Book Reviews

Sunday Sentence | January 3, 2016

FatesandFuries

“It was taken for granted by this trio of adults that Lotto was special.”

What I Read in 2015

Best Worst HandsMy goal was to read 30 books this year and fill out my Book Bingo Card and drumroll please… I did! Here’s what’s worth mentioning, good and bad.

Best Book Published in 2015: Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. Now, I probably only read five books that were published this year, but this took my breath away. In traditional spare prose that packs a punch, Haruf’s final, posthumously, published work is a heartbreaking work of staggering genius.

Best Book Regardless of Publication Date: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Thank goodness I read this book before it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction or I might never have picked it up. Those Pulitzer people aren’t the arbiters of such great taste. However, if I won one for say, book-blogging, I would brag the hell out of that shit… oh let me tell you. Here’s where my writing partner and I, aka Snotty Literati, reviewed All the Light We Cannot See.

Best Book I Reread: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee. Obviously. One of my book clubs read it in anticipation of Go Set a Watchman’s release. I even pre-ordered it. Ugh. In the end, I couldn’t do it. I cancelled Go Set a Watchman, I mean, Amazon gets enough of my money, and I went on knowing in my heart of hearts that TKAM is the best work produced my Ms. Lee, and likely the Greatest American Novel. Period.

Best Book by an Author I Have Read Before: I Am the Messenger by Markus Zusak. This is the same guy that wrote the wildly popular and all-time favorite of mine The Book Thief. Once an author reaches the kind of fame they do with a book like The Book Thief, their other works can rarely match up. And I Am the Messenger doesn’t… but it’s still really, really good. It definitely reads as more YA than the supposedly YA Book Thief, but I can’t recommend it enough.

Best Book I Read with The Book Babes Book Club: Not counting the aforementioned books that were all read for book clubs, I am going with A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Bachman. Translated from Sweden, this is the sweet tale of a crotchety old cranky crankenheimer whose life gets softened and turned around in ways he least expects. It’s totally a feel good book without the artificial corn syrup that can be mixed in by lesser talents.

Worst Book I Read with The Book Babes: The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George. Let me spare you. It has moments of lovely phrasing, and then wording that hits your beautiful reading experience like an elderly man flashing you out of nowhere. Unless this is your thing, move along. So many books. So little time.

Best Book I Read with the First Draft Book Club (FDBC) at Changing Hands Bookstore: Again, not counting any previously mentioned books, Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg. You may recall Clegg from his 2011 memoir Portrait of An Addict as a Young Man. This literary agent-turned-sometimes-writer has some real talent. The story centers around June Reid, and the unfathomable event—losing her daughter, her daughter’s fiancé, her ex-husband, and her boyfriend in a house fire. It takes June escaping across country and the interconnected stories of others to understand what actually happened. Now, I didn’t read his memoir but dove right into his first novel, but I couldn’t put this debut novel down. He says is love is behind the scenes, working the deals, but I would love to read more of his fiction.

 Worst Book I Read with the FDBC: Gold Fame Citrus by Claire Vaye Watkins. Let me start by saying she’s a strong writer and someone I will likely read again. But this book was just not my cuppa. In the end, which I didn’t get to because I couldn’t finish it, Watkins had clearly done her homework, but it seemed she thought this term paper could be tweaked into a novel that would please her professors and the reading public. It just didn’t work for me. But, hey! It might work for you. It did for tons of way more important people than I am who put it on their Best of 2015 lists.

Best Book I Should Have Read by Now: It’s a tie between Bel Canto by Ann Patchett and Americanah by Chimamanda Ingozi Adichie. Why do I ever wait to read anything by Patchett… it’s a wonder. But here’s what Snotty Literati thought of Bel Canto. And, when you are done with that, you can check out our review of Americanah.

Best Collection of Short Stories: I finally got around to reading The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien. I wasn’t going to read it, but Snotty Literati reads the National Book Award fiction winner each year and Jennifer said, “If we are going to read Redeployment by Phil Klay, then we have to read the best war stories ever written.” And there you go. Well, kudos to Jennifer. I don’t know if The Things They Carried are the best war stories ever written, but they are damn good, and scary, and sad… so very sad. But mostly, they are important. You should read them if you haven’t. Here’s our review of O’Brien and Klay’s collections.

Best Non-Fiction Read: I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, even though I do buy my fair share of it. This year, I read Daring Greatly by Brene Brown. It’s a non-traditional leadership book, but I think it should be required reading for everyone. Brown, a PhD in social work, has spent her life studying vulnerability and shame. She breaks down the harm of living in shame (and we all do) and the riches that can be achieved with living more authentically and vulnerability. It’s not new age-y, it’s not self-help mumbo jumbo—it’s real and it’s good.

Now, I would love to hear from you! Please share in the comments what you loved, hated, and were indifferent about this year.

 

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah

My Snotty Literati cohort and I finally got to one of the best books of 2013, Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Read our review of Americanah and see what we thought. SPOILER ALERT: We loved it!

