Saturday, December 31, 2011

Anyone but You by Jennifer Cruise

I was interested in this book because of the basset hound on the cover.  I get dog fever around this time of the year.  Something about the holidays make me think of puppies.  I always assumed I'd grow up and have a dog.  I never wanted a husband, I never wanted kids, but I always wanted a dog.  But I grew up, sort of, and realized that I'm entirely too irresponsible to have a dog.  I'm never home, I'm tight with my money (as in I'd pass out and die if I had to fork over some major, unexpected pet-related medical expenses) and I lack the ability to show affection toward living things.  So yeah, no dog for me.

But back in the day when I wanted a dog, I wanted a basset hound because I think they are adorable, and so even now, long after I've realized I can't have a dog, I am still drawn to basset hounds.  

I read the description of the book and thought it sounded cute.  Not the sort of book I would usually read.  But not every book I read has to be dark and deep and serious, right?  I later realized this is even part of a Harlequin romance series.  I've not read a Harlequin romance since I was in high school and used to take them from my mother.

Day before the end of the year, I had read 34 books and wanted to get that up to 35.  So I took this book to bed with me and I read the entire thing in one sitting.  Finished it early this morning.

As far as romances go, this was pretty good.  A 40 year old, newly-divorced woman moves from her mansion to a small apartment and she decides to get a dog.  She wants a perky puppy, but while at the pound, she instead is drawn to a sad, depressed basset hound who only has a day left before he's put down.  She takes Fred instead of a puppy.  And it's Fred, who Nina trains to use the fire escape to go out, who accidentally walks into her downstairs neighbor's apartment.  The downstairs neighbor is Alex, a 30-year-old ER doctor.

Nina is beginning a new life on her own.  She married her first boyfriend and for sixteen years, she stood by him as he built up his career as a successful and wealthy attorney.  Alex is just getting started with his career, as his family of doctors tries to pressure him into choosing a more distinguished speciality than ER.  Though they are both hesitant to admit it, they seem to be exactly what each other needs.

I actually really liked this story.  I liked the characters, they seemed real and they seemed like nice people.  The story didn't make me cringe like most "romances" tend to do.  I liked that it wasn't the typical broken-hearted, lonely woman seeking a big, successful man to sweep off her feet.  Nina could take care of herself and she was okay with Alex being a little immature and goofy.  She liked the company of a nice guy, she didn't need someone to take care of her.

Maybe it's because I'm closer to 40 than I am 30 and I like the idea that a nice, attractive younger man would find a 40 year old woman attractive.  In real life it seems the only men who notice a woman my age now are the creepy old guys who don't have enough money to attract the 20 year olds.  Let's just say I'm glad I'm no longer involved in the whole dating scene because it's not pleasant for women my age.  It's settle or be single.  So even though this book may not have been realistic, it still made me happy to read this story because it's nice to think the possibility is there.

Alex isn't just a nice guy, he's also not one of those guys needing a wife to "settle down" and cook and clean and have babies.  That seemed to be the only option out there when I was younger.  Never met any guys who wanted to do fun things like travel and watch old movies or attend concerts and sporting events.  No, the nice guys just wanted to get married, buy a house and have a couple of kids - boring!  And the other guys, well they just wanted, you know...

Okay, so the book is a fantasy, but not the typical romantic fantasy.  It's more of a fantasy for women like me.  I guess that was what I found surprising about the story.  These types of stories rarely appeal to me.

I had a few minor issues with the story - one being that I thought it took way too long for Nina and Alex to get together.  He's in her apartment every night watching TV, she's lying on the couch behind him while he's sitting on the floor, they both want each other, and no one makes a move?  This goes on for weeks!  Then once they got together, there was a bit of weirdness, Alex became something of a jerk for a while.  But maybe that's normal?  Not all that experienced with relationships.  But all of that was brief and resolved rather quickly.

Overall I liked the book.  Kind of nice to read something that isn't as heavy as what I usually read.   I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys romance novels and wants a quick, light read.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

I was curious about this book and then a friend of mine went on and on about how it's the best book ever, so I decided to read it.

I like books about magic, stories that can integrate the magic into the story in such a way that it feels natural and normal.  This book was full of magic.

Two competitive magicians set up a challenge between their students.  Once the students are older they end up involved in a circus.  A circus that only performs at night and lasts until dawn.  Everything in the circus is black and white, and there are many tents, each with some beautiful, magical treasures inside. 

I loved the way the words created images in my mind.  The story is so well written that I could easily immerse myself in this circus as I read the story.  I used the word "atmospheric" to describe this book. It felt dreamy and misty and each time I picked up the book I felt as if I was drifting into this special world again.

