The Summer Wrap-Up

monthly-wrap-upIt’s pretty clear from our weather this week–rain for the first time in months and cooler morning temperatures–that summer may officially be on its way out. I can’t say I’m too disappointed. We had such a hot, dry summer that I’m ready for a taste of fall.

The kids are back to school, the activities and appointments are starting up again, and life goes back to its regularly scheduled programming. We made the most of our summer, though, with the kids spending a month away from home with various relatives and my husband and I taking a couple of fun trips to music festivals.

Over the summer I also did a lot of reading, finishing eleven books in July and August. Amazingly enough, they were almost all really good (with only one stinker in the mix):

  1. Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta
  2. The Good Daughter by Karin Slaughter
  3. When Breathe Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
  4. Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith
  5. Marrow Island by Alexis M. Smith
  6. The Reason You’re Alive by Matthew Quick
  7. The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson
  8. Blue Monday by Nicci French
  9. Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers
  10. The Circle by Dave Eggers
  11. Talking as Fast as I Can by Lauren Graham

My favorite new discovery of the summer was Alexis M. Smith, whose writing is just beautiful and impossible to put down. The new Matthew Quick and Joshilyn Jackson books are both wonderful (those are auto-buys for me), and I enjoyed getting into Dave Eggers’ writing.

The only one that really didn’t work for me was ‘When Breathe Becomes Air’, the autobiographical story of a young doctor who dies of stage IV cancer. His story is tragic, of course, but I didn’t gain any particular insights from reading it other than thinking he made some very questionable choices about how to spend the last years of his life. The book garnered a lot of praise and so it must have worked for some readers, but it didn’t for me.

Other than reading, I’ve also been working on crossing off some of the items on my 40×40 list. This month I’ve (finally) found a daily yoga and meditation practice that works for me. As some of you may know, I’ve been doing yoga for years but have struggled with making it a routine, made even more difficult now that we live in the country and I don’t have a local class to attend. I’ll write a longer post about this topic soon as I’d like to share with you some of what I found.

yoga

Wishing you a lovely September and peaceful transition to the autumn season. Happy reading!

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Review: The Talented Ribkins by Ladee Hubbard

the-talented-ribkinsLength: 304 pages

Publication: August 8th 2017 by Melville House

Source: TLC Book Tours

What it’s about:
At seventy-two, Johnny Ribkins shouldn’t have such problems: He’s got one week to come up with the money he stole from his mobster boss or it’s curtains for Johnny.

What may or may not be useful to Johnny as he flees is that he comes from an African-American family that has been gifted with rather super powers that are rather sad, but superpowers nonetheless. For example, Johnny’s father could see colors no one else could see. His brother could scale perfectly flat walls. His cousin belches fire. And Johnny himself can make precise maps of any space you name, whether he’s been there or not.

In the old days, the Ribkins family tried to apply their gifts to the civil rights effort, calling themselves The Justice Committee. But when their, eh, superpowers proved insufficient, the group fell apart. Out of frustration Johnny and his brother used their talents to stage a series of burglaries, each more daring than the last.

Fast forward a couple decades and Johnny’s on a race against the clock to dig up loot he’s stashed all over Florida. His brother is gone, but he has an unexpected sidekick: his brother’s daughter, Eloise, who has a special superpower of her own.

Inspired by W.E.B. Du Bois’s famous essay “The Talented Tenth” and fuelled by Ladee Hubbard’s marvelously original imagination, The Talented Ribkins is a big-hearted debut novel about race, class, politics, and the unique gifts that, while they may cause some problems from time to time, bind a family together.

What I thought:

I enjoy writers that are inspired by other writers, and so I took the time to read the W. E. B. Du Bois essay that The Talented Ribkins is based on before reading the book. I think having that fresh in my mind made the story more meaningful for me and helped me to overlook some of the aspects of the book that I didn’t appreciate as much. The Ribkins family members are engaging and the symbolism of the characters and their “talents” gives the story resonance. Recommended.

About the author:
ladee-hubbardLaddee Hubbard is the winner of the 2016 Rona Jaffe Foundation Writer’s Award and the William Faulkner-William Wisdom Creative Writing Competition for the Short Story. She holds a BA from Princeton University, an MFA in Dramatic Writing from New York University, an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Wisconsin, and a PhD from the University of California, Los Angeles. She lives in New Orleans, Louisiana. The Talented Ribkins is her first novel.

GIVEAWAY:
I’m giving away one copy of The Talented Ribkins to a lucky reader (U.S. or Canada only, sorry). To enter, just leave a comment with your name and email address. Good luck!

