Reading for Me

The Books I Have Read…..Just for Me

#5: The Yellow Birds (Kevin Powers)

Things have been quite busy this week in preparation for a piano recital that I performed last night. So this book review is a couple of days late, but something that I definitely need to write. I actually finished reading the book earlier this week.

I HATED THIS BOOK! I don’t know that I have actually ever completed a worse piece of fiction in my entire reading life. Why did I push through to the end? The novel was part of My Library Shelf project and I wanted to give the author — and the shelf — the opportunity to redeem themselves. Sadly, it never happened.

The Yellow Birds is a war story set in Iraq and follows a pair of soldiers through the challenges of deployment, the trauma of so much killing, and the stress of dealing with death all around and the subsequent pressure to return to American society. In theory, the book sounded interesting. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a fan of military fiction. I tried — I really did — to allow the characters to speak to me. I found them to be two-dimensional and not people that I could empathize with. I really did not care about their story and was very happy to see the final page of the book come.

I’m waiting for the service man to arrive at my apartment this morning to hopefully restore my internet and cable service. Once he is done, I plan to return my books to the library….and return to my beloved library shelf. It has been a good source of wonderful stories for me so far. I won’t hold my poor experience with The Yellow Birds against it.

If I can keep my eyes open, I’m ready to dive into another book and continue my reading adventure. Who’s ready to join me?

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#2: At the Wolf’s Table (Rosella Postorino)

Some books catch your eye because of their cover and you immediately think, “I don’t think I want to read that one.” That was the case with At the Wolf’s Table from the very beginning. It was on My Library Shelf at Unger Library though. Now I had a choice. I decided to put aside my initial impressions and follow through with my challenge and began to read the novel.

What was it about the cover? Really, the problem was on the spine. A small, but prominent swastika — the symbol of the Nazi party. I have always had a fascination with World War II and enjoy reading historical fiction from that era. At the Wolf’s Table was going to be different. It was going to take place deep within the Third Reich. Did I really want to read something that portrayed evil? I wasn’t sure.

Postorino’ s novel tells the story of a small group of women who find themselves as a gog in the wheel that was Hitler’s Wolfsschanze — the Wolf’s Lair. The central character is Rosa, a young Berliner who returns to the remote area of eastern Germany while her husband serves in the war. She moves in with her in-laws, but is quickly selected to work as a food taster for the dictator. Rosa is given a seat At the Wolf’s Table to make sure that food prepared for Hitler has not been poisoned.

Throughout the novel, Rosa shows the danger and challenges wrought on the Germany people under Hitler’s regime. She watches helplessly as those she loves struggle with hunger. Loved ones lose their lives in bombing campaigns. One of her favorite collegiate teachers is dragged away before her eyes because he is a Jew. While acknowledging her on hatred of the Third Reich, Rosa also deals with her growing love (or is it just lust?) for a young SS Officer who supervises her activity in the dining hall.

At the Wolf’s Table was a powerful read that I am very glad I picked up despite my initial hesitation. The final part of the novel seemed poorly written in contrast to the earlier sections. While I appreciate Postorino’s desire to bring Rosa’s story to a close, I found the ending to be pedantic and unsatisfying. Truthfully, if the story had simply ended with Rosa’s train ride back to the Berlin after Hitler’s demise, I would have been a very satisfied reader.

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The View From My Reading Chair – Jan 4, 2020

Happy New Year! I hope that each of you have gotten your personal reading journey off to a good start with the beginning of 2020. As promised in my New Year’s Day post, I will offer brief weekly updates on Saturdays throughout the year as an accountability on my own reading in addition to the regular posted reviews.

I’m working my way through 3 books right now.

1) At the Wolf’s Table (Rosella Postorino). This novel is the latest installment in My Library Shelf project. For any new readers, I was challenged to read my way through a shelf of my local library that was chosen at random (with a few stipulations, of course). The shelf had to include at least one classic novel, a minimum of 10 unique authors, and no author could be represented more than 7 times. Unger Memorial Library in Plainview has a limited selection, so I had to bend the rules a tiny bit….one author (Terry Pratchett) has 12 books on my current shelf. Still, I’ll be exploring works by 13 authors in the process.

At the Wolf’s Table is the story of a group of women who find themselves commanded to serve as food tasters for Hitler in Nazi Germany. The women eat the glorious food prepared for the dictator and are then observed for an hour to see if they are the victims of poisoning. If they show no ill effects, the meal is taken to Hitler’s lair. I have about 100 pages remaining in the novel and will share my thoughts in an upcoming post this week.

2) Johannes Brahms: A Biography (Jan Swafford). Is it really surprising that I would begin the year with a biography of one of my favorite composers of the 19th century? I actually started reading this work several years ago when I discovered that my copy was defective and was missing over 150 pages! I finally got around to replacing the book earlier in the Fall semester and just began to re-read it while in Arkansas for Christmas break.

