What We Read: Monthly Recap

What We Read: March 2020

This month has pretty much been about escape for me. Anyone else?

I am in high anxiety mode about COVID and my job, which means I need lots of breaks from both.

That’s where thrillers come in. I find that I crave them lately. Escape escape escape.

Also time outside and good sleep.

Ben and I went for a hike over the weekend and came across this stream. The sound was so soothing with the gentle rain that I stopped to record it.

 

Anyway, on to our March reads!

Past recaps if you’re interested: 

January
February

What Shannon read in March:

Shannon’s notes:

Even split between audiobooks and hard copy this month.

Really enjoyed Mama’s Last Hug and An Unconventional Family, so those reviews are coming soon.

What Ben read in March:

Burn the Ice: The American Culinary Revolution and Its End by Kevin Alexander

Despite some complaints about the style and organization, it was a fun read. Tied together some of my other reading about American culinary trends and the recent cocktail renaissance. And it showcased both the brutal grind of the restaurant industry and how rewarding it can be.

Guitar Zero: The Science of Becoming Musical at Any Age by Gary F. Marcus

Since guitar practice was soaking up some of my potential reading time, I figured I should look for possible synergy and read some guitar books. This one was very relevant, based on the author’s experience as a non-musical person (by his report even worse than me) trying to become a competent guitarist in his late 30s. As an educational psychologist by trade, he took a particular interest in questions of how people learn music and what factors are important in this pursuit.

A few of the notable takeaways:

Music is not inherent or hard-wired, but some elements of musicality are instinctive.

The popular “10,000 hours to mastery” trope is misleading. Quality of practice is just as important as quantity, and natural talent is not to be discounted. Jimi Hendrix was a better guitarist after 2,000 hours of practice than you will be after 20,000 hours.

But there is hope for everyone. With practice, even a person with zero natural talent can become a competent musician.

The Unholy Consult: The Aspect-Emperor: Book Four by R. Scott Bakker

This one was daunting to pick up, but I’ve come a long way with this saga and was determined to see the end. Unfortunately, it’s not really the end. It looks like we’re going to see yet another series before the story of the Second Apocalypse is complete.

I have a 75% love 25% hate relationship with this series. It’s original, imaginative, majestic, intense, exciting, unpredictable, philosophical, and truly an impressive feat of world-building. On the other hand it often puts stylistic pretensions ahead of clearly conveyed descriptions, it’s ponderous, abhorrently disgusting in parts, and populated with a cast of generally unsympathetic characters.

But the good outweighs the bad. I will read every single book that he writes until the Second Apocalypse reaches whatever resolution is in store. And when Bakker is on top of his game he comes up with some really epic quotes.

“Fool! You appeal to reason where there is none! You would put my hatred upon balance with my desire–show me the mad wages of my design! But my hatred is my desire. My ribs are teeth, my heart a gut without bottom. I am fury incarnate, outrage become stalking sinew and flesh! My shadow cracks the earth, falls upon hell itself!”

And damn if that ain’t the truth sometimes… 😉

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick

The book that inspired Blade Runner. It was interesting to compare the two. The movie kept a lot of the same elements, but there are definitely some major differences. The book kind of builds up some sympathy for the androids, and then reveals them to be cold and lacking in empathy. The movie kinda goes the other way and gives the replicants (as they’re called in the movie) more empathetic treatment at the end.

Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby

A portrait of sports fanaticism, coming of age story, and self-deprecatingly humorous memoir, it was a fun read. While the review blurb on the back called it “tears running down your face funny, read bits out loud to complete strangers funny” I found it more, “snort quietly to yourself funny, read bits out loud to your wife funny.” But yeah, certainly funny. Read more like a bunch of sequential anecdotes than a continuous narrative, though there certainly was continuity of themes and characters.


Have you read any of these? Would love to hear your thoughts!

Standard
Fiction, What Shannon Read

The Bookshop

319388I saw the movie adaptation of Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop before I read the book.

I found them to be equally lovely, but one, to me, was more depressing than the other.

Here’s the Goodreads blurb:

“In 1959 Florence Green, a kindhearted widow with a small inheritance, risks everything to open a bookshop – the only bookshop – in the seaside town of Hardborough. By making a success of a business so impractical, she invites the hostility of the town’s less prosperous shopkeepers. By daring to enlarge her neighbors’ lives, she crosses Mrs. Gamart, the local arts doyenne. Florence’s warehouse leaks, her cellar seeps, and the shop is apparently haunted. Only too late does she begin to suspect the truth: a town that lacks a bookshop isn’t always a town that wants one.”

