Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Weekend Reading pt. Deux

The weather here was gorgeous this past weekend and with a clean house and with my (entire!) family out of town, I got to concentrate on just reading!

I ended up finishing two books this weekend ( both from my never ending  GR TBR list = double score).

Second up is my non-fiction section:  

In Spite of Everything: A Memoir
Susan Thomas Gregory

Not even sure what made be add this book to my Goodreads TBR list. However during the great TBR purge of 2012, I ended up keeping it on the list and finding it in a local library. I can’t remember what drew me to add this book to the list in way back on July 31, 2011 as I am neither a Gen X’er nor a child for divorce, but I gave it go anyway.

Susan Thomas Gregory rights  a memoir about the scars that divorce has left on the children of Generation X and how she fought hard not to repeat the same sins of her parents. We learn about her childhood growing up with an alcoholic father and a sometimes absent mother; their cross country move and her subsequent struggle when her dad moved out on the family. Later we see her troubled adolescent and college years until she settles into a horrible job after graduating college. The book continues on and focuses on her meeting and eventually marrying her husband and snippets of their life together as it falls apart. Throughout each chapter there are lots of references to Greek Mythology and Eminem ( the rapper) as well as  social commentary and research about a variety of things including starter marriages, children’s’ response to divorce, helicopter parents and the housing market. Mortgage crisis as it relates to generation X. The most interesting part is her commentary and “research” on how sons raised by single mothers are often times victims of emotional incest, from having to be the man of the house. This part was mostly completed by her own personal stories of 2-3 men who fall into this category, but I still found the analogy interesting nonetheless.

When I finished the book, my first thought was that I really wanted to read/know her husband’s version of the story because hers literally left me so lost. In the beginning, it sounded like a mutual decision, but as she gave more detailed toward the end of the book, it seemed to be all on her husband.  HE came off looking like an ass, but with a much more detailed story  behind it. I guess that’s what ends up happening in a divorce memoir.

Part divorce memoir, part Generation X study I felt this book didn’t really have a firm idea of what it was and because I belonged to neither of those groups ( knock on wood), I struggled to  find how she, according to the description,  was stunned to find her marriage coming to an end or how she vowed to never let her kids know divorce.  I’m sure hindsight is 20/20 but she never really focused on how she did those too aside from making a promise to herself and trying to go for some marriage counseling.  I did enjoy her social commentary, but I just wasn’t able to relate to her childhood or her subsequent divorce. 

Weekend Reading

The weather here was gorgeous this past weekend and with a clean house and with my (entire!) family out of town, I got to concentrate on just reading!

I ended up finishing two books this weekend ( both from my never ending  GR TBR list = double score).

First up is my fiction choice:

My sister picked this book up first and I though it sounds interesting and it didn’t appear to be one of those drama for drama’s sake books. Plus the author is attending my Alma Mater, so I had to support Ms. Octavia.

Should have Known Better introduces us to Dawn Johnson a devoted wife, mother and librarian living in Augusta, GA. Dawn exemplifies the working mom struggle which is increased by the fact that her son, has Autism. One day she gets a call from an old college roommate who is in town for a conference and wants to come hang out like old times.  Sasha is Dawn’s sorority sister and once best friend who is now an acclaimed journalist living the fast life in the Atl. While Dawn is excited, she also has some reservations about Sasha coming to visit because she knows that Sasha has never approved of her relationship/marriage to her husband Reginald a blue collar worker who never finished college. Reginald has his own issue with Sasha and her BUPPIE lifestyle. Putting all that aside, Sasha comes to visit and after she and Regional initially but heads,  things soon swing quickly in the other direction. Dawn is never able to put her hands on it, but she sees things changing and her gut tells her that Sasha is desperate for a man and a baby and will do anything to get it.
The story reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend recently. I wanted to visit her and her family in their new military duty station( which for reference was outside the continental U.S.). During the planning process she told me that she would was fine with me staying with her. I remember being taken aback because the only way I could afford this trip was because I didn’t budget a hotel. My friend went on to explain that her mother had warned her not to have her friends staying in her house with her husband unless she could trust them( no clarification on if them included the husband). Apparently, I had made the cut, but many others had not and it caused a riff in the friendships. That conversation stayed with me for years and pops in my head from time to time. After reading this book, I wonder if Dawn could have benefited from a similar conversation.