Thanks so much to TLC Book Tours for providing me with a copy of this book and giving me a chance to be part of this tour.

tlc book tours

Library Loot: June 14 – June 21

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

Because I get most of my English-language books through the digital library, I’m never sure exactly when my books on hold will become available. Sometimes I’ll have a long stretch with nothing followed by a period when everything comes in at the same time. The latter happened this past week, and as a result I have so much reading goodness that I don’t even know where to begin. If you need me, I’ll be outside in the hammock–reading, of course.

Here’s what I’ve got on the shelf for this week:

  1. News of the World by Paulette Jiles. I’ve seen this book recommended on several blogs and lists, and I’m actually about halfway through it at the moment. So far, so good.
  2. The Alice Network by Kate Quinn. Another recommendation which is supposed to be a cracking good read. Female spies in France during WWI? Yes, please.
  3. Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002 by David Sedaris. I love David Sedaris, and the NPR review of his newest book (it just came out at the end of May) called this collection of forty years’ worth of Sedaris’ diaries “as mesmerizing as a spinning chicken.” Who could resist that kind of endorsement?
  4. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. This is one I’ve been meaning to read for a while now. I haven’t watched ‘The Daily Show’ since he took over as host so I don’t know a lot about Noah, but I’ve heard good things about this memoir of his childhood in South Africa.
  5. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. This is one of those books that I came across while browsing on the library’s website and thought ‘Why not?’ I don’t remember hearing anything about it when it came out, but the premise of journalists working at an English-language newspaper in Rome sounds interesting.

What are you reading this week? Any good ‘loot’ from your local library?

Review: The Unseen World by Liz Moore

the_unseen_worldLength: 452 pages

Publication: July 26th 2016 by W. W. Norton & Company

Source: Library

What it’s about:

The moving story of a daughter’s quest to discover the truth about her beloved father’s hidden past.

Ada Sibelius is raised by David, her brilliant, eccentric, socially inept single father, who directs a computer science lab in 1980s-era Boston. Home-schooled, Ada accompanies David to work every day; by twelve, she is a painfully shy prodigy. The lab begins to gain acclaim at the same time that David’s mysterious history comes into question. When his mind begins to falter, leaving Ada virtually an orphan, she is taken in by one of David’s colleagues. Soon she embarks on a mission to uncover her father’s secrets: a process that carries her from childhood to adulthood. What Ada discovers on her journey into a virtual universe will keep the reader riveted until The Unseen World’s heart-stopping, fascinating conclusion.

What I thought:

I should say from the start that Liz Moore’s previous novel, Heft, is one of my favorites books of all time. I fell in love with it while listening to the audiobook a few years ago, and so I came to her latest work with high expectations. While I ended up appreciating the book a lot, it was a slow starter and I might not have finished it if I didn’t have such faith in her writing. I’m glad I did.

The story is told from the point of view of Ada, and for the first half of the book the action takes place in Boston in the 1980’s when Ada is in her early teenage years. The pace at which the novel establishes Ada’s life and situation is slow…to say the least. Like her father, Ada is a very cerebral person,  and nothing really happens in the first half with the exception of what is going on in Ada’s mind.

Because she has been rather sheltered in her quiet life alone with her father, Ada has a hard time interacting with the outside world of her teenage peers. Instead, her true peers are the colleagues who work in her father’s computer lab, which has served as the only school she has known up until this point. When David, Ada’s father, begins to experience health problems, Ada is forced to move outside her comfort zone and learn to live in the “real” world of high school and beyond.

Once Ada’s circumstances change, things start to pick up. She learns that there are secrets in her father’s past and this shakes the foundations of her quiet life. The second half of the novel switches back and forth between the perspectives of young Ada and an older Ada, all while gradually revealing David’s story. There is enough action to keep the reader interested and it moves along quickly to a conclusion which resonates with the truth of who both Ada and David are as people.

I particularly enjoyed the technical aspects of the book, including the descriptions of David’s lab and work and the parallels between what he and Ada value and try to achieve. The ending wraps things up in a way that is complete and satisfying, even going beyond Ada and David’s stories to reveal a larger truth about the world–as all truly great novels do.

As I think back over the novel, I wish that the first half could have been written in a way that established the story without dragging it down. The change in perspective in the second half made for a much more interesting reading experience, and if there had been a way to do that from the beginning without giving too much away, I think the novel would have benefited from it. Still, all in all I enjoyed the book and will look forward to reading more from Liz Moore in the future.

Currently…

currentlyHello out there!

Loving: Working in the garden, learning as I go, and seeing (some) progress. The little yellow flowers on my cherry tomato plants are making me particularly happy.

Thinking about: The next step. I’m finishing up my job for my U.S. employer and trying to plan what’s next for me, professionally.

Anticipating: A weekend in the countryside with friends in early June. We’re planning to hike, cook, and catch up after several years of not seeing each other.