The post-war English seaside is the setting for this short, tightly-focused novel. Even though it’s 1959, references to WWII are made throughout and you get the sense that Hardborough hasn’t really recovered from the war.

The book has many of the quirks often found in stories set in insular British communities—like children (scouts of some sort) turning up to do Florence’s handyman work; a domineering and well-connected older lady menacing the townspeople in order to assert her importance; old, damp buildings prized for their history but lacking in function; a wealthy recluse who abhors village politics; and a shop assistant, Christine, who is12 years old and, quite acerbic and, of course, wise for her years.

the-bookshop-hero

Florence, played by Emily Mortimer, reading at the seaside in The Bookshop (2017)

Sadly, Florence’s dream of running a bookshop is supported only by a few and the end of the story has her beset by financial troubles thanks to the subterfuge of Mrs. Gamart.

It is a very depressing ending. If you’ve seen the movie, you know that at least in that there is a small, dramatic triumph at the end. But that must’ve been the screenwriter’s urge to leave the audience with some hope. I’m afraid the book leaves you without it.

Standard
Nonfiction, What Shannon Read

Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over

37774050Really mixed reviews on Goodreads for Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over by Nell Irvin Painter

But I quite enjoyed it.

This is Painter’s memoir of going to art school to get a BA and then a BFA after a long and successful career as a historian and academic. Seriously, she has honorary doctorates from Yale and company.

I can’t imagine how humbling it must’ve been to start over at the bachelor level.

And her age—she’s in her 60s—is a main theme in the book, as you might expect.

Things I loved:

  • Her quirky style. She refers to professors as Teacher, like, “Teacher Irma told me…” I found it weird at first, but honestly, it’s handy.
  • Her explorations of what, exactly, is considered art. And the economic machinations that determine which artists get shown in galleries and, therefore, museums. Fascinating insight into a world I know nothing about.
  • Her explorations of race in the art world. These are plentiful. Highly recommend you read this if that topic interests you.
  • Painter is also a seasoned writer and it shows. Her knack for setting a scene is delightful throughout. Newark, where Painter is from, plays a big role and she really gives you a sense of what the city is like.

I was going to do a Things I Didn’t Love section, but really, there aren’t any. So, I leave you with an example of my last point from the book:

“Sitting in front of me on Newark light rail one afternoon were a couple of kids—early twenties or so—listening to music, bumping around in their seats, and talking loud, just exuberant. She was beautiful and spirited, he kind of ordinary to look at. He had the music, but he shared an earbud with her, two heads on one iPod. As she danced in her seat, he did something amazing. He played the subway car partition like a conga drum:

DeepDEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap Deep DEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap stop
DeepDEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap stop
DeepDEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap stop
DeepDEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap stop DeepDEEP slap stop
DeepDEEP slap stop

He pulsated a salsa rhythm on a vertical plastic divider. Totally awesome! I was ready for all of us passengers to jump up and boogie down the aisle. I wouldn’t have led off dancing, but I definitely would have joined in. What joy in our white and black metal tube of light rail beside Branch Brook Park, a carnival parade on a workday, an outbreak of brotherly love to a salsa beat. Strangers waving their arms and shaking their booties to the music, grinning and singing and looking straight in the eyes of their comrades in commute. But when the pretty girl started clapping her hands to the music, he of the beat shushed her. No dancing in the Newark light rail that afternoon.”

Standard
That Reading Life

Escape is important right now

PhotoCollage_20200321_115703734

Greetings from quarantine!

How is everyone doing? Hanging in there?

It’s a wild fucking time to be alive.

Ben and I were talking the other day about panic buying and whether that had been a phenomenon at any other time in our lives. We thought about Y2K, but we were so young then that we didn’t do our families’ shopping. And we weren’t particularly worried because one, we were young and young people don’t worry as much about stuff like that, and two, we grew up with computers and were pretty sure the world wouldn’t end because of them at that point.

Ben mentioned last year’s snow-pocalypse and we definitely caught wind of panic about that, but our stores weren’t running out of TP.

Snowpocalypse

Me (left) and friend Karen during Snow-pocalypse 2018 – The students built the snowman. We just took pictures with it.

