Bookish speed dating: getting lost, finding yourself and more

So I’ve, um, gotten a little behind on book reviews.

Which is to say . . . I am ridiculously behind on book reviews.

Even when I was actively getting lost in a story (or four), I lacked the brain power to discuss anything intelligently. So I cataloged my finished reads on a spreadsheet, made a note to review them later and . . . promptly had a baby.

So.

Here I am: desperately wanting to play catch up. These unreviewed books, friends, they’re weighing on me. Weighing down my soul. Making me feel like a failure. Taunting me from their color-coded Google Doc.

Let’s speed date, shall we? I’ll give you a rundown so you can decide whether to pursue a relationship further. I won’t pressure you or follow up with sassy text messages or Facebook notes asking if you and Happiness For Beginners hit it off; your choice to connect in the future is yours alone.

I’m considerate like that.


Happiness for BeginnersHappiness For Beginners
by Katherine Center
Published: 2015
Source: Review copy from publisher
4.5 stars

Though tough to avoid comparisons to Cheryl Strayed’s classic Wild, Center’s novel of a recently-divorced woman who sets off on a wilderness journey of self-discovery and independence — with her kid brother’s best friend, incidentally — is entertaining, sweet and memorable.

I love Katherine’s writing, which flows like a fast-moving current; it’s impossible not to get swept up in her warm characters, compelling setting and relatable plot. At 32, Helen abruptly finds herself starting over — and regardless of where we are in life, readers will find a bit of themselves in Helen’s cautious optimism. Totally loved it.


Tempting FateTempting Fate
by Jane Green
Published: 2014
Source: Audio from library
3.5 stars

Despite having the perfect marriage on paper, Gabby and Elliott struggle with the mundane details of the long-married: not enough time for themselves, each other and their two daughters, who are growing up — but still in need of their parents’ attention.

When a girls’ night out leads to a chance meeting with a younger, handsome stranger, Gabby can’t resist the allure of feeling wanted again. Those feelings — and, later, actions — have far-reaching consequences, however . . . ones even Gabby can’t anticipate.

So I know I sort of swore off Jane Green after the disastrous Another Piece of my Heart, but I was seeking something lighthearted back in March — and I found it here. Though Gabby’s decision-making skills are sketchy at best, I got lost in the endlessly-complicated drama. Good, crazy fun.


Margaret From MaineMargaret From Maine
by Joseph Monninger
Published: 2012
Source: Review copy from publisher
3 stars

After her husband is gravely injured during a deployment, Margaret is left to care for her young son and father-in-law as they work to maintain the family farm. When another serviceman arrives to accompany her to a ceremony in Washington, she is swept up in their powerful chemistry . . . and the idea of feeling free again. But her loyalty is to her husband, even if he’s in a place he’ll never be reached.

I felt for Margaret and Charlie, who seemed star-crossed from the start. I thought their relationship advanced beyond propriety a little too quickly to be realistic (and some of the dialogue was super silly), but still enjoyed this short, heart-wrenching novel.


Coming CleanComing Clean
by Kimberly Rae Miller
Published: 2013
Source: Purchased
3 stars

In this story of growing up in a hoarding household, Miller manages to draw us into her paper- and garbage-strewn world without really opening up to us. It’s a strange thing, indeed, to write a memoir about such a personal topic that still manages to come across as detached — but I finished this short story of Miller’s childhood and college years with a bit of a shoulder shrug. I did finish, though — and that says something. Especially given my sleep-deprived attention span.


The One That Got AwayThe One That Got Away
by Bethany Chase
Published: 2015
Source: Review copy from publisher
3.5 stars

Sarina is a talented architect with great friends, a successful business and a loving relationship with a man she believes will be getting down on one knee in short order. But when an old one-night-stand resurfaces, asking for her design expertise on a new home, Sarina begins to question the past — and her future.

This was the story I was reading the day before my son was born, and for the most part? I succeeded. Chase has created a realistic, could-be-your-bestie narrator in Sarina, and her sexy, playful dynamic with athlete Eamon Roy — a man who once ended them before they could begin — is one with which many will likely relate.

Though it wasn’t a truly stand-out read, it is a layered story that also deals with grief, friendship and pursuing what we truly want. And heck, it managed to (mostly) distract me from impending childbirth, so that counts for something?


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Did-not-finish book thoughts: ‘Longbourn,’ ‘Dressmaker’

LongbournLongbourn by Jo Baker
Source: Borrowed from library
Where I stopped: Audio disc 5 (of 11?)

Dull. There’s just no other way for me to describe my experience with this one. I went into it with high hopes, expecting a cross between Pride & Prejudice and “Downton Abbey,” and I suppose that’s what I got . . . but I just couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm for Longbourn.

I didn’t need a damp-shirted Darcy skipping between the pages or anything, but the lack of page time for the Bennets was disappointing. Putting that aside, I just wasn’t interested in housemaid Sarah, the mysterious James or the formidable Mrs. Hill. If I’d stuck it out a little longer, I may have been rewarded with a wee bit of romance . . . but when I found my mind drifting repeatedly while listening to the audio book, I knew it was time to cave.