Sunday Sentence | October 25

DYE Family

“There’s a lot of resentment simmering underneath the smiles and so good to see yous and no problem, happy to do thats of this town.”

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

Our Souls at NightHaruf is one of my favorite authors. A quiet storyteller that delivers heartbreaking works of staggering genius. Our Souls at Night is the story of Addie and Louis, both widowed and in their 70s. Addie walks down the street to Louis’ house one evening with a unique proposition:

I wonder if you would consider coming to my house sometimes to sleep with me.

What? How do you mean?

I mean we’re both alone. We’ve been by ourselves for too long. For years. I’m lonely. I think you might be too. I wonder if you would come and sleep in the night with me. And talk.

And so begins a different kind of relationship. One of great intimacy. One that shares secrets, past stories, dreams, companionship, and complications. This book will likely make my list of favorites for the year. Possibly even an all-time favorite. The writing is beautiful. It broke my heart and made it smile.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Bel CantoAnn Patchett’s Bel Canto is considered by many to be her best novel. But the ending gets a lot of people all fired up. Or pissed. Or both. What did Snotty Literati think? Well, read on and find out what my writing partner and I had to say and then chime in the comments with your own thoughts.

http://onelitchick.com/snotty-literati/bel-canto/

What I Read in 2014

Best BooksThe Best, The Worst, The Rest

Disclaimers

  • I had a goal of reading 36 books this year and complete my Book Bingo Card. However, I am being pressured to complete this post before year’s end. I intend to complete my Book Bingo Card by December 31, but will fall short of my total reading goal. I realize this is a total first world problem.
  • Not all of these books were published in 2014; they are just the books I read during 2014.
  • I wrote reviews for some these books, mainly joint reviews with my snobby reading friend Jennifer Spiegel (under our stage name: Snotty Literati). Whenever there’s a review, I include the link. Whenever there’s not, I don’t.
  • I would love your thoughts on any of my thoughts. I would also love your thoughts on any books you think I should read. I am all about the thoughts. I want them. I am greedy for them.

Now, on to What I Read in 2014…

The 10 Best Books I Read in 2014

1. Wonder by R.J. Palacio (2012). Not only is this my favorite book of the year, it goes into my list of all-time favorites. It’s the story of what can happen when you value people for who they are, not what they look like or how they are different. It’s a book that shows how similar we truly are despite the differences that make us unique and, ultimately, special. I probably also love it because my son read it too and announced it was his favorite book. While considered juvenile fiction, Wonder is a book for all ages.

2. This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett (2014). My love for this woman and her way with words is well-documented. This collection of essays is geared for writers, but I encourage anyone who enjoys good storytelling or wants a different perspective on how to be good at something to read this book.

3. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (2013). If you ever felt misunderstood, different, an outcast, or even normal angst during your adolescence, then Rowell is your gal. She writes with humor and grace about the awkward beauty of growing up and urgency and total everythingness of falling in love. Add to that the backdrop of the 80s and you have YA perfection.

4. The Good Lord Bird by James McBride (2013). Earning The National Book Award for Fiction, The Good Lord Bird is a humorous and provocative historical novel chronicling Abolitionist John Brown and his storming of Harper’s Ferry. McBride creates a motley crew, while throwing in some well-known members of the anti-slave movement. A truly great read.

5. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty (2013). The title and pink flowers on the cover scream beach read, chick lit, and maybe even Lifetime movie. But trust me—this is lit for the clever and witty chick. Like you. The chick reading this column right now. Moriarty has architected a smart story that follows three disparate storylines that all converge in a way that will take you by surprise. If you liked Where’d You Go, Bernadette then add The Husband’s Secret to your reading queue and pop it up to the top. Oh, and if you haven’t read Bernadette yet… what are you waiting for?

6. Boys and Girls Like You and Me by Aryn Kyle (2010). The problem with so many short stories is their structure, or lack thereof. They often don’t wrap up very tidily and I find myself asking if I missed something. So imagine my delight when I come across a collection of stories that each has a clear beginning, middle, and end. And they are interesting, a little weird (in a good way), and really well written. That’s this collection. Check it out. Amazon has only one copy left.

7. What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty (2012). More clever chick lit from Moriarty, and this was actually written before Hubby. I read both of her books for my book club and we all enjoyed this one (but Hubby was better). Nonetheless, a breeze of a read with highly engaging characters that will keep you turning the pages.

8. Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal (2005). I would have never even heard of this book, let alone picked up this gem of a book were it not for my Book Bingo group and a little square that required us to read a fellow player’s favorite. As much as I want to write as eloquently as Ann Patchett, I would be happy to write as creatively, succinctly, and resonantly as Rosenthal does here in her memoir formatted like an encyclopedia.

9. The Complete Maus I and II by Art Spiegelman (1986, 1992). This is the only graphic novel to make my list and the only graphic novel to ever receive a special citation from the folks at Pulitzer. The artist and storyteller is the son of a Holocaust survivor who uses the comic book medium to tell of his father’s harrowing experiences and their subsequent, challenging relationship.