The Brahms biography will be one of my biggest reads for a little while – clocking in at just over 600 pages. I’m reading rather slowly and making notes along the way, so this one will probably remain a fixture in my weekly updates for a while. I’ve made my way through the first 75 pages of this fascinating examination of the composer’s life and work.

3) Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing and Hope (Karamo Brown). Audio books have long been part of my reading routine. I especially enjoy “reading” memoirs in this format when the author reads his own words. I first encountered Karamo as a cast member of MTV’s The Real World. Now better known as a member of The Fab Five of Queer Eye, his story is one of struggle, addiction, and triumph. I’ve got about 2 hours of listening left and should have it done early on my drive back to Texas on Monday.

So….I anticipate two reviews coming up in the days ahead that will give a little more detail about the books and my responses to them. Until then, continue to enjoy your own reading journey.

~Kennith

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#24: Doomed to Die (Dorothy Simpson)

512bdtn42ba6l-_sy344_bo1204203200_I returned to my Library Shelf project with Dorothy Simpson’s Doomed to Die. This mystery novel featuring Inspector Luke Thanet was another quick read, but definitely had a convoluted plot line. The twists and turns were unexpected and were not adequately prepared; this reader felt as though he was on a constant roller coaster ride through the novel’s pages.

The story centers around a young artist who is found dead in the kitchen of her friend’s cottage after telling her husband that she wants a divorce since she is in love with another man. The woman is bleeding severely from a head wound and has a plastic bag covering her head. What was the cause of death — the head wound or suffocation? To solve the mystery, everyone must be considered a suspect — from her husband and mother-in-law to friends and her illicit lover.

A few things caused me problems while reading Doomed to Die. Simpson, a British novelist, obviously uses British spellings and phrases that are now out-of-date and difficult for the American reader. More importantly, however, was the way the mystery finally gets solved. A minute detail that is barely mentioned in the initial presentation of the murder suddenly becomes the catalyst for the crime’s solution. It felt as though Simpson had reached the pagination requirement set by her publisher and then decided to suddenly wrap up her novel in a tidy package. That type of writing always annoys me.  I would rather have a short book that tells a great story than one that seems to be circling around on itself in an effort to become more substantial.

I’m sad to say that I devoted a few days to reading this novel that I can never get back. This has been the first major let-down on My Library Shelf….and I certainly hope it is not the beginning of a trend.

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#23: The Rosie Effect (Graeme Simsion)

23492671._SR1200,630_I returned to My Library Shelf project and read The Rosie Effect, the sequel to The Rosie Project. While I really enjoyed the first novel, The Rosie Effect left something to be desired. In the sequel, Rosie and Don are married and living in New York City. When Rosie finds herself pregnant, she begins to doubt if Don will be a suitable father given his “uniqueness” due to his obsessive personality. Don finds himself fighting for his future child as well as his marriage.

The Rosie Effect is littered with humorous scenes as Don attempts to learn what fatherhood is all about. However, the novel simply feels like a re-telling of the original novel and loses much of its charm in the process. I’m glad that I was reading the novel while I was extremely busy and was simply looking for something to read that would not require much brain power; The Rosie Effect fit the bill, but it’s not something I would recommend to my book-loving friends.

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#8: Please Look After Mom (Kyung-Sook Shin)

My reading life has been a bit slow so far this year, so when I found myself with some free time to dive into a novel, I wanted to make sure that I found something that was well-written and moving. That means I returned to My Library Shelf project and began reading Please Look After Mom, a touching story of love, loss, and family.

As you might guess from the cover art and the author’s name, the novel is set in South Korea. Mom and Dad are country people whose four children have moved to urban areas to pursue their careers. As the parents travel to Seoul by train, the two become separated in the busy train station and Mom is lost. The novel now revolves around the family’s efforts to locate their missing mother in this massive and fast-paced city.

As each child participates in the frantic search, the children reflect upon their relationship with Mom as well as numerous interactions with her throughout their lives. How did they fail to notice that she was becoming sicker with each passing day? Why did her questions frustrate them? Were they ashamed of her? Did they view her as an inconvenience and a nuisance instead of a treasure and source of wisdom?

Please Look After Mom came into my life while I was already struggling with being separated from my own parents. The novel’s messages have continued to resonate with me in light of my mother’s health challenges in the past week. (Thankfully my family was not facing that crisis while I was reading the novel; I’m certain that would have sent me over the cliff!) Shin’s novel is not an easy read. The English translation can sometimes be cumbersome while attempting to maintain as much of its distinctly Korean aspects as possible. Despite its occasional awkwardness, Please Look After Mom was a beautiful story of love, regret, and hope that is common to all families and will definitely stay with this reader for many years to come.

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#25: The Rosie Project (Graeme Simsion)

The final book of 2016 was another novel from My Library Shelf project. The Rosie Project is a perfect example of why I'm doing the project; it was a book I would have never selected by an author with whom I was totally unfamiliar. The book was a joy.

