read: remarkable creatures.

Remarkable Creatures

Read for book club, I was interested in “Remarkable Creatures” because the author, Tracy Chevalier, also wrote “Girl with a Pearl Earring.” To be honest, I haven’t read that book, but I did hear an interview on NPR with Chevalier, where she spoke about “Girl” and how the idea turned into a novel. That was interesting enough to make me want to read one of her novels.

This book was … ok. I think some people would really enjoy it, but it just wasn’t my type of book. Set in a beach town in the UK, Elizabeth Philpot and her two sisters move to a small cottage in Lyme Regis after a fourth sister gets married. Their brother doesn’t have enough left for dowry for these three, so they move to the country. It’s here that Elizabeth meets Mary Anning, a girl who was struck by lightening as a child. This is significant because Mary is skilled at spotting fossils on the beach–and many believe it’s because she was struck by lightening.

The book follows Elizabeth and Mary as Mary grows up, and how finding fossils changes both of their lives. Chevalier does a fantastic job of weaving real people and real events into a fictional story. There is a note at the back of the book about who and what was real versus what she created for the sake of story. That was almost more interesting to me.

The big reason I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I think other people might is that the story centers around Mary falling in love with the wrong man. This changes her relationship with Elizabeth, and leads to the big climax of the novel. I am not one for most love stories, and I don’t really enjoy books where women with successful, happy lives nearly lose everything because of a man. Yes, I realize this is appropriate for the era of the novel. Yes, I realize it happens in life. I just don’t like reading about it.

So, if that doesn’t bother you, it’s a good book. If you aren’t interested in love stories, this might not be the novel for you.

read: the solitude of prime numbers.

Prime Numbers

“The Solitude of Prime Numbers” is the debut novel of Italian writer Paolo Giordano. It’s wonderful. One of those books I finish and sigh, wishing I could write something as good.

There is no procrastination in this book. Giordano gets right into the meat of the story, introducing us first to Alice and then to Mattia. Both characters experience something traumatic early in life–and in chapters one and two, we witness the trauma firsthand. I was hooked immediately in this book, wanting to know how the early events affected the rest of Alice and Mattia’s lives.

The book jumps ahead in years, providing vignettes of important events as the characters grow into adults. Alice and Mattia find each other in high school, though it never struck me as a strong connection. Because the teaser on the back of the book reads in part, “Years later, a chance encounter reunites them and forces a lifetime of concealed emotion to the surface. But can two prime numbers ever find a way to be together?” I was intrigued about how these two would find their way to each other after high school.

Mattia moves out of the country to pursue his career, while Alice flounders a bit, eventually marrying a doctor she met while her mom was in the hospital.

The book easily kept me engaged until the end, even with a large break in the middle while I read 1Q84, which had shown up from the library after a long wait (I had to finish that one before the library due date, and was sad to put this book down).

My favorite part of this book? The ending felt real. It wasn’t necessarily happy or sad, but felt complete and in line with the characters. Giordano did an excellent job of creating believable, well-rounded characters, and creating a compelling plot. Overall, it was a book I didn’t want to stop reading.

read: 1Q84.

1Q84

My beat-up library copy … excuse me. Well-loved library copy.

This book is a monster at 925 pages, and every bit is fantastic. I haven’t loved a book this much in quite awhile. Haruki Murakami split 1Q84 into three different books, each a few months during the span of the story. You can buy box sets with the three divided out, but they really need to be read all at once—so you might as well get the giant book and feel that much more accomplished when reaching the end. (Spoilers below, you’ve been warned.)

Aomame is a woman who works at a health club as a personal trainer, but also moonlights as a kind of assassin for a wealthy client.

Tengo is a math teacher and aspiring novelist, who is pulled into a scheme by his editor friend.

The two knew each other as children in elementary school, where an encounter left them both wondering what happened to the other 20 years later.

Fuka-Eri ran away from a religious cult and wrote a story about her experience. Tengo rewrote the story at the request of his editor-friend, where it went on to win an award and become a best-seller.

