Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

This month's official book club selection for two different book clubs of which I'm a member (LOVE when that happens!) is Celeste Ng's Little Fires Everywhere. Set in an idyllic, very planned community, Elena Richardson's large family collides with Mia Warren's very small one. Mia is an artist, an unconventional photographer, who travels from one town to another with her daughter Pearl seeking out her next project. They own almost nothing and get by with as little as they can- the art is what is important. Elena Richardson, on the other hand, has the deepest of roots in the small town of Shaker Heights and has always lived her life by the rules. Her four teenage children, all in high school, don't all share her strong convictions and sense of right and wrong. As Pearl and Izzy, Elena's youngest daughter, get to know one another, as well as the other's mother, they each see something they have been missing in their own family dynamics.

I really loved reading this book. The characters are wonderful and complex. The narrative is beautifully delivered. I have heard this book called "slow-moving", but I couldn't disagree more. This book kept me up way past my bedtime and only when I forced my hands to relinquish it to the bedside table and squeezed my eyes shut was I able to begin to feel sleepy. One of my favorite aspects of this novel was that it was set in 1997. I am a Nineties kid and the references were delightful. Why yes! I did own a little pot of kiwi lip balm from The Body Shop that year. And yes, I also angrily listened to Tori Amos on repeat in my bedroom and in my car. Ah, memories...

This is a remarkable book that I thoroughly enjoyed diving into at any and every available moment. I have heard good things about the audio version, so I've added that to my list as well. I'll let you know! In the mean time, read this book and tell me what you think. There are some very interesting dilemmas presented for the reader's contemplation and there are no easy answers. 

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant is not completely fine in Gail Honeyman's novel Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine. Sure, the title tells you she's fine and Eleanor herself will tell you she is fine; lots of people have a harder life than she does. After all, she has always- well, almost always- had access to enough food to eat, a warm, safe roof over her head, and clean water to drink. She'll be the first to point out that millions of people around the world can't say that is true for them. And yet from the very beginning the reader knows there is something truly horrible and not at all fine in Eleanor's past. First of all, she tells us she has a disfiguring scar on her face, the result of a terrible childhood burn. She also has a job that she doesn't enjoy, but took gratefully at a time when she had been severely injured by an ex-boyfriend. And Eleanor's social skills leave much to be desired, the result of never really having normal interactions with other people. No, Eleanor Oliphant certainly isn't completely fine.

Very early in the book we learn about the appalling relationship Eleanor has with her mother:

Mummy has always told me that I am ugly, freakish, vile. She's done so from my earliest years, even before I acquired my scars.

Eleanor talks about how her life hasn't been perfect, but that she's had what she's needed. She is utterly pragmatic about her situation. Her council apartment, arranged by her social worker, is plain and furnished with donations and thrift store finds. I really enjoyed the background she imagines for the lackluster kitchen table she has come to own, from the newlywed couple who may have picked it out at a department store, through various owners, and then given to charity.

They gave it to me, unloved, unwanted, irreparably damaged. Also the table.

The reader is given a real sense of just how burdensome Eleanor's life has been. This has led her to become rather pragmatic and practical, leaving emotion and sentiment out of her decisions. While attending the funeral of a new friend and contemplating her own eventual demise, she ruminates on this interesting post-mortal possibility:

I think I might like to be fed to zoo animals. It would be both environmentally friendly and a lovely treat for the larger carnivores. Could you request that? I wondered. I made a mental note to write to the WWF in order to find out.

I did try to find the answer to this question as I was writing this blog post, but I have thus far been unable to find any helpful information. I'll be sure to let you know if I finally get the answer. Personally, I think this idea is pretty ingenious. Eleanor's reasoning is quite logical and I like to think of myself as quite sensible as well.

There were so many parts of this book that I enjoyed, but I'm not sure I can say I really liked this book. It is a little dark and the adversity that Eleanor must overcome in her life is so sad and distressing. The reader is asked to suffer through the remembering of it with Eleanor and I found that painful. Also, I really wanted to like Eleanor, but her personality at the beginning is quite unlikable. I appreciated the need for her to start off somewhat rough so that the reader could watch her grow, but it gave the book a slow start for me. The characters with whom Eleanor surrounds herself, however, are absolutely lovely and exactly the brightness this book needed.

Monday, October 1, 2018

I Work at a Public Library by Gina Sheridan

I live in a town that has always had a wonderful library. They never fail me when I really need something, be it book, audiobook, or DVD. The little bookstore in the corner of the library makes me happy every time I walk through it, nearly always bringing something home. I was wandering through the library last week when I stumbled upon a table that was displaying this cute little book:
I Work at a Public Library by Gina Sheridan. Now, I've kind of always wanted to work at a public library so of course this book called right to me. It is a collection of wacky, amusing encounters the author has had over the years working as a public librarian.

These experiences range from strange reference questions, to crazy complaints from patrons, all the way to touching moments of connection. This whole tiny little book was wonderful and I laughed quite out loud several times, but my favorite section was the last one in the book. It was all about those wonderful moments when a librarian gets to see the good they've done in the lives of their patrons. I actually cried over a couple of the stories. The best one was about a Doughnut Guy and it really goes to show how important it is to ask people about themselves. You really never know who you are going to meet.

If you love the library as much as I do (and, man is that a lot!), pick up this quick read and enjoy seeing it from the other side of the reference desk.

When you've read the book and are thirsty for more, check out the author's blog:

The Night Before by Wendy Walker

Well, that cover looks super boring! Don't worry- there's a good reason. The Night Before by Wendy Walker isn't scheduled for release until May 14th, 2019, but the publisher asked a few select readers to read and review it way ahead of schedule so that buzz could begin to build. I was flattered to be asked since I had read Walker's Emma in the Night and really liked it. 

Another suspense novel, The Night Before begins with Laura, a woman who has been very unlucky in love, getting ready for her first date in a long while. She is meeting a man she found on a dating website and is unsure if this is a good idea or not, but with the encouragement of her older sister, Rosie, she is willing to give it a shot. Laura carries some difficult baggage with her, not least of which is witnessing the brutal murder of her high school boyfriend. When the man she meets changes plans and is acting unexpectedly, Laura knows she should back out and go home early, but she is too busy talking herself out of listening to her doubts.

The interesting thing about the layout of this book is that it is told in two different timelines. The first is The Night Before during Laura's Date, and the second- and this is no spoiler as the information is right there on the soon-to-be cover- is the next few days while Laura is missing. The first timeline is told from Laura's point of view, the second timeline from Rosie's. What is really interesting is that we know Laura goes missing from Rosie's information, but as we read along with Laura we can't help but hope that nothing bad happens. Having read Walker's first book, I was expecting this one to have twists and turns, but I still couldn't see where it was headed. Every time I thought I had it figured out, it twisted back on me or had me doubting what I thought would happen. It was great!

Mark your calendars for May 14th, 2019 and be sure to get this exciting thriller!