01 November 2014

Last Month in Review: October 2014

Oh, October.  You were off to such a blazing start in terms of reading.  But then I went to Memphis for a long weekend, and then I got sick, and then my mom came to visit from Wisconsin, and my reading time collapsed under the pressure of other things. This is my first blog post in two weeks, egads.

Here, in boring ol' chronological order, are the books I managed to read last month:

1. How to be both [sic] by Ali Smith.  Well, at least I got my reading off to a great start.  This book was a finalist for the Booker Prize and it's getting lots of attention because of the way it's being published: half of the books are bound first with the contemporary story of a teenage girl who's mum has died, followed by the story of a fifteenth century artist who has been transported to our time. The other half of the print run is bound with the artist's story first.  Interesting, eh? It's a little gimmicky, but it gets the point across.  I'm told that the order in which you read the two halves makes a difference in how you see the book.  I happened to read the contemporary story about the teenage girl first.

2. Allegiant by Veronica Roth. (ebook). Final book in the Divergent trilogy.  This was pretty fun, and I knew the big spoiler at the end before I picked up the book.  I like this series.  It's not as polished or as profound as many of the other dystopian books out there, but I don't really understand why Tris Prior is reviled simply on the basis that she's not Katniss Everdeen. It seems to me that in the same way that there's more than one way to be a feminist, there's plenty of room in this world for different kinds of heroes.

3. Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead. (audio book)  My friendly sales rep gave me her copy of this audio.  She didn't like it because it was too much ballet for her, but I found it fascinating.  Well-written, covering the 1970s up to the 2000s, and following the life of one ballerina who leaves the corps to have a baby, with detours into the lives of the people who have been important to her over the years, including a Russian ballet wunderkind whom she helped to defect. The only part that was a little jarring for me was the narrator, Rebecca Lowman, who is quite good, but I have her firmly fixed in my head as the voices for Rainbow Rowell's characters, so it took me at least 2-3 discs before I stopped hearing Regan, Levy, and Cath from Fangirl, for example, and stopped expecting humor from the dialogue and narrative.

4. Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper.  Oh, this book is delightful and charming, and it was a welcomed break from the darker fiction I tend to be attracted to. Etta & Otto are an old married couple in their 80s, and one day Otto wakes up to find a note on the kitchen table from Etta, informing him that she's going to travel to see the sea for the first time.  Never mind that they live in a landlocked Canadian province. Russell is their long-time neighbor and near-family, the boy who kept Etta company when Otto went off to war, and he is eventually leaves to follow his own calling.  James is the coyote who may or may not be a figment of Etta's dementia-burdened mind, keeping her company on her trek.  This book put me very much in mind of the book The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and the film The Straight Story.

5. Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham.  This is the only nonfiction I've read this month, and I didn't have time to write up a review, so here's the shelf talker I wrote for my bookstore: Often referred to as a voice of her generation, Dunham covers topics ranging from work to sex to friendship to careers. Her essays are thoughtful and well-written, even if they do seem to flit about between past & present, and her bold voice, filled with proclamations both mundane and profound, is entirely her own. Dunham is occasionally honest to the point of readerly discomfort, but she's so smart that it's easy to look beyond her confessional mode to the heart of this essay collection that is a must-read for all young (or not so young) feminists.

6. The Laughing Monsters by Denis Johnson. Ditto the time for reviewing this book, so here's another shelf talker: Think of this book as Graham Greene meets The Heart of Darkness. Roland Nair is a man of dubious everything: national origin, loyalty, motive, and scruples. When he returns to Sierra Leone to reconnect with Michael Adriko, his erstwhile friend and a soldier from various countries' armies, ostensibly for a money making scheme, neither is sure if the other man can be trusted. In this post-colonial world, the CIA and other underground organizations have carved up the African continent just as brutally as in the days of imperialism, and Johnson's take on this world fills the reader with a grim fascination.

7. I Was Here by Gayle Forman (YA).  This is a slightly different twist on the popular teen suicide genre. Emotive, but less so than her earlier book, If I Stay.

8. Nocturne by Dutchy.  (fan fiction). I can always tell my stress levels from my reading habits.  Reading some Harry Potter fanfiction back to back with a YA novel? Definitely a higher stress level than usual at work. That being said, this is a good one from the Ashwinder site. The author's description: The unthinkable has happened. Voldemort has won. Now, one Severus Snape must find a new way in this dark and twisted world, one seemingly devoid of all hope.

9. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (audio/physical book). I don't usually read much commercial fiction, but I've been invited to meet the author at a dinner in Boston coming up in January (2015), and the publisher asked that I read it. I started off listening to this audio book, and though the reader's voice was fine for all of the narrative bits, she was apparently directed to read all of the dialogue with a French accent.  It started getting really ridiculous when she was trying to voice a German officer, who was speaking French with a German accent, but all written in English. The audio was so mock-worthy in parts that I couldn't concentrate on the story, which was actually pretty good, and I ended up reading the book for the last 150 pages or so.  Who doesn't love that internal swoop of nerves that you get from reading about women in the French Resistance during WWII? Hannah's book is based on a real-life heroine who risked her life to save downed Allied pilots by leading them across the Pyrenees on foot.


  1. I really liked Astonish Me too. Eye-opening to see behind the beautiful ballet scenes.

    1. Yes, I agree. Beyond the obvious athleticism which I've always admired, I've never really appreciated the art of the ballet. This book helped me with that a little.

  2. I'm with you and Amy. I adored Astonish Me and I was glad I picked it up because I didn't love her previous book so much.

    I've read Divergent and I'm sort of hemming and hawing about reading the rest of the series. I take it from your thoughts on Allegiant that I should go for it?

    1. Hmmm...I don't know, really. I liked the characters more than I liked the overarching plot of the series. And oddly enough, I liked the book Divergent better after having seen the movie.

      I was in no hurry to read Insurgent or Allegiant. I'm glad that I read them, but they weren't essential parts of my reading life.

  3. Replies
    1. It really is! I'm not sure how successful it ultimately was, but it was definitely thought provoking, which I appreciated.

  4. 9 is nothing to scoff at even without a vacation, being sick, and a family visit!

    I've been curious about THE NIGHTINGALE. Seems a little different from her other stuff. I think I'll skip the audio, though!

    1. I think you'd like The Nightingale. If you have no idea how French words are supposed to be pronounced, then the audio wouldn't bother you. I know lots of people whom it wouldn't have bothered, but it really did stick in my craw.


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