One element of the story that I especially liked were the people who followed the circus, the Revers.  They loved the circus so much they would travel around the country, sometimes across the ocean to visit the circus.  They made friends with other followers of the circus and they traveled together.  "We lead strange lives, chasing our dreams from place to place," one of these Revers explains.  I could relate too well with these people.  For years, I've followed my favorite bands around the country and to Europe.  Some of my best friends are people I've met along these travels, other people who understand what it's like to chase dreams.  This gave me a stronger understanding of these people and their love for this beautiful circus. 

What I didn't like about the story though was I never fully understood "the challenge."  I don't think I was supposed to understand because even the people involved said several times that they didn't understand the rules or the parameters.  As a reader, this became frustrating to me as the book reached an end.  I assumed as I was reading this that it would eventually be explained.  I felt the ending was unsatisfying.  I'm not going to give away from happened but the resolution felt too vague to me.  I had no idea as to expect, but I certainly didn't expect what did happen.

This is one of those books I may need to read again, just to get a better understanding as to what happened. 

But I did enjoy the book.  Very well written, very interesting story.  And as I said at the beginning, full of magic, always a good thing.

finished reading: Dec. 30, 2011

Saturday, December 17, 2011

The Girl in the Flammable Skirt by Aimee Bender

The description of this collection of short stories sounded so interesting.  But the stories were more weird than interesting.  And I usually like weird, but this wasn't a cool weird but rather a, "WTF, that doesn't make any sense," sort of weird.  There was rarely any sort of explanation or background given to provide any substance for the bizarreness of the stories.

The stories were like, "One day my boyfriend started to go through a reverse evolution.  He became an ape, then a fish, then a tadpole, so put him in the ocean."  The end.  Really?  The stories are for the most part delivered with that much emotion and detail. 

I never felt any sort of connection or concern for the characters involved in these stories.

And yet, I kept reading them, so I must not have thought they were completely terrible.  I suspect I was in some way drawn to the bizarreness.  At one point, about a third of the way through the book, I decided I wasn't going to finish reading it, I had too many other books to read to waste my time on this nonsense.  But I couldn't stop reading the stories.  Maybe I was just hoping that something more would happen.  Maybe my curiosity got the better of me.  A few of the longer stories had potential, but they felt more like introductions or outlines for what could have been better stories.

The more I read short stories the more I realize I don't like them much.  I need to know more about the characters.  If I'm going to invest my time in reading about these people, I need to get a better feeling as to who they are.  Short stories don't provide the kind of connection I need with what I read.

I really didn't like this book very much.  Part of me gets annoyed when I read stuff like this because I don't quite understand why something like this gets published.  Maybe I'm not smart enough to get it.  But the weirdness too often tipped into the "silly" category.  I kind of wish I'd never picked this book up.

finished reading: Dec. 17, 2011

Friday, December 02, 2011

Blue Nights by Joan Didion

This book is so very sad.  Blue Nights is Joan Didion's collection of thoughts on the loss of her daughter.  She doesn't write specifically about her daughter's death, but rather about her daughter's absence from her life now. 

A few years ago, Didion wrote The Year of Magical Thinking about the loss of her husband, and the year that followed his loss.  I seem to recall that book being more structured.  Blue Nights isn't about a certain time period.  It's more about what Didion is going through as a parent who has lost her child, as a parent who assumed that her child would outlive her and be around now.

What broke my heart the most was when she talked about how we hold onto things in hopes of saving memories of important moments, only to look back on those items, cards and photographs and wish that we'd worked harder at enjoying that moment. 

Didion has lost so many people in her life, and she's struggling with the idea of getting older and having to do this without the people who were most important to her.

She also reflects quite a bit on parenthood, and worries about things she may have done wrong.  She's fixated on certain events.  She thinks maybe her daughter was adversely affected by being adopted and that maybe her parenting skills were off.  But as a reader, an outsider looking in, and someone who has never been a parent, but has spent plenty of time around children, I can't help but think that it's normal for parents to question their own parenting skills.  I think any parent who assumes they did everything right is probably very much in denial.  I didn't get the impression that she was a bad parent or that her daughter suffered much.  I think that Didion is probably just spending a lot of time thinking and re-thinking and over analyzing the events in her life.  She's a writer, that's what writers do.  She's seeking an answer, wondering what she could have done differently.

I very much enjoy Didion's writing and this was no exception.  But reading this broke my heart over and over again.  This book made me think of people I've lost, of moments I tried to hold onto, of things I've done wrong and things I wished I'd done differently and the horror that I can't change the past to remedy my mistakes.  It also made me realize that I'm going to grow old alone and it made me a little bit glad that I won't have people to lose and that my own alone-ness will be fully expected, unlike Didion, who thought her daughter would be there with her as she grew older.

I'd recommend this book to anyone.  It's just one of those books I think people should read.

finished reading: Dec. 2, 2011