Vacation Reading Status

I have finished two books so far on vacation and am about 2/3 the way through a third.

Almost done:

Done:

Still have almost a week to go so I hope to finish a few more. Reviews when I am back!

Vacation Books!

I am heading out on vacation tomorrow for about 10 days. Among many things, I am excited to get some reading done! Here is the pile of vacation books I am planning to bring with me. (Assuming they fit. They may not. Sigh.)

I am aiming for books that are going to be engrossing and keep my attention. They don’t have to be light, but I don’t want anything that’s a chore to get through. Hopefully this list will hit the mark.

A few other reading-related items:

  1. I went to the new Amazon Bookstore in downtown Bethesda, MD over the weekend. My impressions: it’s a fun place to browse, but it’s not a full-service bookstore. The inventory is too spare. According to this article in the Washington Business Journal, “Every book in the store is either a best-seller, new release or has an online rating of at least four stars. Curators consider books based on Amazon customer ratings, pre-orders, sales and popularity on social cataloging site Goodreads in making selections. The curators will also determine what gets on the shelves by looking at Kindle reading behavior — Amazon is a data company, after all — to let customers know where to find the real page turners.” So it’s a good place to get recommendations and discover new books based on other books you’ve liked. But you’re not going to have much luck looking for a specific book that isn’t on the best-seller list. If you’re a Prime member, you pay Prime prices. My office will soon be moving to Bethesda, but I doubt this will be a regular lunchtime destination for me.
  2. I have a winner from the June Is Audiobook Month giveaway! Congratulations to Pat Burke!

OK, I’ll be back to review vacation reads, either from the trip or when I get back.

HOW TO BE SAFE by Tom McAllister

How To Be Safe by Tom McAllister opens with a school shooting in a Pennsylvania town. The immediate suspect is Anna Crawford, a teacher at the school who has been suspended due to insubordination. Anna is quickly cleared of any wrongdoing, but her life is upended as the whole town deals with the aftermath of the shooting.

Anna becomes reclusive, withdrawing from interactions with the rest of the town and turning more and more fearful about the dangers of the world she lives in.  She has a boyfriend, but she’s unable to connect emotionally with him and seeks solace instead in fringe groups of religious apocalyptics and vigilante gun-rights activists hoping to enforce peace. McAllister intersperses the book with vignettes about the students and teachers killed in the massacre, as well as an opening chapter told through the eyes of the shooter himself. Meanwhile, Anna is brought further down by her sad family history, her depression and her inability to connect with anyone other than her brother.

I really wanted to like this book. McAllister is keenly observant and insightful, and there are many passages I marked throughout the book. Like this: “The politicians loved small towns. They thought all we did was sit around eating apple pie and waving flags in our churches. They didn’t like to think about everyone taking opiates and working bad jobs and living in a constant state of fear.”  Or this, about memorials to tragedies: “Each memorial represented a collective commitment not to remembering, but to whitewashing the memories, to creating a more palatable version of the memory for ourselves to hold on to and repeat and eventually accept as the truth. The memorials were there to hide failures, not to be critical of them.” Or this: “In America we send children to school to get shot and to learn algebra and physics and history and biology and literature. Less civilized nations don’t have such an organized system for murdering their children.”

In the end, though, How To Be Safe didn’t really work for me. It was more of a treatise about the awful reality of violence in our country than it was a novel with a character who developed – at all – over the course of 230 pages. There is so much anger in the book – justifiable, to be sure – that it turned into a blur of instructions about how to protect yourself, further spiraling by Anna and examples of violent acts spread around the country. I absorbed it breathlessly, but I can’t say I enjoyed it or really took much from it other than despair.

This is a buzzy book that others have enjoyed more than I did. Like I said, McAllister is brilliant and there are a lot of insights here (and some really good writing). It just didn’t work for me.

CAN’T HELP MYSELF by Meredith Goldstein

I am a sucker for advice columns. I read several on a regular basis – Carolyn Hax, Ask Amy, Dear Prudence – so when I learned that there was a book coming out by Boston Globe advice columnist Meredith Goldstein, author of the “Love Letters” column, I knew I wanted to check it out. (Goldstein also wrote the novel The Singles, which I reviewed here.)

