Friday, February 12, 2016

Love Is In The Air

It's that time of year again...Valentine's Day is just around the corner and a post about books about love is in order. The thing is...I don't read that many books that are, strictly speaking, love stories.

I used to, as most young women do - The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough, Love Story by Erich Segal. Most of my favorite classics are love stories - all of Jane Austen's books, Jane Eyre, Romeo and Juliet, Age of Innocence.


As an adult, if I'm picking up a book that's, at its heart, a love story, I tend to gravitate toward something that has a unique story. That's what drew me to the modern books above. An affair set during World War Two and a love story set during the Vietnam war, people of two cultures coming together - both young and old, dual love stories - both doomed, a man with autism, a quadriplegic, a fantastical love story, and a hidden love between two women. Some of them made me cry, some of them made me laugh, all of them touched my heart.

What are you favorite love stories? Are they traditional? Quirky? Straight up romance?

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews

The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews
Published by Counterpoint Press in October 2008
Source: Bought it. In 2009.

Publisher's Summary:
Some families appear destined for catastrophe: meet the Troutmans. Hattie's boyfriend has just dumped her, her sister Min is back in the psych ward, and Min's kids, Logan and Thebes, are not talking and talking way too much, respectively.

Then there's the past, in which Min tried to kill Hattie once and to kill herself a lot, in which Min threw the kids' father out of the house, in which Hattie dropped out of school, in which Logan and his friends kidnapped a friend and drove around town with him in the trunk, and in which Thebes frequently impersonated their troubled mom in order to cut class." "So, when Hattie returns to take care of her niece and nephew, she's rapidly freaked out by the realization that the responsibility is in fact far greater than she'd expected - cute as it may be, for example, that Logan is infatuated with acerbic New York Times Magazine interviewer Deborah Solomon, and charming as Thebes's hip-hop vernacular is, she's in danger of becoming their surrogate parent. She decides to take the kids in the family van (think Little Miss Sunshine) to go find their father, last heard to be running an idiosyncratic art gallery in South Dakota.

My Thoughts:
Because NPR introduced me to it and because I found it in a clearance bin, I had to buy this book. Then I started this blog and free books started showing up in my mailbox and so many new books came to my attention. Books that were already on my bookshelves languished. Including this one. Then, on someone's blog, I saw Miriam Toews' name and remembered this book. Then, too, came #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks and I knew it was time to pull this one off the shelf.

The premises of the book isn't anything new - family member called in to care for children in need, family takes a road trip, quirky family members clash and come together - and Toews' precocious little girl came off a little too quirky and precocious for me sometimes.

But Toews also offers enough that's original and a depth that's sometimes lacking in these kinds of stories. Hattie isn't the family member who rushes in to save the day - she rushes in as much to escape her own situation as to help anyone and she is utterly clueless about what to do. The trip to go find the children's father? That's Hattie's out, because there's no way she's going to be the person left taking care of her niece and nephew. The kids? Not just quirky but seriously screwed up by a father who left them and a mother who spends most of her time out of touch with reality. The trio is just as likely to have really terrible things happen along their journey as they are to bond. In the end, Toews doesn't feel the need to tie everything up with a pretty little bow, not every problem is solved. Just the way I like a book to end, just as any real life story would.

Monday, February 8, 2016

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backland

A Man Called Ove  by Fredrik Backman
Published  July 2014 by Atria Books
Source: bought this for my Nook

Meet Ove. He’s a curmudgeon—the kind of man who points at people he dislikes as if they were burglars caught outside his bedroom window. He has staunch principles, strict routines, and a short fuse. People call him “the bitter neighbor from hell.” But must Ove be bitter just because he doesn’t walk around with a smile plastered to his face all the time?

Behind the cranky exterior there is a story and a sadness. So when one November morning a chatty young couple with two chatty young daughters move in next door and accidentally flatten Ove’s mailbox, it is the lead-in to a comical and heartwarming tale of unkempt cats, unexpected friendship, and the ancient art of backing up a U-Haul. All of which will change one cranky old man and a local residents’ association to their very foundations.

