New Fiction Friday: The Mothers

51n7sl28jyl-_sx329_bo1204203200_What does it take to be called a mother? I became a mother when my daughter was born, but I have called others mother – other than the one who raised me.  Brit Bennett’s debut novel is The Mothers, all about a group of women at a church called the Upper Room. Nadia Turner, a teenage girl who loses her mother to a tragic unexpected suicide, is at the center of this story. She too could be a mother, her life becomes shaped by the loss of her mother, and this story – which spans the months following her mother’s death, until her graduation from law school. Throughout that time, she is searching. Searching for meaning in her life, something to fill the void that her mother left behind, and for approval – for the mother she no longer has, and for the mothers of the Upper Room.

Nadia becomes wreckless after her mother’s death. She is only 17, and without guidance in her life. Her father has mentally and emotionally checked out- and there is no one else in her life.  She finds a connection with Jake – a local football hero whose mother is involved in the Upper Room. It’s not the right kind of love or attention she needed, but it’s all she can get. She’s a great student – and has earned admission into the University of Michingan, which is thousands of miles away from the home she shares with her distraught father. Still, she’s counting down the days until she’s able to escape.

Her story seems so sad, and she is so badly damaged emotionally.  Even when she goes away to school – and stays away, even going to law school, she won’t allow herself to heal.   She is drawn back home when he father gets sick, and reconnects with some old friends. She’s still hurting – and returning to the home that she shared with her parents is a stark reminder of her mother’s absence.

This book was a selection of the Book of the Month Club and I read it immediately when it came to my house. I had heard Brit Bennett interviewed on NPR and knew the premise of the story, and was so excited to read it.  It’s a reminder that no matter how old we get, we still need our mothers.  Even if we don’t have our real mothers, like Nadia, we need someone.

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Gift Ideas For the Reader On Your List

9780062494603_p0_v5_s192x300Only 10 more shopping days left until Christmas!  I am complete freaked out now.  I still have more shopping to do, and even though each year I attempt to get my shopping done early, it somehow never happens.  I still have a few things left to buy for my husband and daughter, and stockings that need to be stuffed – and cookies to be baked!  If you’re like me, and you still have some shopping to do, these are some great gift ideas for the readers on your shopping list.  Some of these I’ve already bought, and some are on my own Christmas list!

One book that is definitely on my TBR list is Settle for More by Megyn Kelly.  I’m buying this book for my Mom for Christmas 9780763695828_p0_v4_s192x300this year – and I can’t wait to read it together.  Full disclosure: neither of us are Republicans or watch Fox news (like, ever).  I still am awed by her and impressed with her for strongly and intelligently standing up to Donal Trump.

There are a few great gifts for Potterheads this year.  And I want all of them!!  A book was just released that chronicles all 8 of the Harry Potter movies – with gorgeous pictures and 9780062409959_p0_v3_s192x300details about scenes and locations.  There are two newish books that pick up where the series left off: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  While at the store over the weekend I spotted a Harry Potter themed coloring book that looked really fun!

Anthony Bourdain just released a new book called  Appetites.  In it are recipes and stories about the food that he’s had all over the world.  The book is perfect for any foodie on your list!

614twaobmfl-_sl300_I’m not a big fan of giving gift cards at Christmas, and I personally would rather have an actual gift over a gift card.  However, one of my favorite gift cards to get are those for iTunes.  Instead of just music or apps, there are also digital downloads available for ebooks and audiobooks.  I am also a fan of Audible.com, and this is great for a last minute gift, as there are gift cards available online.  I love audiobooks, and I love this website because downloads are quick and easy, but mostly because of the audiobooks.  They frequently feature 9781465444967_p0_v1_s192x300popular or classic titles read by popular actors and actresses.  There is a version of Anna Karenina narrated by Maggie Gylenhaal.

For my daughter, who is 6 this Christmas, and obsessed with American Girl Dolls, there are a few great books.  There is a new line of dolls that was just released this year, and with them is a new series of books.  The books are great even for girls who don’t have the tools.  There is also a new, huge, hardcover book that details all the dolls the company makes, along with the history behind the dolls and the company.

These are great gifts for the reads of all ages on your list.  They are also perfect gifts for me!  I hope after all the shopping and craziness that the holidays bring, you’re finding time to read!  As soon as I get my final grades posted this week, I’ll be able to finish my shopping, and hopefully finish the book I’ve been trying to read for about 2 weeks.

New Fiction Friday: Horrorstor

51hggt7lll-_sx419_bo1204203200_I love a good scary story. I also love Ikea. When I first saw Horrorstor, I didn’t pay close attention to the cover. It looks just like an Ikea catalog, and along with the story inside the book are pictures and diagrams of Ikea-type furniture. The store is not an official Ikea, though Ikea is mentioned several times in the book. Orsk, as described by some of its employees, is a second-rate Ikea. It’s a gigantic, maze-like building, meant to keep customers in the store as long as possible in order to get them to spend more money.

