Monday, February 29, 2016

Some Time Away

This is a really hard post for me, because I love this blog and I love you all so, so much. But I'm going to be taking some time away from blogging right now. As you all know, I've been dealing with a lot of issues in my personal and family life lately, and in the last couple of weeks even more issues have arisen. It's very hard to post consistently when I'm mostly avoiding the home computer. I will still be trying to keep up with the reading challenges I've set for myself here, so you might see a post on those challenges from time to time. But mostly I just need to focus my energy elsewhere right now. I will of course be reading your blogs when I have the chance, and if you'd like to continue reading reviews (albeit shorter ones) from me regularly, you can check out my Goodreads account:
Hopefully I'll see you all back here soon!

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Deal Me In: January Short Stories

I've been reading my short stories for the 2016 Deal Me In Challenge and just haven't had a chance to post my reviews about them yet. This is definitely different for me; I don't usually read many short stories. But I am loving this challenge! I've discovered some great authors this way that I've never read before, and I have high hopes for the rest of the year's reading.

Week 1: "Cataract" by Pam Houston
from: CutBank, No. 50; Prize Stories 1999: The O. Henry Awards
Synopsis: Lucy, her boyfriend (Josh), and three of their friends meet up at Cataract Canyon in Colorado to run the river rapids at some of their highest flood levels. They're all experienced boaters, but the rapids are very dangerous at that level, and there's quite a bit of distracting tension between the five friends.
Conclusion: Houston is a solid writer. She presents well-rounded characters connected by a situation and place to which I can't directly relate, but I still understand the characters in a concrete way. Her writing is very real; that's what I liked about the story. And even though Houston shows you what is happening in Lucy's life, she leaves you to draw your own conclusions. Many profound things happen in this short story, not the least of which is Lucy and Thea getting thrown off the boat and almost drowning. Their survival is downplayed by the jovial mood and adrenaline high of the men in the group, and Lucy realizes some things about her chosen path in life. I like that Houston doesn't tell you what Lucy will do next or how these characters will continue their lives from here.

(picture taken from Goodreads)

Week 2: "The Depressed Person" by David Foster Wallace
from: Harper's Magazine; Prize Stories 1999: The O. Henry Awards
Synopsis: The depressed person learns things about how her past has affected her present condition as a fractured individual, and she admits all of her feelings and concerns about herself and everything else to her therapist and her Support System.
Conclusion: Wallace does a really good job with this piece. Basically, this short story is a cyclical reflection of the depressed person's fears of inadequacy for the outside world and sufferings related to her past tousled between two constantly rivaling divorced parents. This story is really effective in communicating the depressed person's reality because of Wallace's writing techniques: detached, third-person language; run-on sentences that last for half of a paragraph; casual observations of others and their personal situations while the prose primarily focuses on the depressed person. The effect is a continuous dialogue that feels like sitting in on a therapy session, and the reader can picture herself there, just listening to this whole story play out.

(picture taken from Goodreads)

Week 3: "Delicate Edible Birds" by Lauren Groff
from: Glimmer Train; The Best American Short Stories: 2010
Synopsis: Four journalists and a photographer are in France covering the Nazi invasion of WWII. Taking pictures and interviewing refugees on the road from Paris to Bordeaux, their Jeep runs out of gas, and they stop at the only occupied place in sight. This turns out to be the home of a Nazi-sympathizing Frenchman who offers to provide them with all of the gas and food they need if he can "sleep" with the female journalist, Bernice. When she refuses, he locks them all in his barn as prisoners for the Germans until, one by one, the men in the group turn on Bernice to take the deal.
Conclusion: Well, I'll definitely be reading more from Groff in the future. She tells this story in sketches of each character with an eye on his past with Bernice: Viktor, the unnattractive and sensitive Russian; Parnell, the handsome, married Brit; Frank, the rough and mostly useless American; and Lucci, the sweet and artistic Italian photographer. Bernice's past has been a rough and promiscuous one, and she relates the trapped situation in which she now finds herself to the indulgent shame of a bird dinner that she once witnessed. This story is a beautiful but harsh question of choices, independence, dignity, sacrifice, and many other things.