All that is to say, here we are living through a pandemic and it’s unnerving for absolutely everyone. It’s new. It’s scary.

It’s more unnerving for those whose wallets will suffer, which is a nice euphemism for desperation.

Ben and I are working from home and getting paid. Jacob is not working from home, but the library is still paying him, which is awesome and the right thing to do.

And I worry about the workers who aren’t getting paid and can’t afford to lose a paycheck. That’s who’s really suffering, the folks who can least afford to. The people with the shittiest health coverage and the smallest paychecks.

I have no idea what to do about that. I’d pray, but I don’t believe in god anymore. So, I’ll try to help where I can. Try to patronize local businesses as best I can and tip extra hard when I can. Maybe we’ll all get Trump Bucks, but that’s a stopgap measure for people who can’t afford to eat.

Meanwhile, I can’t read.

37774050The slump I knew would come is here. I’m absolutely waddling through Old in Art School and I can’t find another audiobook thriller to listen to and my brain is just so full of work to-dos (which have ramped up) and anxiety.

But I know that my brain really really really needs a break. I can’t go on like this, with only to-dos in front of me.

I happened upon this article: “Why ‘getting lost in a book’ is so good for you, according to science” and I know from experience that it’s points are all true.

We can’t always be “on.” That’s why overwhelmed healthcare workers (and supermarket staff and bus drivers and Amazon Prime delivery people) are struggling right now. Our brains and bodies are truly not capable of constant, high-level performance. Anyone who’s worked long hours knows that. Important things, inevitably slip through the cracks.

So, I’m going to keep trying, in my off hours, to give my brain the rest it is craving.

Some things that have helped:

  • Baths—I make a point of taking a bath every night. I know it’s an overused recommendation, but I’ve only just come to love baths, so I’m recommending them. but if you’re sick of hearing that, I get it, and here’s a good post for you.

    img_20200319_194102

    Bath, candles, Captain Morgan – a winning combo

  • Journal—You don’t have to write if you hate writing. You can record yourself talking to your phone, then delete it if you want to. Figure out a way to get your feelings “physically” out of your mind. At the very least, this will at least help you acknowledge them. And sometimes that’s all it takes to feel better. At the most, you may discover you were feeling something you didn’t know about and may be able to sort that out…which will make you feel better.
  • Set boundaries—Little known self-care practice that introverts have been performing for years. Because we need time away from other people to feel like ourselves, setting boundaries may come more naturally to us.

    But even extroverts who are dying for human contact right now can set boundaries with people who are a drain on their psyche. YOU DON’T OWE ANYONE YOUR SANITY. And if you set a boundary with someone and they have feelings about that, that is none of your business. Their feelings are their responsibility. Just like taking care of yourself is yours.

    cat

    This is not about being unkind. It is about being honest with yourself about your needs and limitations, then being responsible enough to meet your own needs. (If you struggle with this like I usually do, Boundaries by Anne Katherine is a great book to read.)

    p.s. This includes time away from your children. If they don’t need you watching them every moment, let them see you take time out for yourself. That will teach them that all people have needs, including them, and that it is necessary for grown-ups to be responsible for meeting their own needs. And you want them to grow up capable of meeting their own needs, right?
    n

  • Stop news-hounding—Stop it. Time away from your phone or Facebook or TV or whatever is brining word of the current crisis into your life will not kill you. In fact, society will go on being terrible and wonderful and you knowing about every development immediately as it happens is not going to change that.
    n
    You can create peace for yourself in this moment by removing yourself from the fray. You can come back to it any time and it will still be there. But mind and body are physically deteriorated by stress. So, you choose: news as it happens or your actual health.
    n
  • Music—Listen to whatever you’re into right now and watch your mood change. Bonus if you share via message with friends.
    n
  • Memes—The meme generation is hard at work making us laugh right now. Find some funny memes and enjoy! (Good ones about working from home with your spouse.)
    n
    circle
  • Take advantage of online everything—My Facebook feed is filled with resources from museums and libraries. Catch up on your favorite blog even—just make sure their latest posts have nothing to do with the pandemic. I love Frock Flicks and Man Repeller.
    FrockFlicksn
  • Board games/puzzles/video games—The tried and true are tried and true for a reason.
    n
  • Binge-watching—Do it for your health.
    n
  • Arts/crafts—Take a break from the virtual in favor of the tactile. Art therapy and occupational therapy are entire fields that prove the importance of making.

n

Ok, that was a lot and I got real preachy, sorry.

