In a series of connected vignettes, All Grown Up shares Andrea’s ongoing struggles with getting her life together and overcoming her childhood. It’s funny (often darkly so) and observant. It’s sharp, too, and there’s a strain of melancholy and dissatisfaction that runs through it. While everyone else seems to be moving forward with traditional life milestones, Andrea is 39 and the same person in the same place as she’s always been.
And is that really a problem?
I suppose you could call Andrea unlikeable, given how she can drive you a bit nuts with her selfishness and lack of motivation, but I liked her. Andrea is funny and has rough edges. She comes across as a real human being with issues and flaws, but also with insight and desires and a sense of humor. I like that she does what she wants, even if she regrets it or the situation turns out badly. I can also identify with her sensualist tendencies (there are some great passages about food and the eating thereof in this book).
How does one measure success at being a “grown-up”? How do you know when you are one? Do those traditional milestones (marriage, home ownership, car ownership, boat ownership) really matter at all? Maybe you know you’re a grown-up when you reach the point where you can be there for others even when it’s hard, create connections that matter to you, and when you can hold a sick baby’s hand.
I’m excited to read more of Attenberg’s work. She’s witty and insightful and creates emotional and truthful moments that pack a punch for how unexpectedly they creep up on you.
Ugh. Last time I could make jokes but this time digging out our driveway took three hours and I don’t want to talk about it except to say:
On the plus side, I did spend the not-shoveling part of the snowstorm with some great books!
The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan. This book about the women who worked at Oak Ridge during World War II reads like a novel. Since this is still within living memory, the author was able to interview lots of people, and to focus on a few individual stories. The first-person accounts really add an immersive layer to the history. In alternate chapters, the history and science behind the atomic bomb is explored. A nice introduction to the making of the atomic bomb, and also a great exploration of the women who had a hand in making it happen.
The Widow’s House by Carol Goodman. Very much my usual, and Goodman is very much in her wheelhouse with a novel about two writers who go back to their college town in upstate New York to work as caretakers for a former teacher. The teacher’s house has a tragic past, and lots of family secrets and maybe a ghost. Entertaining and enjoyable, and I’m just getting into the meat of it now.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. This book was all the rage when it was first published. Everyone was reading it and talking about it. It’s been on my TBR pile for years, and I just started it the other night. The first chapter was a promising, atmospheric, and mysterious beginning to a story about rival magicians in the late 19th century.
Ghost Road Blues by Jonathan Maberry. Yet another novel I’m reading in preparation for Horror month! I’ve loved all the short stories I’ve read by Maberry, so I decided to give this title a try. It’s about an ancient evil in a small town. If it spooks me, you’ll see it in October!
That was all I had time for before the shoveling began. And the watching of Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, which is awesome and you should stop reading this right now and go watch it. Maybe this weekend I’ll have time for more books and Gently. After shoveling.
I feel so inadequate when I look at other book blogs.
There are so many links. And graphics. And charts. And gifs. And little pictures celebrating how many challenges they’ve participated in.
Here at the Readers’ Corner…I’ve got lots of Simpsons stills. Lots.
As longtime readers have probably guessed, I’ve just spent some time investigating more reading challenge possibilities for the blog. And I think I’ve got a good one: The TBR Challenge!
It’s just what it says on the tin: I read as many books as I can from my To-Be-Read list–in my case, I’ll be going down my Goodreads To-Read list, which currently numbers 831 and dates back to 2012.
I figure this will be a lot easier than other challenges (all I have to do is go down a list of books I already want to read), and there’s a rewarding achievement at the end (I’ll have knocked some titles off my TBR list).
I just finished the first book on the list: The Man in the Picture: A Ghost Story by Susan Hill. You will have to wait for Horror Month to hear about that one.
Next up: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.
Girl Waits With Gun is based on real people, and tells the story of one of the first female deputy sheriffs in the United States. Her name was Constance Kopp, and she lived in Wyckoff, New Jersey. One day when out in town with her sisters, Norma and Fleurette, a wealthy silk factory owner ran into their buggy with his car. Constance’s attempts to get the silk man to pay a $50 repair bill swiftly snowball into a dangerous situation when the man refuses to pay up. Throw in a gang, some gunplay, and a missing child, and then let Constance Kopp save the day.
