Sunday, November 26, 2017

Currently Reading and Enjoying...

     "You like reading?" she asked him brightly.
     Ove shook his head with some insecurity, but it didn't seem to concern her very much. She just smiled, said that she loved books more than anything, and started telling him excitedly what each of the ones in her lap was about. And Ove realized that he wanted to hear her talking about things she loved for the rest of his life.

~ Fredrik Backman,
   A Man Called Ove

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Just What I Needed

I am happy to report my reading brain found happiness on my TBR shelf! And, for me, it was a special kind of happiness. Please allow me to backtrack, first, as I often do (This is also known as "rambling" to some people. If you'd prefer to get right to the review, skip down a couple of paragraphs. You're welcome.)...

I picked up Let It Snow at Sam's Club one day...just because the snowflakes on it reminded me of Christmas shows from my childhood. I would like to tell you that isn't why I bought it, but...I'd be lying. Sort of. I admit that John Green's name on one of the snowflakes also convinced me the book wouldn't be total drivel. I like Green, love his sense of humor, and often watch him on YouTube. I've read a couple of his novels, too, and I enjoyed both.

I also found it an interesting concept to weave three stories together by three different authors: Maureen Johnson, John Green, and Lauren Myracle. The book is clearly labeled "three holiday romances" on the front cover, so I considered myself warned. It isn't my typical kind of read, but I bought it and put it on my TBR shelf, thinking it'd be a fun read over Christmas break. 

When I found myself needing some cheer after reading Flowers in the Attic, by V.C. Andrews, I decided to take a chance on Let It Snow. I'm so glad I did! I'm actually smiling like a silly teenage girl, even as I sit here looking at the computer screen to write this. The book lifted my spirits and put me in the holiday mood.

Here are some reasons why I liked it:

First, Let It Snow is set in North Carolina, which is where I am originally from. So, I guess you could say, there was a bit of "home" in it for me.

Second, it has snow and trains and a Waffle House and snow and a Starbucks and snow and a teacup pig named Gabriel and...other ingredients that just make it a good time.

Third, while each story has its own tale to tell, the three stories - and the main characters from each one - are interconnected in some way. 

And, most importantly, it played like a 1980s John Hughes movie in my head. Completely and totally. There was fun banter between characters (well, the smart characters, anyway), lots of wit and sarcasm, and a satisfying ending. And I reacted to it in exactly the same way I do whenever I see an old John Cusack, or Molly Ringwald, movie: Big. Goofy. Smile. 

Now, either you know exactly what I mean, or you don't. (And if you don't, I feel sad for you.) 

I've heard authors complain that writing a present day story in this age of technology isn't nearly as fun as writing in the past...because, often, technology gets in the way of the story. So, how do you write a good, ol' fashioned teenage story - where things get mixed up and miscommunicated, where the teenagers have to figure things out for themselves and allow Fate to take its course - in a present day setting? You make it snow. A lot. A snowstorm, in fact, and you strand people here and there. Perfect. Now, you've got something to work with. 

Is the book a little schmaltzy sometimes? Yes, but it works. It's supposed to be a little schmaltzy. Will this book ever win a Pulitzer? No, but it certainly won my heart. And, for me, that's all that really matters.

Happy reading!

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Oldies, Buuuut...Goodies?!


Last week, I became fascinated with a "drama in poetry" book by Mel Glenn. The title of the book is The Taking of Room 114. A friend of mine, and fellow teacher, came across it in a used bookshop and thought she might find something in it to share for our poetry study at school. After she read it, she knew the content was definitely not for sixth graders. It was geared more towards high school students. Still, she was kind enough to share it with me and thought I'd find it interesting. And I did.

The Taking of Room 114 is a about a history teacher who takes his class hostage one day. Each poem is a different perspective from different people, primarily from students. Every student has their own tale to tell about their own lives before the actual incident takes place. Glenn does an incredible job of saying so much in just a few lines of poetry. The reader completely understands the situation. I found it fascinating that it was a satisfying tale. I liked it enough to seek out a copy of my own and look into what else Glenn has written.

Mel Glenn has written several "poetry dramas," and I've read two, so far, and have another on my TBR shelf. These books are not recent releases (published in the late 1990s). In fact, when I decided I wanted my own copy of The Taking of Room 114, I had to search online for it and purchase a good, used copy from a third party seller through Amazon.

My search also brought me to his award-winning poetic drama, Who Killed Mr. Chippendale?: A Mystery in Poems, which I really enjoyed. A high school teacher is shot on the high school track, early one morning before school, and no one knows who killed him or why. Again, you hear from different characters through poetry. The cast of characters include students, faculty, the police, and a guidance counselor. It really is quite good, and my favorite of the two! (And much easier to get your hands on.)

This type of poetry is a shorthand of prose. I think it's much more difficult to convey a message with a few lines than to write pages of descriptions. I didn't expect to like Glenn's style as much as I do. So, if you're looking for something a little different, but well-written, I definitely recommend Glenn's Who Killed Mr. Chippendale?: A Mystery in Poems for a tasty literary snack.


Speaking of 'oldies', I just finished reading Flowers in the Attic, by V.C. Andrews, published in 1979. I found a copy of it at a library sale, and I had heard several of my book club friends express how they loved it as teenagers. Now, mind you, they didn't say it like it was a great book. These grown, college-educated women would giggle when they mentioned it and talk of how they used to hide it from their parents and read it. I knew the premise was about children being locked in an attic, but I had no idea what was in store for me when I read this novel. Or why a teenager would feel the need to hide it from their parents. But I found out.