Week 4: "The Valetudinarian" by Joshua Ferris
from: The New Yorker; The Best American Short Stories: 2010
Synopsis: Arty Groys decides to stay in Florida (where he recently moved for his retirement) even though his wife just died in a car accident. He grows increasingly more bitter toward his neighbor's dog; concerned about growing old and his health issues; and lonely from his distant children in Ohio and his only, rarely-seen friend, Jimmy Denton.
Conclusion: I really like stories with old characters. Maybe it's because of the opportunity to look back at a wider past of experiences, or maybe it's just because most authors don't pay attention to the older characters as much as the younger ones. It's interesting that a foreign prostitute is the one to finally motivate Arty to live his life, but I can kind of see why she would be: she's seen a lot in her life and has a "Why not try to live life to the fullest?" mentality. At least, that's how she comes across to him. And then his neighbor, Mrs. Zegerman, just wants someone to take care of really. That's going to be a sweet but strange friendship/relationship post-story. This piece was oddly inspiring.

Monday, February 15, 2016

By Book or by Crook / Booked for Trouble

By Book or by Crook and Booked for Trouble are the first and second books in the Lighthouse Library Mystery series by Eva Gates. In the series, Lucy has recently abandoned her socialite life in Boston to work and live in a small, seaside library housed in an old lighthouse.

(picture taken from Goodreads)

Conclusion: This is what's called a "cozy mystery," and it lives up to its name. It's cute and fun and safe. I enjoy reading these when I need to just relax. It's more like a riddle than a complicated murder case. As for this one specifically, what a cute idea! A library in a lighthouse with a comfortable little apartment upstairs? Gates knows what she's doing, 'cause I'm definitely reading the second one when it comes out. I like Lucy's character pretty well, although I got tired of the "I'm so worried about what I'm eating and oh, look at my perfectly beautiful cousin" side comments from time to time. Luckily, that wasn't a large part of her thoughts. I can't decide how I feel about Bertie--there's nothing that really stands out about her. Charlene and Ronald are fun, fairly well-rounded characters for this kind of book, though. Thomas is a good character but kind of annoying with his fake accent, although I guess that's intentional. The love interests and the quizzical little mystery are the real fun in this story. Connor and Butch are both sweet and total opposites. As the town mayor, Connor is a sweet-talking, book-learned man with the advantage of a previous friendship/young love with Lucy. Butch is a big, muscly bear of a man with a sweet natural temperament. He has a boost from his connection to Lucy's cousin, Josie, through his brother, but might still be at a disadvantage since he is a cop (and therefore at odds with Lucy while she is suspected of the crimes committed in this story). I have a suspicion that Lucy will end up with Connor, but in order to avoid anger or disappointment, Butch will need to find someone else soon. Perhaps the book group Lucy is starting will play into that, bringing new characters to the forefront of the series. I look forward to reading the second book and seeing where Gates's story goes!

(picture taken from Goodreads)

Conclusion: I enjoyed the break from Lucy's self-evaluation in this one. She seemed much more comfortable and confident in her position than she was in the first. This is a good, natural progression for that character at this point, so Gates is doing well there. I still find Thomas's character annoying. To be honest, I guessed who the murderer was early on and then just kind of set it aside in case something else came to light. I think Gates's signature with this series is choosing murderers that everyone pretty much dismisses until the end when they suddenly attack someone. That's what happens in the first two, at least. The sweet romances that Gates built into the first book fell into the background a little in this one, but I suspect it will pick-up again in the third. I still think Connor has the advantage there, without the conflict of interest where Lucy is always being investigated by Butch, but Gates could turn it around if she wants. The storyline with Lucy's mother turned out better than I expected. Everything was kind of disconnected initially, but bringing in a little more sincerity there was key, and her history with the other characters really filled out her character. I also liked the addition of the Gray Woman. She fleshed things out a bit and had a perfect level of quirkiness for this book.

Overall a fun beginning for this series! I'm eagerly awaiting the third one, which comes out in April, I think. Do you all like cozy mysteries? What do you look for in a mystery series?