Category Archives: Books

What I read in 2015, part ii

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What I read in 2015, part ii

MY BRILLIANT FRIEND by Elena Ferrante

“If Pasquale’s love was a sign of how much someone could like Lila, the love of Marcello—a young man who was handsome and wealthy, with a car, who was harsh and violent, a Camorrist, used, that is, to taking the women he wanted—was, in my eyes, in the eyes of all my contemporaries, and in spite of his bad reputation, in fact, perhaps even because of it, a promotion, the transition from skinny little girl to woman capable of making anyone bend to her will.”

THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN by Paula Hawkins

“The weekend stretches out ahead of me, forty-eight empty hours to fill. I lift the can to my mouth again, but there’s not a drop left.”

 

AMERICANAH by Chimamada Ngozi Adiche

“Princeton, in the summer, smelled of nothing, and although Ifemelu liked the tranquil greenness of the many trees, the clean streets and stately homes, the delicately overpriced shops, and the quiet, abiding air of earned grace, it was this, the lack of a smell, that most appealed to her, perhaps because the other American cities she knew well had all smelled distinctly.”

 

IS EVERYONE HANGING OUT WITHOUT ME? AND OTHER CONCERNS by Mindy Kaling

“One friend with whom you have a lot in common is better than three with whom you struggle to find things to talk about.”

 Part iii coming soon!

What I read in 2015, part i

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What I read in 2015, part i

Better late than never. Here are a few of my favorites:

 

IN THE UNLIKELY EVENT by Judy Blume

“Miri Ammerman and her best friend, Natalie Osner, were sprawled on their bellies on the thick, tweedy wall-to-wall carpet of Natalie’s den, waiting for the first-ever televised lighting of the famous Christmas tree. The den was Miri’s favorite room in Natalie’s house, not least because of the seventeen-inch Zenith, inside a pale wood cabinet, the biggest television Miri had ever seen.”

 

THE WIFE by Meg Wolitzer

“The men would long for armored writing, protected writing, writing that was muscle-bound and never ceased flexing itself.”

 

RARE AS THE KOTUKU by Camille Norvaisas

“Outside the morning window, the pine limbs

are weighted with snow, like punished schoolboys,

arms parallel to the floor, dictionary upon each palm…”

 

A SMALL INDISCRETION by Jan Ellison

“Each scarf cost a pound, and I bought them from an Indian woman who kept a stall in the tube station at Victoria, where I caught my train to work. They were thin, crinkled things, not the sort of scarves that ought to be worn to work in an office or that offered any protection against the cold…The money I spent on them, and the habit I adopted of wearing a different one each day, seems to me now a haphazard indulgence, an attempt to prove that I was the kind of girl capable of throwing herself headlong into an affair with her boss–a married man twice her age–and escaping without consequence.”

 

WONDER BOYS by Michael Chabon

“That’s a big trunk…It fits a tuba, three suitcases, a dead body, and a garment bag almost perfectly.”

 

 

 

 

What I Read in 2014

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What I Read in 2014

Top three favorite books:

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

The Last Letter From Your Lover by Jojo Moyes

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

 

 

Book I liked even more the second time around:

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

 

 

A reread that always makes me happy:

Mike, Mike and Me by Wendy Markham

 

 

Most read authors (3 books from each):

Jojo Moyes

Gillian Flynn

Kim Addonizio

 

 

Lonely male authors I read in a year of women:

Junot Díaz

Paul Gallico

 

 

Stunning books of poetry:

Lucifer at the Starlite by Kim Addonizio

My Brother is Getting Arrested Again by Daisy Fried

Nulls by Pattie McCarthy

 

 

Novels that were as disturbing as they were amazing:

Tampa by Alissa Nutting

Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

 

Books I read in interesting locations:

The Color Master by Aimee Bender (on a train from Rome to Naples)

The Last Letter from Your Lover by Jojo Moyes (at a beach club in Capri)

This is How You Lose Her by Junot Díaz (every time I was in line for the elevator at work. Thank you, ineffective elevators, for giving me extra reading time)

 

Books read in 2014, part iii

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Books read in 2014, part iii

LABOR DAY by Joyce Maynard

 

I read this after watching the movie, which is generally the wrong order in which to do things. But although the movie is surprisingly close to the book, the novel kept my attention as a work of art in its own right. The ending was even better than it was in the film. Frank, the felon who’s escaped from prison and taken captive Adele and her son Henry, has lines so alive I wrote them down in a notebook as I read; I especially loved the following:

“Then again, he said, it’s an open question, which person is the captor here, which is the captive.

“He bent his head close to her ear and brushed her hair away, as if to speak directly into her brain. Maybe he thought I wouldn’t hear, or maybe he was just beyond caring.

“I am your prisoner, Adele, was what he said to her.”

 

On a related note, it’s impossible to read this book and not want to bake, or at least eat, a peach pie.

