Thursday, June 30, 2016

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder (Lunar Chronicles #1) by Marissa Meyer
Published  January 2012 by Fiewel and Friends
Source: bought for my Nook

Publisher's Summary:
Humans and androids crowd the raucous streets of New Beijing. A deadly plague ravages the population. From space, a ruthless lunar people watch, waiting to make their move. No one knows that Earth’s fate hinges on one girl. . . .

Cinder, a gifted mechanic, is a cyborg. She’s a second-class citizen with a mysterious past, reviled by her stepmother and blamed for her stepsister’s illness. But when her life becomes intertwined with the handsome Prince Kai’s, she suddenly finds herself at the center of an intergalactic struggle, and a forbidden attraction. Caught between duty and freedom, loyalty and betrayal, she must uncover secrets about her past in order to protect her world’s future.

My Thoughts:

  • Why I Read It: Because it's fairy tale based and because Rhapsody Jill (Rhapsody In Books) told me four years ago that I should read it. And because it fit with the Once Upon A Time X challenge. Except that I didn't read it in time for the Once Upon A Time Challenge (just like I didn't do any of the other things for that challenge - hangs head in shame).
  • Why I Didn't Read It Sooner:  Because it's also sci-fi and young adult, neither of which I pick up a lot. Which doesn't make them not perfectly lovely genres. Just out of my usual comfort zone.
  • What I Didn't Like About It: Well, let's just get this out of the way, shall we? I can only assume that the last thirty pages or so are intended to include a major surprise. But I wasn't surprised. Maybe if I were in the target audience? But that would be shortchanging the minds of young adults - I'm pretty sure they wise on to it early as well. Plus, super abrupt ending. I knew going in that this was the first in a series; I just didn't know that it wouldn't be at all self-contained.
  • What I Liked: Cinder - she's fierce. A teenaged girl who who has more than the normal share of things to stress about, when the going gets tough, Cinder puts on her big girl panties and does what needs to be done. Meyer hangs on to the basics of the fairy tale and it's fun to see how she manages to update some of them (including a fairy godmother who's not exactly what you'd expect and a pumpkin that runs on gasoline). The book could have stood on its own even without the Lunar plot line - for a relatively short book, there was a lot going on. 
  • Will I Read The Next Book In The Series? Yep. These are just the kind of books I need to break things up. Probably won't even wait four years to decide to read Scarlet.

Monday, June 27, 2016

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman

The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman
Published August 2015 by Simon and Schuster
Source: bought for book club

Publisher's Summary:
Growing up on idyllic St. Thomas in the early 1800s, Rachel dreams of life in faraway Paris. Rachel’s mother, a pillar of their small refugee community of Jews who escaped the Inquisition, has never forgiven her daughter for being a difficult girl who refuses to live by the rules. Growing up, Rachel’s salvation is their maid Adelle’s belief in her strengths, and her deep, life-long friendship with Jestine, Adelle’s daughter. But Rachel’s life is not her own. She is married off to a widower with three children to save her father’s business. When her older husband dies suddenly and his handsome, much younger nephew, Frédérick, arrives from France to settle the estate, Rachel seizes her own life story, beginning a defiant, passionate love affair that sparks a scandal that affects all of her family, including her favorite son, who will become one of the greatest artists of France.

My Thoughts:

