QuickLit – September 2016

Linking up to Modern Mrs. Darcy for her monthly QuickLit post, where we share “short and sweet reviews of what we’ve been reading lately”. I’ll share everything I’ve read over the previous month here right around the end of each month, in the order I finished reading them. I read 17 books this month! This number is slightly skewed though, because I used to share on the 15th, so this really encompasses a month and a half of reading. But it’s the month and a half since my newest baby boy was born, so… yay!


01-harry-potter-cursed-childHarry Potter and the Cursed Child by John Tiffany and Jack Thorne

Honestly, I loved it. I won’t come back to it again and again like I do with the original series, but being back in the HP world with some of my favorite characters is nothing to shrug off. I read it in a single sitting (which hasn’t been done in quite a while around here!), and got completely involved in the story, sometimes even forgetting that I was reading a script instead of a novel. I would LOVE to see the staged version and see how they pull together some of these elements (easy to imagine on a screen but harder to imagine how they might pull it off with all physical constraints). I do think it’ll be a movie SOMEDAY and it’ll be a good one. 🙂


02-everyone-brave-is-forgivenEveryone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

This one has been making the rounds as a to-read book of the summer, and for good reason. Cleave weaves a masterful story. His characters and setting are phenomenal and definitely transport you back to WWII. I loved this story through and through.

 

 


03-among-the-ten-thousand-thingsAmong the Ten Thousand Things by Julia Pierpont

Meh. I feel like this author could have cut about 40% of this book and had the same story. Especially all of “part 2”, where she essentially foreshadows what is about to happen for the rest of these characters lives. And then she repeats the same thing in Part 4. What??

This story about Jack Shandley’s infidelity and its fallout was not super engrossing to me. Not even the effects that it had on the kids of the family. I was just kind of blah about the whole thing.


04-breaking-busyBreaking Busy by Alli Worthington

I think the author does a great job at bringing in her own personal experience and then broadening it out to make it applicable to more situations. It’s great to see how she uses her 5F’s framework to make big decisions, and has really been able to give God control over her life, even when she didn’t REALLY want to! 🙂

I did feel like this book should have been more of a series of blog posts or I should have purchased it as an eBook though. It just didn’t have the substance I was looking for and it seems like she probably had to struggle to hit that 200 page mark…


05-hundred-lies-of-lizzie-lovettThe Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett by Chelsea Sedoti

This one was only 300 pages, but it was a LONG 300 pages. It seems like maybe Sedoti needed a better editor? The story just really dragged for me. Lizzie Lovett and Hawthorn and Enzo and the hippies and blah blah blah. It just wasn’t that interesting of a story. Like she was trying too hard to make a plot out of nothing.

*I received a free galley copy of this book from NetGalley in exchanged for an honest review.


06-truly-madly-guiltyTruly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty

Even though this hasn’t been getting the best reviews (“too formulaic, just like her other books”), I still couldn’t wait to pick it up at the library. Honestly, it does have a similar structure and flavor as her other books: you know something bad happens at the beginning; through a series of pre-event and post-event vignettes the story comes together as you also witness the fallout. But I think Moriarty has really been able to master that storytelling trope. I went into this expecting to be disappointed, but instead was pleasantly engaged the whole time. Also, I love that one of the main characters is a cellist!


07-the-things-we-wish-were-trueThe Things We Wish Were True by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen

This book was lovely. I loved the format and the slow revelation of the secrets of the residents of Sycamore Glen. Each person has a little or big something to hide. The format is that same Moriarty-style of storytelling. Whalen has said she “doesn’t think of her book as a thriller” but it’s definitely got a bit of mystery and thrill to it. Looking forward to more from Whalen in the future.

I’ll have an upcoming interview with Marybeth Whalen as soon as her hand recovers from an injury she recently sustained. I’ll be patient as she heals!