 

THE SNOW GOOSE by Paul Gallico

 

After reading one of my grandmother’s favorite books recently (A Tree Grows in Brooklyn), it seemed only fair to read one of my grandfather’s. Published in 1940, the story is about a lonely man, a young girl, isolation, winter, and sacrifice. My copy has this line marked: “His body was warped, but his heart was filled with love for wild and hunted things. He was ugly to look upon, but he created great beauty.” The style reminds me “Gift of the Magi,” another story that is impossible not to love.

 

THE GIRL YOU LEFT BEHIND by Jojo Moyes

 

I love this title, and I love just about everything Moyes writes. The novel is set in France during the German occupation of World War I, when Sophie, the wife of an artist whose husband is at battle, is forced to take in German soldiers. The captain soon becomes obsessed with a painting of Sophie. In the present day, the painting is at the center of a legal fight. This book was slow moving, I will admit, but I’m glad I read it. Moyes does a particularly impressive job of creating sympathy for the unlikable (to say the least) German captain; additionally, the linking of past and present felt natural.

 

GOODNIGHT NOBODY by Jennifer Weiner

 

This was a reread in between trips to the library. The book is a funny, almost campy take on housewives and murder in the suburbs, from the perspective of Kate, who has always felt like an outsider. Kate becomes fixated on solving the murder of her neighbor. Beyond the plot, the novel really shines in its use of humor: Kate gets mugged for her expensive stroller, which even the robber can’t get to open and close properly; her children beg for “Kenfucky [sic] fried chicken”; when a man breaks Kate’s heart, her best friend tries to have him deported. I’ve read maybe two thirds of Weiner’s novels, and this one, FLY AWAY HOME, and THEN CAME YOU are probably my favorites.

 

MY BOYFRIEND BARFED IN MY HANDBAG AND OTHER THINGS YOU CAN’T ASK MARTHA by Jolie Kerr

 

Okay, very different than my usual reading, but very helpful! Jolie Kerr is super witty, even while talking about cleaning. My house now sparkles thanks to her wisdom.

Books read in 2014: part II

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Books read in 2014: part II

I KNEW YOU’D BE LOVELY by Alethea Black

 

For Christmas, one of my aunts gave my mother and me a selection of five books for us to divide up and read, and this book of short stories was one of the best. The prose is quiet but beautiful. What impressed me most was how Black allows her characters to have happy endings. There were a couple times, after the story ended, that I realize I’d almost been holding my breath, because I wanted good things for these characters, but were shocked when they happened. For that revelation alone—that it’s possible to write a well-crafted short story that ends on a relatively high note—this book is worth reading, especially for writers. (In other words, maybe I’ll stop beating up my characters with so frequently).

 

BRAIN ON FIRE: MY MONTH OF MADNESS by Susannah Cahallan

I’d wanted to read this memoir ever since my sister and I heard a story about a strange neurological disorder affecting young women, its symptoms appearing so much like demonic possession that some wonder if it’s the true source of reported cases of possession in the Middle Ages. Cahallan, a reporter for the New York Post, was in perfect health until coming down with bizarre physical, mental, and emotional symptoms that rendered her incapacitated. This book is Cahallan’s attempt to recapture the thirty days she lost to anti-NDMA receptor autoimmune encephalitis. By necessity, it’s extremely technical, but still a good read.

 

THE COLOR MASTER by Aimee Bender

Aimee Bender is one of those authors I’ve been meaning to read, ever since THE PARTICULAR SADNESS OF LEMON CAKE, which I still haven’t read, came out. When I read descriptions of her latest book of stories—fabulism! trauma in apple orchards! ogres eating children!—I was super excited. My favorite story in the book, “The Red Ribbon,” ended up being one that while not overtly magical, still contained great elements of exaggeration and raised interesting questions of about the nature of relationships. “Appleless” was vivid and creepy and reminded me a great deal of Goblin Market.

 

THE LAST LETTER FROM YOUR LOVER by Jojo Moyes

My mother lent me this book, just as she’s lent me about half the books I’ve read in the past several years, and I may be the writer, but she’s got amazing taste. She introduced me to, among others, Elizabeth Berg, Anita Shreve, Liane Moriarty, and now Jojo Moyes, all of whom I love. I’m going to call it now and say that THE LAST LETTER will be one of my favorite books I read this year. It’s the most amazing love story told in a sharp and witty manner. The character Anthony reminds me quite a bit of the Humphrey Bogart character in Casablanca, and Jennifer, who starts out docile, becomes fierce and fearless. I just loved everything about this.

 

GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn

This was a reread, and I liked it even better than I did the first time. People seem to have very strong feelings about GONE GIRL in one direction or the other, and I’m one of those who adore it. Gillian Flynn writes the most alluringly sociopathic characters in modern fiction. Beyond that, her prose is top notch. I’ve tried to write using two first person narrators, as she does here with Nick and Amy, and it is much harder than it looks to distinguish each character’s voice as well as Flynn does here. I’ve heard arguments that this book isn’t feminist enough, but my two favorite passages are Amy’s observations about how women are seen:

 

“Men always say that as the defining compliment, don’t they? She’s a cool girl. Being the Cool Girl means I am a hot, brilliant, funny woman who adores football, poker, dirty jokes, and burping, who plays video games, drinks cheap beer…Men actually think this girl exists.”