Flowers in the Attic is a horrible and completely fascinating story about four children who are locked in their grandmother's upstairs room and attic, while their mother tries to find her way back into her very rich father's good graces. He doesn't know she has four children, and he wouldn't approve, so the children are hidden away in an unused bedroom on an isolated wing of the father's mansion. Only the mother and grandmother know the children exist in the house.

Seldom have I read a book where I was so mortified and intrigued at the same time. The grandmother is pure evil, hiding behind the guise of a devout, pious, religious woman. (Religious zealot would be an understatement.) She controls the children by telling them God sees everything they do, and He punishes those who disobey. There are even paintings depicting hell and demons in the room, to remind the children to be good. And all this? Is the very least of it.

While I could not put the book down, and devoured it in a couple of days, I don't think I'll read the rest in the series. I considered it, but find that the ending of the first book satisfies me enough to let it go. It was a bit heart wrenching to get through the first one, and I'd rather leave it at that. I'm glad I read it,...I think. I mean, it's written well,...but the content isn't something I'll be able to forget anytime soon.

After I read the novel, I read online that Andrews once said she wanted her books to be fast reads, something you couldn't put down. Well, it certainly was that.

Now, I want to bathe my reading brain in something light and airy and happy. Let's see what I can find on my TBR shelf that suits me...

Happy reading!

Sunday, November 12, 2017

About A Gentleman

I finished Amor Towles' novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, today. I would not consider it an easy read due to the amount of Russian history mentioned throughout the book, but, for me, it was twice the pleasure to research and learn about Russia, as I enjoyed the novel. I don't think, however, you have to understand Russian history to enjoy the humanity of the book,...but I'm more than a bit of a nerd, so....yeah. I also listened to the same classical music Count Rostov enjoys in the book. Like I said, nerd alert. 

As I mentioned in a previous post, Count Rostov is put under house-arrest in 1922 due to a poem he published which was considered rebellious against the government. Rostov is an intellect and a gentleman, and he must learn to make a new life for himself within the walls of a hotel. He is witty and charming and sincere. Rostov becomes friends with the employees of the hotel and with a young girl, Nina, whose father frequents the hotel. Rostov's life is not without challenges in his confinement, especially as the Russian government seems to constantly change its course, and its rules, as years pass. It is, in fact, the way he faces his challenges that makes him so endearing.

One of my favorite scenes in the book (one of many, I might add) is when a lovely lady friend mentions to Rostov that "everyone dreams of living in America" because of its 'conveniences' - such as dishwashers, vacuum cleaners, toasters, and the like. Count Rostov responds:

"I'll tell you what is convenient," he said, after a moment. "To sleep until noon and have someone bring you your breakfast on a tray. To cancel an appointment at the very last minute. To keep a carriage waiting at the door of one party, so that on a moment's notice it can whisk you away to another. To sidestep marriage in your youth and put off having children all together. These are the greatest of conveniences, Anushka - and at one time, I had them all. But in the end, it has been the inconveniences that have mattered to me most."

I know I will carry Count Rostov in my heart for a very long time. He is, most definitely, my kind of gentleman. 

Sunday, November 5, 2017

In A Heartbeat

How many times have you wondered how easily your life could have taken a different course? Can you look into your past and remember one moment that changed everything? If you're like me, you can think of several small moments you didn't realize were big moments - life changing moments - at the time. The two books I've read this past week touch on life changing moments and characters who look back in their pasts to wonder, "What if...?"

The Life We Bury, by Allen Eskens, is a fiction novel about a young man, Joe Talbert, who decides to interview a convicted murderer that is dying of cancer. Joe's assignment, for his freshman English college class, is to interview someone and write a biographical paper on the person. It is through interviewing the convicted killer, and researching the murder case, that Joe begins questioning many things. When he finds that the convict was once a decorated war hero, he wonders what moment in the man's life turned him into the kind of man that would kill a fourteen-year-old girl.

There is more than one layer to this story and more than one character who questions what moments in their pasts changed the course of their lives forever. It is a good debut novel, and I found it to be a good weekend read. I felt parts of it were a bit predictable, but I enjoyed it.

The other book, which I am still reading, is A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. I will go ahead and tell you, this book is not for your light reader. While it is an excellent novel, it is heavy with Russian history - something I'm not very familiar with - and its beauty lies in being able to describe how certain moments in life feel. Not the big moments, the small ones.

The premise of the novel is that a gentleman, convicted of being a rebel against the government of Russia in 1922 for writing a poem, is sentenced to live out his life in a hotel in Moscow. If he leaves the hotel, he will be shot on sight. While the gentleman lives out his sentence in the hotel, he also finds himself looking back at his life. He feels there are critical moments where he wishes he'd made a different choice. By witnessing the life he makes for himself at the hotel, the reader learns a great deal about Russia...and about humanity.

I'm intentionally taking my time with this one. I've grown very fond of the main character, Count Alexander Rostov, and the cast of characters he interacts with in his daily life at the hotel. I'm also fascinated with all the references made to historical events. I've been researching quite a bit. In other words, I'm not trying to rush through such a beautifully written historical fiction book. This one takes a little more effort, but I feel it's worth it.

Good for the brain. Good for the soul.

For me, it doesn't get any better than that.