*I was sent a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review


08-the-woman-in-cabin-10The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

Unputdownable! So good! So many twists, so many questions. Ruth Ware keeps you guessing (wrongly), and then tips everything on its head. Laura (Lo) Blacklock is burgled the night before she leaves for a cruise on a luxury ship as part of her job as a writer for a travel magazine. As she deals with the emotional fallout of being burgled, she thinks she hears a murder occur in the cabin next door to her. We spend the rest of the book trying to figure out what happened. The reviews on this are mixed, but I definitely enjoyed it. Picked it up from Book of the Month Club.


10-the-good-girlThe Good Girl by Mary Kubica

I spent this month discovering more and more that I love a good thriller. Maybe it’s that I’m tired enough from having a newborn that I need something heart-pounding enough to keep me awake at night if I’m going to read ANYTHING. Whatever it is, this one delivers. Before and after snippets from a kidnapper, the victim’s mother,and the lead detective on the case. Not a new book but definitely recommended! Looking forward to reading more from Mary Kubica


09-lilac-girlsLilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

I listened to this one on audio after being told OVER and OVER again that that was the way to go with this novel. Was NOT disappointed! I loved it. Loved the stories of these women and the element of truth that runs through the author’s retelling. WWII, Ravensbruck camp, American and French and German and Polish settings. This book is haunting and beautiful and emotional and sweet. Highly recommended.

 


11-love-warriorLove Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton14449718_10105283702759212_2249771369792872484_n

I absolutely loved this book. I love Glennon’s writing in every form, but I think this one might be my favorite. The shattering of her (and my) naive notions about marriage, love, acceptance, beginning, pain. She does such a wonderful job of redefining the landscape, for women especially, in relation to God and the church as well. I found myself nodding, crying, and amen-ing throughout this book and I know it will become a regular recommendation for others, just like Carry On, Warrior has done! I can’t post about this book without also getting to say that baby boy and I along with one of my dearest NM friends got to MEET Glennon when she came to speak last week. She had me laughing, crying, and nodding my head as I bounced this baby boy around. Loved every moment of it!


12-dark-matterDark Matter by Blake Crouch

So good. I devoured this in about 4 hours (split by just a few hours of sleep), because I couldn’t stop thinking about it even while I was sleeping!

Jason Dessen and his wife Daniela are a pretty typical couple: they’ve made sacrifices in their careers in order to put their family first. One night on his way home, Jason is held up at gunpoint and his life changes forever.

This is a Sci-fi thriller masterpiece about time and the universe and the nature of identity. It’s so great.


13-orphan-trainOrphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

Set in the early 21st century as well as the early 20th century, we learn the stories of Molly, a troubled foster just about to age out of the system and Vivian, an old woman who needs help cleaning out her attic. As Molly learns Vivian’s story, the two women grow closer. I listened to this one on audio and it uses two different narrators to tell the ladies’ stories. I really love that setup and found it really fitting here as well. Pick it up.

 


14-everything-i-never-told-youEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

This novel starts with the death of Lydia, the high-achieving middle child of her family. Circles around the before and after until we finally put the whole story together. The story is well written and the characters come together well but it just didn’t grab me enough to merit a higher rating than “meh”. A friend commented that the couple (Lydia’s mother and father) could have solved most of their issues if they EVER talked to each other, and I think that’s part of what bothered me about it!


15-rules-of-civilityRules of Civility by Amor Towles

I enjoyed this one. Follows Katie Kontent through the late 1930s. Engaging characters and plot, but the time period is just not my favorite. Either that or following the escapades and “struggles” of the upper class (and those trying to be upper class) is not the most interesting to me. Either way, I gave it only three stars on Goodreads, which is definitely the minority opinion.

 


16-born-standing-upBorn Standing Up by Steve Martin

Read by the author, the audiobook on this one is the way to go. He sings his songs, plays his banjo and brings the stage to life with his voice. This memoir chronicles the early life of Steve Martin and how he made it to the universally-known comedian we love today. His early life and early career are both fascinating. Highly recommended.

