read of the year so far for me has been Elizabeth Strout’s Olive Kitteridge.51wuQJpliWL._AC_UL320_SR206,320_ Linked short stories, all directly about Olive or mentioning her in some capacity, this was tremendously moving and just gorgeously written. I think Strout is going on my favorite writers list, especially since in the last two years I’ve adored her My Name is Lucy Barton and Anything is Possible. The woman can write! Olive is a cranky, no-nonsense, but ultimately kind and more perceptive woman than she’s given credit for. She’s no saint, and Strout doesn’t shy away from letting the reader see her fully, warts and all. This novel provides a kaleidoscopic view not only of her but of a town full of people with secrets, dreams, broken hearts, disappointments, and hopes, and I found it masterful. I can see myself reading this again.

My February pick for the #UnreadShelfProject challenge on Instagram was American Street by Ibi Zoboi. It’s a YA novel about a young Haitian woman named Fabiola who americanstreet_wblurbcomes to the US with her mother to live with her aunt and cousins in Detroit. Only, her mother gets detained indefinitely in customs and she has to travel to Detroit without her. It’s a culture-clash novel, a coming of age novel, and a meditation on race and poverty with a heavy dose of magical realism. There’s a lot going on here. But it was absorbing and gave me a better picture of Haitian culture than I had before I read it. I didn’t love it, but I always keep in mind that YA novels aren’t really written for a 40-something woman. I think that a 14 year old could really get into this and learn a lot from it. I’m glad I finally read it and now it can find a good home at my library’s book sale in the Spring. Hooray for reading my own books!

So that’s what I’ve been reading lately (aside from The Count, of course. That reminds me, I need to start reading my next 100 pages.) Have you read any of my recent picks? What have you been reading lately?

Count of Monte Cristo Check-In

I apologize for my absence here the past couple of weeks. We’ve all been sick at my house, the boys with the flu and I with a cold that turned into a sinus infection that has knocked me on my bottom. I’m just now starting to come out of it. Things have also been nutty at work and I’m in the midst of trying to hire a senior assistant. I haven’t had energy to write and not a lot of time to blog hop, but I have been reading! It’s time for another installment of my Count of Monte Cristo reader’s journal (covering pages 417-605.)

9780307271129Here’s what I want to say most about this book right now: Don’t be afraid of big books. For so long I put off reading this classic because its size intimidated me. I was afraid the style would be off-putting or too archaic. How wrong I was! Yes, there are sections that drag a little bit more than others, but on the whole, it’s a remarkably fresh, exciting, well-crafted story. Breaking it up and taking it slow has enabled me to enjoy this classic at my own pace while still reading other books.

Here are some plot highlights of this section (Chapters 34-45:)

  • Two young French men, Baron Franz d’Epinay and Viscount Albert de Morcerf, become acquainted with the Count in Rome. In fact, Dantès orchestrates a “kidnapping” of Albert just do he can save him. Why is Albert so special to Dantès? He’s related to someone from Dantès’ past.
  • The Count is powerful and wealthy enough to save an old associate from being executed, but he’s weird enough to make Franz and Albert watch the other criminal get executed.
  • Franz realizes he’s met the Count before, only when he partied with him in the grotto on Monte Cristo he knew his as “Sinbad.”
  • Dantès and Albert make a plan to meet in Paris at Albert’s house in exactly 3 months.
  • Who should Dantès meet at Albert’s house? Mercédès, his former fiancee, who is Albert’s MOTHER. Dear old dad is none other than Fernand. Mercédès is shaken and unnerved by The Count’s appearance, but she doesn’t say anything about her true feelings to her son.
  • Dantès buys a house in Paris and discovers that Villefort once had an illegitimate child with Madame Danglar there, and tried to kill it. Dantès’ servant, Bertuccio, rescued the child and gave him to his sister-in-law to raise.

Whew! This book certainly doesn’t lack for plot! And all the connections of the characters sometimes make me have to consult Wikipedia so I’m sure I know what’s going on. But it’s still good fun.

So I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, both here and on reading your blogs, friends. I hope you’re all staying well this winter – flu and other illnesses have been running rampant down here. My son’s school was closed because of illness for two days ahead of the holiday weekend. Drink lots of fluids, get some sleep, and wash your hands! 🙂