Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Ten on Tuesday - So Many Books Edition!

This week's Ten on Tuesday was too good not to participate - The Last Ten Books You Have Read. I apologize in advance for the length of this post, but I've re-posted many of my goodreads reviews since some of these books are just too good (or too bad!) to only list titles and authors. I'm really looking forward to reading everyone's lists and am hoping to discover some great new books! Here we go, beginning from most recent:

1.  The Burning Air by Erin Kelly
I read this after I heard it described as a book about the lengths a mother would go to for her son. It turned out to be a big buildup for almost nothing. Three stars.

2.  A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
Bullying, Buddhist nuns, time, and some interesting writing. I gave it three stars, but that may be more a reflection of me as a reader than the book itself. It's a very creative premise with some great parts, but there were quite a few portions I just didn't understand. It's a book I wish I had liked more!

3.  Still Life with Bread Crumbs by Anna Quindlen
Still Life with Bread Crumbs has been called the literary equivalent of comfort food, but it just made me feel uncomfortable. I really wanted to like this, since it is authored by Anna Quindlen and the premise sounded somewhat interesting; after the story devolved into a vaguely creepy May-December romance lacking Quindlen's usual gifted writing I was sadly disappointed. I had hoped for a book with more than a predictable plot, one-dimensional characters, and rambling writing, but when I came to the list of words that Rebecca's dog could understand and read the phrase "But that was later" for what seemed like the fiftieth time, I knew I wasn't going to find the depth and exceptional writing I was looking for in Still Life with Bread Crumbs. I've read and really enjoyed several of Quindlen's previous novels and essays, but I'm afraid I may pass on her future books. Two stars.

4.  Hit by a Farm by Catherine Friend
I read this during my short-lived "I want to keep sheep" phase. The author's partner has a dream to farm and keep sheep, and this book recounts their story of moving to Minnesota and learning to farm sheep, chicken, and grapes. Farming was not Friend's dream, so there is some initial whining about it, but over the years, she and her partner work out the dreams vs. realism disparity and find some balance with their farm and lives. Four stars.

5.  Sheepish by Catherine Friend 
This is the sequel to Hit by a Farm, full of more sheep trivia, facts, and vignettes about how Friend came to not just tolerate, but embrace sheep and fiber arts. I especially enjoyed one of the ideas she writes about - why is it so difficult to be in the middle of something? Four stars.

6.  Adventures in Yarn Farming by Barbara Parry
This was the first book in my "I want to keep sheep" phase and it almost convinced me! Most of all it's a beautiful book, filled with gorgeous photos and lovely stories about a year on Parry's farm. There are plenty of details about lambs and breeding, with bits of gardening, spinning, dyeing, and knitting for good measure. Four stars.

7.  The Nobodies Album by Carolyn Parkhurst
The premise piqued my interest and Parkhurst's writing held it. Octavia Frost has decided to rewrite the endings of each of her previous novels of loss. She is a woman who is estranged from her rock star son and who has experienced the tragic death of her husband and daughter.  The original and revised endings are woven through the book, as Octavia cautiously reconnects with her estranged son who has been accused of murdering his girlfriend. Four stars.

8.  Sycamore Row by John Grisham
The best thing I can say about Sycamore Row is that it led me to spend a few pleasurable moments perusing the thesaurus. Sadly, I was looking for synonyms for dull, so now I can say I found Sycamore Row uninspired, lackluster, and tedious. The story line of dying Southern millionaire Seth Hubbard hanging himself after he has handwritten a new will specifically excluding his family and leaving 90% of his estate to his black housekeeper was mildly interesting, but after the seemingly endless pages of greedy lawyers asking the same boring questions during discovery, I no longer cared about the trial. Part of the plot involves Seth’s long-lost brother, but the outcome is fairly predictable. I finished the book only so I could see what the big twist was, and thought it was predictable as well, since Grisham had been hitting the reader clumsily over the head with hints throughout the book. 

