Hey there—If you haven’t found me yet over at chicagonow.com/litzyditz, come check it out! Here’s what I’ve been up to so far—it’s been a great year for books and we’re not even half way:
It’s not coming ’til spring, but keep your eyes peeled for “Love, Water, Memory”—you can read what I think about it at ChicagoNow!
First book of the year read …. BAM! Check out my review at ChicagoNow …
Happy New Year, everyone!
As in past years, I’ve got everything I read for the year compiled nto one neat little list. Follow me over to ChicagoNow and take it in!
Beautiful Ruins is a lovely, lovely tale—taking the best parts of an intricate tale like The Casual Vacancy and blending it with sweeping, emotionally wrought stories of love, such as in The Light Between Oceans. Were I a single girl in 1962, I just may have fought Amedea for Pasquale’s heart. Oh, Pasquale …
What you need to know before you dive in—the reader is jostled back and forth between 1962 in Italy and “Recently” in the States. Most of the characters figure prominently in one or both eras. There’s …
Michael Deane, a publicity assistant in 1962 and producer of ill-repute in present-day L.A.
Pasquale Tursi, a young hotelier (well, sort of, anyway) in Porto Vergogna (“Port of Shame”), Italy in 1962.
Dee Moray, a young actress on the set of “Cleopatra” in 1962, who morphs into Debra Moore, teacher and theater owner in modern day Pacific Northwest.
Dick and Liz. Duh.
Alvis Bender, The Hotel Adequate View’s only regular American customer and author extraordinaire. Sort of.
Pat Bender, front man for the Reticents and Debra’s son.
Claire Silver, Michael’s frustrated “Should I work for Scientologists?” assistant with a porn-addicted boyfriend, as well as two charity cases on her office doorstep. And that’s where the story begins …
Author Jess Walter takes readers on a journey from one coast to another, beginning with Pasquale and Dee in Italy and ending with … Pasquale and Dee in Italy. But along the way? Love is discovered and abandoned by nearly everyone involved. Whether it’s Pasquale slowly motoring away from Dee, Maria setting Alvis free, Pat’s refusal to take responsibility, Michael’s rejection of the moral high ground, Dick and Liz and Eddie Fisher …
What I most enjoy though is that Walter is able to touch the heart without going all Nicholas Sparks on us. The setting alone—that Italian coastline—is ripe for Sparks’ angst and emotional destruction. But Walter is able to go to the exact same place without the sap, but instead with humor. Pasquale’s attempt at a tennis court on the cliffs, Michael’s self-absorption, Aunt Valeria’s insults, Richard Burton’s booze … the humor is what makes the story human.
This is easily one of the best books I’ve read all year, and extra special in that I would not have discovered it unless someone had recommended it to me. So I’m paying it forward — don’t miss Beautiful Ruins. Excellent. Just excellent.
Author Robert Goolrick’s sophomore effort, Heading Out to Wonderful, is worth your time on a long, rainy weekend. Or a road trip. Or the doctor’s office. It doesn’t take very many pages before you are completely engrossed in the tale of Charlie Beale, and his journey to Brownsburg, where his life intersects with that of Will and Alma Haislett, their son Sam, and the residents of this tiny town in Virgina in the late 1940s.
Here’s what you need to know—it’s historical fiction, it’s a love story, and it … doesn’t end well. I’m not saying it’s not a good ending—it’s just, well … I don’t want to give it away. Like The Midwife of Hope River, I find love stories like these so much hotter than that “50 Shades” tripe.
“She took off her dark glasses, very slowly, bowing her head to do it, gentle, graceful. She looked up at Will briefly, nodding hello. Then she just stood, and she turned her head slowly to stare at Charlie Beale. Five seconds. Ten, maybe, no more, but it seemed forever.
His hands were on the counter. He felt the urge to do something, to wipe the butcher block, to jingle the change in his pocket, but nobody moved, and he didn’t either …
…But Charlie Beale had heard her name. Sylvan Glass. She went off in his head and his heart like a firecracker on the Fourth of July. Something dazzling. Something stupendous.
Something, finally, that was wholly and mysteriously wonderful.”