Really, this is a list for me. I just have a lot of things running through my brain right now, as does everyone, so I wanted to get them out of my head and maybe even help other people.

If this helps you too, I’m so happy.

Whatever you do, just remember that escape is not frivolous. It’s a matter of survival. Especially during the tough times.

Finally, comment or send me your thriller recommendations, please! I’m desperate!

Specifically, I love well-written domestic thrillers with women protagonists à la Natalie Barelli and Greer Hendricks. I can’t get into Sophie Hannah, Tana French, Gillian Flynn, Paula Hawkins, or Ruth Ware—so you see why I’m struggling…

One last meme for the road.

fb_img_1584741950206

Standard
2020 When Are You Reading? Challenge, Fiction, What Shannon Read

When Are You Reading Challenge? Convenience Store Woman

This year, I’m participating in the When Are You Reading? Challenge hosted by Sam of Taking on a World of Words.

This book is my selection for the years 2000-Present.


36739755._SX318_I sped through Convenience Store Woman by  Sayaka Murata, translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori.

It’s a quick read at 163 pages and has a nice, tight focus on a loveable and quirky character, Keiko Furukura.

Thanks to constant anxiety overload due to coronavirus frenzy at work (and, let’s face, on social media, which I’ve been hounding :/ ), my brain is not focused enough to provide my own blurb for you today.

So here’s part of the Goodreads summary:

“Keiko Furukura had always been considered a strange child, and her parents always worried how she would get on in the real world, so when she takes on a job in a convenience store while at university, they are delighted for her. For her part, in the convenience store she finds a predictable world mandated by the store manual, which dictates how the workers should act and what they should say, and she copies her coworkers’ style of dress and speech patterns so she can play the part of a normal person. However, eighteen years later, at age 36, she is still in the same job, has never had a boyfriend, and has only few friends. She feels comfortable in her life but is aware that she is not living up to society’s expectations and causing her family to worry about her. When a similarly alienated but cynical and bitter young man comes to work in the store, he will upset Keiko’s contented stasis—but will it be for the better?”

Weirdly, that bitter young man moves in with Keiko and kind of gets her family off her back because they think, “Oh, Keiko has a boyfriend; maybe she’s finally going to be normal now.” (Not a quote from the book, just ad-libbing). But he’s clearly taking advantage of her.

The saddest part of this book, to me, is that Keiko’s family want her to be “cured.” They see her as having something wrong with her that needs to be fixed. And because she’s unable to judge their treatment of her, she just believes them. It’s likely that Keiko has some form of autism and just hasn’t been diagnosed. And she certainly has not been treated or given any kind of care relevant to her condition. This is never resolved in the story.

When her boyfriend convinces her to quit her job at the convenience store, Keiko stops taking care of herself. She loses the thing that gives her life structure and her sense of purpose.

Keiko reclaims that sense of purpose when she finally realizes she needs to be a convenience store worker despite what others’ think of her. She sees this position as something she was made to do. So she shrugs off the faux boyfriend, goes back to working in a convenience store and, we are to assume, lives contentedly to the end of her days.

The ending is weird to me. If there were a moral of this story, it would be something like, “do what makes you feel most like yourself.” For Keiko, there is an intrinsic and indisputable identity to which one must conform in order to be happy with one’s life.

But, for me, that didn’t actually resolve all the issues in the book. What about Keiko’s family’s expectations? What about the fact that she can’t seem to function without the convenience store? What about the fact that she’s vulnerable to predators like the faux boyfriend and rather than seeing that she needed help to get out from under him, people were excited that she actually had a boyfriend?

I need answers, people.

Instead, the ending seemed to say, well, this particular woman is probably going to be OK, and you’ll have to be satisfied with that. I wasn’t really. But I’m not sad I read it either.

Standard
Friday Fives

Friday Fives: March 13, 2020

Aaannnnnd I’m exhausted.

This work week has felt so long, despite my only having been at work for three days. My brother and his lovely fiance got married last weekend in Orlando and it was a wonderful celebration, as well as a break from the cold. Hard to come back for sure.

Plus, I’ve been a bit out of sorts as work is now largely focused on dealing with coronavirus-related issues, but lo there, a weekend appears on the horizon, and I am looking forward to reading and going for walks and working on the bathroom.

