Bright and Bon Vivant

"My life is a reading list." ~ A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY by John Irving

 Please note, much like Helen Garp, I am a READER, NOT a writer.


A Friend of the Family - Lauren Grodstein

This book is being mismarketed as a suspense novel. Yes, I was drawn into the story from the very first page, and yes, as every other review has stated, the main thing that keeps you reading this book is your desire to find out what the narrator did, but that alone does not make a book a suspense novel. This book is an accurate depiction of suburbia under both the ordinary and extraordinary circumstances one faces when keeping up appearances. I was very impressed with Grodstein's ability to write from a 54 year old man's POV. The book felt like a cross between Tom Perrotta and Philip Roth, but unlike those chroniclers of suburbia, Grodstein fails to come to a higher understanding of humanity in her novel. This is reflected in a rather weak conclusion that left me feeling underwhelmed.

Are You There Vodka? It's Me, Chelsea - Chelsea Handler

I so want to get drunk with Chelsea Handler, but I don't think she'd like me very much.


Highlights (IMO) - Prison Break, Dim-Sum and Then Some, and Mini-Me.

Failure of a Revolution -  Sebastian Haffner,  Georg Rapp (Translator),  Richard Bruch (Foreword & Afterword)

Well, the second half of the book wasn't quite as easy to follow as the first, but I got through it. Haffner was an excellent historian and it was very interesting to see how the revolution and counter revolution from 1918-1920 set the groundwork for the early days of fascism. As always, the government plays with the lives of its workers and its military, with little to no care for their survival. It's easy to see how a woman such as Fraulein Schneider in Cabaret could become hardened by this.

Wonder - R.J. Palacio

What a great start to my reading year. Santa bought this book for Miranda and I picked it up last night and could not put it down. Truly a wonderful story that I would recommend to every 10 year old, and every 10 year old's mom and dad, and every mom and dad, and every human being.

Jumping the Queue - Mary Wesley

Perhaps this book was far too British for my taste. I couldn't relate to any of the characters and the plot kept throwing me for a loop (well I liked that aspect, sort of, when it made sense to me). It is a dark dark tale of age and perception and I felt as ambivalent about it as the characters feel about their lives. Loved the ending. If typos annoy you, avoid the 1988 Penguin paperback, although I doubt any other version is proofed any better. Kudos to Ms. Wesley for writing this book when she was 70 years old.

Silk - Alessandro Baricco, Ann Goldstein

Every word of this 91 page novel is so carefully thought out. Beautifully written and infinitely sad, it is reminiscent of a folk tale or fable, and like any good fable, it ends justly. I would like to explore other works by this Italian author.

The History of the World According to Facebook - Wylie Overstreet

Minus one star because I wish it were longer/more detailed, but what it did include was hilarious. On a personal note, I was thrilled to see June 28, 1997 (my wedding day) in there as the day Evander Holyfield announced that he was no longer in a relationship with his ear (Mike Tyson likes this), and I laughed out loud when Dick Cheney became fb friends with Darth Sidious and Mr. Burns.

Well done.

When You Reach Me  - Rebecca Stead

I feel like parents of young adults would enjoy this book more than young adults.  Is it just me?

Margarettown - Gabrielle Zevin

I'm not sure that I completely understood this book, but I don't think I was supposed to. This was a very clever examination of love, marriage, and the changes people grow through as they navigate their way through it all. My only quibble, perhaps the author tried a little too hard to be clever. It definitely has all of the markings of an early career work.