  • O Magazine called this book Marquez-esque. Yep. Also brought to mind Isabel Allende for me. Which is always a selling point.
  • Beautiful, lush, vivid descriptions of the landscapes of St. Thomas and Paris. If you don't want to get on a boat and sail to St. Thomas by the time you finish reading this, there is something seriously wrong with you. Both Rachel and Camille (the favorite son who will grow up to become Camille Pissarro) yearn to leave it for Paris, a place neither of them had ever been to - I couldn't understand why. Sure it's ridiculously hot. And the bugs. And the diseases. But, my god, the beauty! 
  • There's a lot to be learned about Jewish history here. You know how much I enjoy learning from my reading. The Jewish culture and traditions play a big part in the story, recalling Hoffman's The Dovekeepers
  • Speaking of learning, I knew nothing about Camille Pissarro going into this book other than that he was an Impressionist painter. Much of his part of the story is based on fact and explains a lot about his style and use of color in his works. 
  • There are some really interesting characters in The Marriage of Opposites, both real as imagined by Hoffman and those created by Hoffman. I wished that some of them might have been a little more developed and the relationships a little better explained. 
  • I had some trouble with the change in focus of the book - early on this is clearly Rachel's story, it shifts for a time and becomes the story of Jestin's daughter, for a time it returns to Rachel but only to allow it to shift then over to Jacobo's (Camille) story to the end. It seemed to me as if much of what happened in the book could still have happened without the big shifts in perspective.
  • Hoffman sometimes gets too carried away with her love of the island and was often repetitive. Alright, already, I get that Rachel delivered a certain kind of flower to her husband's first wife to curry good luck. 
  • But...and this one's a good but...I liked the book, the beauty of it, the characters, the intricate storylines. And, it made for a good book club choice. There's a lot to discuss from the history of the island, the art, the characters, the conflicts between Rachel and almost everyone in her life. This one's coming to you, Mom.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Life: It Goes On - June 26

Yeah, still a hot. Sorry about that to all of the College World Series fans here the past week. I mean, this is Nebraska in the summer but even for us, this long stretch of high 90's is growing old. And, sure enough, the air conditioning went out in my office one day this week. I might not have been the friendliest person my customers ever had to talk to that day.

Celebrating the dads and my two bookends
This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'm about two-thirds through The Woman Upstairs and enjoying the reliable narrator as much as I'm enjoying the narrator, Cassandra Campbell.

Watching: Yeah, baseball. And Luther on Saturday nights. And CBS Sunday Morning which today featured a piece about Outlander - the books and the show.

Friday night baseball (plus Zesto!) and Saturday Zydeco
Reading: Finally started reading Cinder but I feel like I'm falling into a deepening reading slump. Seriously considering taking a break from reading next week entirely. Clear my brain. Rethink how to get back to reading what I want to read when I want to read it.

Making: Burgers, salads, pasta salad - summer foods.

Planning:  Yep, that's what I'm doing. I'm putting together my own version of a bullet journal with the materials I have at hand (except I did buy some colored pens). If I can make myself really use this, then I'll splurge for the good notebooks next year. Love the idea of having a completely customized planner + journal + to do list in one place.

Thinking About: A trip to Milwaukee to see Miss S and visit Mini-me and her new place. We'd been planning on going in September but now we're thinking we can't wait that long so perhaps the end of July.

Enjoying: Time at Junkstock today with my sister. Oh, lordy, was it ever hot out there in that field but we both found some great treasures and the mimosas we found helped! Also enjoying a visit from Mini-me today. He's stretched out as I type reading a graphic novel a friend of ours loaned us for him to read.

Feeling: Like I need another day of the weekend. So much playing this weekend and not nearly enough actually accomplished.  

Looking forward to: Drinks later today with a friend I haven't seen in more than 10 years. Thank heavens for Facebook for allowing us to stay in touch and as a way for her to contact me to make this happen. There's a lot I hate about Facebook but in the past month it's allowed me to connect with two old friends which almost makes all of the vitriol worth it.

Question of the week: Who's blogging up in Milwaukee that I should make time to meet up with while I'm there?! 

Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Girls by Emma Cline

The Girls by Emma Cline
Published June 2016 by Random House Publishing
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley

Publisher's Summary:
Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged—a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence.

My Thoughts:
In 1969, followers of cult leader Charles Manson murdered seven people. Three of the people convicted of the murders were young women.

I was a young girl when the murders happened but a young woman when I first read anything about the murders. In my mind, it was easy to understand what made Manson click - he was (is) clearly mentally ill. But, even having been a teenager who often felt adrift, I couldn't understand what might cause those young women to brutally kill for him, what kind of hold he had on them.