That was a run-on sentence. I am an ace writer today. How are you doing?

Friday Fives

MV5BZDc0MDE3NWEtYWM1Mi00ZDVjLTk5YzUtNWQzNmNiOTA5NTlmXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNDg4NjY5OTQ@._V1_SX1777_CR0,0,1777,888_AL_Watching:
Last weekend, my family stayed in an Airbnb together (it was WILD—there were a horse and a wolf-like dog wandering the property and we had a blast).

Anyway, one night we watched Always Be My Maybe starring Ali Wong and Randall Park. It was the second time I’d seen it and I was reminded how delightful it is! Great characters, music, fashion, and funny to boot.

 

IMG_20200308_112603454_HDR

Jacob feeding Hidalgo carrots at our Airbnb

 

BooksReading:
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
Old in Art School: A Memoir of Starting Over by Nell Irvin Painter

Both wonderful. Hoping to finish them this weekend.

34189556Listening to:
The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks, narrated by Julia Whelan

Still on my thrillers kick.

 

 

Shower_01_800_675x675

Making:
Still working on the bathroom. Added this Sea Monster Shower Curtain by Calamityware and it looks amazing.

 

Loving:
Just the luxurious amount of time I got to spend over the weekend with some of the people I love most in the world.

1

Wedding

2

At Cocoa Beach, FL

Standard
Audiobooks, Fiction, What Shannon Read

I’ll pretty much read anything by Natalie Barelli

I discovered Natalie Barelli three weeks ago and I am now already at the point where I will read anything she writes.

On her website, Barelli says she writes “psychological thrillers, domestic noir with a touch of dark humor” and I’ve only just now realized that “domestic thrillers” is a genre.

I have only listened to the audiobook versions of her books so I can’t speak for the hard copy reading experience. The audiobooks are always narrated well by talented readers and the productions are solid.

So far, I have listened to:

10The Housekeeper

Blurb: “When Claire sees Hannah Wilson at an exclusive Manhattan hair salon, it’s like a knife slicing through barely healed scars. It may have been ten years since Claire last saw Hannah, but she has thought of her every day, and not in a good way. So Claire does what anyone would do in her position—she stalks her.”

Unreliable narrator, domestic worker, haunting past. Loved it from the get-go.

12The Loyal Wife

Blurb: “Tamra never dreamed she would marry someone like Mike Mitchell: handsome, rich, a wonderful husband… until she finds out that Mike is having an affair. But Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, and Mike Mitchell should have remembered that before he made a fool of her.”

It’s not as cheesy as it sounds. I mean, in some respect all thrillers are melodramatic and often lack character development and plot depth, I know. But this book is not soap-opera-melodramatic. It’s logical. But still spicy enough to keep me reading. I loved the protagonist.

13The Accident

Blurb: “Katherine knew she’d had too many drinks, but they were only going a short distance. And as Eve pointed out, it was late, there was no traffic anyway…Now, Katherine would do anything to turn back the clock.”

This is a delicious romp involving a blackmail scam. I loved it.

 


missingAnd right now I’m listening to Missing Molly, which I find to be a bit less skillful as far as building suspense. Also, the story often quotes websites, newspapers, and podcast episodes, and I always get annoyed by that kind of thing. I feel like I’m stepping away from the story even though they’re supposed to enhance the story. So I think that is coloring my opinion.

What I love about Barelli’s books is that they all involve a female narrator who trusts the wrong person/people. Sometimes they are naive, but that’s probably also what makes them relatable.

I bet that quality is appealing to readers because one always like to feel they know more than the protagonist. Think of all the times you’ve shouted at an actor in a horror movie, “No, don’t go in there!” You know what’s coming and the character doesn’t. It’s part of the fun.

Standard
What We Read: Monthly Recap

What We Read: February 2020

Time for another recap already! I would say, “Where has the time gone?” but I know exactly where it has gone and it has gone to gainful employment peppered with a few enjoyable social activities and far too little alone time for your resident curmudgeon. 😉

 

img_20200215_211544002

We went out to dinner for Valentine’s Day though and that was awesome.

 

Here’s January’s reading recap if you’re interested.