The store is the setting for the store, and most of the characters are store employees.  Amy had been working at the store for a while, working for a guy named Basil. They really didn’t get along – so much so that she had recently asked for a transfer to a different store. He has to sign off on that in order for it to get approved. He really doesn’t want her to leave though, she is one of the store’s best employees.  They end up striking a bargain. He will sign off on the transfer if she will agree to work a little overtime, stay overnight and prepare the store for the arrival of some of the store’s executives the following morning.

This is when things start to get interesting. A few of the store’s employees have been getting random, seemingly anonymous texts saying “help”. Amy is one of them – and it’s puzzling.  This is just one of the odd things happening around the store. Recently the store has been in disarray when employees first show up in the morning to open the store. Amy reluctantly agrees to stay overnight, along with Ruth Ann, a coworker to maybe witness just what happens in the store after hours.

I love the premise of the book, and the end of the story suggested a possible sequel – which I would love to read. The book wasn’t as scary as I hoped it would be, and wasn’t as fast-paced as I think it should be. But it was unique in delivery – the faux-Ikea catalog format I totally loved.

TLC Book Tours: I’ll Take You There

519a6u44pjl-_sx328_bo1204203200_The first Wally Lamb book I read was She’s Come Undone, which I absolutely loved. I actually read it twice, which is something I rarely do. I’ve also read The Hour I First Believed, and I Know This Much Is True.  I was excited to get my hands on I’ll Take You There. He seems to have a knack for great female characters – getting into the minds of women in a way most male writers haven’t, or at least none that I’ve read.  Although some of these characters are incredibly flawed, they are still likable and relatable.  Delores is the main character of She’s Come Undone, she is one of my favorite characters. In his new book, which is told from the perspective of man named Felix.

Felix Funicello (distant cousin of Anette Funicello, former star of the Mickey Mouse Club) is a super movie fan. He is a college professor, film scholar, and leader of a movie club that meets in an old vaudeville theatre to watch old movies. He is an older man, with one grown daughter, who is a journalist living in NYC. He and his wife don’t live too far outside the city, but the distance is too great for him. They miss her quite a bit, and he is so excited to reconnect over a story assignment she is given to write an article about the Miss Rheingold competition.

Rheingold was a beer that was brewed locally in New York, and at one time was one of the most popular beers in the area. Each year the brewer held a beauty competition to pick Miss Rheingold, and local residents would have the opportunity to vote for their favorite girl.  In talking to his daughter about the competition (which in reality crowned 25 Miss Rheingold in between 1940 and 1964), he remembers voting each year with his two older sisters for the girl they wanted to win. It’s also during this time that he’s reconnecting with his daughter that he is visited by two ghosts in the theater his group meets.

These two ghosts are former screen stars – one being one of the most famous silent screen stars that he is a big fan of.  They’re not there just to visit though, and don’t need his assistance connecting them with anyone in the in the living world.  They’re there, instead, to take him into the past. Through a series of movies (reel to reel, of course), he is able to revisit some of the most important moments of his past. They seem to want to confront himself, or someone else he was close to. This part of the story reminds me a lot of a Christmas Carol.

I really loved this story – and I loved the closeness between Felix and his daughter. This project that she worked on that brought them closer together, and I loved that it included a bit history – something that they were both interested in. With the help of these two ghosts he is able to revisit the past.  Through the women in his life, past and present, he gets an important lesson in feminism. The women’s movement has come a long way – and this witnesses some of this change by seeing what his mom, and sisters have gone through.

The story is so beautifully written, and I wanted so much more of Felix.  I think there may be a part of Mr Lamb in Felix.  Even though their stories are similar, Felix is no Ebenezer Scrooge.

26 Books is 2016

51rahiqp-pl-_sx327_bo1204203200_The holidays are rapidly approaching, and instead of getting smaller, I think my to-do list grows longer every day.  With so much to do, I have less time to read, and there are still books I need to read on my book challenge list.  Not to mention finals next week!!!  I’m hoping with the holiday break I’ll have more time to read, craft, and finish up my Christmas shopping.

I’m currently reading The Morning They Came For Us and am really loving it.  The subject matter is dark, and reading the details of what has been happening in Syria over the past few years is heartbreaking.  But I feel it’s something I should read, and when I’m done, I’ll be passing the book along.

Since I last checked in on 26 Books in 2016, I have checked these categories of the list:

A book with water on the cover – All at Sea

A book written in the decade you were born – Breakfast of Champions

A book with food in the title – It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel

A book about a vacation or a road trip – Siracusa

An autiobiography or a memoir – The Girl With the Lower Back Tattoo

A book set in the future – The Invoice

A book with magic in it – Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

An NYT bestseller – The Woman In Cabin 10

There are still 3 more categories I need to check off my list, and I plan on checking those off in the next few weeks.  I just picked up Gone With the Wind at the library, and it’s something I’ve been wanting to read for years and just haven’t done it.  Hopefully, if I can finish it in time, I can mark one more thing off the list!