10. The Last Night at the Ritz by Elizabeth Savage (1973). It’s 1960s Boston, and an unnamed and unreliable narrator walks us through a history of martini lunches, affairs of the heart, betrayals of friendship, books, and feminism as she celebrates her birthday at the Ritz with her dearest friend. Lush sentences about books, boys, and booze make this a highly enjoyable read. The

Honorable Mentions
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
The Swan Gondola by Timothy Schaffert
The Home Place by Carrie La Seur
Sky of Red Poppies by Zohreh Ghahremani
The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve Hollow City by Ransom Riggs

The Book I Should Have Read by Now
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Book I Read for a Second Time (and Enjoyed as Much as I Did the First Time)
Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) by Mindy Kaling

The Books I Wanted to Like More than I Did
The Dog Stars by Peter Heller
The Sound of Things Falling by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

The Book I Should Be Embarrassed to Have Read But Am Not (Okay, I Kind of Am…)
It’s Just a F***ING Date by Greg Behrendt and Amiira Ruotola-Behrendt 4 stars

The Binge-Reading-Instant-Gratification-Total-Crack-Candy-Crushers (aka Totally Empty Afterward)
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins

The Book that Is On So Many ‘Best Of’ Lists… But not Mine
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeymi

The Bad
Beautiful Bodies by Laura Shaine Cunningham
Erotic Poems by e.e. cummings
A Highly Unlikely Scenario, Or a Neetsa Pizza Employee’s Guide to Saving the World by Rachel Cantor

That’s all I’ve got! Peace, love, and books! See you next year!

By |December 16th, 2014|2014|7 Comments

The Last Night at the Ritz by Elizabeth Savage

w538892This slim novel was Kindle-gifted to me by my stepmom at the end of our fall break in Boston and New York City this year. The book is narrated by an unnamed woman, who is celebrating her birthday with her best friend Gay, Gay’s husband Len, and the narrator’s former lover, Wes. Gay and the narrator met in college in the 1930s and have maintained a 3o-year friendship despite their dramatic differences.

Now, it’s 1960s Boston, and there’s lots of talk of martini lunches, affairs of the heart, betrayals of friendship, books and feminism. Gay is straight and narrow, the narrator is not. They are the yin to each other’s yang, and despite the narrator’s unreliability, I really liked her. She’s full zingers and quotes that could appear on the next Anne Taintor notepad. She struck me as the person you would sit next to at a party if you didn’t have anything nice to say about anyone—she would love to talk with you.

Here are some of my favorite passages:

Describing a college acquaintance:

“But having missed being pretty she settled for being kind and merry, which is not the worst settlement a girl can make.”

About her college major:

“Like many old English majors, we don’t hold staunch opinions about anything much but books.”

On her ability to be trusted:

“Nobody–except for Gay– has ever trusted me. And for good reason.”

Speaking about girls who got pregnant in college:

“Everyone I knew who got caught got married, but only after a lot of tears and a lot of snotty remarks from the dean.”

On sex:

“In those days we were pretty sure sex stopped at about thirty-five.”

On Gay’s grandmother:

“Gay’s grandmother was a formidable woman, but you didn’t see it right away because she was pretty.”

“As it turned out, the grandmother was a rampant feminist who rejoiced in any female victory. It wasn’t really that Grandmother didn’t like the uncles; but she saw all men as dolts. In spite of all her sons–perhaps because of them–she was not much in favor of sexual congress. It was untidy and had dire results and took a lady’s mind off more important things. Like sonnets.”

“In spite of the grandmother’s stern admonition, the bathroom was obviously a library. Everyone in that house liked to read; not that they were all scholars; the just liked to read, and there was no corner of that big house that was not littered with literature, as though they were all afraid that they might be caught at any moment without print.”

On her love of books and reading… and drinking:

“But you can’t very well lug an encyclopedia around hotels. Fortunately, I did have my flask.”

On loss and lust:

“So after that, if the fellow and the time were right, I started having an occasional affair, which is less debilitating than grief and a lot more fun.”

I could go on… but what kind of review just reprints the whole book? The book is not perfect, by any means. But it’s a gem. Our lushy narrator can ramble at times; however, the she propels the story forward nicely, throwing in her share of secrets and some of Gay’s as well. The Last Night at the Ritz does a swell job unfolding a story of a complicated life-long friendship in one night’s time, across a number colorful stories and cocktails.

Rating: 3 stars
Pages: 196
Genre: Fiction

By |November 30th, 2014|2014, 3 stars|2 Comments

Sunday Sentence, July 13, 2014: A Three Dog Life

Here’s the best of what I read this week:

A Three Dog Life

 

We envisioned an old age on a front porch somewhere, each other’s comfort, companions for life. But life takes twists and turns. There is good luck and bad.

From A Three Dog Life
by Abigail Thomas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snotty Literati Reviews: The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

The Hubby SecretI made Jennifer read this book after she bailed on a book she forced me to read. And guess what? We both loved it. I bet you will too.

Check out our review of The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty. It’s not just a pretty cover. There’s substance beyond the title.

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