More Catching Up...


Disappointing. Parallel stories, set in the same house 150 years apart, illustrate (sermonize) that the things we depend upon as being givens in this life are not reliable at all. In both eras the house is falling apart, the character's careers and personal lives are teetering on their foundations, and the world is undergoing seismic shifts in thinking. The book suggests that it is when your basic beliefs about life are shaken, when you realize that hard work doesn't always lead to success, people don't always fulfill their potential, and you can't count on fairness or even reason to prevail, that you begin to understand a hard reality: the universe does not have your back. You are not special, as your parents and teachers trained you to believe, but like everyone else you are unsheltered, unprotected against the vagaries of life. A grim outlook, but a more realistic one than that being sold by many modern novels, the ones that tell us if we just work hard and think positive, the universe will see to it that we get what we want. 

Kingsolver always tells a good, insightful story, but it would have been more palatable had it been more subtle. I felt preached to, and I get more than enough of that already in newspapers, movies, and on tv news (?) shows when they report a story while at the same time telling me what to think about it. This book takes a stab at just about every political issue out there: the economy, health care, climate change, student loans, capitalism, even Trump's presidency, though his name is never used. It could have been an interesting story; it felt more like a lecture.

The Murder at the Vicarage
I loved it. I'm hooked on Miss Marple after only one book. I avoided Agatha Christie till I was...let's say, well along in years...because for some inexplicable reason I had written her books off as silly. The only excuse I can possibly offer for such arrogance is seeing a Hercule Poirot movie decades ago in which he came off as a slightly preposterous bore. It didn't occur to me that the movie maker might be at fault and not the author. Last year I watched The Orient Express, and fell in love with the savvy, charming Poirot. Now Miss Marple has caught my attention and she's given me a whole new series of comfort reads to look forward to. Murder at the Vicarage was a very good start. 

Does The Noise in My Head Bother You? by Stephen Tyler
It's as outrageous and open and direct as he is. More open and direct than you want at times, but it's Stephen's expected. The later chapters got a little too raunchy for me so I quit, but I liked what I did read. He's such an interesting person, and likable; I'm sure I would like him if we ever met. I, on the other hand, would bore his socks off, but he seems like a guy who might find something to talk about even with we who are dull by comparison. He comes across as authentic, not something you find often in biographies of the rich and famous. His willingness to talk about both his strengths and his flaws impressed me. His stint as a judge on American Idol made me a fan, but my sister had been an admirer for a long time. I gave her the book for Christmas a few years ago and inherited it back when she passed away recently, so I decided to read it in her honour. If you're a fan, you'll want to read this.   

Who are you Calvin Bledsoe? by Brock Clarke
I can only remember that Calvin Bledsoe sold pellet stoves for a living, and that he met his aunt, without any prior knowledge of her existence, at his mother's funeral. And that he's middle-aged. They go traveling together and he gets into weird situations. The fact that I remember nothing about those situations tells me the book had little impact on me. If I like a book, it usually stays with me.

Two Steps Forward by Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist
Zoe and Martin (one widowed, one divorced, and both in their fifties) meet in France just before they set out, separately, to walk the Camino Santiago. It's the story of their developing relationship, the people they meet, the physical challenges of walking the Camino, and the personal growth each experiences along the way. The authors based the novel on their own pilgrimages and so were able to keep the experience realistic. What I didn't find very realistic were the main characters. Zoe was supposedly grieving the very recent loss of her husband, but I couldn't see it in her words or actions. Martin was distant and stayed that way. At the end of the book they still felt stiff and unrelatable, not characters you get attached to. I've read reviews that complained about the Camino getting too much attention and the characters not enough, but I feel just the opposite. It probably depends on what you bring to and want from the book, I wanted the journey, but what I got was a love story set against the backdrop of the trail, and the love story wasn't believable. 

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
This one wasn't on my radar at all as I'd seen the movie and thought it was ok, but nothing special. I didn't know there was a book till I ran into it on several 'must read' and even 'greatest of' lists, which made me think there had to be more to it than what I got from the movie. So I bit the bullet.....and was blown away. The way the author uses the timeline to reveal the story is nothing short of genius. Just keeping track of the characters ages, and matching them to dates and events was more than I could get my head around. Every time I stopped to figure it out, I got stuck, and finally decided to forget the how of it all and just enjoy the story. And I did enjoy - no, love - the story. It's funny, sad, profound, exasperating, beautiful, and full of life. It's also sexually explicit and has some colourful language, but I didn't find that off-putting in this novel. The sex is mostly an expression of love between husband and wife, though there were a couple of scenes that left me scratching my head and asking I listened to the audio version, which probably made the raw elements seem a little more blatant, but I recommend it anyway. It was flat out amazing.  
Outline by Rachael Cusk
I know it didn't appeal to me, but I don't remember why.

How Blue Was My Valley by Jean Gill
A story about relocating from Wales to France, buying a house and trying to fit in with the locals. I love the genre but this was not one of my favourites.

To Leave A Memory by Pat Dunlap Evans
I'm drawing a complete blank on this one.

Another View by Rosamunde Pilcher
One of her lesser novels. It doesn't measure up to Winter Solstice, September, or the Shell Seekers.

The Gardener of Baghdad by Ahmed Ardalan
It had potential, but the characters felt flat and I lost interest in the story. 


shelleyrae @ book'd out said...

An interesting selection, thanks for sharing your thoughts. My oldest daughter is named for an Aerosmith song!

Ordinary Reader said...

Hi Shelleyrae. My daughter is named for a Barry Manilow song, very different styles, but still it amazes me how completely music seeps into our lives and influences even such major decisions. Thanks for commenting!

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