Oh, and of course, it’s Murakami, so toss in a bunch of magical realism. Suddenly Aomame and Tengo find themselves in 1Q84, and need to make sense of their world, try and survive and try to find each other.

It’s amazing.

Chapters flip between the main characters, and something is always happening. For 925 pages. Themes crop up again and again among the characters, and random events occur, but nothing felt extremely random or out of place to me. If, however, you are not a fan of magical realism, this might be a difficult book to read.

The plot moves along, but there are also bigger things at work in the story. Religion, love, God, time … I’m writing this right after I finished the book, so I’m sure there is a lot more that will come to mind after it’s sat for awhile.

Murakami’s writing is incredibly matter-of-fact, almost like he’s reporting a story after interviewing those involved. He does, however, delve into descriptions, offering details on how each character looks, dresses and acts, as well as things happening around the characters wherever they are. The world he creates is very full and alive, and he does an excellent job of creating a movie with his descriptions.

While Tengo just lets life happen to him, Aomame takes control of her life. The two balance each other out, so it didn’t bother me that Tengo was a bit ho-hum about everything. Peppered in are other interesting characters. Even the minor ones are pretty complete. I don’t feel like anyone felt flat with the exception of one, but even that fits him exactly how it should.

I would definitely recommend this book, especially if you enjoy magical realism, Japanese literature or have liked Murakami’s other novels. Just relax, and let the novel take you where it will.

Oh—and there are Little People, and two moons in the sky. What’s not to love?

read: one thousand white women: the journals of may dodd.

One Thousand White Women

My book club, like I think every book club in the country, picked Jim Fergus’ “One Thousand White Women: The Journals of May Dodd” as our latest read. After finishing it (in just a few days, it’s a quick one), I understand why it’s popular with book clubs. This book brings up a lot of topics to discuss, and I think it’s one of those books that many people really love or really hate.

Fergus is a journalist, though this is a work of fiction. But the idea came about when he learned about a peace conference in 1854 at Fort Laramie. A prominent Cheyenne chief asked for 1,000 white women from the United States Government to be brides for his warriors. The thought was that these children, because the Cheyenne are matrilineal, would belong to their mother’s tribe and thus help assimilate the Cheyenne into the white world. In real life, this didn’t happen. Fergus’ book imagines it did.

May Dodd is one of those white women who go to live with the Cheyenne. She chooses to go because she’d been placed in an insane asylum by her family and this was her way out. She ends up marrying Chief Little Wolf, and becomes his third wife. The book follows her decision to join the program, the journey out to the prairie, and what happens after the 40 women she starts traveling with are actually given to the tribe.

I thought this book was interesting–like I mentioned about, it reads quickly–and May had a definite voice. She was a complicated character, as were those around her. There is a wonderful cast of white women and Cheyenne people that Fergus does a good job of fleshing out. For the most part, I think he did a good job of portraying what life on the prairie was like, and probably got very close to what life was like for the Cheyenne during that period.

My biggest complaint with this book: it seemed like Fergus made a list of all the stereotypes of Native Americans, and then one by one, had them happen in the book. Don’t handle alcohol well, check. Kidnap and rape women, check. I understand upping the stakes, giving your character problems to overcome … but man, if it could happen to May Dodd, it happened. I felt the same way about this book as I did after watching the movie Armageddon (Yup, I’m referencing a movie from the 90s. Guess how old I am). The only thing left to go wrong in that movie was Bruce Willis breaking his thumb, somehow, before he could push the trigger button. (Sorry if that’s lost on you because you haven’t seen that movie.) It becomes a giant eye-roll.

I would say if you enjoy reading about mid 19th century America or if you enjoy Native American stories, you’ll enjoy this book. If you want an easy beach read, you’d probably enjoy this book. Fergus is a good writer, so I wouldn’t be opposed to reading another book he’s written. He creates interesting characters and does a good job of placing you in the setting and appealing to all of your senses.

read: the revised fundamentals of caregiving.

Revised Fundamentals

I was so excited to finally read this book. I bought it when it was released last year, but was slogging through other books and only got to it last weekend. When I read it in two days.