My Thoughts:
When one of my book club members pitched this book, she did so because it was recommended to her by a friend in another book club who compared it to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. Not necessarily a selling point for at least one of our members, who found herself constantly wanting to slap Harold Fry.

Ove is not Harold Fry. Ove is a man lost without the love of his life, a woman who may have been the only person who ever really understood him. He is the very definition of "curmudgeon." He is a slave to routine, a stickler for the rules, and buried by his own opinions. "Ove was so weighed down with anger." He has no tolerance for other people and makes no bones about it. He is, frankly, a pain in the ass as a neighbor. Not the kind of guy you would want to befriend, even if you could.

But...

As Backman moves back and forth between Ove's past and the present, we begin to understand what has made Ove so bitter but also how it is that a wonderful woman could fall in love with him.
"...everywhere, sooner or later, he was stopped by men in white shirts with strict, smug expressions on their faces."
"He was a man of black and white. And she was color. All the color he had."
When a new woman comes into his life, she pushes every button he has. Then along comes another person that cracks Ove's hard shell. And another. We begin to see that, underneath that shell, there is a man with a heart.

I loved the way that phrases come back again and again in the book. "People said Ove saw the world in black and white. But she was color. All the color he had" just pages after the above quote. Again and again Backman uses some version of the phrase "chooses what sort of man he wants to be" to highlight the events that caused Ove to become who he would become. And this:
"Ove had never been asked how he lived before he met her. But if anyone had asked him, he would have answered that he didn't."
I didn't expect to love this book. I'd heard enough good things to assume that I would like it. But a book with a crabby widower at it's center? Not something I assumed I would be able to relate to...just goes to show that you don't have to be able to relate to a book to find the common humanity in it. This book spoke to me.
"...time is a curious thing. Most of us only live for the time that lies right ahead of us. A few days, weeks, years. One of the most painful moments in a person's life probably comes with the insight that an age has been reached when there is more to look back on than ahead. And when time no longer lies ahead of one, other things have to be lived for. Memories, perhaps."
Because no one warned me, I'm warning you. This is obviously a book meant to pull at your heartstrings. I knew that from the beginning. I did not see that it was a book that was going to make me cry for the last 25 pages. But then I'm a sucker for a sweet moment, a touching gesture. So be warned. And if you don't feel just a little bit sappy by the end of this book, I'm going to call you Ove.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Life: It Goes On - February 7

This has certainly been a weird week. Blizzard conditions shut down a lot of the state on Tuesday, including much of Omaha. Which meant all four of us got to stay home from work and be lazy (other than the scooping, of course!). Today temperatures are in the 40's - warm enough that we left the back door ajar for a while so the cats could rove in and out and for me to ditch socks for one day. Have I mentioned before how much I hate socks?

The new picture on the left is one that Mini-me took last winter on a trip to Colorado. I mentioned the other night that I was looking for a winter picture for my winter posts and he remembered this one. Perfect say I!

This Week I'm:

Listening To:  Radio Lab, Serial - Season 2, The Moth, StoryCorps and Happier. I'm planning on heading over to my library book sale on Thursday - I'm feeling ready to start a new audiobook finally.

Mini-me & Miss S
Watching: Mini-me's girlfriend being inducted into an honor society through her university. We were proud to stand up as her family when families were introduced - we really do think of her as one of ours. And just look how happy she makes Mini-me!

Reading: I finished The Flying Troutmans this week and started Janice Y. K. Lee's The Expatriates. I really enjoyed her book The Piano Teacher (review here) and can already see that this one is going to be just as sad a book.

View from my window
on Tuesday
Nerd Things:  I spent most of my snow day reworking my books-to-read lists. I had books on a spreadsheet, on Goodreads, on Pinterest, on little sheets of paper in a desk drawer. I'm down to just the spreadsheet and Goodreads now and there are no duplicates between the two any more. I'm actually working on getting rid of my Goodreads account. I rarely use it any more for updates, haven't been active in any of my groups for quite a while, and have no interest in supporting something owned by Amazon. I still need to move about 350 more titles to my spreadsheet and export my books-read list; I may need another snow day to get it all done!

