Books I Read This Week 2019 – 05

Another solid week of reading. The 3-day weekend gave me a bit extra room to read. Here are my goodreads reviews. If you’re on goodreads, add me as a friend so I can see your books too! 

The Dreamers (4 stars):  I really enjoyed making my way through this story. It teetered between a 3 and a 4-star book for me while I read it depending on how much of it I was reading at a time. The more I read, the more engulfed I was in the story and the more I enjoyed the sweet softness of it.

Even though this sounds like a disaster, mysterious illness story, it’s not about that. It’s really about people and their connection to each other and there’s this added layer of an inexplicable sickness that’s spreading across the town that may or may not overtake you at any moment for no reason. The anxiety this causes is palpable in the novel.

The book tells the story through the experiences of different sets of people. A couple with a newborn baby, two young girls and their dad, the college students where the whole things begins, etc. Each story is touching and interesting and thoughtful from its own perspective. There are also small but poignant bits about immigrants, marriage, parenthood and more.

If you pickup this book because you want to know what happened and the mystery behind the illness, etc. you will be sorely disappointed. This is a quiet novel with slow, soft moving progress. It asks more questions than it answers. But it’s very beautiful and I really enjoyed my time with it.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones (4.5 stars):  Another 4.5 stars. Almost 5 even in this case.

This tiny novel that I couldn’t stop once I started is a sequel to Every Heart a Doorway but it’s really more of the backstory of Jack and Jill from the first book. The story both sad and eerie and, as with the first one, so touching. I had never heard of this author up until a few weeks ago and I am really surprised because these books are fantastic. Little gems and so, so unusual, creative, well-written and just such a pleasure to read.

I know there are two more books out in the series and part of me wants to swallow them whole and another part of me wants to savor this new-to-me and amazing author by reading one a week or so. Let’s see if I can manage to be patient.

O’s Little Guide to Finding Your True Purpose (3 stars):  A super quick little read. These are articles written by different people. Some may speak to you and others might fall flat. Finding your purpose is such an overloaded term, in my opinion. So I wasn’t expecting all that much from this tiny book. I just figured small pieces of gold might lie here and there. The variety was nice in my opinion and most of the articles came with a small nugget that I will be thinking about.

Talk To Me (2 stars):  I read this book quickly. It was fast-paced and even though I knew what was coming, I kept wanting to read it. I am not the kind of person who slows down to watch a car wreck. I don’t usually feel fascinated, instead I feel sad and worried for the people. I don’t like watching human drama unfold. And this book felt just like that. So maybe I should have just abandoned it.

The premise almost felt didactic to me and I was worried the author was going to use this book to focus so much on the social commentary that I wouldn’t be able to enjoy it. While there are definitely pieces of that, I didn’t feel the direct commentary part was over the top. However, the story was completely predictable all the way to the end.

One of the main points of this book is how we live in a society that is largely ruled by the commenters now and how media is not run by the professionals, etc. While there are bits there I totally agree and sympathize with, I also feel like when you make a point like this, it’s important to show the other side, too.

There are stories that would have never come to the surface if it weren’t for the amateurs. For as many corrupt, click-baity journalists, there are also real ones who care about people and unearthing the truth. For as many self-absorbed-but-not-harmful people who do something stupid, there are ones who actually are out to cause harm knowing they won’t get caught (they’ll be protected) that this system fights.

These issues are complicated and layered and while this book was one story of one person at one point in time (fictional too of course) I still feel uncomfortable with the fact that several of the characters were cartoonish in their one-dimensionality. People are often much more complicated than that and if you’re going to develop the main character, you owe it to the reader to spend time developing the major opposing characters, too.

I guess I had a lot more to say about this than I thought I did and while I had rated this 3 stars when I started, writing this all down made me realize it’s actually not even that.

If, Then (3 stars):  Hmmmm, a lot of thoughts for this book….

First of all, it’s a bit of a mixed genre. What would otherwise be a pretty straightforward general fiction novel has elements of science fiction sprinkled into the plot to make it a notch different than other novels in the genre. Which, for me, as someone who reads across both genres, is not a dealbreaker.

The characters start slow and it took me a while to get into the story, to care about the characters enough to want to know what was going on. But after a while, I was definitely on board. I cared about each of them (a little less about Mark for some reason) and wanted to know how their stories were going to turn out.

I like that the ending was a mixed bag with some going one way and others remaining the same (i don’t want to give away anything so I will leave this vague.)

In the end though, I felt like the story didn’t take me anywhere. I didn’t learn something new. I didn’t think differently. I didn’t gain some insight. And I think that’s because the novel stayed pretty shallow throughout. The author didn’t give me enough depth into any of the characters for me to “feel” their struggles. I didn’t connect to their humanity in a way these kinds of books can accomplish. Maybe the plot device of using the scifi angle detracted the novel from having to be better.

But I wanted more.

thank you to netgalley and the publisher for an advanced proof in return for an honest review.

Professor Chandra Follows his Bliss (4 stars): This book is not what it looks like on the surface. At least not what it looked like to me. It’s not a light beach read. It’s also not a “quirky character” read like quite a few that came out last year. I like both of those genres just fine but I wanted to make sure to say what it’s not because I find that the expectations we have for a book before we read it end up coloring our feelings about the book (at least it does for me.)

Anyhow. This book is about a father, (and his family), whose life is not turning out the way he thought/wanted/worked for and at almost seventy, he is reflecting and taking steps to understand what life is about and to reconnect with his children.

There are several lovely passages in the book. Here’s one I liked:

“….Even my wife, my former wife, I mean. I used to know her, but now I only think I knew her. She left me for someone else. His name’s Steve. I think he understands her. I don’t think I ever did.”