Instantaneous, want-to-die-without-her love at first sight. It doesn’t make sense, but it never does. Goolrick is masterful at painting emotions on the page—it’s as if you can reach out and touch the illicit love between Charlie and Sylvan. Their story, and those separately—Sylvan’s desire to escape her destiny and Charlie’s desire to create the perfect family—are indeed wondrous, and sad, and touching. A great escapist read (and by that, I mean you will love Charlie and despair at his descent into madness, but if you were reading this as a true account in the local paper, you’d probably think he was whack and a creepy stalker dude.)
Me? I’m going to go grow a bubblegum tree.
Heading Out to Wonderful
David Rich may be a debut author, but he’s no novice. His work prior to this book was heavy on the screenplay—and I’m not sure that was knowledge that helped or hurt the cause as I read.
Lest you think I’m about to insult, I’m not—the book is a good read. I may not put it in the same category as a Clancy or Baldacci, but for the CIA-style thriller, it was enjoyable. The story’s main character, Rollie Waters, is drawn into a three-way war over money that was stolen in in Iraq and Afghanistan and shipped back overseas. It’s when Rollie realizes his father is involved that the story really takes off.
Here’s the rub for me—with the number of times Rollie has the shit kicked out of him, I had a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact he was even alive. Seriously—the guy is taking a fist to the face, the butt of a gun to the back of the head, roundhouse kicks to the gut … on what feels like every third page of the book. And he just.keeps.going. People are dropping like flies, but not him. He’s superhuman, which makes it not so believable. And that screenplay thing—if you are a reader who loves to picture the movie version in your head, you will love this book. I didn’t mind it so much except that scenes seemed to jump very quickly one from one to another, as if there was just a “fade to black” note missing on the page. Dialogue, too, could be a tad hard to follow — easy enough if you’re watching the character saying it, but not so much when you’re reading it instead.
It’s fairly violent, but no more than a “Bourne” movie, so I tossed my copy to my teen son, who may like it. Here’s my “Olive Garden review” comment, and then I’ll leave it … As much as I love Clancy and Baldacci, the tiny type on the pages of the paperbacks can drive me nuts. I went hardcopy here, and it was way easier on the eyes. I’m just sayin’…. if you’re in the mood for a thriller, this is a good option for a quick weekend read.
Caravan of Thieves
Except that “The Gifts of Imperfection” really isn’t a self-help book. Sure, there are elements of “how to” (aka “Dig Deep”) in it, and the text will most certainly result in intense moments of self-reflection. But Dr. Brené Brown’s work is more, “Here’s what I know from my research, do with it what you will” and less “Do this and you will feel fantastic!” Mostly, because even she knows that approach is horse puckey.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Brown for the magazine I work for—and listening to her speak locally. I’m a total fangirl—and this is coming from someone who typically doesn’t buy into gratitude mantras and vision boards. I’m a roll with the punches, when life hands you lemons you break out the vodka kind of gal.
Here’s the thing—with a lot of books of this nature, I think readers are inclined to feel as if they need to change a million different things about their lives. This? I feel as if, rather than shifting my actions, I can just focus on shifting my thinking. Of course, Brown is big on gratitude—maybe I should dust off my old gratitude journal from my Oprah-worship days and stop snorting at the “Today I am thankful for …” posts on Facebook. But aside from that, the book was revelatory for me, in that I have rarely considered the strength of my courage or lack thereof when I need it, the importance of practicing compassion through establishing boundaries, and that even the most bullheaded of stalwarts crave connection. We all do.
The most important lesson for me though, was this: We are all worthy. Worthiness has no prerequisites. It’s a pretty powerful statement, especially when you count how many times a day you say, “It’ll be OK when I …/My boss will like me when I …/My parents will love me when I …/My kids will listen to me when I …./My husband won’t leave if I …” Count how many value statements you make, just the conscious ones. It’s scary how much stuff our worthiness is dependent on. Let that go, move forward.
This is not Brown’s most recent endeavour: That would be Daring Greatly. It’s on my TBR list. Amazing researcher, and bound to make you think.
Grab the book, grab a Kleenex, say adios to the family for at least the day.