Berlin, Vol. 2: City of Smoke - Jason Lutes

This and its predecessor have provided a wealth of information about the events leading up to the end of the Weimar Republic and the rise of the Third Reich. I did not realize how much the communists/socialists played into the hands of the fascists. There was a class war going on during the end of the 1920's that was not unlike what we are seeing today. That, combined with an ineffective government and a failing economy, can open the doors to horrors that I hope I only ever read about. So, the subject matter I find fascinating, the execution of it in this graphic novel, not so much. Again, the artwork is neither specific enough or consistent enough to follow easily. And in this volume, I think Lutes dwells a little too much on the underbelly of society, but it did successfully set the scene for a third installment, ending with the elections of 1930, where 83% of the electorate came out to vote in protest of the failing government, which resulted in 107 Parliament seats going to the National Socialists, also known as the Nazis.

Question to anyone who has read this: Is the angry man making a speech on pages 156-158 Hitler without the mustache?

Berlin, Vol. 1: City of Stones - Jason Lutes

I had a difficult time differentiating characters in this graphic novel. I would often have to page back and compare pictures of people to determine who I was reading about. This seriously impeded on my enjoyment of the story, which was otherwise fascinating and compelling. I sought out this book as research into my new role in Cabaret, and I definitely learned a lot about the turbulent post-WWI years of the Weimar Republic, which led to the rise of National Socialism, otherwise known as the Nazi Party.

Alys, Always - Harriet Lane

A quick read. Not quite the psychological thriller I hoped it would be, but it kept my interest nonetheless. A disturbing little character study and I have no doubt that there are people just like Frances Thorpe sniffing their way around the elite and the privileged.

Olive Kitteridge - Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge has been added to my very small list of favorite fictional characters. This is a brilliant character study told with deep empathy, totally my thing. One word to the wise: This is not a "feel good" novel. If you have a problem reading about people are depressed, stay away.

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells - Andrew Sean Greer

I wanted this book to be so much more literary than it was. The plot is ridiculously contrived. Like THE TIME TRAVELER'S WIFE, none of the main characters question the implausibility of the fantastical circumstances, but unlike TTTW, the writing style of this book does not make me forgive that implausibility. At a mere 289 pages (minus the many blank pages separating each new chapter), the plot of this book is far too complicated for its length. Greta's time travel (or more accurately, her travel to an alternate life, in an alternate time) requires far more explanation, far more description and far more depth than Mr. Greer has provided us. Her feelings for her husband and her lover never feel properly fleshed out and her feelings for her son are never addressed at all. Outside of her relationship with her brother, I don't feel as if I really knew Greta. Each chapter was a run-down of what was happening when, and to whom, followed by a summary of how it made her feel. As often as she would TELL me how she felt (in a first person narration with no real voice), I never really FELT as if she was feeling it. There were some beautifully written passages that affected me no more than if I had read them from a philosophy textbook.

This was an ambitious book that never lived up to its promise. With the exception of the recounting the height of the AIDS epidemic in 1985's Greenwich Village, I don't think Mr. Greer tried very hard to research the eras he was depicting. 1918 was very repetitive and 1941 was hardly described at all. Again, not very literary.

No One Belongs Here More Than You - Miranda July

Miranda July corners the market on sad, eccentric, borderline psychotic characters. They were disturbing and what was more disturbing was seeing parts of myself in almost all of them. This collection was a huge punch in the gut.

13 rue Thérèse - Elena Mauli Shapiro

This book was lovely and enchanting and mysterious and erotic and truly unique. Jeffrey picked it out for me because he thought it looked like my kind of book. He was right. It's interesting that I read this book back to back with "Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children" because both are inspired by actual found objects. And although Ms. Mauli Shapiro's story is grounded in realism, her story is so much more colorful and so much more unique than "Miss Peregrine's" which is a fantasy novel. There are fantastical elements in this book which are the equivalent to the cherry on top of a decadent sundae. And yes, there were some highly erotic elements to this novel as well, but rooted by emotion and intellect. I think Anais Nin would approve. I also think Margaret Atwood would approve. Neither matters. I approve.

Currently reading

Life After Life
Kate Atkinson
Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider
Peter Gay
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone
J.K. Rowling, Mary GrandPré
The Coming of the Third Reich
Richard J. Evans