Category Archives: Book Reviews

About Our Recommendations and Community

When I first started, I linked all books I referenced to Amazon, since it’s convenient and would allow someone ease to purchase the books I was discussing. But as I thought more about this decision, it felt like an endorsement and I want to remain company and format agnostic for now.

I have written about my approach to reading, which is all over the place- I use a Kindle, a Kobo, a Nook.  I was on Oyster and Scribd. I buy used books from local Friends of the Library stores and some of the amazing bookstores in my area.  I buy the latest hardcover from the local independent bookstores that I love to visit.  I am a library power user- I have 3 library cards because the state I live in allows me to be a member of any library in the state so long as I can prove residency on a regular basis.  And most of the work that I borrow is in digital or audio book format. But I also hunt for Kindle sales through a number of sites and on Twitter.  I get a thrill by paying $1.99 for an ebook that I am excited about and letting it sit in my digital collection until I am ready to get to it.

So I have decided that instead of linking to Amazon directly, I will in the near future link to Goodreads. (And while I know that Amazon owns Goodreads, it does off the opportunity for people to evaluate the prices that the book is being sold from some of the various companies- Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Kobo, Audible, Book Depository, etc.) The reason I think this is the right thing for me to do, is that I am hoping that readers of the blog will start Goodread lists based on the discussions, and how (or if ) they purchase the book is beside the point.  I want to keep this going as long as I can, but I also know that there may be costs down the road, if the blog grows in followers and size, and that may mean that I revisit this but for right now, the biggest goal is to connect with other to build a community of readers.

Link up with us on Goodreads and let’s see each other’s book lists!

Just out of curiosity- where do most of you get your books from?

Book Review: Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf

I picked this book up after hearing about the story’s premise, which I found endearing and lovely.  Having just finished reading The Stranger by Albert Camus, I was feeling a bit unmoored and desolate.  I needed a boost of something more heartfelt.  I could not have planned this better, if I had tried.
A lovely hardcover of Our Souls at Night from the public library.
A lovely hardcover of Our Souls at Night from the public library.
It was a chance situation, in fact.  I had been forced from the coziness of my apartment to go down to the local library branch to prove that I was still alive and living in the area, as they request their patrons do every 2 years, in order to renew my library card. I primarily use the library for digital books, so I didn’t want to be without access to new reads for a weekend. (I’m a little anxious like that.) While I was there, I looked at their recent arrivals area and found The Cartel by Don Winslow which was recommended to me by a good friend, the Buddha manga series by Osamu Tezuka, and this gem of a book.  I was delighted!
The story is about a 70 year old widower, Louis, who is asked by a widow neighbor, Addie, whom he only knows in passing, to sleep with her in a surprisingly matter of fact manner. She is lonely and assumes that he is, too. She doesn’t want sex, but the comfort of talking to someone in the dark and laying next to someone as they drift off to sleep. They begin an intimate and caring relationship which is deepened by the arrival of her young grandson. I won’t go further into the plot as I don’t want to spoil the book.
What I loved about the book was it’s narrative style and the themes. One of the first things you notice when picking it up is the lack of quotation marks.  It threw me off balance at first, but once I adjusted, I found that device ended up drawing me in more closely. This is a quiet, slow and tender book. When I had to put the book down and then return to it, I was repeatedly shocked by how much of the story was compressed into a few paragraphs. The actions taken are small, but resonant.  The conversation is sparse, but meaningful.  It is a pleasure of a book to read.
The setting is midwestern Americana- a quiet suburb near the country. The descriptions of the scenery were beautiful, as was the delicate interplay of Addie and Louis. I especially loved how I felt safe to let go and falling into this story. I didn’t feel there was going to be a huge twist near the end that would shock or break me. I did worry about the characters, but I trusted that the author wouldn’t crush my soul. And my trust was well placed.
 I truly fell in love with these characters.  The widow Addie is so sensible and plain speaking while warm and loving. Louis is considerate while he is playing catch up to her idea. Jamie is a good kid who is scared and confused, hungry for parental love and Gene, Jamie’s father, is the scarred son who can’t move past failures. The town is also a big character in the story- reigning in, observing, judging, approving and disapproving, trying to set the pace for what should be acceptable of people their ages.
The themes Haruf are conveying hum clearly throughout the book- the crippling isolation of aging, the need to continue to take risks in life, and the importance of human touch and interaction. This is really a gem of a book.  I gave it 5 of 5 stars and I would recommend it for people who like life affirming stories, discerning readers who need well crafted books as well as strong substance, those who like character driven books, and anyone who just needs to get their heart muscle pumping again.
Our Souls at Night Book Cover Our Souls at Night
Kent Haruf
Fiction
Knopf Publishing Group
May 26, 2015
Hardcover
192
Public Library

A senior-aged widow and widower forge a loving bond over shared loneliness and respective histories, provoking local gossip and the disapproval of their grown children in ways that are further complicated by an extended visit by a sad young grandchild.

Book Review: 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

I really wanted to start 2016 off by reading a really good book.  But it’s hard to know if the one in your hands is going to deliver on the hopes and promises.  It’s always a gamble, but sometimes you win the jackpot with a book.  And that is how I felt with this lovely, thin tome.

Let me get the first jarring bit out-of-the-way: it’s an epistolary novel.  If you are like me, that can turn you off more than entice you into the book.  I think it’s very hard to do something like this without it feeling gimmicky.  I am happy to say, once I got adjusted to the style, it made more sense and became a fun part of the book, not a distraction.

This is a witty, charming, and utterly delightful story of a correspondence between a bookshop in London and a single New Yorker, on the hunt for inexpensive but clean books from 1949 through 1969.  Her voice is clear and authentic.  She is a bit wry and has a brusque but generous personality that jumps off the page.  I smiled on page  3 and quite literally laughed out loud on page 5.  The shop owner’s voice is a fantastic counterpoint with his staid, and buttoned-up propriety in his correspondence.  And just as you are following these two people and their communiques, then new characters write letters and get introduced to the fold as the employees of this charming book shop in London.

What I loved in this little book was the intimate look back to a different era, and the ways people communicated and reached out to each other.  The caring shared among these people was palpable.  And the resounding themes that you are left with were of friendship, kindness, generosity, and the passage of time.

For this book review, I highly recommend this book for people who:

  • like post WW2 novels
  • want a cozy and life-affirming read
  • for book lovers
  • for people who love character driven stories

Have you read it?  If so, what did you think?  Please let your comments below.

84, Charing Cross Road Book Cover 84, Charing Cross Road
Helene Hanff
Literary Fiction
Penguin Books
1970
Paperback
97
http://amzn.to/1ZuSvNA

It all began with a letter inquiring about second-hand books, written by Helene Hanff in New York, and posted to a bookshop at 84, Charing Cross Road in London. As Helene's sarcastic and witty letters are responded to by the stodgy and proper Frank Doel of 84, Charing Cross Road, a relationship blossoms into a warm and charming long-distance friendship lasting many years.