 

What Shannon Read in February :

Shannon’s Notes

I got lazy about reviewing February books, but here’s what I have so far:

I am, thanks largely to audiobooks, reading at a breakneck pace, which I fully admit I cannot maintain. I will inevitably tire myself out and end up reading, like, one book a month for half the year…Meanwhile, Ben, a constant and steady reader, will totally eclipse me in a real-life tortoise-hare situation.

What Ben read in February :

Ben’s Notes

The House on First Street: My New Orleans Story by Julia Reed

Very conflicted about this book. To find an author who clearly shares almost the exact same love for New Orleans that I have was delightful. To then find out that I find that same author unlikable is very troubling. This person is me! This person is living a life I would love! I don’t like this person at all! Wait, uh oh…

She clearly comes from a very wealthy background, and sort of tries to play it off like it’s no big deal while at the same time going oddly far out of her way to drop names. She is admittedly rash and irresponsible, but nothing can ever really go wrong because she has seemingly bottomless funds and a squadron of domestic helpers at her disposal. She does at least see the help as individuals and care about some of their lives. Make of that what you will.

When Katrina comes she tosses last night’s champagne and lobster shells in the trash and decamps to her parents’ house a few hours away, where they promptly spot her an extra 5 grand just to tide her over. She returns to find her house basically unscathed and spends the rest of the time buddying up with the National Guard and talking about how the grossly corrupt governor she used to be friends with would have handled the crisis better.

The book left me with Hall and Oates in my head:
“You’re a rich girl, and you’ve gone too far
‘Cause you know it don’t matter anyway
You can rely on the old man’s money
….
High and dry, out of the rain
It’s so easy to hurt others when you can’t feel pain…”

Play It Loud: An Epic History of the Style, Sound, and Revolution of the Electric Guitar by Alan di Perna and Brad Tolinski

An enjoyable survey of my somewhat newfound hobby. Some of the Gibson/Fender/don’t-forget-McCarty history was already covered by the more narrowly focused “Play It Loud” but it was fun to get another perspective on those years, and this book moved quickly enough that I didn’t feel bogged down in covering the same ground.
While most of the book is history, the authors do get current enough to cover the White Stipes/Black Keys “garage rock revival” movement, and make some interesting points about how formerly scorned guitar brands/models are now getting their time to shine as cool vintage artifacts.

There’s some late musing about what the future of the instrument might be and its overall significance. That part is brief, but to the authors’ credit they do support their musings about the future with themes developed throughout the book.
For any one specific guitar topic, there’s probably a more detailed book. But if you want a one-book course on The Electric Guitar In History and Culture this would be a great contender.

King of Ashes by Raymond Feist 

Bringing back a beloved name in epic fantasy. Feist is a guy whose work I read a lot back in the day, and then kinda felt like I outgrew it. But while browsing I saw that he had just published book one of a new series and decided to give it a shot for old times’ sake. Turns out our man still writes some very enjoyable character-driven page turners.

Standard
Fiction, Re-reading Project, What Shannon Read

Re-reading Project: Object of My Affection

ObjectofMyAffectionBookA while ago I realized I was slowly buying and re-reading all the books I loved as a teenager and young adult.

When I remember a book, I buy it and am slowly re-stocking my library with books I loved during those formative years.

I thought it would be fun to track this, sort of a side reading project. You know how I love a reading project: Exhibit A, Exhibit B.

Last night I finished Object of My Affection by Stephen McCauley. I enjoyed it. I had to laugh at Teenage Shannon though. Why this book in particular? What drew me to it in the first place? Why did I read it five or so times at the age of 16? How odd and endearing.

The story is about narrator George Mullen, who is gay and lives in Brooklyn with his closest friend, Nina. When Nina becomes pregnant and decides to keep and raise the baby, she asks George to raise the baby with her.

The narrative becomes a peculiar will-they-won’t-they, but not between two lovers, as we’re generally used to. Instead, we follow the friendship between two people who are wholly devoted to one another, but must navigate a huge change ushered in by circumstance.

I love the character of George. He’s just so relatable. He has fears about being underemployed, for one thing. He’s a kindergarten teacher at a private school in Manhattan and he gets criticized for this even though he’s clearly good at his job.

McCauley excels at writing dialogue and I particularly enjoyed George’s conversations with his little student Doran Dunne, whose parents are battling through a divorce and constantly fighting over him. At one point, George loses his temper with Doran, then apologizes (Daniel and Theodora are Doran’s parents):

Excerpt I also enjoyed the tight focus on the main characters. There’s George and Nina, of course, but also Nina’s boyfriend Howard and George’s coworker, Melissa.

