Thursday, September 7, 2017

What I've been reading: Books to fall in love with

It's been a few months since my last book post, so I thought I'd share with you some of the books I've read since then. As per usual, I've listed the books alphabetically by author and included a brief summary. (If you want to learn more about the book, read the reviews on Amazon or Goodreads.) And I invite you to share the name and author of any books you've read that you recommend in the Comments section. (NB: To see previous book recommendations, click here, or click on the Book Nook label at the end of this post.)

In related news, I've been writing my own book, a cozy mystery with the working title A Shell of a Problem: A Sanibel Island Mystery. I'm almost done writing the first draft and will be self-publishing it via Amazon this fall. Stay tuned!

The Windfall by Disha Basu. Fiction. A modern-day rags-to-riches (or middle class-to-riches) story set in India. When Mr. Jha, a hardworking accountant who makes a decent living but is far from rich, winds up selling a software application he developed for millions of dollars, he rejoices. But as he and his wife soon learn, money cannot always buy you happiness (though it can buy you a nice house -- with air conditioning, a nice car, and first-class plane tickets to the United States, things that Mr. Jha greatly appreciates). At times amusing, but often sad, the book is an interesting look at what it means to be well off, or rich, in India these days.

Book Scavenger by Jennifer Chambliss Bertman. Young adult fiction. This book was recommended online by many adults, mainly librarians and educators, for other adults who love books and/or to read with their children or grandchildren. So I figured I'd check it out. The book revolves around Emily, an avid reader whose family constantly moves and has just settled in San Francisco. Emily is obsessed with an online game she and millions of other young readers play called Book Scavenger, where players hunt for books hidden in the real/physical world by other players, through clues they post online. However, when Emily accidentally stumbles upon what she is pretty sure is a new Book Scavenger game, she gets more than she bargained for -- and suddenly it's up to her to save Book Scavenger. When thinking about this book the words charming and endearing spring to mind. Highly recommend to parents of kids 8 -12 -- and big kids, too.

Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken. Nonfiction/Memoir. WARNING: If you are a Republican and/or get your news from Fox and Rush Limbaugh/Conservative radio hosts, you will probably hate this book. This review isn't for you. The rest of you, read on.

I usually don't like memoirs, but I LOVED this book. (I also liked Franken's earlier books, Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot and Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them.) And I was not a fan of Franken when he was on Saturday Night Live. But I really like Senator Al Franken, and I hope he runs for President (though he won't). If you appreciate people, especially politicians, who give it to you straight (stick to the facts and call out lies and the lying liars who tell them), and can tell a good story, and/or you are curious about what it takes to win a senate race these days, READ THIS BOOK. It may be a cliche but I laughed and I cried while reading the chapters of this book -- and I would totally campaign for Franken if he ever ran for President (though again, he won't). And no, Al Franken is not paying me to write this review.

How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry. Fiction. A lovely, lovely book. A love letter to bookshops and the people who work and spend time in them. I only wish there was a Nightingale Books in my little town. A story of friendship, love, realizing what it is you really want and going for it, and community. A delight. 

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Fiction. Eleanor Oliphant was doing just fine, according to her, even though she really wasn't. Introverted by nature and afraid to get close to people, her life begins to change when she and a coworker, the new IT guy (who could use a new wardrobe and smells of cigarettes), help rescue an old man who has fallen on the sidewalk. An unlikely friendship develops and, with the help of her new friends, Eleanor begins to come out of her shell and discover the life she had been missing. Bittersweet, heartwarming, and heart-wrenching, I found myself relating to Eleanor, and I bet a lot of women I know will too.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Fiction. I honestly cannot remember why I did not read this book when it came out in 2011. It has so many of the things I look for or enjoy in a book: good writing, an interesting plot, magic/fantasy (I'm a huge fan of magical realism), a love story. But I'm glad I finally read it. As for the plot, it revolves around a magical circus, a la the Cirque du Soleil. Only this circus, called the Night Circus, is only open at night -- and boasts actual magic. In reality the circus is a game board, in which a life and death game of magical one-upmanship is being played, and as the game drags on, lives and livelihoods -- and hearts -- are at stake. A beautiful novel.

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. Fiction. The book takes place in the late 1800s, in England, and tells the story of a scientifically-minded London widow who decides to go to coastal Essex to seek out what has been dubbed the Essex serpent (similar to the Loch Ness monster), believing it to be a kind of dinosaur. While in the countryside she meets, falls in love, and butts heads with a local vicar whose religious views are at odds with her scientific/intellectual ones. And one is left to wonder, who or what, is the real serpent in this garden? An interesting read, but I didn't love it. Others might though.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. Fiction. I was not a fan of Towles's first book, The Rules of Civility, so I was loathe to read his latest novel. But after my mother-in-law and a good friend HIGHLY recommended it, I decided to check it out. And boy am I glad I did! I LOVED this book. Loved, loved, loved. The story of Count Alexander Rostov (the gentleman of the title), who, in 1922, is exiled to spend the rest of his days inside the Hotel Metropol in Moscow -- or risk being shot. Rostov, who is well known to the staff, by whom he is respected, is not one to make waves. So he agrees to the sentence, even though he is forced to give up his luxurious suite and move into the attic, and embarks on a new life as a denizen of the grand hotel, making new friends (and enemies) over the years -- and observing the evolution of Soviet Russia from the inside. A fascinating, beautiful, heartwarming, amusing read. I highly recommend.


NB: I also read Daniel Silva's latest Gabriel Allon spy thriller, House of Spies, which I thought was okay (not great), and Kevin Kwan's Rich People Problems, the final chapter (?) of his trilogy that began with Crazy Rich Asians, coming soon to a theater near you! (I loved Crazy Rich Asians; the sequels, not so much.) And I read Neil deGrasse Tyson's Astrophysics for People in a Hurry, which just made me feel stupid (and sleepy). (Liked the astronomy parts, just couldn't get into the physics.)