Well, a lot has been going on these past couple of weeks. I ran an ultra race, my sister was up for a-piece-of-Alaska vacation, and I’m struggling to rewrite my second novel (for, like, the third time and trust me, it isn’t a pretty process).
The good news is that I’ve kept up on my reading and I’m still on track to reach my goal of 65 books this year.
(I thought this was such a lofty goal until I received a newsletter from an ultra runner who is attempting to read 365 books this year. That’s one a day! And she runs ultras! Where does she find the time?)
But back to my humble five-to-six-books-a-month pace.
Looking for Salvation at the Diary Queen, Susan Greg Gilmore, Random House/Broadway Paperbacks
This is a fast read, a fun read. The voice is lively; at times it’s almost as if the author is flirting with us through the pages, and it’s a fun-and-exciting reading/flirtation of a girl, Catherine Grace, in a small Southern town who wishes nothing more than to get away (and fast!) from her small Southern town. The book moves well until the last section when secrets are revealed in rapid succession (spoiler alert!), and wham!, right when Catherine Grace escapes to Atlanta and begins to build a life, her father suddenly dies and she heads back home only to find, wham!, that her mother, whom she believed had died when she was a small girl, hadn’t really died at all but had simply skipped town. Huh? The resolutions happen just as rapidly, which left me feeling a bit cheated, a bit settled. I’m still unsure how I feel about this book. I liked it yet I wish the author had spent more time on smoothing out the ending. Liked and recommend as a fast read (for some reason I think it would pare well with chocolate chip cookies)
With out Without You, Domenica Ruta, Random House/Spiegel & Grau
I loved the grittiness of this memoir of a girl growing up with a drug-addicted mother, and I also loved the voice, which was funny, warm and so likable that I wanted to call Domenica Ruta and invite her to go on a hike with me (I know we’d be great friends, too).
How could anyone resist such a voice?
My mother was always hounding me to get pregnant while I was still in high school. It was an easy favor to refuse. Sex looked like an awful lot of work to me, whereas chastity was a virtue I could fulfill while lounging in front of the TV.
Love, love (both the book and the author)
The English Teacher, Lily King, Grove Press:
Oh, oh, oh, what a beautifully written book.
King’s prose shines in this bewildering story of the love and anguish between a mother and son.
Vida, who teaches high school English, is harboring a terrible secret, and one she’s kept inside for years. After she marries Tom Belou, the local tailor (do they still have tailors nowadays?) and moves into his house with her teenage son, Peter, everything begins to unravel.
The story is intriguing, engaging and expertly paced, yet it is King’s voice that carries the book. Read the rest of the review here. Love, love, love
Fragments of Isabella: A Memoir of Auschwitz, Isabella Leitner, Open Road Media
It’s difficult to review Holocaust memoirs. The subject alone is so devastating that words don’t do justice. This book, however, feels different, and more intimate. The voice is immediately captivating. Leitner was a young woman when her family was shipped from the ghetto to Auschwitz, and she and her sisters and brother watched, helpless and mute, as her mother was selected for termination. Leitner writes in sparse, bare-to-the-bones prose which never slides over to the dramatic or sensational. Best yet, the voice feels young, though the book was written when Leitner was much older. The odd part of Fragments of Isabella is that the writing is so beautiful and the subject matter so horrifying. It’s an odd juxtaposition, and one worthy of a read. Highly recommend.
Short Measures, Michael Ruhlman,
I wish I could say that I loved the collection, but I didn’t. I struggled with the first novella, In Short Measures. I kept expecting it to get better. It did, in places. Yet something was missing. The pace was off. It kept circling around and never settling. It was the weakest work in the collection; why it was placed in the front is beyond me.
However, the second novella Strong Conspirators was much, much better though, to be fair, it wasn’t always realistic but that’s a minor point. The third and final novella repeated a similar theme as the first, which left me wondering: Is Michael Ruhlman obsessed with an old lover? Is that why the theme keeps repeating in his work? It was okay.
Me and My Baby View the Eclipse, Lee Smith, Penguin Group
Oh Lee Smith, I love yoooooouuuu! I visit this sassy Southern short story collection every few years and it never fails to nourish both my soul and my attitude. The stories are funny and yet tender. Smith is one of those rare writers graced with enough wisdom to understand that humor originates from sadness and longing, not just absurd situations. Love, love, love.