Maybe it was because I was a new reader of John Grisham books back in the nineties, but Sycamore Row makes me long for the good old days of The Firm, The Pelican Brief, and The Runaway Jury. Thanks to the thesaurus, which was more interesting reading than this latest Grisham novel, I can say that I found Sycamore Row dull as dishwater, monotonous, and vapid.  

9.  Longbourn by Jo Baker
I'm not a big Jane Austen fan, but I thought Longbourn was a much better book than Pride and Prejudice. It's told from the viewpoint of the servants and domestic staff at the Bennet's estate, Longbourn, from Pride and Prejudice. I really liked the realism of scrubbing petticoats and chilblains without the romantic swooning over Mr. Darcy.

Saved the best for last; this is a 5 star, must-read!
10.  This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Anne Patchett 
This is the Story of a Happy Marriage is everything other reviewers have said, and more. It’s a wonderfully-written and varied collection of Ann Patchett’s essays, ranging from musings about how she considered joining the Los Angeles Police Dept. in order to write about it and how she is influenced by her father, a retired LAPD police captain, to her feelings about her dog Rose and Sister Nena, the nun that taught her to read and write, to the eloquent and moving account of caring for her grandmother during her progression into dementia.

I’ve read and enjoyed (with reservations) several of Patchett’s novels. Bel Canto was great but I hated the ending, and I liked State of Wonder, except for some of the more ludicrous plot points. I personally found this collection of essays much more engrossing than any of her novels that I’ve read. She can write about almost anything, revealing thoughts, emotions, and advice without becoming preachy and overbearing. 

I was completely unaware of Lucy Grealy, Patchett’s long-term friendship with her, and the controversies arising from their relationship. I’m very tempted to read Patchett’s Truth and Beauty to delve into this further, and may do that after I’ve had some time to digest this essay from Grealy’s sister. I’m hoping that Patchett will further show, as she did in this collection, that there are often quite a few ways of viewing a situation, and one absolute truth does not always exist.

I do have to thank Ann Patchett for leading me to an epiphany. In “Love Sustained”, she writes about the long and painful decline of her grandmother Eva:

“My grandmother had spent her life taking care of other people, cooking their food, cleaning their houses. It was her proof that she was valuable in the world. Now I cleaned my grandmother's apartment, which hurt her every single time. My cleaning was an accusation, no matter how quietly I went about it.”
When I read, “It was her proof that she was valuable in the world.”, I gained a much better understanding of my dear mother-in-law. She raised five children with lots of hard work and no time to herself. Now that she has too much time to herself, she is missing that visible proof that she is valuable in the world. I could see her so clearly in that one simple sentence. I’m grateful for this entertaining and elucidative collection of essays that was a pleasure to read, and even more so when read by the author in the audio version.


  1. Okay . . . so now I'll definitely read "This is the Story of a Happy Marriage." (After "State of Wonder" I've been leery . . .) Maybe "Longbourn" too. (I am a huge fan of "P & P" . . . and I love swooning over Mr. Darcy.) "The Tale for the Time Being" was one of my favorite reads of last year.

  2. Thanks for the info on Longbourn. It was one of my "maybe" reads, and I'll probably pick it up at some point now. (And I'm off to go look for more info on "Happy Marriage" - it sounds like a winner!)

  3. I could echo what Kym said, but I'm not a big fan of Pachett's work so will skip her latest. Longbourn sounds interesting and it's one I've considered. Your review may be the push I need.

  4. Funny i dont like patchett at all. but i love what you had to say about her work. melbourn will be one of my next reads. Thanks for sharing.

  5. I love P&P, so was leery of Longbourn...I'm going to give it a try! Also Ann Patchett's essay collection; I haven't read any of her books since the early 2000's but I remember enjoying them.

  6. Really powerful Patchett quote. Thanks for sharing it!

  7. Funny that I either love or hate Patchett's books. I hated State of Wonder and have held off on the Happy Marriage book. perhaps I'll give it a try after all. I enjoyed your reviews!


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