Cline was similarly intrigued by those questions. The Girls, loosely based on the Manson murders, focuses on the young girls drawn in by a charismatic puppet master. What would it take to lure a girl in living in a place where clothing is communal, comfort is rare, and food has to be stolen? What kind of girl could be convinced to do such a thing?
"I waited to be told what was good about me. I wondered later if this was why there were so many more women than men at the ranch. All that time I had spent readying myself, the articles that taught me life was really just a waiting room until someone noticed you - the boys had spent that time becoming themselves."
Cline understands that Evie and the other girls who find themselves pulled into cults aren't necessarily girls from rough backgrounds or "bad" girls. She understands they are girls who just want to feel wanted and understood, girls who are growing up to find that life isn't as sure and simple as they had grown up thinking it was.
"That was part of being a girl - you were resigned to whatever feedback you'd get. If you got mad, you were crazy, and if you didn't react, you were a bitch. The only thing you could do was smile from the corner they'd backed you into. Implicate yourself in the joke even if the joke was always on you."
On the ranch, Evie finally feels wanted, seen. Tired of her divorced parents who were so busy trying to create their own new lives to notice their daughter floundering, Evie clings to the people who pay attention to her and show her a life seemingly without responsibilities.
"I was starting to fill in all the blank spaces in myself with the certainties of the ranch."
But there are responsibilities and a price to be paid. What the girls will need to figure out is what price are they willing to pay?

As an adult looking back on her life, Evie is a melancholy woman who has had to live her life in the shadow of what the girls on the ranch did and not knowing, really not knowing, what she might have done if she had been with them.

Cline's writing is fantastic - she sucks you into the story with her vivid "sets," poetic writing and her understanding of what makes young girls tick. Her ability to take such a well-known event and turn the focus back onto the bigger world in a timeless way is impressive. I look forward to Cline's next effort with high hopes.

Emma Cline sold this book, as part of a three-book deal, for $2 million dollars. With that kind of an advance and the subject matter, the book was bound to attract a lot of attention. The question is, was it worth it?

Yes. And no. This is an impressive read, all the more so for being a debut novel. But, in the end, I didn't put the book down and think "wow, that was the best book I've read in a really long time." And shouldn't a book worth a $2 million dollar advance do that?

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Life: It Goes On - June 19

Happy Father's Day to all of the father's out there and those who have played the role of a father in a child's life! We'll celebrate shortly with a late brunch with my parents; my sister, brother-in-law and niece; and my nephew who happens to be in town for the College World Series.
Remember last week when I told you it was a hot? Yeah, it's still that. So hot (and now humid) that I can't even stand to do dinners on the patio and you know how much I love those! I'm a little testy about missing the longest days of the year inside.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: I'm loving listening to Cassandra Campbell narrate The Woman Upstairs and I've been catching up on some podcasts, too, including Slate's Audio Book Club's discussion of Curtis Sittenfield's Eligible.

Watching: Baseball and Miss H and I finally finished season three of Orange Is The New Black. She's been watching season four of Parks and Rec so I've caught up in a few episodes of that as well.

Reading: The Marriage of Opposites for book club this week. Really enjoying that so far.
BG cutting steak for today - the
mooch wasn't allowed on the
stool next to him but that didn't
stop the mooching

Making: More granola, mini bagel sandwiches for Mini-me and Miss S to take on the road, and breakfast tortillas for today's brunch.

Planning: Nothing. My plans of late seem to get waylaid so I'm just going to play it by ear this week.

Thinking About: Milwaukee. Mini-me, Miss S and one of their friends who drives trucks took a UHaul there yesterday. She starts her residency there next week. Mini-me will join her there in a couple of months when his job here wraps up but they took everything up now and he will live on the bare minimum of furniture and clothes until then. I wish I were a fly on the wall. Oh, who are we kidding - I wish I were there with them!

Enjoying: I met a long lost friend for lunch the other day. We were inseparable middle through high school but haven't seen each other in more than thirty years. Lunch lasted four hours and we were so busy talking that I forgot to take a picture!

Also, the College World Series. We'll be cheering for the TCU Horned Toads since we have dear friends who are alumni. Miss H, the baseball fiend, had to have a shirt to celebrate.

Feeling: I didn't cry when we left the moving crew by some miracle. But that's not to say I'm not feeling pretty sad to know I'm not going to see Miss S again for months.

Looking forward to: Book club this week. We didn't meet last week and I'm missing those ladies!

Question of the week: What are you reading this week? I'm having the urge to make my own readathon this week. So many books I want to read and so little time!