Some Luck (Jane Smiley, 2014)

some luck

Why did you choose this book?

This was the April pick for our library fiction book discussion.  Since we’ve already had the discussion at this point, I can say it was the best I’ve led to date!  So much to say and none of us wanted to leave.

What’s it about?

This is the first volume in a trilogy, with each chapter of the book covering one year.  The entire trilogy will cover 1920-2020 but this installment covered 1920-1953.  The book is character-driven and follows the lives of the members of the Langdon family.  Over the 33 years covered in this book, you see the children grow up, have relationships and children of their own, and make their own marks on the world.

Categories

Historical fiction, family saga

Other recommended reads?

Any family saga.  McCullough’s The Thorn Birds comes to mind.

Review

I wasn’t sure how I’d feel about chapters going year by year, but it was the perfect metric to tell the story and did not feel forced at all.  Within the chapters were multiple points of view, so if you didn’t care for one character, it was easy to escape to the perspective of another.  The story took place at the same time my grandparents were growing up on farms and many parts of the story paralleled their experience, so that was a neat connection.  It was a dense read, however, so while I’m excited to finish the trilogy, I’m going to wait a while before diving into the next volume.

Up next?

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

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First Women: The Grace and Power of America’s Modern First Ladies (Kate Anderson Brower, 2016)

first women

Why did you choose this book?

If there’s one area of history I’m passionate about, it is presidential history.  I haven’t had the chance to read Brower’s first book yet, but I probably will in the future.  I’m working on amassing all of Doris Kearns Goodwin’s books and I love love love answering presidential trivia.

What’s it about?

What the subtitle says.  It covers Jackie Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, Pat Nixon, Betty Ford, Rosalynn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush, Hillary Clinton, Laura Bush, and Michelle Obama.  That includes their accomplishments as first ladies, their attitudes toward the role, and their relationships (good and bad) with each other and with their husbands.

Categories

Nonfiction, popular history

Other recommended reads?

The News Sorority by Sheila Weller.

Review

I was so excited and then so let down by this book.  It was written in a very gossipy style (like The News Sorority), rather than the more academic narrative nonfiction I prefer (like David McCullough or Doris Kearns Goodwin).  I found it off-putting that the author had biases toward different first ladies.  She seemed to idolize Kennedy and revile Obama.  She also provided uneven coverage of the women, barely addressing the Bushes (especially Barbara) at all.  I did learn a few things from the book, but I expected so much more than it delivered.

Up next?

Some Luck by Jane Smiley

 

A Diamond Deal with the Greek (Maya Blake, 2016)

diamond deal

Why did you choose this book?

My boss is obsessed with Harlequins, and I’ve been experimenting with different types to see what’s different in each series and what all the fuss is about.  This is my first Harlequin Presents, which he collects.  Also, for our Reader’s Advisory meetings, we have to read adult fiction published in the last six months and in our library’s collection.  This was short and fit the bill.

What’s it about?

Professional skier Rebel (short for Arabella) accepted money from her father, despite their strained relationship after her mother’s death.  When she arrives at his office to thank him, she finds that her worst fears have been realized – he embezzled the funds and then ran.  His boss, Draco Angelis, strikes a deal.  If she pretends to be his fiancee for the next few months, he will forgive her father’s crimes and let her keep the funds.  She’s unsure how she feels about the deal, but agrees to the offer and can’t deny their chemistry…

Categories

Romance

Other recommended reads?

Harlequin Presents or Blaze or maybe Desire (haven’t read a Desire yet)

Review

I enjoyed this book both for the read and that the premise was both endearing and laughable.  I plucked it from the shelf at random but actually found that I enjoyed reading about the lifestyles of the rich and famous.  I had fun being whisked away to one of Draco’s estates and reading the descriptions of fancy clothes, private planes, and skiing tournaments.  All-in-all, I’ll probably read more Presents in the future.  I was expecting it to be more tame than Blaze (the only other Harlequin I’ve read).  It wasn’t any less explicit, but there was much less sexual activity.  Perhaps my favorite part was explaining the plot to my coworkers, who had trouble appreciating its finer points…

Up next?

First Women by Kate Anderson Brower

July’s People (Nadine Gordimer, 1981)

july's people

Why did you choose this book?

You may remember that I was doing books set in Africa for a class at the library.  This is the second one I read all the way through rather than skimmed (don’t tell…).  As for why I chose this book to present in the class, I was told I had to do a Gordimer because she’s a Nobel laureate, and this one seemed like it would be the most evocative of a time and place in Africa.

What’s it about?

The Smales family is forced to flee Johannesburg as a result of apartheid-induced violence.  The only place they can go is with their manservant, July, to his ancestral village.  He is the chief of that village, though not of his tribe.  Their attempts to understand the new culture and the new role of this man they have known for years are the underlying themes of the book.