 

My Reading Life

51nejrpxnol-_sx343_bo1204203200_Over the course of my life, I think I’ve read thousands of books. No official count though. Some have been good, some have been not so good. Some were quickly forgotten, some have made quite an impression. Pat Conroy wrote several great books in his lifetime, including Beach Music, and The Prince of Tides. He passed away earlier this year, and left the world with a great body of work.  My Reading Life is a long list of books that meant something to him. It was so interesting reading through the list of some of his favorite books, and it also made me want to read Gone With the Wind (which I just picked up at the library).

Conroy grew up the son of a decorated Marine fighter pilot (this upbringing was the basis of one of his most popular books – The Great Santini). This hero was celebrated seemingly throughout the military, and at every base they lived at during his service. Behind closed doors, at home however, his father was an abusive drunk, something his mom tried so hard to keep secret from the outside world. He was one of 7 children, and the family of 9 traveled all over the south during his father’s time in the service.

The transient life of a military family can be hard, and he describes this well.  He never really had “roots”, or a permanent home, but felt so connected to every library he visited.  Whatever chaos raged in his life, he and his mother always connected through books.  He clings to these books, each one in the book he describes lovingly, and talks about when and where he first read them.  He also describes what the books, the words themselves, meant to him.

He describes his Mom as very brave, and strong, despite the years of abuse she suffered at the hands of his father. She was the one who took him to the library, inspiring his love of reading and writing. They both loved Gone With the Wind, and he has a way of describing the book in a way that I don’t think anyone else I’ve ever read has.  He talks quite a bit about a teacher he had in high school. This teacher he kept in touch with for many years.  Gene Norris was an English teacher who inspired understanding – not only of the books he prescribed in class, but of so much of the changes taking place in the 1960s.

He also talks quite a bit about his favorite librarian. Not one in a libriary he frequented, or visited as a child.  This is a librarian that worked in a school he taught in. She was more concerned with preserving the books and protecting them than she was with encouraging students to read them.  Their interactions that he recounts are hilarious – he loved to get a rise out of her.  For someone who has lived in the south for most of his life, and though my daughter was born in the south, I’ve never really connected to – or understood – the spirit of the south.  He does that in this book, and in his writing.  He was an important southern voice, representing only the good parts of the old south.

I loved reading this book, and hope that one day I can remember my favorite books as fondly as he does here.

New Fiction Friday: The Invoice

51osjhvtavl-_sx336_bo1204203200_If you’ve ever felt unlucky, or really lucky in life, you’re not alone.  I’ve always felt unlucky – and whether it’s true or not, it probably all depends on perspective. That’s exactly what Jonas Karlsson tackles in The Invoice. It’s not at all philosophical, it’s a story that lightly tackles one of life’s biggest questions; but the underlying idea is that there a price to pay for happiness. In this case, it comes in the form of a bill sent out by the government. In the beginning of the story, the main character (who remains nameless) gets an invoice for $5,700,000 kronor and has no idea why.

At first he just throws it away, thinking that it has obviously been sent to him by mistake. A few weeks later, he gets another invoice. Same amount, yet this time he actually looks a little closer and decides to call the number that is listed on the bill. It turns out that the invoice was not sent to him by mistake. What could the bill possibly be for? He really doesn’t understand, though it seems as if there has been a huge campaign by the government (that he has been unaware of) that everyone would be receiving a similar invoice – though not necessarily for the same amount.

When he finally reaches someone at the number listed on the invoice he has waited for hours on hold – literally overnight. What he finds out is completely shocking. He’s actually being charged for happiness, or what the government seems to be calling “experienced happiness”.  And she goes on to explain how the amount is calculated:

“It’s calculated according to a formula that takes account of age, place of residence, particular experiences, success, proximity to the sea. That sort of thing. Quality of home and relationships, et cetera. Taken as a whole, that constitutes your personal quantity of Experienced Happiness. Your levels will be constantly updated, provided that all information can be verified. It’s all officially administered, of course, but I’m afraid I can’t make an estimate as things stand … Have you had any notable setbacks?”

The formula is interesting, making me wonder how much my bill would be. He is quite surprised that his bill is so large, after numerous calls to Maud, he realizes that his is actually the largest of all of the invoices. Which is crazy, because he’s just an unmarried video store clerk, not a millionaire. After his phone calls, I really felt for him. What the money was actually meant for was sort of a redistrubition – in which those with the lowest ammounts charged (meaning the unhappiest lives) would get the money.

I don’t think money buys happiness but this compensation plan seems to suggest that it might.  That’s not Karlsson’s idea – but it is the idea behind the government’s plan.  I was so surprised by this story, and though there’s no real conclusion at the end, I really loved reading it.  I didn’t need closure, but I think he did.  The story is somewhat futuristic, and like other futuristic/post-apocalyptic stories, it’s something impossible to imagine.