I really wanted to like Dawn, but I had trouble with the plot. It’s completely plausible, but Dawn was just so slow to act and clueless it was annoying.  Now we have all been in a situation where our gut tells us one thing, but the way Dawn took a back seat was just annoying.

I really enjoyed the writing, and the way that Ms. Octavia addressed some really big A’s- Adultery, Alcoholism and Autism and because of her smooth writing, I kept reading even if I didn’t really connect with Dawn and wanted to reach into the book and shake her. Sometimes the sequence of events just seemed over the top and the ending was pretty abrupt which I guess means we can anticipate a sequel. I know love and lust are crazy things, but Sasha and Reginald just seemed far-fetched. Had it not been for the great writing, I probably would have given up on the book halfway through, but the writing flowed so well, it was easy to just keep going. 

Saturday, May 19, 2012

White Lines II

White Lines II: Sunny
Tracey Brown

One of my “literary pet peeves” is “ contemporary street lit”- books about hustler’s  Wives and what not that glorify and glamourize a life that usually ends in the graveyard or a jail cell.  I detest these type of books and stay as far away from them as I can. With that being said, I’m still not sure how I came across the original White Lines but I ended up loving it. It was one book which showed that while it looks like glitz and glamour what’s underneath is often the furthest thing from it.

Over the years I’d seen other Tracey Brown books on the shelves, but I  was only interested in White Lines so imagine my surprise when I found one was finally published.

White Lines II begins a few years after the first one left off. I admits that I had to go back and skim WL, because it had been so long ( 5 years!) since I read the original but in the sequel, Sunny is enjoying life a wife and mother but yet still grieving the loss of her beloved Dorian. She’s come a long way since giving up her addiction a few years ago and aided by 2 stints in rehab is doing good. Except she sometimes misses her old life- the parties, the glitz and glamour and on a trip for her latest business venture,  she finds what she has been missing both in her love life and in her “secret”. As she struggles to maintain both, she ends up risking everything.

While the book mainly focuses on Sunny,  we are also reintroduced to Jada ( my favorite character) who is trying to re-kindle her relationship with Born despite their past and raise her son Sheldon who is fighting his own set of demons. There are some other minor characters- Jada’s sister Ava, Olivia and Zion, whom I gather are from her other books.  As Sunny fight her growing dependence on her old friend, Jada struggles with her own demons regarding her child, his father and her actions while pregnant.

I realize this book was about Sunny and while I enjoyed her perspective, I have to say that I found Jada’s storyline much more interesting and almost wish this was focused just on her.
This book ends in the ultimate cliffhanger and after seeing that this was just recently published, I hope we don’t have to wait too long for the sequel because I am dying to know what happens next.

This book was as gritty or as real to me as WL was, there was lots of references to designer clothing and cars that I don’t remember from the first one but that seems to be a staple in Urban fiction  which I honestly find annoying to describe every outfit complete with what designers- Chanel dress, Loubotioun shoes). Aside from that I enjoyed this book almost as much as the original but it seemed lacking in character development in some areas- for instance- Ava just seemed to be thrown in there for good measure at times- there wasn’t much character development going on there.

Overall, I enjoyed this book. It doesn’t live up to WhiteLines in my book, buts its solid on its own and I definitely wasn’t disappointed.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Selection

The Selection
Kierra Cass

This book was described to me as The Bachelor Meets the Hunger Games and with it introduction like that, how could I NOT read it? Royalty, dystopian literature is almost the trifecta of perfect reading.