Categories

Fiction

Other recommended reads? 

It’s hard to say.  This book is unique because it was written before the end of apartheid, so Gordimer was only guessing what she thought would happen.  It’s the author’s vision of South Africa.  So it’s not really historical fiction or dystopian.  Just somewhere in between.  And, yes, I realize I failed to answer the question.

Review

This is an extremely short book, which can easily be read in just a few hours.  I had a hard time with the writing style and didn’t find the descriptions of Africa or village life as evocative of a place as I had hoped, and as I saw in other books like Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible or Okparanta’s Under the Udala Trees.

Up next?

A Diamond Deal with the Greek by Maya Blake

A Murder is Announced (Agatha Christie, 1950)

murder is announced

Why did you choose this book?

This was the next pick for my personal book club, courtesy of my boss’s wife.  It is my 2nd Christie mystery.

What’s it about?

This is a Miss Marple, and is considered the best of Christie’s novels focusing on Marple.  The town newspaper announces a murder and the villagers show up to be entertained, not realizing an actual murder is afoot.  A masked burglar is the victim and Miss Marple is called in to solve the case.

Categories

Cozy mystery

Other recommended reads?

Other Christie novels and Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries.

Review

I liked this significantly better than the first Christie I read (The Secret Adversary, which was Christie’s 2nd book and the 1st Tommy & Tuppence).  I thought it was strange that Miss Marple didn’t play a very large role in the book overall.  I figured out part of the secret, but didn’t solve the entire mystery.

Up next?

July’s People by Nadine Gordimer

The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver, 2005)

poisonwood bible

Why did you choose this book?

Every spring, the library hosts an LEI (Learning Enrichment Institute) class for people over age 50.  Our theme this year was Around the World in 80 Books.  So each librarian or manager was assigned a continent and I received Africa.  I am sad to say I didn’t read every book on my list, but I did attempt a few and finished two.  This is one of those two, because although it took me forever, it’s a classic and I had to finish it.

What’s it about?

In short, a family arriving in the Congo as missionaries.

More in-depth: Nathan Price and his family of daughters arrive in a tiny village to serve as missionaries.  Nathan is a bit of a bully.  His wife, Orleanna, is just along for the ride.  Rachel is the prissy oldest daughter who believes herself the center of the world.  Leah is a twin, a tomboy, and desperate to win her father’s praise.  Adah is a twin and doesn’t speak due to a disability.  Ruth May is the littlest and a typical and precocious youngster.  The novel follows these women throughout their lives and into adulthood.

Categories

Historical fiction

Other recommended reads?

I’m struggling with this one a little because it doesn’t really remind me of anything else I’ve read.  I want to say The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough, but not having read it, I could be totally off-base.

Review

It took me about 350 pages to really become invested in this book, but once I did, I couldn’t put it down.  Of all the books I talked about in our LEI class, this one felt the most immersive to me.  Kingsolver describes the landscape and the characters living in the town, rather than just maintaining inner monologues of her central family of characters.  It was also nice to get the outsider perspective – the members of the family were also outsiders to Africa.  Most of the other books were written from the point of view of people who grew up in Africa, so the sights and sounds were normal to them.  I completely understand why it’s a modern classic, and I appreciate the historical upheavals incorporated into the narrative, but I don’t think I’ll be rereading this novel.

Up next?

A Murder is Announced by Agatha Christie

Works Well With Others: An Outsider’s Guide to Shaking Hands, Shutting Up, Handling Jerks, and Other Critical Skills in Business That No One Ever Teaches You (Ross McCammon, 2015)

works well with others

Why did you choose this book?

When I first finished graduate school and was hunting for jobs, I met a more experienced librarian who told me I needed to continue studying by reading business and management books to learn the skills I would need to further my career.  I’m ashamed to say that I haven’t done nearly as well at following that advice as I would have liked to.  This book was my attempt to get back on the proverbial horse.

What’s it about?

Ross McCammon went from being the editor of Southwest Airlines’ in-flight magazine to one of the editors at Esquire.  This is the story of the mistakes he made along the way, with plenty of asides and humor thrown in.

Categories

Nonfiction – business and leadership

Other recommended reads?

Bossypants by Tina Fey

Review

I really enjoyed this book, more than many nonfiction books I’ve read, and certainly more than any other business and leadership book I’ve read.  That being said, I’m also not sure that it had that much content to it.  I appreciated the fact that while McCammon is successful today, he still clearly remembers how he felt beforehand.  That makes him easy to relate to and his advice believable.  I didn’t intend to take notes while reading but he has a ton of quote-worthy lines that I’ve actually told people now in my everyday life.  To give you a sense of the humor, there’s a quiz entitled “Are You an Asshole?”  You’ll be happy to know that, according to the quiz, I am not.  I also recommended this book to my coworkers and one of the managers took it home to read.

Up next?

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver