What I’m Reading…

It just so happens that the book I read on Sunday and was planning to write about today, fits in nicely with yesterday’s post.  I swear, I didn’t plan that.  But I love when things like that happen by accident.

Between You and Me is the latest book from Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus…authors of The Nanny Diaries, among other things.  I knew Emma and Nicki back in the day…just after they wrote Nanny and they are probably two of the nicest people I’ve ever met.  I haven’t liked everything they’ve written, but I LOVED The Nanny Diaries and their third book, Dedication, is one of my favorite books.  So I was very excited to read this latest book…and I wasn’t disappointed at all.

The story is about Kelsey Wade…a girl who got really famous at a really young age and starts to slide downhill as she becomes an adult.  It’s basically the authors’ imagining of what happened to Britney Spears when she totally lost her mind.

I read a lot of chick lit and very often things are wound up at the end of a book in a very neat and tidy package.  As I discussed yesterday…real life is rarely so neat and tidy.  The thing I loved most about Between You and Me is that it’s not neat or tidy.  It’s all kinds of messy…just like real life.

I don’t want to give anything away, but I have to say the ending has really stuck with me.  There was no pretty little wrap up…no happy spin put on everything…no knight in shining armor rushing in to save the day on the second to last page.  I’m glad they ended it the way they did…because, in life, sometimes things just end.  And sometimes that ending is happy and sad and thrilling and heartbreaking all at once.

It’s been almost a week and I keep thinking about the story…about the characters.  I wonder what could have happened to them next…how the story might have continued…how the ending might have changed if just one thing had happened differently.  It really made me think…which is a sign of a great story.

I definitely recommend this book.  It’s not the next great American novel…but it’s not just your average, fluffy chick lit.

What I’m Reading…

Emily’s life didn’t quite turn out the way she expected.  She and her husband are both busy lawyers working in the kind of jobs they’d always dreaded.  They are always exhausted and they have no time to spend together.  One day, in the middle of a phone call with a client, Emily feels suffocated and decides that she can’t take it anymore.  She leaves work, goes home and packs a bag.  Leaving a note for her husband, she heads back to her past to find out where it all went wrong, how she ended up in a place she never wanted to be and whether she can get herself back on the right path.

The truth is…I was drawn to this book because I have, from time to time, wondered what it would be like to do the same thing Emily did.  Sometimes…on days when it’s really bad…when the phone is ringing before I sit down at my desk and everyone on the other end has a problem…when the dog won’t eat and I end up missing my train…when there are no seats on the train and I have to stand all the way to the city…when I eat bites of my lunch between answering emails…when everyone wants something different from me…when I get home and all I have the energy to do is fall into bed…

On those days I think about what it would be like to escape…to pack a bag and not tell anyone where I’m going and to just get in the car and drive away from my life.  I wonder if it would be amazing to have quiet and solitude and peace.  I wonder if I would feel free from all the bullshit pressure everyone puts on my all the time…and that I put on myself.  I wonder if I would finally be able to relax and sleep through the night.  I think about where I would go…what I would do with myself when I got there.

Then, after a few minutes of that, I realize that I would miss J and miss my girlies and my family and my friends.  I wouldn’t really be able to relax because I’d be too worried about everything I’d left behind and how things would get done without me.  After a few minutes, I realize that I don’t really want to walk out on my life and that it’s not really all that bad that I need to escape it.

We’ve all been there right?  It’s like Tina Fey says in Date Night…sometimes I imagine sitting in a nice air-conditioned room where it’s quiet and no one is touching me, eating my lunch and drinking a Diet Sprite.  I know I would never actually do it…I’d never actually pick up and leave…but those few minutes of daydreaming help to get me through those really bad days.

The book itself was only ok.  There were some great moments, but the main part of the story got a little far-fetched for me.  I did really loved the concept though…and I loved the opportunity to wonder one more time…where I would go to escape.

What I’m Reading…

Lamb is the story of Jesus’s life told from the persepective of his best friend Levi who is called Biff.  It fills in all the gaps in Jesus’s life from his birth until the Gospels when he was 30.  That’s a lot of years and Christopher Moore fills them in with great adventures…that in the end, kind of make sense. 