 


17-secrets-of-happy-familiesThe Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler

This one is only $0.99 on Kindle as of this post, and I think you should go snag it! An easy, short read about the ways that happy families achieve and maintain happiness: family meetings and missions, family stories, reunions, death, money, and sex. Feiler interviews experts in various fields and then applies their expertise to family life. Very much like one of my newest favorite podcasts, Smartest Person in the Room with Laura Tremaine (check that one out too if you get the chance!). A very comprehensive and entertaining read. Recommended for anyone that is part of a family as a parent or child!

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Author Interview – Monica Wood

mw-with-store-cat
Monica with the “store cat” at Longellow Books in Portland, ME. She’s a big fan of Indie bookstores!

Hello Monica! I’m so happy to welcome you to my blog and introduce you to my small but dedicated group of readers! After devouring One in A Million Boy, I couldn’t wait to interview you! Let’s get started…

First, I’ll ask you for the 2-minute Monica Wood intro as well as a fun little tidbit about you that not many people know (your favorite comfort food… something with lobster, perhaps?, your favorite/least favorite smell, your favorite weird human trick, the weirdest stat you found while researching the Guinness Book of World Records).

I’ve been publishing novels and other things for about 25 years now. It’s a terrible way to make a living but a wonderful way to make a life. I am an avid bird watcher, a singer, an intermittent teacher. I’d call myself an extrovert with introvert tendencies. And I think I’m the only American who loathes mac & cheese, a phobia that dates back to fourth grade, when Sister Edgar ordered me to eat it and I promptly threw it up. On her.

I like to go back and dig around the internet to find interview material, instead of just having a rote set of questions I ask, so I was pleasantly surprised to find this article about your work in the Maine Prison system, facilitating a writing class with inmates, where they got to “Meet the Authors”. I was especially intrigued by the idea that “intellectually engaging friendships have reached beyond established cliques,” because I find that constantly in my own life as well. What is it about writing and reading and literature that you think makes it possible to bridge the gaps that we aren’t otherwise able to cross? How have reading and writing had that effect in your life? Any unlikely friendships that you owe entirely to love of the written word?

When I first started writing seriously, all my friends were teachers. (At the time I was a young high school guidance counselor.) At this point in my career, though, I have acquired a huge posse of writer friends whom I have met only because I myself am a writer. This posse is central to my happiness in my career; we support and sustain each other, celebrate each other’s successes, and also commiserate with each other’s failures.

7 - One in a Million BoySpeaking of love of the written word, you also talk about your love of the actual implements of writing in this interview with Story Circle. As in your most recent novel, One in A Million Boy, you come from a smaller town in Maine, but one where the paper mill was the big industry, which inspired a full on adoration of paper itself. I also read in a few places that good grammar and love of words are in your DNA. Did you always want to be a writer? With this kind of upbringing and love of story, it seems like it was almost an inevitability, but were there other careers that called to you equally? Or other forays into the working world in a completely different field?

I came to the career of writing pretty late—I published my first story at 33 and my first novel at 40. But I have always written. My earliest memories have writing in them. One thing about growing up in a papermill town is the abundance of paper, which in the 1960s wasn’t true of every household. I’ve spoken with audiences who read my memoir, people my age or so (I’m 62) who remember having to scrimp on paper because it was expensive. We got it for free!

I entered college with the goal of becoming a French interpreter or translator. I’m still an incurable Francophile, but halfway through, at the urging of one of my literature professors, I switched majors from French to English. But my twenties were pretty much lost to writing—I had to do what one does in one’s twenties: I tried out several jobs, got married, rehabbed a wreck of a house with my new husband, etc. I was 30 when I started really writing again.

Even if you have always seen yourself as a writer, I also found that your first job out of college was working in a nursing home. Did you draw on the people you met during that time to build the character of Ona in this most recent novel? Since she is 104 years old, she has this broad life experience starting in 1900. She has seen so much change and I imagine the people you met and worked with in this nursing home must have had such interesting stories to share with you!

Oh, yes indeed. I loved that job. I’ve always been drawn to old people, always. For the book I went back into the nursing home world, interviewing the oldest people I could find. I also had a 98-year-old friend (I’d met her when she was 87) who gave me direct inspiration for the character of Ona.

