Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Brightly Woven by Alexandra Bracken (graphic novel)

genre: graphic novel, fantasy 

Sydelle’s skill with a loom has always come in handy, but when a stranger arrives with crucial information and a magical cloak in need of repair, suddenly Sydelle has something real to offer. When she realizes how high the stakes are and how many more secrets she doesn’t know, Syd has to decide what she’s willing to give up for a person she hardly knows.

This is a vivid and colorful story. I haven’t read the original novel but this seemed to move along well. I like the idea of woven magic but it does feel like this just glosses over the magical world building. I think it would’ve bored me in a longer form so I’m glad read it this way.

Monday, August 15, 2022

Circle of Friends by Maeve Binchy

 genre: historical fiction

Benny's childhood in the quiet town of Knockglen was a lonely one until she and Eve, an orphan living at the local convent, find a true friend in each other.  When they finish school,  Benny and Eve's grandest dream is to continue their education in Dublin, to see and experience the wilder world.  It isn't that simple, though, and one event after another requires both of the girls to stretch outside their comfort zones.  While they manage whatever comes their way, they also meet fellow students who slowly, over time, become friends.

This quaint and soap-opera like story, while both set in the 1950s and a bit dated in the writing style, still kept my attention and entertained me with its vast cast of characters and their goings-on.  It takes place both in the city and in a little country town and the story switches continuously between the points of view of a few main characters.  While Benny and Eve are multidimensional, some of the other characters appear rather flat and one-sided, but not so much so that I couldn't appreciate their role in the story.  And the story itself is really a coming of age for Benny and for Eve, as they have complications with friends and family, as they fall in love or feel the sting of betrayal.   I didn't like how the size of Benny's body is so often a topic of conversation - consistent with the time period of nor, as a modern day reader I just wanted to teach her some radical body acceptance - and teach the locals to keep their mouths shut :). But I didn't grow up in a small Irish village either, and if nothing else, this book really does a nice job of giving you a sense of the small town feel that existed even with Dublin bustling just a bus ride away. 

It didn't end how I'd anticipated and although it is crazy long, it didn't drag as much as I'd worried it would.  Three and a half stars for keeping my attention for so many pages.

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

The Country Girls by Edna O'Brien

 genre: fiction

Cait had lived a fairly isolated life in County Limerick until personal tragedy leads to her needing to rely on a friend-that's-not-really-a-friend, Baba.   These two girls have grown up together but their outlooks on life and personalities couldn't be more different.  When they leave home to attend upper school at a convent, their experiences with life and love will only continue to shape the paths they take. 

This book is so very short, WHY was it so hard for me to read?  It was slow moving, I think that's part of it, but it's well thought out and some of the language really is beautiful.  Baba is both annoying and sometimes funny, it's rather painful to watch how Cait has to try so hard to keep being her friend.  There is a thread with an older gentleman that is a huge part of the book that feels creepy on one hand and yet, knowing Cait and what's she been through, understandable on the other.  Their naiveté is not just because they are "country girls" but because they are young and have been raised in a very repressive culture - Cait's interactions with the world are so clearly impacted by this.  

I can see why it was very shocking back in the 60s when it was published and I do think it's an intimate portrait of a place and time, it was just a bit too gloomy for me right now, maybe.  

Friday, July 29, 2022

The Summer Place by Jennifer Weiner (audiobook)

 genre: contemporary fiction

Sarah Danhauser's stepdaughter Ruby has announced her engagement to her pandemic boyfriend, Gabe.  They plan to marry at Sarah's family's house up on the Cape, a beloved retreat.  This announcement starts a chain of events that will stir the pot of the lives of so many of Ruby and Gabe's family members, in one way or another.  Secrets and lies,  old flings and new drama - all of it will come crashing down while everyone tries to keep their game face on and support Ruby and Gabe.  It's not easy.

I chose the audio because I saw that SUTTON FOSTER was going to be reading it!  She did an excellent job, actually.  I never had trouble knowing who was speaking and the pacing was great.  The book itself, however, was more challenging.  There were so many "main" characters with so much interspersed backstory that it was a lot of brainwork to keep people and their stories straight.  I loved the Cape house itself as a centerpiece in the family story but there is just so much infidelity, sneakiness and unhappiness that sometimes this story really was too much of a drag.  There was more than one coincidence in this story that I had to try super hard to believe and eventually I just had to let it go and try to appreciate what this book was trying to share: families are so complicated, our pasts can absolute decimate our present and listening to our hearts in the first place is always going to be a better choice than trying to put the pieces back together afterwards.

Saturday, July 23, 2022

Birds of California by Katie Cotugno

 genre: contemporary adult fiction

Fiona’s time on the popular tv show Birds of California pushed her into the limelight in a way that didn’t end well. In fact, Fiona’s downfall was epic enough that now all she wants is to hide in her father’s print shop and live her quiet life with her sister in peaceful anonymity. If she never sees anyone from that part of her life again, that’ll be a good thing. Except, in the age of social media, hiding is practically impossible and when Sam, her old co-star from Birds of California, shows up to encourage her to do a reboot of the show - Fiona already knows her answer.

Ok, I couldn’t put this down. It’s gritty and more than a little explicit but I was so invested in Fiona from the first chapter. You know there has been trauma and that she’s managed it in unhealthy ways but I had so much compassion for her mental health. I actually sorta fell for Sam too, even with his glaring faults -  when we read from his point of view we can see his own vulnerabilities and fears so clearly. I liked how we switched between perspectives and I particularly enjoyed the arc of Sam and Fiona’s friendship/relationship. It’s complicated but so are they and I wanted them to work it out.  I mean, it's a romance novel in some ways, vaguely tropey, but not annoyingly so. It's NOT a comedy - it really makes you think about the price of celebrity and the toll that constant scrutiny can take, especially on kids and young adults. The ending was such a pleasantly soft landing - but with important and upsetting threads tied off. I really enjoyed this read.