In the Selection by Kierra Class were are introduced to America Singer, a young teenaged girl who lives in the Country Illéa, created after the 4th world war from what once was North America. The country of Illéa is  a monarchy  ruled by an Eight caste system and while we are only vaguely introduced to the system we learn that America is a 5 and pretty much stuck in the middle of the system ( Lower Middle Class to Working Class). America’s family is musicians and artists who could always use a little extra money. So when a notice about The Selection arrives at the door and offers money for America’s participation, she is reluctantly talked into joining.

The Selection is the bachelor part of the story. This nationwide completion consists of 32  young, eligible Bachelorettes from Illéa compete to become the new Queen. In Illéa, the Queen is chosen from among the people, the commoners in a Bacheloresqe style completion where the Prince and his family choose the next Queen. All castes are invited to participate Whisked off to a life of luxury in the palace the girls compete for one-on-one dates and stolen kisses with the Prince. The selections is a life changing event for all involved- the families receive compensation for their daughters  and the young women become tabloid  (or what passes for tabloid in Illéa) fodder and their lives and experiences are captured on television for the world to see. 

When America arrives she is still pinning over the love of her life, Aspen, whom she left back home after a break-up. Not interested in Maxon she is only there for the money and the experience. However, once she arrives she finds that that she actually like Maxon and as the competition heats up, things gets interesting and then the book ends- literally.
True to form, this book is definitely like The Bachelor, especially in the fact that I got sucked into this book and couldn’t put it down, despite a thousand other things I needed to be doing.
Overall, I really enjoyed the story. I thought it was a neat plotline that was original. It did border on more fluffy chick-lit YA than a real Dystopian novel.  While a brief history of Ilea was give, there was no real explanation of what it mean to me a citizen of Ilea or what the caste’s were and why the really existed.
Also, I have to mention how much the names bugged me in this book. The main character in the book is America Singer- we learn where her first name comes from and her last name is her occupation but this does not follow through for others in the book. We meet an Ana Farmer who is a …farmer, but other naming conventions fall short and some are just annoying- Amberly, Maxon. Then we meet Aspen. I know it’s weird but it just annoyed me that some people had names of cities, states then there were normal names and then those names that make teachers cringe when we see them on rosters.
So aside from the lack of “dystopia” and the names, I really enjoyed this book and I am looking forward to the sequel. I hope it is as good as this one and that it won’t be drawn out over three books. 

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The College Experience

The Marriage Plot
Jeffery Eugeinides
One of my favorite literary niche genre’s is coming of age stories- specifically that occur during college. It doesn’t take a psychologist to see where my love of this genre comes from. I loved my undergraduate days that I never left college (sorry a little Student affairs professional humor). I enjoyed my college experience but what I really remember were the people that helped mold and guide me both academically, professionally and even personally. I wanted to be that person and so I re-entered the Ivy Tower, pursued a Masters in Higher education Administration and Student Affairs and have been working the field for 5 years in a variety of positions. So when I see a book about a student’s “coming of age” during college I automatically pick it up. That’s what primarily led me to Jeffery Eugeines- the Marriage Plot (well that and the fact the I loved the Virgin Suicides). The Marriage Plot started showing up on all the “Best of” or “Can’t be Missed books of 2011 so I had high expectations going into the story.
The main character in the book is Madeline, a college senior who is graduating from Brown University in the 1980’s (I believe it was the wonderful and exciting year of 1983). The title of the book comes from Madeline’s Thesis and it follows Madeline as she graduates and moves into the “real world” with her group of friends and boyfriend

I enjoyed this book but I also struggled with it. The first part reads like a literature class which was a little difficult for me to follow. I kept wondering if I had reverted back to my undergrad days. I kept slugging through because this is supposed to be one of the best books of 2011 and I wanted to see what all the hype was about.

