The Nightingale

I feel like I’ve been on a streak of reading 3 1/2 star books. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah was my book club selection for August. It was good, I enjoyed it, but I have to say that I was disappointed. It is the story of two sisters living in France during WWII. Vianne, the older, lives in a small french village, trying to protect her home and her daughter from the horrors of war. The younger, Isabelle, joins the french resistance.

Kristin Hannah is generally considered a chick-lit author. Her fiction writing is solid, but on the light side and usually with a strong emphasis on relationships. People assured me that this book definitely was a lot more than chick-lit. It wasn’t. Don’t get me wrong, I LIKE chick-lit, I like reading books that many consider light and fluffy. Chick-lit books are the Hallmark movies of the literary world, and I like watching Hallmark movies. But when you are expecting Masterpiece Theater and you get the Hallmark channel, it is disappointing.

When I read good historical fiction, I am left with the feeling that the author must have really done their research – whether or not this is actually true; I feel immersed in the story and I feel like I have learned something about the place and/or time period of the book. With The Nightingale, I felt that Hannah had told a fine story about these two sisters, but that it could have happened anywhere, any time, any war.

We had a pretty good discussion of the book at book club. We all enjoyed it and I saved my ‘disappointed’ comments for the latter part of the meeting when they were well received and didn’t just put a damper on the rest of the discussion. There were only four of us, but I thought it was one of the more pleasant books club meetings that we’ve had in a while. Now if we could only get a few more people to show up…

I would confidently recommend this book to just about anyone…as long as they enjoy a good Hallmark movie every once in a while.

what is not yours is not yours

Helen Oyeyemi had been on my author radar for a while, so when her short story collection what is not yours is not yours came my way as a present, I was excited. People couldn’t resist commenting on the title whenever I was reading out in public. Some reviewers claim that it is a book of linked short stories because there are a few characters who make repeat appearances and there are themes of keys and locks and doors that do run thru all the stories. I, personally, would stop short of calling them linked.

There is a touch (or more) of magical realism in most of her tales and I was constantly feeling a bit off-balance as I was reading. The story a brief history of the homely wench society was the most realistic, but I was still off-balance because I was just waiting for something weird to happen.

The stories cover a refreshingly wide range of…everything, really: locations, characters, emotions. This is one of those books that I would love to discuss with people. Why does it seem that the best books for book club are the ones that I could never convince the members of my book club to read? Oyeyemi’s writing is terrific. Still, I would find it hard to recommend this book universally, tho for the adventurous reader and a short story lover it is definitely worth putting on your list. I would really like to tackle one of her novels, I think I will enjoy diving into her strange and wonderful world in a longer and more cohesive format.

 

Ordinary Grace

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger was my bookclub’s July selection. Here’s my Goodreads review:

I enjoyed reading this book, was appropriately moved at the appropriate times. I gave it 4 stars, but it wasn’t a great book and I’m thinking it won’t stick with me. Looking forward to the book club discussion of it. Small midwestern town setting, a coming of age tale for the narrator, a story line to keep your interest, and some observations on society to keep you thinking. Still there were times that it felt contrived and I wasn’t completely sold on the characters.

It’s probably actually more of a 3 star book for me, but I did enjoy reading it. It was the perfect companion on the flights to Seattle and back. Book club met last night, and, as usual, I wasn’t actually able to pull together my thoughts on the book in the moment. So here’s my “upon further reflection…”

Plot: The plot was fine, well-paced, very foreshadowed, yet still with some interesting twists and turns. It made for very enjoyable reading, yet it was just a little too contrived for my taste. This was my loudest and most oft-repeated analysis of the book, which hardly adds much to a book discussion. I really need to learn articulate my thoughts better.

Characters: The characters were a mixed bag, but for the most part I found them believable, albeit a tad one-dimensional. The social issue subplots that I found most compelling were character-driven. PTSD, autism, race, class, and other “differences” were each conveniently ascribed to different characters. So, yes, contrived, but it worked. They were all just matter-of-factly part of the story. We could have pulled each of those “issues” out and dissected how the author dealt with them, but we didn’t.

Writing: Although one of our members found it annoyingly over-written, the rest of us didn’t feel that way. For the most part, I found that the descriptions added to the time and place of the novel. I liked the midwest feel of the novel. Anytime a book is set in Minnesota and the phrase “covered dish” is used, I am happy. I had more of an issue with a couple of plot points and character statements that I found just wrong; things that I think an editor should have caught. They weren’t glaring enough to diminish my enjoyment of the book, nor prominent enough that I could rifle thru the book and find them during the meeting.