Can’t Help Myself: Lessons & Confessions From A Modern Advice Columnist is about Goldstein’s column: how she started it, the types of letters she gets and her interactions with her readers. But it’s also about Goldstein’s own life – her relationships with men and the people close to her. The “Love Letters” column addresses her readers’ relationship quandaries, covering everything from one night stands and overdue marriage proposals to work spouses and online dating. Goldstein divides the book into themes about love lives while threading her own personal narrative throughout. We learn about the guy who got away, her very close relationship with a colleague, and her mom’s cancer diagnosis.

Can’t Help Myself is a quick and interesting read. Goldstein is funny and deeply honest, so I really got a sense of who she was. I almost always agreed with the advice she gave out to her readers, even while she had trouble following it in her own life. I do wish she had spent more time behind the scenes. I wanted to hear more about how she picked the letters and trends she has noticed in 9 years of writing her column. Goldstein always seemed so sure of her answers; I’d like to have heard about the times when she just didn’t know what to advise. More focus on the role and responsibility of the advice columnist would have given Can’t Help Myself more heft.

I liked the reader letters spread throughout the book, and have, of course, now subscribed to “Love Letters” updates.

This is a fun book if you’re an advice column junkie, but in the end I wanted a little more detail and analysis.

KITCHENS OF THE GREAT MIDWEST by J. Ryan Stradal (A Reread)

In the 12-year history of EDIWTB, I have never re-read a book.  There are just too many books out there that I want to read – why would I spend precious time repeating one?

Until now.

I was flailing around for an audiobook last month, and I found Kitchens Of The Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal on audio on Overdrive. I’ve always been interested to see if it holds up to my very positive memory from last January (here’s my original review), and since I recommend it to everyone I know, I wanted to be sure that I still felt as strongly about it now.

The short answer is: I do. It’s still my favorite book in recent memory.

Kitchens Of The Great Midwest follows Eva Thorvald, a girl who is born in St. Paul, Minnesota to Lars, a chef with an extremely sophisticated palate. Her mother abandoned the family when Eva was only a few months old, and her father died suddenly a few weeks later. Eva was adopted by her aunt and uncle, and the book checks in on her life every few years as she grows up and turns into a world-renowned chef. Each chapter involves Eva in some way – sometimes she’s the main character, and sometimes she’s only mentioned in passing. There is an ingredient featured in chapter too, and in the end, they all come together in a very creative way. It’s almost like a book of linked stories, with themes of food, family and loss threaded through each one.

I always find Kitchens (as I call it) a tough book to describe. There is lots of sadness in the book, but Stradal also has a sharp sense of humor and deep empathy for his characters. His writing is restrained and quiet, which always left me wanting more (in a good way). Almost every word uttered by every character in the book seemed totally realistic – you could just imagine the conversations playing out in front of you. There are so many memorable scenes, each full of detail and emotion, yet also understated and not showy at all. Stradal is my favorite kind of writer – he never underestimates his readers and he doesn’t shy away from tough stuff.

And the audio! It’s perfect. Amy Ryan and Michael Struhlbarg effortlessly transform themselves into Stradal’s motley crew of characters, from poor Lars to angry Braque and hapless Dan, a bit player who made a big impact on me thanks to Struhlbarg’s narration. The audio is amazing – this was my second time listening to the book on audio (both times I also read some chapters in print – I literally can’t put this book down) and again it didn’t disappoint.

OK, if you haven’t read this book yet, what are you waiting for? It’s just that good.

 

June Is Audiobook Month

So, are you listening to audiobooks yet??

I’ve been extolling the virtues of audiobooks for years here on EDIWTB. I cannot live without them. I am always, always listening to an audiobook, and I usually get through one or two of them a month. (Is it weird to say that I wish my commute were longer?) Before I started listening to audiobooks, I feared that I wouldn’t be able to focus, that my mind would wander and I’d lose track of the book. That almost never happens. With a good audiobook – and a good narrator – my mind is very focused. I am not tempted to pick up my phone when I’m driving and listening to a good audiobook, and it definitely helps the minutes fly by much faster. And, of course, I get through even more books in a year!

A good audiobook enhances my enjoyment of books, too. It’s a different experience from reading, but it’s just as rewarding. Here are all the recent audiobooks I’ve listened to.

A few tips for audiobook newbies:

  • Keep the print or ebook version of the book on hand, so that you can reread or refer back to sections after you’ve listened to them.
  • Once you find narrators you like, research their profiles to find more books they narrated.
  • Your library has a lot of audiobooks that you can download onto your phone. Get on a bunch of waitlists if there are no copies available and one will come in before you know it.
  • Get creative – listen when you’re walking your dog, cleaning your house, or sitting on a plane.