 

“Tampon commercial, detergent commercial, maxi pad commercial, Windex commercial – you’d think all women do is clean and bleed.”

Books Read in 2014: part I

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Books Read in 2014: part I

Taking inspiration from Kayla, I’m going to start tracking the books I read.

 

ALBA FRAGMENTS by Audrey Niffenegger- Not a book but a long short story, but I’m counting it because I’d been anticipating its arrival for so long. This is a sequel to one of my favorite novels, THE TIME TRAVELER’S WIFE. In FRAGMENTS, Niffenegger focuses on Henry and Clare’s daughter, Alba, who has inherited her father’s chrono-displacement disorder, causing her to time travel. Reading this felt like visiting old friends, as cliche as that might sound. The story definitely piqued my interest for the full length text to come. (note: FRAGMENTS is only available through Zola Books)

 

SHARP OBJECTS by Gillian Flynn- I asked for this novel for Christmas after reading and loving the author’s latest book, GONE GIRL, last year, and SHARP OBJECTS didn’t disappoint. My opinion is that Gillian Flynn is unparalleled in creating disturbed, sociopathic female characters. She’s also gifted in writing prose. I liked it a whole lot.

 

WHERE’D YOU GO, BERNADETTE by Maria Semple- I don’t know how to describe this novel other than saying that it is a funny missing persons story. The narrative is made up of letters, emails, articles, and much more that I can’t recall at the moment. I loved Bernadette because she reminded me of my mother, and this is a compliment to the character. Also, the whole time I was reading it, I kept hearing “Bernadette” by The Four Tops in my mind, which is not a bad thing at all.

 

THE LONGEST DATE: MY LIFE AS A WIFE by Cindy Chupack- I’ve been a fan of Chupack’s acerbic prose since THE BETWEEN BOYFRIENDS BOOK; THE LONGEST DATE is, in a way, a sequel, since it deals with life after marriage. It was hilarious and heartfelt and I only wish it had been longer. A favorite quote: “Being single in your late thirties means you have to do some seriously stupid shit to prove you’re still fun, like ride in the back of a pickup, rappel down a waterfall, or go on a two-day river rafting/camping trip.”

 

DARK PLACES by Gillian Flynn- Now that I’ve read all three of Flynn’s novels, I can say that I found this one the creepiest and most disturbing, but I was sort of expecting that, considering the book is about a girl whose brother supposedly murdered their entire family as part of a Satanic ritual. Dark places, indeed. It was a great read, though. Then for something completely different, I turned to:

 

A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN by Betty Smith- More so than almost any other book, this novel makes me really emotional, so I’m going to keep this short and say that Betty Smith is unparalleled in creating characters so rich they jump off the page and come live with you, and the plot and prose are achingly beautiful.

My top 5 books of 2013

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My top 5 books of 2013

Happy New Year! Here are my five (well, six) favorite books that I read in the past year. (They were not all published in 2013, although some were).

5. STILL LIFE WITH HUSBAND by Lauren Fox & HELP FOR THE HAUNTED by John Searles (tie)

I discovered STILL LIFE by accident in a bookstore. Fox does an excellent job of rendering the protagonist’s struggle in developing feelings for someone other than her spouse. This was a great example of a not necessarily likable or relatable character who’s still interesting to read about.

 

 

I wrote about wanting to read HELP FOR THE HAUNTED before, and it lived up to my expectations. The book has been categorized as horror by some publications, but for me it was mainstream or literary fiction with strong undertones of creepiness, and sometimes that’s even scarier than overt horror.

 

4. THE ENGAGEMENTS by J. Courtney Sullivan

Another one I was looking forward to and ending up loving. Sullivan jumps around in time to different characters and story lines, yet nothing feels disjointed. One of her strengths as a writer, in my opinion, is enriching the plot through detailed descriptions of her characters’ pasts.

 

3. GIRLS IN WHITE DRESSES by Jennifer Close

Though billed as a novel, this reads more as a book of connected short stories about the lives of twenty-something, white urban women. Everything about Close’s portrayal was spot-on, from the tangled relationships to drinking to weddings. One of my favorite chapters was “The Candidate,” about a woman dating a man obsessed with electing a politician who is obviously Barack Obama, though his name is never mentioned, which makes it feel even more universal. The book is darker than the cover lets on, which for me was a plus.

 

2. ME BEFORE YOU by JoJo Moyes

I don’t know how to describe this novel other than saying that I laughed out loud and at times cried so hard I had to put down the book. It’s visceral and unpredictable and surprisingly not depressing. I loved it. The cover design is great too.

 

 

1. THREE WISHES by Liane Moriarty

Moriarty is my favorite author of the year; I read all 5 of her novels, and any one of them could easily be my favorite book of the year. Three Wishes, her first, stands out because her depiction of the relationship of triplets was so relatable to my own life. I can’t wait for Moriarty to write another novel.

Happy reading in 2014!