I love Jonathan Evison’s other two novels, “All About Lulu” and “West of Here.” This one, “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving” is no different. I rated it five stars on Goodreads, which doesn’t often happen.

Ben Benjamin’s life has fallen apart, and in an attempt to start putting it back together, he takes a class on being a home health aid. After completion, he gets a job caring for Trevor, a 19-year-old with advanced muscular dystrophy. The two become friends, and eventually events lead up to Ben and Trev taking a road trip from Washington state to Utah, stopping to see unusual sights along the way. But because Ben is really bad at life (this isn’t all his fault, which is revealed throughout the book), the road trip takes twists and turns (sorry) and doesn’t end up how either of them pictured it.

Evison is so good at creating believable, yet completely off-the-rails characters. Ben is a loser, but you can’t help but love him and cheer for him. This book is really sweet, very sad and laugh-out-loud funny. Really. I woke up my husband the night I was finishing it because I couldn’t stop laughing. I will read anything Evison publishes, but if you’ve never picked up one of his books, this is a good one.

read: divergent.

Divergent

Here’s another YA I was told to read. “Divergent” by Veronica Roth is the first of a trilogy (of course). This one, though, is much better than the last YA I read.

This book actually reminds me quite a bit of “The Hunger Games,” though I might like this one better (gasp!). The world is similar–it’s a dystopian future, and humans are split into factions that work, live and act in accordance with various beliefs and values. This is simliar to The Hunger Games different districts. The difference is that the factions have contact with one another, and kids go to school with children of the other factions. That makes it a bit more interesting because there is a play between very different lifestyles that you don’t see in The Hunger Games, since the districts are kept separate–except when the kids are thrown into the ring together.

In this book, all teens are given a secret test to advise them on what faction they should join. The kids are free to choose whatever faction they like, the test is just to show where their strengths are. The catch is that in this world, it’s “faction before family,” so leaving your birth faction means leaving your family forever.

The main character is a girl named Beatrice, and her test doesn’t go as smoothly as planned. This leads to her choose a different faction than the one she was born into. There is, of course, a love interest, but it didn’t bother me as much in this book as it has in others. I like Tris (she changes her name when she enters her new faction) because she’s a strong female character–must like Katniss, actually. And her love interest likes her because she isn’t helpless (looking at you, Bella Swan).

I could sense where the book was going, but my husband read it and about 20 pages in basically told me the entire plot. I don’t know if that means I’m a little slow, or if it’s a result of me not reading much science fiction. In any case, it’s a predictable book but fun nonetheless. I’ve already put a hold on the second book.

And hurry up and read it if you want to. The movie comes out in 2014.

read: the house at tyneford.

HouseAtTyneford

Picked up this book, another book club read, from the library and promptly finished it two days later. It’s a short, quick read, but it’s also good. I gave “The House at Tyneford” by Natasha Solomons four out of five stars on Goodreads.

Elise Landau is a 19-year-old Jew living in Vienna, Austria, with her family in 1938. Her parents, knowing they have to leave Austria, get her a domestic service visa and send her to England to work at Tyneford House for the Rivers family. Her sister, Margo, is married and she and her husband move to San Francisco. Elise’s parents are waiting for their visa to go to New York, where they will then secure a visa for Elise and move her to the United States.

Or at least, that’s the plan.

The story follows Elise as she heads to England, speaking very poor English (though she can read it rather well). She makes her way to Tyneford, where she has to learn how to be a parlor maid. Elise was upper class in Vienna, so she has no idea how to do many of the things required of her, but she has to learn because being dismissed means possibly losing her chance to stay safe in England.

The book is touted as something for fans of Downton Abbey, and I do think that’s accurate. It does cover servants versus aristocrats in England, and also gives a glimpse into how places in England changed with World War II.

This book is a love story, of sorts, so beware if that isn’t your cup of tea (that cliche seems appropriate for a book set in England). Elise falls in love with the junior Rivers, Kit, and it in some ways turns the house upside-down. This is a great beach read, with chapters that aren’t crazy long and are also divided up so there are plenty of stopping places—something I like in a beach read.