Finally, June is Audiobook Month (JIAM)!! This post is part of the JIAM Blog Tour – check out what other bloggers have had to say this month about audiobooks! As part of JIAM, I am giving away a selection of 8 audiobooks donated by Blackstone Publishing, High Bridge Audio, Hachette Audio, LA Theatre Works, Macmillan Audio, Post Hypnotic Press Audiobooks, Scholastic and Tantor Audio. The books will be available on Audiobooks.com. If you’d like to enter to win, leave me a comment here with your favorite audiobook of 2018 so far.

Here are the books you can win:

  1. Seven by Paula Cizmar, Catherine Filloux, Gail Kriegel, Carol K. Mack, Ruth Margraff, Anna Deavere Smith, and Susan Yankowitz
  2. Gone to Dust by Matt Goldman, narrated by MacLeod Andrews
  3. Bring Me Back by B. A. Paris, narrated by Kevin Hely and Cathleen McCarron
  4. Wings of Fire Book One: The Dragonet Prophecy by Tui T. Sutherland, narrated by Shannon MacManus
  5. Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan, narrated by Todd McLaren
  6. Rainbirds by Clarissa Goenawan, narrated by David Shih
  7. A Girl Stands at the Door by Rachel Devlin, narrated by Robin Miles
  8. Torn from Troy, Book 1 in the Odyssey of a Slave Trilogy by Patrick Bowman, narrated by Gerard Doyle

Ok, leave me a comment to win free audiobooks, load up your devices with great reads, and check out the other JIAM blog posts on the blog tour!

I Am Indeed – Friday, June 1

The Book’s the Thing – Monday, June 4

Beth Fish Reads – Tuesday, June5

Collector of Book Boyfriends – Wednesday, June 6

To Read or Not To Read – Thursday, June 7

Adolescent Audio Adventures – Friday, June 8

Carol Baldwin Blog – Monday, June 11

Brian’s Book Blog – Tuesday, June 12

Caffeinated Book Reviewer – Wednesday, June 13

Under My Apple Tree – Thursday, June 14

Shelf Addiction – Friday, June 15

Enchantress Of Books – Monday June 18

Books, Movies, Reviews, Oh My – Tuesday, June 19

AudioGals – Wednesday, June 20

Sarah’s Book Shelves – Thursday June 21

Under the Boardwalk – Friday June 22

A Bookworm’s World – Monday, June 25

Fangs Wands and Fairy Dust – Tuesday, June 26

Books of my Heart – Wednesday, June 27

AudioGals – Thursday, June 28

The Audio Flow – Friday, June 29

 

ONE TRUE LOVES by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s One True Loves has an irresistible premise.

Emma and Jesse are high school sweethearts from Boston who stay together through college and move out to California together after they graduate. They are adventurous spirits who love to travel, and are glad to have escaped the predictable lives their parents had planned for them. They get married, and on the eve of their first anniversary, Jesse goes on a helicopter trip in Alaska to take photos. The helicopter he is on disappears, and his body is never found. Emma, heartbroken, moves back home to Boston and gives up her adventurous life to take over her parents’ bookstore. She reconnects with an old high school friend, Sam, and they end up falling in love and getting engaged a few years after Jesse’s disappearance. All is going well until one night when Emma’s phone rings… and it’s Jesse.

What to do? She’s in love with two men, and feels loyalty and responsibility to both of them, but she of course has to pick one. One True Loves is about Jesse’s re-entry into Emma’s life and how she comes to a decision about which man to pick.

So One True Loves isn’t perfect. It’s repetitive – Emma says the same things about both men over and over – and there are aspects that are really unrealistic, most revolving around Jesse’s return. (Also, three years on a rock island?) I also think that Reid favored one man over the other, making Emma’s wrenching choice just a little less wrenching.

But damn if this wasn’t a really addictive read. I finished it in a few days and I was very, very eager to find out who Emma picked. This is my second Taylor Jenkins Reid in the last seven books. There is something about her characters that I really like – they are relatable and compelling, especially the women. This novel wasn’t quite as good as After I Do, but I still liked it. When I got to the end, the premise seemed more outlandish than at the start, but I certainly enjoyed it while I was reading it.

Who will Emma pick? The soul mate she mourned for three years, or the man who helped her get her life back?

You’ll have to read One True Loves to find out.