CW: lots of language, explicit content, open door scenes, abuse

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Mother Ireland by Edna O'Brien

 genre: memoir

This book is a series of autobiographical essays about the authors early life in mid-century Ireland. She weaves in, especially in the beginning, a lot of Irish history that is both literarily lovely and interestingly written. I had to read with a pen, O’Brien’e way with words was truly stunning sometimes. We learned about her early life in a very small town as well as her young adulthood in a Dublin that was both thrilling but unforgiving. It isn’t fast paced and sometimes it felt almost a bit too ambiguous, like it was beautifully written but I didn’t super have my feet under me well enough to understand what I was reading about. I enjoyed it though and I’m glad I gave this author a try. I think I’ll try her fiction next time.

Thursday, July 14, 2022

What the Wind Knows by Amy Harmon (audiobook)

genre: historical fiction

When Anne's beloved Irish grandfather Owen passes away, it's as though she has lost a part of herself.  Raised by Owen hearing stories of Ireland, when she finally arrives in that green land, in a final act of love to spread his ashes, Anne feels like she's finally come home.   But in one unbelievable moment, Anne is transported into the Ireland of the past, an Ireland in 1921 on the cusp of great change and the people she meets there (then?) will turn Anne's life around in every way possible.

I'm gonna gush - because I LOVED this.  It totally hit the spot.  SO much history!  So romantic!  The time slip element is so well done that although I hadn't been expecting it myself, it drew me right in and I was all in with Anne and her crazy adjustment to 1920s life.  I loved learning more about the history of Ireland at this time, the passion of its people and the volatility of its politics.  I felt so much compassion for Anne and the choices she has to make in a reality she only knows from history books.  I loved learning more about Michael Collins and his compatriots - and about the Ireland they dreamed of.   Some scenes in this book were truly lovely, the images so vivid, I felt like I was there.

I suppose it's not the most lyrical book I've ever read but for what my mind needed right now, this took the prize for best audio I've listened to in a good long while.  The male narrator, especially, was fantastic.

content: there are a few intimate scenes but tastefully done

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

W.B. Yeats Poems - collected by Seamus Heaney

 genre: poetry

I'm reading a book right now that has lines from Yeats at the beginning of each chapter so I thought I would give some of his actual poetry a try.

Truth: I both loved it and was confused by it.  These poems are lyrical and beautiful, sometimes so much so that it would literally stop my brain in its tracks as I read and I would go over a line three, four, five times.  I also needed help when reading because there were a lot of references to places and people that are just unfamiliar to me - having that context really helped Yeats' poetry come alive for me.  I liked that there were political ideas, ideas about growing old and maturing, I loved his magical views of the wildlife and world around him.  

I'm glad I made the effort - so many lines were familiar to me, some of them lyrics of songs that I know that I had no idea were just poems by Yeats set to music.  

Two of my favorite parts:

Come away, O human child!

To the waters and the wild - The Stolen Child


Weary and kind one lingered by His seat;

He made the world to be a grassy road

Before her wandering feet - The Rose of the World

okay, one more

When such as I cast our remorse

So great a sweetness flows into the breast

We must laugh and we must sing,

We are blest by everything

Everything we look upon is blest. - A Dialogue of Self and Soul

Sunday, July 10, 2022

What Once Was True by Jean Grainger

 genre: historical fiction

Sure, Kate and her family don't own Robinswood, the giant manor house.  But her Ma and Da run it, and despite being the child of servants, Kate grows up alongside Sam, the future Lord.  When what will become World War 2 comes to Ireland, it arrives just as Sam and Kate's life at Robinswood would be changing anyway, as the old money is gone and a new world order is on the cusp on the home front.  

This is a super fast read.  It's not just Kate's story, it's the story of her family - two two sisters and her parents as well as Sam's family.  Everything is changing for everyone and it's a story of letting go of the past and being brave enough to imagine a new kind of future - all while knowing there is a war raging.  It's got its romantic moments and its tender moments.  All the characters, especially the Lady of the manor, are a bit one dimensional and sometimes it's maybe a bit over the top but it was some delightful brain candy and the history reads very true to everything else I've read, so I appreciate that.  Could've used a bit more editing but overall, this was an enjoyable book - but not so enjoying I'd need to read what comes next - the ending is just fine.

Wednesday, July 6, 2022

The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks

 genre: science fiction/space opera

Jernau Morat Gurgeh is a player of games. He is a master of strategy and extrapolation - he is well known throughout The Culture for being one of the best.  In his society of sentient machinery and extra-advanced human life, there is no need for war or for a stratified society.  One lives, one watches or plays games, one creates, a peaceful enough existence that for Jernau, eventually, it's boring enough for him to take a chance on something bigger than he's ever imagined.  Apparently, out in space, there is an Empire at whose core is a game - Azad - upon which its society depends.  And The Culture thinks Jernau is the one human who can learn how to play it.

For me, this is science fiction that is just on the cusp of being too much for my brain.  The plot moves along a bit too slowly but it does move and the most sciency bits I just skimmed.  I don't need to know how everything is created or how it functions, I'm ok just knowing it does.  Jernau is not a likable character.  There really isn't any character at all to root for - but I was interested enough in the ideas here that I did want to finish it.  It was just slow going. I liked the big sort of thoughts it inspired in me - how it made me question the ideas that "wars" are are ever a necessity, how it made me look at social stratification and how ridiculous of an idea it is.  The end did surprise me and I liked imagining a life where one can just jet through space, I liked the crazy kinds of life forms that became commonplace.  Glad I gave this one a try.
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