Sorry, Longbourn; I barely knew ye, but I didn’t like what I knew.

Other thoughts:
AustenBlog
Dear Author
Austenprose


Dressmaker Khair The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe
by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon
Source: Borrowed from library
Where I stopped: Audio disc 3 (of 7?)

Another doomed audio! Non-fiction centering on a brave, entrepreneurial woman in Taliban-controlled Kabul, Afghanistan, I thought this one would be an interesting and inspiring read (listen?) last fall.

Unfortunately, I never emotionally connected with the principle players — and the audio book’s narrator had a distracting, WASP-ish accent that didn’t mesh at all with the strong-willed women she described. I might have enjoyed this one better in print, but I doubt I’ll take that chance.

Other thoughts:
BookNAround
Booking Mama
Reading on a Rainy Day


Did-not-finish book thoughts: ‘Falling Together’ and ‘My Name Is Memory’

Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos
Where I stopped: Page 110

Having read and loved Marisa de los Santos’ first two novels, I eagerly anticipated grabbing Falling Together. While the plot was slow-moving and cumbersome at times — even confusing — it’s impossible not to appreciate the lyrical quality of her writing. Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to redeem this one for me.

Though the novel is ostensibly about three best friends who have drifted apart since their tender college days, Falling Together focuses mainly on Pen, a wounded single mother working to maintain an amicable relationship with her ex for the sake of their child. Having recently lost her father, Pen is a walking open wound. She bravely pretends to have forgotten about Will and Cat, her beloved college friends, but her split from them was worse than any pain she felt in love. Pen grieves as much for her father as she does for the loss of Cat and Will.

Here’s my main issue with Falling Together: the tension between the three friends feels so melodramatic and forced. We spend pages upon pages waiting for an explosive reason for the dissolution of their almost obsessive bond with one another, but it never comes. Or, rather, it’s just a let-down. Pen and her issues grated heavily on my nerves as she reconnects with Will, someone she’s so obviously in love with, and I found myself growing really frustrated with her. Plus, it was hard to understand the dynamic between them. An outsider jokes once about them being in a three-person romantic relationship, and there was some sort of unsettling vibe there I couldn’t shake. Not even by the end.

The action picks up in the latter half of the novel as several characters go on a hunt for a missing member, but it wasn’t enough to save Falling Together for me. Marisa de los Santos crafts lovely prose, but her characters here were enough to set my teeth on edge. If you’re new to her books, I recommend Belong To Me. It moved me to tears.

Other thoughts:
S. Krishna’s Books
The Book Chick
Jenny’s Books


My Name Is Memory by Ann Brashares
Where I stopped: Audio disc three

Chalk this up to bad timing or awful narrators. Whichever you choose, I couldn’t pop My Name Is Memory out of my car’s stereo fast enough. To begin, I felt the audio narrators weren’t appropriate choices, age-wise; I know Daniel is supposed to have been alive for thousands of years, etc. and so forth, but the point at which both he and Lucy are interacting as teenagers makes him sound like a creeper.

Okay, that’s harsh. But true. When we got through the awkward moment where Daniel appears in a darkened room after a stabbing at a school dance (?) and he’s all, Look at me, I’m lurking here. And btw, I love you. Even though we never talk and you have no idea who I am, I thought things would improve. Alas — they just got incredibly boring after that. By the time Daniel was recounting crazy stuff that happened back in the time of Christ or something, I was mentally checked out. Not interested in a long-winded history lesson, thanks.

Would I have enjoyed this one more had I read it in print? Doubtful. I probably wouldn’t have even made it as far as I did with a borrowed audio version.

Other thoughts:
Belle’s Bookshelf
At Home With Books
The Girl From The Ghetto

Did-not-finish mini reviews: ‘Staying At Daisy’s’ and ‘You Were Wrong’

Jill Mansell’s Staying At Daisy’s
Where I stopped reading: Page 52

So I’m a huge Jill Mansell fan. Her wit always shines through in her fiction, which is decidedly (and gloriously) British chick lit. But Staying At Daisy’s, originally published in 2002 and now reprinted by the lovely folks at Sourcebooks, just wasn’t working for me.

Here we have Daisy, a young divorcee running the hotel owned by her father. Still smarting from the demise of her relationship, she’s thrown herself into her work and friendships — and that brings her to some steady hours at the hotel.

I guess that, with so many books lining my shelves, I was probably too quick to give up on this one in favor of another — especially considering how much I loved Mansell’s Millie’s Fling and Rumor Has It. Still, I found the opening pages to be a struggle and the length was daunting. Once I realized I hadn’t become invested and had the vast majority of the book to go, I threw in the towel. But I still love you, Jill — and will try again with one of her others.