Howard is a wonderful character. He’s a big personality, a take-charge legal aid attorney, who is deeply in love with Nina and has hilarious nicknames for her “She’s a Dumpling!” he declares to George at one point, crying on the couch after Nina begins to push him away.

All in all, I wonder if it’s the unique characters and Brooklyn setting that captured the attention of Teenage Shannon. I’m going with that.

I’m leaving out whole parts/themes of the book in this review, like George’s love life, but maybe you’ll want to discover those for yourself. I recommend it and am glad I re-read it. Good find, Teenage Shannon.

Standard
Audiobooks, Fiction, What Shannon Read

Two decent thrillers with unreliable narrators

I was painting the trim in the upstairs bathroom this weekend and used the opportunity to listen to a couple of audiobooks while I worked.

Both psychological “thriller” type novels, they really captured my attention and I ended up just lying in bed part of yesterday and finishing the second one. This may or may not be related to the fact that I, ahem, overindulged a bit on Saturday night.


49199918._SX318_The first was The Housekeeper by Natalie Barelli.

I mentioned last Friday that I was listening to this, saying how much I loved the narrator, Susie Berneis, who totally made the experience for me. I honestly don’t think I would have read this in regular hard copy format. But Berneis’ wry tone and husky smoker’s voice kept me listening.

The story follows Claire, a young woman on a mission to clear her father’s name and enact justice on the woman, former nanny Hannah Wilson, who Claire believes ruined her family’s lives.

It’s a twisted tale with a somewhat unreliable narrator. Claire is underemployed, lazy, conniving, and really kind of a mean person. She’s out for revenge and you don’t really know why until about a third of the way through the story when it is revealed that as a young woman Hannah worked in Claire’s family’s home as a nanny while Claire was growing up. After a few months, Hannah went home and then accused Claire’s father of molesting her. The wealthy family lost everything during her father’s trial and both Claire’s parents died in dramatic fashion.

Now, Claire is working as a housekeeper under a fake name in Hannah’s home, also caring for Hannah’s baby, Mia. But as she gets more involved in their lives, from reading Hannah’s diary to attempting to lure her husband Harvey into an affair, it turns out Claire is not the only one in the household living a double life.

Dum dum dum…..

This book was just good, juicy, dramatic (and yes, sometimes melodramatic) fun.

I did think the reveal about Hannah’s accusations came a bit too soon. And the drama-filled ending was kind of rushed. Too many reveals all at once. It was kind of cheesy. But I still enjoyed it, the way some people would enjoy a soap opera. It’s generally well-written and the characters are interesting.

Claire reminded me of Marie in Bad Marie or the protagonist in My Year of Rest and Relaxation. Not a great person, but you kind of root for her anyway.


49188648._SX318_Next, Hoopla, the app I listen on through the library, recommended The Wives by Tarryn Fisher and I cued it up.

It’s read by a talented narrator and actress,  Lauren Fortgang. I quite enjoyed her young-sounding but very clear voice.

The narrator of this story, who we know as “Thursday,” begins by telling us about her relationship with her husband Seth.

She is Seth’s second and official wife. But he has two others. This is an arrangement Seth has offered Thursday and she has agreed to live the life of a polygamist, never meeting or talking to Seth’s other wives, attempting to be satisfied with seeing her husband only on Thursdays.

Out of curiosity and rising jealousy, however, Thursday begins to investigate Seth’s other wives. She knows only what he tells her about them, that his first wife, Regina, never wanted children and instead was focused on her career as an attorney. That’s why Seth sought out a relationship with Thursday. He wanted a family and Thursday was in love with him, happy to bear his children. Unfortunately, Thursday became pregnant and her baby died. She then had an emergency hysterectomy. And then Seth added a third wife, Hannah, to the mix. Hannah is currently pregnant with Seth’s child.

This drama is all forced to a head by Thursday’s snooping and what you think you know about each character is called into question at the halfway point. From there, Thursday reveals herself to be unreliable as a narrator, but we only see the story from her perspective.

It’s a fascinating tangled web and there are some very dramatic revelations toward the end. Some tidy, some cheesy, all enjoyable.


I find I get frustrated with unreliable narrators. It’s a trope I tend to avoid. But both of these books were so fun, specifically because you couldn’t trust the protagonist’s points of view.

Standard