Joshua (Jesus’s real name) knows he is the son of God, but he doesn’t know exactly what that means for him or what he’s supposed to do about it.  So Joshua and Biff set out to find the Magi who were present at his birth to find out what he is supposed to learn and how he is supposed to become the messiah.  Along the way, Joshua fights a demon, befriends a yeti, learns yoga, studies other cultures, religions and languages and creates the new style of martial arts known as Jew-do…which later becomes Judo. 

And Biff fills us in on all sorts of information…like why Jews eat Chinese food on Christmas, what the H in Jesus H. Christ stands for, what actually happened to Judas after he betrayed Jesus and who really invented sarcasm. 

While I was reading this book, I was talking to Nicole and she said “It really made me care about Jesus.  Wait…that sounded bad.”  But I knew exactly what she meant…because I was thinking the same thing.  I went to Catholic school my whole life and Jesus has been a constant for me since I was a child…but he was almost mythical…a presence…a spirit.  But reading this book made me think of Jesus as a person…which is what he was once.  He was a kid and a teenager and a twenty year old.  He grew up and he had a family and friends and chores and a job before he became the messiah.  I guess I never really thought about it like that before. 

Obviously, this story is fiction…and it’s probably blasphemy.  But it’s also a great story and very funny.  I highly recommend it.

What I’m Reading…

Jacob Hunt is a teenager with Asperger’s syndrome. Although he’s brilliant in many ways, he’s hopeless at reading social cues and has a lot of trouble expressing himself well to others. He has a great love for one subject – forensic analysis. He keeps a police scanner in his room to alert him to crime scenes…and he shows up and tells the cops what to do…and he’s usually right.

When Jacob’s small town is shocked by a horrible murder, the police come to him. Jacob’s behaviors, which are hallmarks of Asperger’s, look a lot like guilt to the local police. Suddenly Jacob’s family, who only want to fit in, are in the spotlight. For his mother, Emma, it’s a brutal reminder of the intolerance and misunderstanding that her family often experiences. For his brother, Theo, it’s just more proof of why nothing is normal because of Jacob.

*****

I love Jodi Picoult books.  They are always well researched and well written…and often brutally sad.  Her last book, Sing Me Home, was one of my favorites…and had an unexpectedly happy ending!  So I was excited to read House Rules and I wasn’t disappointed. 

It drives me crazy when I’m reading a book and a silly lack of communication or the overlooking of certain facts or the hesitancy to ask a question leads to a misunderstanding that creates havoc.  I’m a talker and I like to ask questions…and if something happens that I don’t understand I’m going to ask enough questions that I get to the bottom of it.  I would never simply ignore a problem.  So I began to get frustrated when I realized that this story was based entirely on a misunderstanding of the facts and a lack of communication and understanding between the characters. 

Then it hit me…that was the whole point.  The story is Jacob’s story and having Asperger’s syndrome means that he has trouble communicating and getting his point across.  He doesn’t make his motives clear throughout the book…but it’s not because he wants to be cagey…it’s because he doesn’t know how to make himself understood.  So as the reader, you can experience some of his…and his mother’s and his brother’s…frustrations.  Once I realized that it changed everything for me. 

I will say that the author got a little preachy at times…and there were parts of the book that read more like a lecture than a novel.  She took all of Jacob’s “symptoms” to the extreme to make her point that he was different.  She also made it very clear that she believes that vaccines cause Austism…which not everyone agrees with.  But overall, I thought the she did a great job of helping the reader understand the frustrations of Asperger’s Syndrome…and pointing out that we should all be a little more patient with people who don’t communicate the same way we do. 

Oh…but I really hated the ending.  I won’t give anything away…but I couldn’t believe it when I got to the last page.  I kept looking for more pages.

I read some reviews online and it seems they are really mixed.  I’m curious to know if any of you have read it and what you thought about it.