This is the first in a series, and I’ve also just finished the second installment, Lady Cop Makes Trouble. The second one builds on the first for sure, but it’s a great outing all on its own–Constance finds her job in jeopardy after a criminal escapes on her watch. These mysteries are amusing and filled with great characters. As mysteries both of these books are a nice blend of police work and the more amateur sleuth style, given how Constance is kind of in-between those two worlds.
The pace is quick and the writing is evocative. Stewart does a lot with just a few lines to bring a scene or setting to life. These books are set in the 1910’s, and there’s just enough historical detail to add color and interest. And the characters are very well-realized through the dialogue-driven stories. Their relationships, particularly those between the Kopp sisters, are very well-drawn. In Girl Waits With Gun we get Constance’s backstory, and that of her family, and learn how these sisters ended up on an isolated rural farm.
Constance is presented as no-nonsense and incredibly driven, and I like how matter-of-fact she is about her unorthodox (for her time) profession. This real-life quote from Constance says it all:
“Some women prefer to stay at home and take care of the house. Let them. There are plenty who like that kind of work enough to do it. Others want something to do that will take them out among people and affairs. A woman should have the right to do any sort of work she wants to, provided she can do it.”
She’s good at what she does and she wants the opportunity to do her job. That’s pretty much all there is to it. I appreciate how Constance just gets on with things, and the story never gets bogged down with the social issues that it touches on. These books are about Constance Kopp taking down criminals, and keeping you delightfully entertained while she does so.
If you want to learn more, Stewart’s website has some great background on the characters and on New Jersey/New York City in the 1910’s. Check it out here.
And the third installment is due in September, so keep your eyes peeled this fall for Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions!
In Dennis Lehane’s creepy and suspenseful Shutter Island, U.S. Marshal Teddy Daniels and his partner Chuck arrive on Shutter Island to find a missing inmate from Ashecliffe Asylum. What seems like a routine investigation is swiftly put off the rails by the uneasy atmosphere at Ashecliffe, and all of the secrets the people in charge seem to be keeping. Teddy has his own demons to work though at the same time, having recently lost his wife.
I can’t believe I’m only getting to this novel now. I never saw the movie, either, so the ending remained unspoiled for me. I enjoyed the dark, film noir feel of this, with the tortured war veteran and his dark past, his solitary nature, his desire for revenge. He’s a great character, flawed yet remaining sympathetic.
The plotting of this novel is so intricate and so well-constructed. I can’t out-do the Kirkus reviewer on this one: it’s a “lollapalooza of a corkscrew thriller.” You start questioning your own sanity by midway through, and I mean that in the best possible way. The twist is revealed in one of the best scenes I’ve read lately, where the stakes are high for everyone involved and the emotion of it all seems very real.
The setting is fantastic, both gritty and Gothic, perfect for the story. Ashecliffe is depicted as a brutal relic from another century, and its maximum security isolation on an island is perfect.
Lots of diverse readalikes present themselves for this one, depending on what you enjoyed the most. Noir and crime fiction from the 1950’s might really appeal to you, if you liked that aspect of the story. The grittier the better. There’s also something very Gothic about the creepy atmosphere and sense of danger at the asylum. You might enjoy John Harwood’s The Asylum (I talked about it here). I also thought of The Boy Who Could See Demons while reading this, which you can read more about at this post.
If you want just a smidge more of the Nazi subplot, some aliens, and a ton of Sarah Paulsen, you might want to check out the second season of American Horror Story, which took place at an insane asylum in Massachusetts. Here, I can show this clip on a family-friendly blog (trust me, the entire season is just as nuts as this, but in different ways).
One of our regulars just came in and asked if there’s any way to tell online which books get checked out the most at the library in a given year. I realized that yes, there is, and it’s here on the blog, because I run the numbers and then post them here.
Except this year I forgot. Whoops.
And then I forgot again. For two weeks.
Thank you, Library Regular, for asking about our top circulated titles, and inadvertently reminding me that I’m the one who posts them. Heh.
Below, please find at long last the (Belated) Most-Read Adult Fiction for 2016!
2016 Most-Read Fiction Titles
The Crossing by Michael Connelly
My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Scandalous Behavior by Stuart Woods
X by Sue Grafton
The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald
The Marriage of Opposites by Alice Hoffman
After You by JoJo Moyes
Dark Corners by Ruth Rendell
The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks
Blood Salt Water by Denise Mina
As most of you have probably heard, there’s a blizzard on the way to Maine tonight. CRIPPLING, you guys. It’s going to be CRIPPLING: http://haggett.bangordailynews.com/2017/02/12/home/crippling-blizzard-on-the-way-for-coastal-and-interior-maine-2/
Tomorrow is looking like a wash. A whitewash. We’ve called a closure already here at the library, because…seriously, CRIPPLING BLIZZARD, guys. In between shoveling out our driveway from the snowdrifts and baking brownies and praying that the power stays on, I’ve got lots of great books on the go for tomorrow’s snowstorm!