“It’s a bit cliched, isn’t it?” said Bryan, whose grin seemed to have prevailed for three hours now. “The aging male whole wife left him all alone and now women are this giant cosmic mystery….”

“So now I am lonely and a cliche?”

“I don’t think it’s about understanding women. You’re just up against a universal conundrum. Look, I have a partner, right? I like him. I love him. But I don’t 
understand him. Sometimes I think I don’t even know him. And that’s not because he’s an atheist or Hispanic or an only child. It’s because he’s another human being. Humans don’t understand each other. Punto. That’s the way it is. But start saying you don’t understand women and you’re making yourself the problem. Let is go. You’re just a human like anyone else.”

There are a few bits of wisdom here and there that really spoke to me. I also loved that it didn’t tie up into a big, pretty bow in the end. There are moments of realization, moments of progress but there are also moments of sliding back. These characters are human. They are flawed. They are real. Even the ones you don’t know much about, you can connect with.

I really enjoyed this gem and thank you to netgalley and the publisher for an early copy in exchange for an honest review.

White Fragility (4 stars):  I want to say a lot but I think in this case, I will say less. I think reading this book was eye opening. I think it was, by far, not enough. This is an area where I need a lot more education and a lot more perspective. I’ve been trying to read more but I, especially lately, feel it’s not enough. I am thinking about what that means for me and what I can do more and how I can grow and be and do better.

If you have books to recommend, I would love recommendations. For now, this is all I will say. Maybe after a while, I can say and do more.

Have you Seen Luis Velez? (4.5 stars):  I’ve read Catherine Ryan Hyde’s novels before and I knew this was going to be good. She did not disappoint. This book is about the friendship that develops between a 92-year-old blind woman and a 17-year-old boy. That sounds like an interesting enough premise but there’s so much more to this story. By the end of the novel, the author has covered issues around ageism, belonging , racism, asexuality, family, friendship, divorce, justice system, and even quantum physics. All of these, plus much more shows up in this book. It’s layered, interesting, touching and and deeply profound in places. Even though the dialogue feels didactic and stilted in a few places, to me, the overall book was so wonderful that I didn’t care.

I highlighted many sections but here area few that really resonated with me:
I think you’re the first person I’ve ever known…I might not say it right. We’ll see…who really sees me. And I mean the whole thing of me, not just the part that fits with how they want to see me. And it seems weird to me, because the first person I met who really sees me for all of who I am …you know.. can’t see.”

“When it comes to seeing what’s important about a person,” she said “I think it’s possible that what our eyes tell us is only a distraction….”

I’ve heard sentiments like this before, but I really liked the distraction phrasing.

Life gives us nothing outright. It only lends. Nothing is ours to keep. Absolutely nothing. Not even our bodies, or brains. This ‘self’ that we think we know so well, that we think of as us. It’s only on loan. If a person comes into our life, they will go again. In a parting of ways, or because everyone dies. They will die or you will die. Nothing we receive in this life are we allowed to keep. I am not some spoiled child who . will take my toys and go home because I do not wish to accept that this is the way things work.”

A very interesting perspective (for me) on (not) giving up. I’m still thinking about this one…

“The world will still be a place where people do terrible things. But here’s the thing about despair. We fall into despair when the terrible gangs upon us and we forget the world can also be wonderful. We just see terrible everywhere we look. So what you do . for your friend is you bring up the wonderful, so both are side by side. The world is terrible and wonderful at the same time. One doesn’t negate the other but the wonderful keeps us in the game. It keeps us moving forward. And, I’m sorry to have to tell you this, Raymond, but that’s as good as the world’s going to get.”

I loved every bit of this.

The thing that’s magical about Catherine Ryan Hyde’s novels is how they manage to feel light and profound at the same time. I’d say this is not a “hard to read” book but it’s full, it’s not lightweight, it’s layered, and textured and manages to be sad without depressing and manages to be profound without leaving you broken. In fact, it leaves you hopeful about humanity for the most part. Or manages to really show you how the the world is terrible and wonderful at the same time.

What a joy to read. Huge thanks to netgalley and the publisher for the advanced copy in return for an honest review.

Inheritance (4 stars):  I’ve read a few of Dani Shapiro’s books and she has a similar tone and approach to them that felt familiar in this book. The story behind this book was really interesting to me and I could tell how life changing it could be to uncover information that fundamentally shifts your perspective on life.

I’ve had experiences before where I find out something reasonably important which then causes me to pause and go back through all of my history and try to pinpoint times when that information was true but I didn’t know about it and I comb through all of those experiences and relive them with my new lens. It’s an effort to rewrite the past with this new information you know now (which was also true then but you didn’t know.) and that’s just not possible. Life doesn’t work that way. We only get to live forward and new information can fork the future paths we have but it can’t alter our lived past.

And so much of this book is the author trying to come to terms with her new reality. To try to go back and find clues as to whether her parents knew and whether words/phrases uttered at different times in her life had deeper meaning behind them or not.

The story felt raw and real to me and I was able to feel for the author. I was able to experience her pain, confusion and the feeling of being unmoored by the news. There is no resolution in this book (well there is some but not fully since her parents are deceased and so many of her questions can’t be answered.) and that’s part of what makes it so real and so raw and so much like life. Real life.

And there we go, a really solid week of reading. Here’s to another fantastic week.

Books I Read this Week 2019 is a year-long project for 2019. You can read more about my projects for 2019 here. I am also tracking my books in real time on Good Reads here. If you’re on Good Reads add me so I can follow you, too!

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