What I’m Reading…

AJ Jacobs  was raised in a secular family, but after the birth of his son, became increasingly interested in the relevance of faith in our modern world.  So he decided to dive in and attempt to obey the Bible as literally as possible for one full year. He vowed to follow the Ten Commandments…to be fruitful and multiply…to love his neighbor. But he also wanted to obey the hundreds of more obscure rules…to refrain from wearing clothing made of mixed fibers…to learn to play a ten-string harp…to stone adulterers.

AJ’s experiment changes his life even more radically than the year he spent reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica for his first book…The Know-It-All. He does many extreme things…he immerses himself in prayer, tends sheep in the Israeli desert, battles idolatry…and tells the absolute truth in all situations with some interesting results.

Jacobs also explores other communities that take the Bible literally…he visits a Kentucky-based creationist museum and the Pennsylvania Amish. He dances with Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn and does Scripture study with Jehovah’s Witnesses…he discovers ancient biblical wisdom of startling relevance…and he wrestles with archaic rules that baffle the modern brain. His quest yields unexpected epiphanies and challenges.  The Year of Living Biblically is part Cliff Notes to the Bible…part memoir…and part look into an unimaginable world.

 

I was really intrigued when I picked this book up in the airport bookstore a few months ago.  It took me a while to get to it, but once I did, I was so glad I did…I really enjoyed it a lot.

Having gone to Catholic school, I’ve spent some time studying the Bible.  In high school, one of our teachers suggested that the Bible should not be taken literally…that it was a nice story written to explain complicated events to simple people.  I always liked that explanation…it made more sense to me than a literal interpretation.  So the fact that AJ Jacobs was going to literally carry out all the rules of the Bible was really interesting to me.  It was a whole new way to look at things.

The book also delved more deeply into the Old Testament than I’ve ever really gone before.  Being Catholic, our lessons usually focused on the New Testament and the teachings of Jesus.  When it came to the Old Testament, we hit on the big stuff, but left out the more obscure stuff.  So I feel like I learned a lot of things that I didn’t already know.

This book was in no way an expert study of the Bible.  It was about a guy who had a crazy idea that he thought would make an interesting book.  It was written for purposes of entertainment…and it does its job very well…it’s very entertaining.  But it’s also thought provoking…and it made me more aware of my own spirituality and faith.

I highly recommend this book.

Have you read it?  What did you think?

What I’m Reading…

A LADY DOES NOT SMOKE CHEROOT. SHE DOES NOT RIDE ASTRIDE. SHE DOES NOT FENCE OR ATTEND DUELS. SHE DOES NOT FIRE A PISTOL, AND SHE NEVER GAMBLES AT A GENTLEMEN’S CLUB.

Lady Calpurnia Hartwell has always followed the rules and that plan has left her unmarried and very unsatisfied. So now…she’s vowed to break the rules…and find the pleasures in life that she’s been missing.

But to do all the things on her list, Callie will need assistance from a willing partner. Someone who knows everything about rule-breaking. She turns to Gabriel St. John, the Marquess of Ralston…someone who knows everything about breaking the rules…and who also happens to be charming and devastatingly handsome.  His wicked reputation is matched only by his sinful smile.

If Callie is not careful, she’ll break the most important rule of all…that those seeking pleasure and fun should never fall in love …

Now…I’m not a romance novel kind of girl.  All of the bodice ripping and heaving breasts…it’s not for me.  I have no idea how this book ended up on my radar at all…I think I saw it on some summer reading list somewhere.  When I realized (after two chapters) that this was indeed a romance novel, I almost put it down. 

I’m so glad I didn’t…because I absolutely loved it. 

There was a lot of sex…more than I prefer to read about.  And there were far more “his rigid sex” and “her throbbing core” references than I really cared for.

But the story was great.  Callie is a wallflower yearning for excitement and she certainly gets it…in the form of Ralston.  Ralston is a cad who has sworn off love in exchange for pleasure…but who finds himself in a whole new world with Callie.  And then there are the rest of the characters…Ralston’s charming twin brother and long-lost sister, Callie’s protective older brother and newly engaged younger sister, her devoted maid and eccentric mother.  Every character is likeable…except those you are meant to despise and the dialogue is sharp and funny. 

