Books, books and more books ....
Since cutting down my work schedule and devoting my time to things that make me happy, I have been reading a lot lately. I haven't been sticking to any one genre, I have been all over the map and it has been a blast. In case you are wondering, here's what I've been reading and my recommendations.
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I don't usually gravitate towards YA. And I certainly don't gravitate towards sic-fi, fantasy or any of those. Although I have heard raves about the Twilight Series and of course the Harry Potter books, I have read neither. I'm not a snob, the ideas just haven't appealed to me that much. And neither did the story line of The Hunger Games but my daughter (a woman in her mid twenties), raved about this book couldn't wait to read the next two in the series and kept telling me I needed to read it. It was on my Kindle so I started it. Could not put it down. I was drawn in almost immediately, I was impressed by the plot, characters, relationships and language. So it only was right that I too couldn't wait to read the next two in the series and did. Both great like the first. Really, to me these are great books for parents to read with their YA readers, the issues raised, the moral dilemmas faced by the characters, all could be great discussion starters.
Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins (the second in the Hunger Games trilogy)
Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (the third in the series)
Murder on Music Row by Stuart Dill
Hmmm, what to say. Did I like it? Yes. Would I recommend it? Depends. Dill is a Country Music manager, has been for 25 years. To say he knows the music business from the inside is an understatement. The book, Dill's first novel, is good, not the best I've ever read but had enough suspense to keep me reading. I like books that are set in places where I know the geography, the names of towns, and streets and businesses and I know the names of some of the people mentioned. Dill name drops plenty, some of the biggest names in country music but I guess when you have managed some of those same folks you get to to do that. I guess I think that if you don't know or don't like country music or the Nashville area you might not find as much to like in this book as I did. The character development was a little bit weak, the main male character was almost a caricature of the current country music star. A fun and quick read.
Room by Emma Donoghue
I think I've mentioned before that I am often drawn to books by their cover art. Room was one of those and I can't explain exactly why. I also knew it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for literature. To say it was compelling is just not enough. It was beautiful and heart wrenching, sometimes frightening, and sad. Donoghue captured the thinking of a five year old who has known nothing other than his Ma, the room they live in and the man who comes and brings their food to them. It often reminded me of my previous life in law enforcement and the time spent as a detective in the crimes against persons division. It took me a little time to get used to the language of 5 year old Jack and to understand Ma's motivations for how she responds to him but once I became immersed in their room I wanted to stay with them til the end.
Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
This one was recommended by my sister and was on the Kindle (two of my sisters and I share a kindle account so if one of them adds a book it becomes available to me as well -- lucky me!)
It took me a little bit to get into this book and I found myself at times annoyed that I still couldn't see how the title applied or how the stories fit together. Maybe it is that OCD part of me that likes to know how the puzzle pieces fit and to guess ahead at how things will turn out. But once deep into the story, especially of the Vel' d'Hiv' roundup of Jewish families in 1942 France, I was transfixed. I knew nothing of the history (which made me feel a bit ashamed, shouldn't we know these things?), I ached for the children who watched their parents being led away, unaware of the gas chambers that awaited them. But I also became engrossed in Julia's struggle to learn the story and her struggle to find her self in her marriage.
Time of My Life by Allison Winn Scotch
This is a book I bought after I began to follow Allison Winn Scotch on twitter and began to read her blog, about her books and writing. I think she is really funny, someone I'd like as a friend. She has just enough cynicism about relationships and people that I really love. The book is the story of a young woman, married, with money (think almost Stepford like) who gets to go back and relive her life years earlier when a relationship failed. Ahhh, to go back again and relive parts of your life, knowing what you know now .... and a reminder that the grass isn't always greener. It is a quick read but fun and funny in parts. Definite "beach read" material. I'd definitely recommend following Scotch on twitter. She does have a couple other books out and options for film, a name you might hear a lot more in the future.
The Help by Kathryn Stockett
I was late to the party on this one, it was all the rage in the bookstores and on Amazon and Goodreads. My sisters recommended it and it was on the Kindle. But I had bought a hardcover copy early, just hadn't picked it up to read it. Another one where I was drawn to the cover art. But, I really didn't know what the story was until much later. I admit, I'm an idiot, shoulda read it the minute I got it, I loved it!! At times it reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird, maybe mainly because of the setting, the south where time sometimes stands still. But it struck me early on, I was alive during the time the Help takes place, I was young, younger than Skeeter, but this was part of my history, it happened during my lifetime. That kind of scared me, because I grew up in California a world away from Mississippi and I seemed to really have no clue about segregation (no one to segregate where I lived) or what was happening in the day to day lives of many people in the south. I lived in a fairly liberal household so racism wasn't even an issue for us, unless it was an issue my parents were working against politically.
I love the language, the relationships, Skeeter's strength, the strength of the maids ... all of it.
I saw the movie, usually I am disappointed by the film adaptation of a great book (don't even get me started on what Peter Jackson did to The Lovely Bones) but this time I was pleasantly surprised. I wished there had been more sometimes but then I'm not a director or producer making what could be a controversial subject into a mainstream commercial success. Overall I thought it was a good movie, a great movie, not as great as the book but can't have everything.
There was a lawsuit against Stockett, brought by her brother's maid who sued for Stockett using her name (Abilene) and likeness in the book/movie. The suit was dismissed by a judge in Atlanta. To me, this is the kind of book that should be on every high school reading list, teach a little about our country's not so great history.