The one thing I didn’t like so much: Elise is narrating the book and she tells you in a few spots that things don’t turn out how she’d thought they were going to. It’s almost like she’s spoiling things. That said, it’s pretty easy to guess where things are going, so her spoilers aren’t a surprise, but still. It bothered me just a bit—maybe because it threw me out of the story.

Other than that, I don’t really have complaints. It isn’t an overly complicated book, and Solomons does a good job of pulling you into Elise’s story and all the complicated emotions she has during that time. My suggestion, if you like the time period, or the servant/master dynamic, check it out next time you need a book to read on an airplane.

read: daughter of smoke & bone.

DaughterOfSmokeAndBone

YA. Why do I do this to myself? I never think they’re very good. Sorry die-hard YA lovers. I read Laini Taylor’s “Daughter of Smoke & Bone” because some book club friends said I should. I should stop listening to them. Ha.

It wasn’t terrible. I will say it was probably better written than the Twilight books, but my problem with YA is that it’s so predictable. I think I had it figured out in the first two chapters, at least for the most part. My other problem is that YA seems to often feature a difficult or forbidden romance. UGH. I hate that in adult books, too, and have never even touched a Nicolas Sparks novel for that reason. This one did have a plot that was more than girl-must-live-for-guy (hello, Twilight). Karou, the main character, doesn’t really know where she came from or who she is, and when her family is thrown into chaos, she just wants to find them and get answers. While falling in love with someone she shouldn’t, of course.

The funniest part of this book is that the author borrows from all kinds of legends, fables and myths from around the world to create her story. I kept looking things up to see where they came from and how badly she’d butchered the myths. But it’s a fantasy world and no one says you have to follow rules, so go for it, I guess. I actually don’t know much about fantasy because it isn’t something I read, so part of my research was because I didn’t know what she was talking about.

I’m sure if it isn’t already optioned for a movie, it will be, and it conveniently ends set up for the second book. If you like YA, then read it, you’ll probably enjoy it. Unless you’re a strict fantasy rule-follower. Then some of the liberties Taylor takes might drive you crazy.

DaughterOfSmokeAndBonePages

Funny story about this book: I reserved a copy at the library, and it showed up about a week later. It’s a really popular book right now, so I was surprised it had only taken a week. Then I picked it up. I’d accidentally reserved the large print edition. Whoops. Reads the same, though.

I’m now going back to the land of non-YA.

read: plan b.

Plan B

This particular title garnered four out of five stars on Goodreads—in other words, really fantastic. I tend to only give five stars retroactively, when I find I can’t stop thinking about a book. So time will tell if this one ends up with five.

Anyway, “Plan B” is Jonathan Tropper’s first novel, and the first novel of his that I’ve read. Five friends from college are now 30 and assessing where they find themselves in life. Appropriate, since I’m currently nearing the end of year 30.

One of the five—Jack—is a famous actor with a coke problem, and the other four decide to do something about it. Chaos ensues, during with all five learn something about themselves and come to terms with their 30-ness.

Yeah, it’s a made-for-movies ending, right down to the black screen at the end with white copy that explains where everyone is now. But it’s good. The characters are flawed and feel very real. Each one wants and needs something, and is working in their own way to get it.

I’m not sure if I’d classify this as plot-driven or character-driven. I guess it’s a mix of both. Maybe that’s why it works so well for me. If I have one criticism, its that it ends to … prettily. I hardly ever like a happy ending. At least this one didn’t make me groan.

mysteries.

The latest writing prompt created a lot of post-apocalyptic story starts, including mine. Maybe the next challenge is to take it in the completely opposite direction.

This prompt is from a great book titled “The Pocket Muse 2: Endless Inspiration for Writers” by Monica Wood. I own the first one, too, and they are absolutely fantastic. Besides words, she includes interesting photographs to work from. In addition, the books are small, so you can take them anywhere and they are gorgeous. A book to inspire creativity must be pretty, right? Also, they make wonderful gifts for writing friends.

“Write about a library that runs out of books, a school that runs out of children, a circus that runs out of animals. What on earth happened?”