And another thing: I always enjoy how different people like and don’t like different things about a book (yay bookclubs!). One member questioned the actual possibility of something that occurred in the book. It was confirmed that it could pretty much never happen like that in real life. Here’s the thing: the narrator of the tale says point-blank that this was “the miracle I’d been hoping for.” I’m OK with people believing in miracles. Especially in books. I mean, I don’t believe zombies are real either, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t enjoy a book about zombies. (There are other reasons why I couldn’t enjoy a book about zombies, which we somehow did talk about last night, wtf.)

Do I recommend it? Sure. But it won’t make your top books of the year list.

The Dig

The Dig by John Preston is a character driven gem of a novel. Here’s what I said about it on my Goodreads page:

In the summer of 1939, on the eve of WWII, an astonishing archaeological find is made on a farm in Suffolk, England. This is a fictional recreation of the Sutton Hoo dig, and my personal archaeologist assures me that the details Preston uses to describe the dig are credible. But really, the book is a character study, the story being told thru different viewpoints and it is done very, very well. Not for those who want a thrilling, fast-moving plot, but I loved this one.

I was aware that the Sutton Hoo dig and ship burial was a real thing, but this book didn’t leave me feeling like I knew any more facts after reading it than before. I actually wasn’t even curious about it until I started writing this post. I checked it out on google and Wikipedia, mostly just to see if the characters in the book were real people. Not only were the people real, but the author is the nephew of Peggy Piggott, one of the archaeologists on the dig and one of the “voices” of the book. Wikipedia was a far better source of information about Sutton Hoo than The Dig.

The Sutton Hoo Helmet, photo from Wikipedia.

Here’s the thing. I can only assume that Preston wasn’t trying to write a Wikipedia entry on the Sutton Hoo ship burial, that he was trying to write about people. And what an interesting group of people! Basil Brown was a local, self-taught archaeologist who first undertook the excavations on the property of Edith Pretty. Pretty was a widow with a young son named Robert. She and her late husband had often wondered about the mounds on their property, but it was the threat of war that made Edith decide to hire someone to investigate. When word of the findings got out, a more professional team of archaeologists was brought in, including Stuart Piggott and his new wife. Peggy Piggott was trying to prove herself in a profession dominated by men and well as embracing her life as a woman and wife.

The book wasn’t a lot of things. It wasn’t a scholarly work about the Sutton Hoo ship burial. It wasn’t a biography. It didn’t even really read as historical fiction. It wasn’t an adventure or a mystery or anything more than a simple story. Still, if you don’t ask this book to be all those things that it isn’t, it is sure to exceed your expectations. What can I say? This is my kind of book and I gave it 5 stars.

Revelation Space

Hey loyal Tftb readers – remember last April when I asked y’all to help make me a reading challenge? Hopefully you forgot because it’s kind of embarrassing that I’ve let it slide so long. But I didn’t forget, it’s always nagging at me, usually in a really snarky tone with something like, “geez, you can’t even follow thru with ONE challenge you set for yourself that involves something you genuinely enjoy, WHATSAMATTERWIDYOU?!” (My nagging is really annoying, sometimes I feel bad for the husband.)

On May 9 (2016) I posted these seven reading challenge tasks:

  1. Read a book written by a friend.
  2. Read a book written under a pseudonym or where the author uses initials to obscure their gender.
  3. Read a book which an image of a bird on the cover.
  4. Read The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power.
  5. Read Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds
  6. Read an inspiration. Choose something you’ve always wanted to do and then read a book about someone who does it.
  7. Read a novel by Pat Conroy.

On June 17, I completed task 2 by reading Silas Marner by George Eliot.

On September 7, I completed task 3 by reading H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald.

On November 13, I completed task 6 by reading Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer.

And on May 24 2017, while sitting on the couch and accomplishing nothing else, I completed task 5.

The task came from the s-i-l who is an avid reader and all-around science fiction geek. Revelation Space is described as an epic, space opera. I agree. It’s like a soap opera set in space with multiple storylines and characters and it goes on and on and on, for 585 pages. I applaud his task for stretching me out of my reading comfort zone, BUT… it’s a bit like challenging someone who rarely reads international authors by giving them War and Peace.

I tend to steer away from Science Fiction because it just doesn’t really interest me. This book was filled with descriptions and details that didn’t add to the plot and also weren’t able to suck me into the places or the characters. Maybe if I was more comfortable with immersing myself into sci-fi scenarios they would have added something. Often the plot twists/advancements consisted of a character saying, “Oh, I get this connection, I understand this now,” and then going on and explaining it to the reader. It just felt like cheating by the author, but heavens knows, he did need to find ways to get to the end of this damn thing.

In the last TWO months, while slogging thru Revelation Space, the to-read pile has continued to grow. But be assured, I have not forgotten about my crowd-sourced reading challenging and I WILL complete it…someday.