Cowboy and Wills by Monica Holloway
This is a book I heard about months ago, maybe even a couple years ago, mostly on She Writes. It is a memoir about Monica Holloway and her young son Wills, who was diagnosed on the Autism spectrum when he was only 18 months old. It is also about the relationship Wills formed with his dog, a female golden retriever named Cowboy and how it helped him socialize in ways most never thought possible. It is a great read, funny in parts, very sad in parts but it gives you hope. He is an amazing little boy and I'm a sucker for a cute dog story. Holloway also adds a lot of humor, self deprecating about herself and her own "issues" and the fear and difficulty in raising a special needs child. It is a quick read and if you're a parent you will probably love it. Especially if your child is not anywhere near the autism spectrum, trying to provide structure to an autistic child would be difficult for any parent.
The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan
Another one I've had on my to read list for quite some time, just it didn't make it to the top of the list until I had more time. This is also a memoir from Corrigan who, as a young mother of two small children finds a cancerous lump in her breast. Corrigan comes from a close family from a small town in Pennsylvania, her father her biggest fan and ally. He had already survived prostate cancer when while Corrigan is getting treatment for her breast cancer her father is diagnosed with bladder cancer. The book alternates between reminiscences of Corrigan's childhood and the present day as she and her father face treatment for cancer and Corrigan finds herself in that middle place a child and a parent. I was touched by the story, I loved the relationship between Corrigan and her father and between Corrigan and her husband who could have easily been overwhelmed by the Corrigan family.
Maybe because I just lost my own father to cancer and am somewhat in the middle place to, albeit without having cancer myself that I related to Corrigan's story. I was surprised when I looked on Amazon and found that the book received a lot of 5 star reviews but of the people that didn't like it they were very vocal about calling Corrigan whiny and self-indulgent. I didn't see her that way except to say, aren't we all sometimes? If Corrigan was perfect and not more like the rest of us when your life is in turmoil I don't think it would have been as interesting a story.
The Trust by Sean Keefer
This book I won from my friend Christi Craig who gave it away after interviewing the author on her blog Christi Craig. Keefer is a practicing attorney in South Carolina as is his main character in this, Keefer's debut novel, a legal mystery. That is one of my favorite genre's and I was looking forward to reading it. I really liked it overall but it was lacking in parts. I felt at times that Keefer made the two main female characters in the book too much alike, hard to tell who was who at times, and the dialogue dragged just a little in parts. But I felt it was a great first effort and could see Keefer's style and look forward to his next book.
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson
This was a book I avoided. I tend to do that often with books that receive a whole lot of hype. I didn't really even look at the premise before dismissing it. It again was one my two sisters reviewed and was on the kindle. I didn't have much intention of reading it until I was at the movies with friends and the trailer for the film came on. One friend said she absolutely loved the book and couldn't wait for the movie. Since we agreed we would see the movie when it came out, I thought I would read the book first. I struggled through about the first 75 pages or so, getting used to the names of people and places was a little tough. The girl originally came across to me as someone from a futuristic novel and this one isn't that. Once I got a bit further into the book I felt like the rough edges of the characters smoothed out some and I could enjoy them all as the story unfolded. About half way through, the book became one I didn't want to put down and I now look forward to the movie. Not sure though if I will read the other two books in the trilogy.
The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen
Rasmussen's book brought to mind for me The Lovely Bones, not because of the story itself but because of the rich language and description, the setting and how the reader feels invited to come in and sit down in Milly and Twiss' home and listen to their story.
And as usual I was drawn to it's cover art, a beautiful book in every way. For those who would like to read it, it comes out in paperback this month!
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
I was fascinated by Steve Jobs, one of the boy wonders of my generation who changed our lives forever with the products produced by the companies he has run, both Apple and Pixar. Jobs has often been called an innovator and a genius and at least more recently he seemed to have a quality of calm and joy for innovation.
What I found when I started reading the book was someone I would not have recognized and may not have even liked had I met him and certainly had I worked for him. Yes he was a genius but to me it was almost like he was a savant when it came to marketing and a narcissistic prick when it came to everything else.
A couple of other interesting facts, I knew Jobs started the Apple Company in Cupertino, CA which is really close to where I lived growing up. Then I read the first couple chapters of the book and realize he lived REALLY close to where I did, we were practically neighbors. When I mentioned my surprise that I didn't know this fact before I was reminded by one of my sisters that another sister had at one time had a job interview with these two guys who were looking for a secretary or something but she turned it down, thought they were a little creepy ... working out of their garage and all. The two guys, maybe they were a little creepy were Jobs and Steve Wozniak.
I started Isaacson's biography not being sure if I would get through the 600+ page book. I wasn't thrilled with Isaacson's writing style but in hindsight I wonder if that wasn't also because I immediately was turned off by Jobs' personality as Isaacson described it and I wanted to blame Isaacson for that.
The entire story is amazing though and Jobs was a genius in many ways. And although he did a lot of things that made me want to hate him and his evil plan for Apple to take over the world, in the end I liked the guy, flaws and all, and enamored of his vision. It isn't just me, when you read the book, many people in Jobs' life talk about how awful he was to them but they all have a grudging respect for the man for what he accomplished and how he changed our world forever.
You have to give Jobs props though for as narcissistic and as much of a control freak he was, it must have really been a huge thing for him to give complete autonomy to Isaacson to write the biography and not have to sensor anyone or anything.
Jobs may have described it best in his final words on his death bed ... "oh wow, oh wow, oh wow".
So throw in a couple of books about underwater photography, a few diving magazines and training books, and the books I'm reading about writing ... I'm wading through the "to-read" stack.
What are you reading?