Watching: I just watched ‘Anne with an ‘E”, which I enjoyed despite the controversy of remaking a beloved show. It felt different enough from the original for me to appreciate it for itself. I have to say, though, that I hated the plot twist in the last episode and hope that one is settled quickly in the next season.

Listening to: Audiobooks–I just finished ‘As You Wish’ by Cary Elwes yesterday on Trish’s recommendation. I’m looking forward to listening to Phoenix’s new album that comes out in a couple of weeks.

Eating: I made my first risotto from scratch last night, and I have to say that it turned out absolutely delicious. It was much easier than I anticipated, just time intensive.

Wishing: That technology had advanced to the point where I had a self-driving car that I could program to take my children to and from various activities and appointments while I stay home to get stuff done. It would be such a life changer. Come on car companies, get on it!

Hope you’re having a lovely week!

Currently…

currentlyIt’s Sunday night and the week ahead promises to be a busy one, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. This is the last week of a big project for work and also the last week before my kids’ holiday break from school, so fingers crossed that a week from now we’ll all be heaving a sigh of relief. Santa’s on his way…

Loving: The sunsets as seen from our back yard. They’ve been so beautiful this week.

Thinking about: The upcoming holidays. It will be our first Christmas in France after two years away, so we’ll get a chance to catch up with family we haven’t seen since our return. Also, my oldest will be turning 13. I almost have a teenager! Yikes.

Anticipating: Pulling out our Christmas box and decorating the new house. (Yes, I know we’re late. It’s hard to get motivated because we won’t actually be here for Christmas, but I still want to make the effort). I love this time of year.

Watching: ‘The Good Wife’. I never watched this one while it was on, so I’m catching up on Netflix. I love Alicia but don’t understand the attraction to Will. Really? Peter is much sexier, in my opinion. I also hope she and Cary get to be on the same side again soon.

Listening to: Podcasts while I work. Do you have any favorites that you can recommend? It really helps on days when I’m stuck doing tedious tasks.

Eating: Nothing special. The girls and I were supposed to have a sushi date this week but the restaurant was closed. Boo.

Wishing: That my daughter’s fever would go away. She woke up with one yesterday morning and I’m just praying it doesn’t end up being pneumonia again, as she’s prone to getting it and at this time of year it normally knocks her out for a week or so. Not this week, please.

Hope you’re having a lovely weekend!

Review: The Mothers by Brit Bennett

the-mothersLength: 286 pages

Publication: October 11, 2016 by Riverhead Books

Source: Library

What it’s about: It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother’s recent suicide, she takes up with the local pastor’s son. Luke Sheppard is twenty-one, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner. They are young; it’s not serious. But the pregnancy that results from this teen romance—and the subsequent cover-up—will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth. As Nadia hides her secret from everyone, including Aubrey, her God-fearing best friend, the years move quickly. Soon, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are full-fledged adults and still living in debt to the choices they made that one seaside summer, caught in a love triangle they must carefully maneuver, and dogged by the constant, nagging question: What if they had chosen differently? The possibilities of the road not taken are a relentless haunt.

What I thought:

I probably came to this book with too many expectations. I’d seen it talked about on other book blogs and literary social media, so I was pretty sure I would like it based on the almost universally positive feedback I’d been reading. And I did like it, to a degree, but it didn’t work for me overall.

This is a first novel from a talented writer. The language is simple but powerful and the characterizations strong, but there is also an emptiness to it that made it less convincing to me than it could have been. The character of Nadia is troubling; as a girl of 17, she knows exactly what she wants. Her only doubts come in the form of her feelings about Luke, with whom she has a natural and easy relationship except for the fact that he isn’t there for her when she needs him the most. Even though he later explains his behavior, she doesn’t ever completely accept his feelings and remains equivocal in her treatment of him.

Nadia never really shows uncertainty in her decisions, even if she might regret them later. She acts without any internal deliberation–she decides what she wants to do and she does it. This applies not only to the choices she makes at 17 but also when she is older and returns to her hometown to pick up old relationships. She doesn’t give any evidence of considering the feelings of those her decisions may affect.

I believe the purpose of the novel was to illustrate the “what ifs” of being in a similar situation to Nadia (even the description above would suggest that), but I wasn’t convinced by this because she never seems ambivalent to me. She makes choices and they have consequences, but she doesn’t hesitate or falter. In this way she is very like her mother, a point that is made throughout the book.

The trope of the Mothers didn’t work for me, either. I never understood the importance of their narrative voice or why they had any say in things, anyway. The story belongs to Nadia, Luke and Aubrey, and the figures of the church leaders and members didn’t resonate with me as anything more than background noise.

I would read more from Bennett because she is a good writer, but I wasn’t invested enough in this novel to be able to recommend it.