The book picked up a little and then slowed down (at least for me) and it took me a lot longer to finish it because some parts were tedious to read. I enjoyed most of the characters but fount Mitchell's narrative to be rather slow. I found Madeline a little infuriating, but I'm sure I was too when I was 21.

Overall, I enjoyed the book but, I also have to say that I am glad to be done with it.

Friday, May 11, 2012

All Hail the Queen

I’m sure a large majority of young girls grow up wanting to be a princess and the ideas is certainly shoved down young girls throats almost everywhere you turn, however as we get older reality comes into play and most girls grow out of it. Until Kate Middleton came along.  I began following the Kate/William fairy tale since probably 2005 and I remember their breakup in 2007 because it closely followed a personal breakup. Then just like Kate, we reconciled and were married (although much sooner than Wills and Kate. Since the wedding (which I woke up early to watch), I’ve had sort of a weird obsessions with the royals. I’ve watched several PBS royal documentaries and became interested in Elizabeth the II and her reign. Here is the story of a young lady who for her childhood had no idea that this would be her future. It’s still a sort of fairytale ( at least from my perspective) I’ve always had been intrigued by her action during WWII ( back to the war again) and her life overall. When I first saw the book, I have to admit I was turned away by the sheer size, but after getting it in the much less intimidating eBook format, I gave it shot. I expected to read the beginning and the end and skim through the middle, but after I started reading, I just kept going. It was fascinating and I loved how the book was written. The middle did get a little boring ( so many primer ministers to remember) and sometimes it seemed tedious, but other than that I founds this a fascinating read and look into the life of the Queen.

This book fall on the series spectrum of biographies and at times, it felt like a British History lesson which I enjoyed. I also enjoyed the little tidbits of the Queen’s personality that while I’m sure they were carefully vetted were interesting and made her seem like anyone else’s grandmother ( well almost).

This is the first book I’ve ever read regarding the monarch and Elizabeth and I was not disappointed. The only thing that did shock me about this was that Diana was portrayed in a very negative light. Having not paid much attention to the monarch after Diana’s death and being fairly young during the marriage and subsequent divorce, I never had any inkling that Diana was seen as unstable by the media. By the time I came along, Diana was the Humanitarian she is portrayed as today.
Anyway, this book can seem intimidating- long and full of history, but it actually moves in a faster pace for most of the book and is enjoyable read. Of course it stops short of divulging any information about Kate’s place in all of this, so if that’s what you are after than skip this. However, if you are interested in the monarchy/British history than this is an excellent start.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis

Lauren Winner's Girl Meets God is probably one of my top ten favorite books. Something about the book and the time period I read it resonated with me. The book also began my curiosity and fascination with Judaism which continued with her follow-up book, so it has a special place on my shelf.  

When I saw that Winner had written a new book I was excited to get my hands on it and read it, even though I was a little worried about the topic and subject matter- not about having a crisis of faith, but on writing about so soon. Ms. Winner is a few years older than me and while I've had my own crises of faith, I also realize that life for me is still young and so it was a little hard for me to take this book seriously. Are we going to get a book after every crisis of faith? Also there wasn’t much spiritual meat in the book, it honestly felt like whining and complaining about life, the end of the marriage and such. Its perfect material for a blog, but as a memoir on faith it fell short for me and I reluctantly abandoned it.
The chapters were very short and seemed somewhat choppy and it felt like I was just rambling along in Lauren’s head. This type of writing isn’t uncommon, but for what a deeper subject was it just seemed too much.  Perhaps I will give this one another go at another time. I found that a lot of time spiritual memoirs resonate differently depending on when they are read.
I realized that I never got around to writing a review for Girl Meets God. Again, I’m aware that part of the reason that book had such a profound impact on me, was because of where I was in my own spiritual journey at the time. I did find my amazon.com review of her book Mudhouse Sabbath which I enjoyed immensely. I also found a post where I mentioned my love of Ms. Winner’s book.