Making: Creamy cauliflower soup (a do-again recipe but with tweaks - definitely one that needs to sit for a day or two), chili (maybe the best I've ever made according to BG although I have no idea what I did differently!), indoor s'mores, bean dip, stuffed banana peppers, and chicken alfredo.

Planning: An impromptu Super Bowl party for a dozen of Mini-him's friends. BG is headed to Lincoln to a friend's party and I was planning on sticking close to home getting some things caught up. But you know me well enough by now to know that I'm not turning down a chance to have "my" boys over!

Grateful for: Lotions and cremes and lip balms. I cannot possibly drink enough liquids to keep my skin hydrated this time of year.

Enjoying: Time with family. Friday night Mini-me, BG and I enjoyed an art/science/awareness gallery opening about water. Saturday was Miss S's induction ceremony followed by some book shopping and dinner at one of our favorite places with Mini-me, Misses H and S, and BG.

Feeling: Happy - we took Miss H to a bookstore and she actually bought more books than I did! She loves the New York Yankees and managed to find four books.

Looking forward to: A normal week. Maybe this will be that week anyway.

This week's question: What would you do with an unexpected snow day?

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Nelly Dean: A Return to Withering Heights by Alison Case

Nelly Dean: A Return To Wuthering Heights by Alison Case
Published by Pegasus February 2016
Source: my ecopy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary:
A novel that re-imagines life at Wuthering Heights through the eyes of the Earnshaws’ loyal servant, Nelly Dean.Young Nelly Dean has been Hindley’s closest companion for as long as she can remember, living freely at the great house, Wuthering Heights. But when the benevolence of the master brings a wild child into the house, Nelly learns she must follow in her mother’s footsteps, be called "servant" and give herself over completely to the demands of the Earnshaw family.But Nelly is not the only one who finds her life disrupted by this strange newcomer. As death, illness, and passion sweep through the house, Nelly suffers heartache and betrayals at the hands of those she cherishes most, tempting her to leave it all behind. But when a new heir is born, a reign of violence begins that will test even Nelly’s formidable spirit as she finds out what it is to know true sacrifice. It is the story of a woman who is fated to bear the pain of a family she is unable to leave, and unable to save.


My Thoughts:
I tend to have mixed feelings about books spun off of classics (as I do with fanfic, as well) and I tend to stay away from them. I know I miss some fine books because of this. I know this because many of the ones I have chosen to read, I've enjoyed a lot (The Flight of Gemma Hardy, for example). Add Nelly Dean to that list.

I've read Withering Heights twice and I must say that all I can really remember about Nelly Dean is that she was a servant at Wuthering Heights who told the story of Heathcliff and Cathy to Mr. Lockwood. She is largely regarded as an unreliable narrator, given her closeness with the families. That is Case's jumping off point for Nelly Dean.

Nelly is, again, telling her story to Mr. Lockwood, this time in writing. Up front she admits that she previously told him the story she wanted to tell him. Now, she says, she wants to give him the full story, the story of how she came to be so deeply involved with the Earnshaws and, later, the Lintons. Of why she was willing to stay with the Earnshaws despite the violence, poverty, and cruelty. In Nelly Dean, Nelly is the focus of the very story she previously told Lockwood. While Nelly was a relatively minor characters, although crucial, in Wuthering Heights, she was witness to most of what she recounted. Making her the center of the same story in this book was a interesting and effective choice by Case. It allows her to explain Nelly's motivations and also allows her to look more deeply into the circumstances, miscommunications, and tragedies that resulted in the events of Wuthering Heights. 

Periodically, I felt like the book dragged a bit but, overall, I enjoyed Nelly Dean quite a bit. And understood all of the characters a better. I've never much cared for Wuthering Heights; maybe if I gave it a third chance with the background Case offers, I might appreciate it more.