On a slightly more personal note, this essay that you wrote about your sister for Oprah.com had me dabbing at my eyes. Even though the boy in OIAMB is more of an Asperger’s-type disability, did you draw any inspiration from him from your sister, Betty? This quote especially brought his character to mind and even hearkens back to something that Ona says directly to the boy in the book: “At times like this, I find in Betty’s eyes a flame of wisdom, a burning intelligence, a flickering glimpse of a parallel self. She seems older in these moments, not just older than me, but older than everyone, older than her own mortal self.”

Well, Betty is a unique human being and also the most hilarious person I know. You would love her. Everyone does. But the boy in the book is based more on me as a child, to be honest. I was an inveterate list maker, highly anxious, a lot like many future writers, now that I think about it. I began the book in 2004, before Aspergers was commonly known, so I had no label in mind for him. He just came out the way he came out—an unusual person with endearing qualities.

As I talk to friends and fellow Bibliophiles about One in A Million Boy, I find myself comparing it to A Man Called Ove, and see that you also recommended it as a heartwarming read in Winter of 2016. They seem similar in that Ove and Ona both kind of “come back to life” through the friendships that surround them, even when it seems like loneliness will be the order of the day for the rest of their lives. But I also know that you wrote your novel many years ago and then it sat on the back burner for a while, and you went on to develop and publish your memoir, When We Were the Kennedys, and even wrote and directed a play in the meantime (Papermaker at Portland Stage in 2015). Do you see the parallels in the stories? Did you see Ona in Ove’s character as well? I’d almost recommend them as companion books!

To be clear: I did not direct my play. I left that to the professionals! (note from Kaytee: oops!) Ove was indeed a lovely novel, but I don’t see a lot of parallels between that book and my latest. Ove reads to me like a fairy tale, or a fable, with larger than life characters; my novel is more realistic in nature. I’ll take the compliment, though, because I loved Ove as a character, and the idea of second chances echoes through both books. Sometimes I refer to The One-in-a-Million Boy as my “coming of old age” novel.

You have so many beautiful quotes scattered around the web about writing and life and story and family that I couldn’t resist sharing a few of them here:

But what I realized is that storytelling—whether in a book or sitting around a kitchen table—is as much about what you leave out as what you put in. You are constantly shaping your story, and stories change over time, often unwittingly.

–From Bill and Dave’s Cocktail Hour

It’s so critical to establish that authority at the beginning, which says to the reader, “You are in good hands. Trust me. Go where I go. You won’t be sorry.”

– From Story Circle

I assemble families for my stories and novels with the assumption that any combination of people can fit into a family as long as they have some shared experience.

 – From your own website backstory

How do you develop that “authority” that you talk about above that makes the reader willing to trust you and your conglomerations of families? And how do you manage to do it without leaving your readers feeling manipulated emotionally (which I didn’t, which is saying something since I’m 8 months pregnant!), something against which so many writers seem to struggle?

Authority comes from the writing itself, and a command of craft. Point of view, for example, is something inexperienced readers struggle with, and though a reader can’t point out exactly why they can find stability in the narrative, an inconsistent POV will throw them off. And the language, of course: avoiding abstracts words like love and glory and replacing them with concrete images is the best stay against mawkishness. Use words like “pane,” not “pain.” One is concrete, the other abstract. One is seeable, the other is not.

And finally: The Guinness World Records plays a role in the book. If you were to set a record, what would it be? J (note from Kaytee: I’ve been thinking about this since I read it and am leaning toward “most books consumed while raising two small children”. I’m on a roll this year especially, and get constant comments about “how do you read so much?”, but feel like I’m probably FAR away from the record on this!)

After poring through too many of the Guinness books, I think I’d go for something completely ridiculous, because ridiculousness is in the full spirit of that particular competition. Most Waterman fountain pens balanced on my head, for example. If I survive to very old age I’ll probably have some kind of “most cats” record, alas.

Thank you so much, Monica, for taking the time to share with us here on the blog! Ilove your answers. They are so well-thought, just like your books! I can’t wait to see more from you in the future and dive into some of your other works. 🙂