If you’re  new to Mansell, I highly recommend Millie’s Fling — nothing has dethroned it as one of my favorite chick lit novels of all time.

Other views:
Rundpinne
Pudgy Penguin Perusals
Life In The Thumb
Minding Spot


Matthew Sharpe’s You Were Wrong
Where I stopped reading: Page 40

From the opening paragraph informing me that Karl Floor “had had a hard life,” I had a sinking suspicion that the two of us wouldn’t be getting along well. Sharpe’s quirky novel is about a stifled, boring teacher and the beautiful “robber” who enters his home, informs him that she’s taking stuff — but can’t leave without chatting with him first.

I got about 40 pages into this one before flipping to the end, slightly annoyed by the pretentious writing style and seeming lack of plot. As I originally worried, Karl wasn’t a guy I liked, felt for or cheered on — and Sylvia, Karl’s robber, wasn’t any better.

I didn’t really know what to make of this one. It’s short, yes, and would probably be one read quickly. But I made nothing of it, putting it down in favor of something else. Didn’t work for me.

Other views:
Largehearted Boy
Los Angeles Times
Shelley The Book Snob

Mini reviews — or, hey, I’ll never finish this book

It’s time I came clean. A few books have been loitering in my “currently reading” stack for ages and, though I’ve tried and tried (and tried) to get through them, I’m finally calling uncle. Life’s too short to read bad books and if I’m not totally loving something right now, I have to move on! My bookshelves aren’t getting any lighter!

So in that vein, I’m going to crack out some mini-reviews for books that I absolutely can’t finish. Like, cannot. Not only am I unable to articulately tell you where any of them are going, I honestly don’t care.

But before I begin my (gentle) bashing, it’s only fair to throw out a disclaimer: my brain has been completely occupied by daydreams lately! Concentrating on anything more taxing than a Quark document at work or an episode or two of “Grey’s Anatomy” feels like a terrible, terrible chore. So whether I’m hating on these books simply because I have so much else going on or they are truly boring, I can’t be sure. So just take it all with a grain of salt — which I know you will anyway, being the awesome and informed folks you are!


boyfriend_listThe Boyfriend List by E. Lockhart
Where I stopped: page 76

What the heck happened:
Ruby Oliver is having all sorts of boy issues — and friend issues. And family issues. And probably other issues. After something happens between she and her first “real” boyfriend — something involving kissing and a best friend and blah blah — she goes to a counselor to try and work through her issues. Doctor Z recommends she create a list of all the boys who have impacted her life in some way, and this list — the titular Boyfriend List — is what they work from in their sessions. It’s a conversation starter, if you will.

My big issue with this one? Um, boring. This is the first young adult novel I’ve read in a very long time where I really sat back and thought, “Yeah, I’m too old for this.” Ruby is whiny and unsympathetic as a narrator, and her boyfriend kissing issues just felt very . . . meh. The back stories with the boys on her list were uninteresting, and I really didn’t like the constant footnotes on every page! It was so jarring and really took away from the narrative. Nothing felt cohesive and I really couldn’t get into the story. Or make myself care about anything at all that was happening. Next!


gossip_girlGossip Girl by Cecily von Ziegesar
Where I stopped: page 54

What the heck happened:
I’m a huge fan of “Gossip Girl” the TV series — and the two are just too dissimilar. Having just watched all of season one over the course of, um, a week after I was sick in August, all of those plotlines are so fresh in my mind. It was too difficult to read the book and try to keep up with the differences between characters. Headache-inducing, even. Had I not gotten so into the show, I probably would have enjoyed the novel — spoiled rich kids, subterfuge, cattiness, high school. Sure! Let’s do this! But now? Meh. Plus, it doesn’t have nearly enough Chuck Bass. Next!


cassandra_and_janeCassandra & Jane: A Jane Austen Novel
by Jill Pitkeathley
Where I stopped: page 66

What the heck happened:
Of all the novels I’ve put aside lately, this one disappointed me the most! Pitkeathley’s novel of the love between the two Austen sisters — famed Jane and her beloved Cassandra — didn’t seem to present anything new or fresh to the stories we all already know. I’m a serious Austen lover, as I know many of us are, and I felt like I was reading the sketch of a story I know absolutely by heart. I thought maybe Austen’s rumored relationship with Tom Lefroy would be developed more, but the whole thing was simply glossed over and cast aside. As a lover of “Becoming Jane,” the recent film based on her life, I wanted some serious Tom action!

Plus, the novel was riddled with punctual and typographic errors! I wanted to break out my red Sharpie and just go to town on that puppy. Seriously, who proofed this thing? I’m staging a witch hunt to scope those people out! It seemed like there were one or two every couple pages. Way too distracting for an editor, trust me. If you’re looking for an outstanding novel based on the life of Miss Austen, I highly recommend Syrie James’ The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen — well-written, captivating and just different. If I wanted to read quotes from Jane’s letters, as Pitkeathley frequently quotes, I’d grab my own collection off the shelf. Pass!