M.L. Stedman’s debut effort (What IS it with debut books, lately?) is astoundingly good and well worth your time to read. The story of lightkeeper Tom Sherbourne and his wife Isabelle in early 1900s Australia, it will only take a few pages for you to become completely immersed in their lives on Janus Rock.
Tom is a war hero, Izzy the only remaining Graysmark child after Vi and Bill’s two sons die at war. So before you go judging Izzy, put yourself in her shoes for just a few minutes–you’re the only source of hope and happiness for your mother and father, who are taking the loss of their sons hard. Girl’s had it tough, OK?
And Tom’s life pre-Janus isn’t much prettier—brought up by the strictest of fathers after his mother abandons the family, you can only imagine how he feels about being a father. He’s determined to do it differently.
Life would have been much easier if only Izzy could have had her own children. Then she wouldn’t have to keep someone else’s. And there goes the main plot—Tom and Izzy and the repercussions of taking something that doesn’t truly belong to them, no matter how much love is involved.
The book is very much in the same vein as “The Snow Child”—a childless couple in a harsh environment that suddenly find themselves caring for a child. And it’s the same raw emotion that powers the reader along to the devastatingly heartbreaking, but bittersweet end. This is going to haunt my heart for days.
The Light Between Oceans
“The Casual Vacancy,” the sordid tale of politics and personality in the small town of Pagford, is the author’s first true foray into adult literature—although, let’s be honest, she already had adults reading her work when she was the queen of all things Potter. The book is engrossing—unwieldy at first, but once you get in, it’s difficult to put it down. If you choose to take it on, here’s a quick primer on the characters:
Barry and Mary Fairbrother: Barry dies at the outset, resulting in a “casual vacancy” on the Pagford parish council. Widow Fairbrother soon has the attention of …
Gavin Hughes, a solicitor who works with Miles Mollison and is the lover of …
Kay Bawden, a social worker with a teen daughter Gaia, who has moved recently to Pagford in hopes to establish a closer bond with Gavin. Gaia is friends with …
Sukhvinder Jawanda, a young teen that has turned to cutting herself in retaliation for the emotional pain inflicted by local teen jackhole “Fats” Wall and her mother, Parminder, a GP who was secretly in love with Barry, even though she’s married to a hot surgeon. Even …
Samantha Mollison, Miles’ wife and the owner of a lingerie shop thinks Vikram is a hottie. Of course she also thinks the boy band her daughter Lexie loves is full of hotties. It’s pretty apparent Sam is a little restless in her marriage. But when you’re married to …
Miles, who works with Gavin, and is the son of local deli owner and fattie Howard, who lords over the parish council, you’d be restless too. The Mollisons are pretty intent on running …
The Weedons out of town. Krystal is the town bad girl, her mom Terri is a junkie, and little 3-year-old Robbie just needs his nappy changed. Krystal wants a better life, and the …
Walls’ son “Fats” may be the ticket. Fats may be a sociopath — who knows. But his dad Colin is the headmaster at the local private school, and his mom plays counselor there as well. It’s probably not a good idea that
Andrew Price spends so much time with Fats, especially since his home life with rage-aholic dad Simon isn’t that wonderful.
I just saved you about an hour of going back and forth for the first 100 pages, asking, “Who was that again?” And lest you think I gave too much away, trust me — I didn’t even scratch the surface.
A number of the adults mentioned above see fit to put their names in the hat to fill Barry’s spot on the parish council, at a time when the future of Pagford hangs in the balance—all because of a little neighborhood referred to as “The Fields.” As mentioned earlier, politics and personalities take hold, and the ending is, well … heartbreaking. Dumbledore does not save the day. Where is that damn gillyweed when you need it?
Nevertheless, it’s realllly good. I like books that get under my skin the way this one did. My heart aches for the characters, and there’s nothing better than a solid emotional connection with something that you’re reading. Because the character development takes so long, I found it to be solid and grounding for the story. You can’t care if you don’t know these guys, and that certainly isn’t a problem here.
There have been some reviews that suggest Rowling is trying too hard to shed her Potter past. I disagree. It’s a great read and well worth the time it will take to tackle almost 500 pages. No magic, but still spellbinding.
The Casual Vacancy