I became attached to each character and found myself truly invested in their lives.  I was alternately joyful and heartbroken for Callie, nervous and excited for Ralston’s sister Juliana before her debut to society, and always hoping for Ralston to just get his shit together already. 

I know that romance novels aren’t for everyone…and I will admit…there was so much sex in this book that I blushed a few times.  But the story was smart and funny and definitely worth reading.  There are actually two other books in this series…one about Ralston’s sister and one about his brother…that I’m very much looking forward to reading.

What I’m reading…

In 1988 Dexter Mayhew met Emma Morley. After one day together, they couldn’t stop thinking about one another. Over the next twenty years, snapshots of their relationship are revealed on July 15th of each year. Dex and Em experience fights, hopes, missed opportunities, laughter and tears.

As the true meaning of this one day is revealed, Dex and Em must come to grips with the nature of love and life itself.

I had heard good things about this book and I really wanted to love it.  I did love the premise…to visit the same day in two people’s lives over the course of two decades.  To see their relationship grow and change and to experience the highs and lows of their lives…just by looking at one day for each year.  I thought the idea was brilliant. 

I also loved the story…two friends growing up together…experiencing life together…the good and the bad.  It’s a quirky sort of love story that takes the really long road to get to the falling in love part.  But that’s part of what makes it great…the near misses…the almosts…the possibilities.  I never wanted to put the book down because I just had to read on to the next chapter…to find out what happened to Dex and Em the following year.

Unfortunately…I didn’t really like the characters themselves.  I found them both to be kind of annoying.  Their choices were often completely stupid and incredibly frustrating and their failure to recognize the possibilities right in front of their faces drove me crazy.  I kept hoping that something would happen and they would become more likeable or they would grow up and start acting like adults or the would…I don’t know, do something.  But I really never got what I was looking for.

And I don’t want to give anything away…but I really hated the ending. It felt a little bit like the author was just trying to prove a point about happy endings. 

Yesterday, when I started writing this post, I planned to tell you to skip this one.  But I knew Hutch had read the book so I asked her opinion.  Turns out, she interpreted the story in a completely different way and for her, the ending meant something else entirely.  And I really liked what Hutch had to say.   

So I reconsidered.  If you are intrigued by the premise as I was, I think you should give this book a chance. You might hate it…or you might love it.  Just try to get past the annoying characters and be prepared for the ending…which is definitely not a fairy tale. 

Have any of you read it already?  What did you think?

What I’m Reading…

Always Something There To Remind Me…Beth Harbison

Can you ever really know if love is true? And if it is, should you stop at anything to get it?

Twenty years ago, Erin Edwards was sure she’d already found the love of her life. Nate Lawson was her first love…the person with whom she shared all her hopes and dreams for the future. He was the one she thought she would be with forever. Until one terrible night…when Erin made a mistake and Nate could not forgive her. She was left to mourn the relationship she could never forget or get over.

Today, Erin is happily involved with a new man, has a successful career, and is raising a daughter on her own. So why is Nate’s name the first thing that pops into her head when her boyfriend proposes?

Soon, Erin finds herself coming unraveled over the past, and the love she never forgot. The more she tries to forget the past and move on, the more it haunts her.

Like most people, I have a “Nate” in my past…a first love that maybe could have been The One, but wasn’t.  Sometimes I think of him and I wonder “what if?”  What if I’d known then what I know now?  What if I made slightly different decisions when we were together.  Could my life have turned out differently?  Where would I be now?  I know that I’m better off and I’m happy with my life as it turned out…but I always wonder.   This story takes you through those possibilities.

The chapters alternate between the past and the present and we get to see Erin’s relationship with Nate develop and then fall apart.  We also get to see her struggle as an adult to figure out what she truly wants now.  I really liked the format…cutting up the story like that really kept me engrossed and made me want to keep reading to find out what happened next.  I found myself getting lost in the characters…and in my own head.  Erin is very likeable and I wanted so badly for things to turn out alright for her.  I was disappointed when the book ended…not because I didn’t like the ending…but because it was over.

It’s definitely worth the read…especially if you are feeling nostalgic for your high school years.