Falling Upwards: How We Took to the Air by Richard Holmes–a history of hot air ballooning! There’s something incredibly inspiring about the early aeronauts and their quest to take to the air. Balloonists were showmen, scientists, adventurers, and everything in between.
Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart–fun, rollicking historical fiction with a fascinating lead and some cracking good dialogue. It’s about a woman named Constance Kopp, who was one of the first deputy sheriffs in America.
The Matchmaker of Perigord by Julia Stewart–this is a witty and very entertaining novel about a barber in a small French village. When he starts losing clients due to baldness, he decides that he’ll become the village matchmaker instead. It’s clever and cozy but not twee.
Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon–I need at least one thriller on standby. An alcoholic journalist tries to redeem her life and career by taking on an unsolved case.
Not a bad set of companions for the day. Apart from Snow Shovel, of course, who I’ll be seeing a lot of. I hope you’re all holed up somewhere snug and safe tomorrow!
I love this kind of guessing game! Uh, let’s see:
- It was Earth all along
- Turns out it’s man
- It’s made of people
- Nicole Kidman was the ghost the whole time
- The entire novel was a dream
- The entire novel was a paranoid delusion
- The entire novel was a fantasy played out in a snowglobe
- Identical twins
- Christopher Walken is a robot
- They’ve been dead the entire time
- It’s the sled
- He’s been dressing up like his dead mom
- There are two killers
- It was an Army test
- It was aliens
Is there a prize if I guess correctly?
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough is an engaging and twisty thriller with plenty of psychological suspense and tension. Pinborough has a background in writing horror and dark fantasy, and it really shows here. The story involves Louise, a single mother in London. One night she meets a guy named David in a bar, who confesses he’s married. And then it turns out that David is Louise’s new boss, and they both find it difficult to deny their attraction. On top of that, Louise becomes friends with Adele, David’s troubled and mysterious wife.
Louise gets dragged into the dysfunctional relationship between David and Adele, and she’s not sure which of them she can trust. If she can trust either of them to be telling the truth about their backgrounds and pasts.
The narrative goes back and forth between Adele and Louise, and with Adele in particular, you’re never quite sure how much to believe. As the book goes on, you’re drawn into an intense triangle between these characters–the friendship between Louise and Adele, the passionate affair between Louise and David, the mysterious and perhaps sinister marriage of David and Adele. The plot is intricate, playing with past and present, with perceptions and secrets, until the final confrontation and shocker ending.
Yeah, about that ending. I don’t want to spoil it, but I will tell you this, my fellow thriller and mystery fans: it’s definitely unpredictable. Dirty pool. So blatantly entirely impossible that you’d ever figure it out that this is all I could think of after finishing:
My Lionel Twain-esque initial reaction aside, though, I did enjoy this novel immensely. It’s well-engineered, it’s atmospheric, it’s twisty, and the cat-and-mouse aspect is great fun. I liked the growing sense of dread and unease, and the crazily building tension.
Just open your mind to the idea that you’re in a psychological thriller that doesn’t play by the usual rules. Once you get over the shock, it’s actually pretty refreshing!
Ottessa Moshfegh’s collection of short stories, Homesick For Another World, presents a series of people who are each alienated and disconnected in their own ways. Each of them are desperate for some kind of connection with the world or with another person. The ways they go about forging these connections, however, are weird and damaging and dark.
Only one word comes to mind at first: Grim. Grim grim grim. After that comes bleak, I guess. But there’s also dark humor and a sense of compassion. The weird, unfulfilled, and misguided characters in these stories aren’t being mocked or gawked at. Instead, they’re simply presented with all their flaws and desires, with a concise style.
Moshfegh has a real talent for delving into the darkness and coming up with something human. These stories aren’t always easy to read, but they’re compelling in their strangeness and in their insight. Each one has an ending or an image or an idea that will sit with you for days.
I loved Moshfegh’s novel Eileen, and you can read my post about it here. What I said about that book applies to this collection, too: “This is a stark, bleak, sometimes ugly book, but it’s also compulsively readable and deeply affecting.”