The Rosie Project featured Don, a genetic scientist who also suffers from an obvious social disorder. In order to find the perfect wife, Don embarks on the Wife Project — complete with questionnaire and website. As Don sifts through the applications submitted to the Project (unbelievable!), he is introduced to Rosie. She is the antithesis of Don's ideal woman, but Rosie quickly challenges his expectations and the two begin a journey to find love that is anything but typical.

All I can say is that it was great to smile as I read of this unlikely couple's experiences together. I'm looking forward to reading the sequel as part of the Library Shelf Project as well.

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#21: Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (Helen Simonson)

It took me far longer than I had planned, but I finally finished my latest novel. I was fascinated by the story of Major Pettigrew, an English widower, and his growing relationship with the exotic Mrs. Ali, the Indian widow who operated the village market. Simonson’s novel examined the nature of growing love between mature adults while facing bigotry from an uninformed section of society. The plot further intensified as the impact the extended families — both English and Indian — upon the non-traditional union was considered.

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand is filled with humor as well as touching scenes. Simonson’s writing is actually quite beautiful. I especially enjoyed her statements about the importance of reading. Here are three passages that spoke to me so deeply that I had to stop my reading in order to write them down.

“There’s nothing useless about reading the classics,” said the Major, weighing the books in his hand. “I salute your continued efforts. Too few people today appreciate and pursue the delights of civilized culture for their own sake.” (Simonson, 46)

“. . .I tell myself that it does not matter what one reads — favorite authors, particular themes — as long as we read something.” (Simonson, 63)

“I think that even if you dislike them, knowing one’s parents helps a child understand where he or she came from,” said the Major.  “We measure ourselves against our parents, and each generation we try to do a little better.” (Simonson, 352)

I doubt that I would have read Simonson’s work if I had not decided to re-ignite the “My Library Shelf” project, but I’m certainly glad that I did. Now that I’m living in Plainview, I decided it was time to make a fresh attempt at the project and select a shelf in the Unger Library. (If you’d like to read more about the Library Shelf project, check out the blog post here.)

For those who might be interested, here are the books that are included in My Library Shelf.

  1. Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand (Helen Simonson)
  2. The Summer Before the War (Helen Simonson)
  3. Reality Check! (Rikki Simons)
  4. Doomed to Die (Dorothy Simpson)
  5. Anywhere But Here (Mona Simpson)
  6. The Irresistible Blueberry Bakeshop and Cafe (Mary Simses)
  7. The Rules of Love and Grammar (Mary Simses)
  8. The Rosie Effect (Graeme Simsion)
  9. The Rosie Project (Graeme Simsion)
  10. Please Look After Mom (Kyung-Sook Shin)
  11. The Jungle (Upton Sinclair)
  12. World’s End (Upton Sinclair)
  13. The Collected Short Stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer
  14. The Estate (Isaac Bashevis Singer)
  15. Kiss of Snow (Nalini Singh)
  16. Tangle of Need (Nalini Singh)
  17. Shards of Hope (Nalini Singh)
  18. Prep (Curtis Sittenfeld)
  19. Sisterland (Curtis Sittenfeld)
  20. Eligible (Curtis Sittenfeld)
  21. The Whispering Muse (Victoria Cribb Sjon)
  22. The Locked Room (Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo)
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#19: Tomahawk (David Poyer)

I have been slothful about writing my review for the latest book on My Library Shelf. I suppose I could chalk my delay in writing to the fact that I actually read the novel while on vacation at the end of July. As soon as I returned to Arkansas, my attention shifted entirely to the move to the Texas Panhandle. Those would be valid excuses to most; the only problem is that they are not true. The truth is that I simply didn’t know what I was going to say about the book.

Tomahawk was a thriller set against a naval background. It had moments of excitement that kept my attention. Mostly, I was plowing through lots of military jargon and situations that bored me. This was one of the few books that I’ve encountered in My Library Shelf project that I finished only because it was on the list. There were really very few redeeming qualities in this reader’s opinion. To be honest, it took me a few weeks to fully recover from this horrible reading experience. Thankfully, I’m now settling into Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee and enjoying my reading life once again.

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#17: Reboot (Amy Tintera)

As I continue to work my way through My Library Shelf, I encountered Amy Tintera’s Reboot. The story is narrated by Wren, a HARC assassin identified as 178. Her number signifies the number of minutes she remained dead five years ago before she woke up — or before she was rebooted. In this futurist society in Texas, teens are being wiped out by a highly contagious virus. HARC, the Human Advancement and Repopulation Corporation, resurrects these victims and creates an army trained to follow orders without question. The result is a community marked by fear and governmental abuse. When Wren meets Callum, another Reboot, her opinion of the situation changes and the two set out to escape in order to obtain freedom.

I found Reboot a difficult book to dive into. The opening scenes felt stunted and contrived. Honestly, I found myself repeatedly thinking that Tintera was attempting to capitalize on the success of The Hunger Games. I found little exciting or original in the work. I don’t plan to read the sequel (Rebel) either. Here’s hoping that the positive reading experiences resume as I continue my way along My Library Shelf.

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