An Untamed State

An Untamed StateAn Untamed State by Roxane Gay

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not a book I would have chosen voluntarily – it was for a book club. Although I join book clubs because I want to read books like this that are outside my comfort zone. Giving this a rating is extremely difficult. The writing is quite good – the subject matter is horrendous and disturbing, so I’m not going to say “I really liked it”. Not a book I will forget, but I wanted to learn more from it about Haiti and the awful divide between rich and poor. Maybe there isn’t more to know. This doesn’t really fit my theme of “black-lives-matter.” Yes, it is set in a culture where such kidnappings happen every day, but it isn’t about race. Mireille could be any woman in any culture. Women are always the victims. You cannot feel sorry for the men who act out their anger and rage and their quest for power and money. This is the story of one such woman, her life divided starkly into “before” and “after,” and the people (and readers) who struggle to comprehend what she went through. Yes, I felt as helpless and as frustrated with her as her husband Michael. Which doesn’t make me a bad person. It’s just that the magnitude of damage portrayed (physical and psychological) is far, far outside my own experience. And God willing, always will be.

I loved the relationship between Mireille and her mother-in-law Lorraine. I’ve lived in Nebraska, and now rural Minnesota, and I know farm wives just like her, cautious, slow to warm, and self-deprecating, but it is Lorraine’s practical, no-nonsense compassion that allows Mireille the safe place and the time she needs to come to terms with her ordeal.

Book description: Mireille Duval Jameson is living a fairy tale. The strong-willed youngest daughter of one of Haiti’s richest sons, she has an adoring husband, a precocious infant son, by all appearances a perfect life. The fairy tale ends one day when Mireille is kidnapped in broad daylight by a gang of heavily armed men. Held captive by a man who calls himself the Commander, Mireille waits for her father to pay her ransom. As her father’s standoff with the kidnappers stretches out into days, Mireille must endure the torture and rape of the men who resent everything she represents. After her release, she struggles to find her way back to the person she once was.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

The Storied Life of A.J. FikryThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Funny, moving, uplifting, with a bit of romance and mystery thrown in. This is a tribute to books, the people who write them, the people who sell them, and the people who read them. My book club (elderly women) loved it. We have read many of the titles that happen to be mentioned in the text. While A.J. and Maya and their relationship is certainly at the center of this book, the side-characters of A.J.’s sister-in-law, Ismay, and his cop friend, Lambiase, almost took on main-character status for me. Even more so with the twist at the end of the book, which I won’t give away. Yes, this borders on being a cozy sort-of chick lit novel rather than being literary fiction. Nothing wrong with that! There are readers of crime fiction (Lambiase), readers of romance and chick lit, and readers of prize winners and literary fiction. And maybe that ends up being the whole point of this book. We are all unique, but we are all connected by a love of books and reading.

Book description: From Booklist
In this sweet, uplifting homage to bookstores, Zevin perfectly captures the joy of connecting people and books. A. J. Fikry, the cantankerous owner of Island Books, is despondent after losing his beloved wife and witnessing the ever-declining number of sales at his small, quirky bookstore. In short order, he loses all patience with the new Knightly Press sales rep, his prized rare edition of Tamerlane is stolen, and someone leaves a baby at his store. That baby immediately steals A. J.’s heart and unleashes a dramatic transformation. Suddenly, the picture-book section is overflowing with new titles, and the bookstore becomes home to a burgeoning number of book clubs. With business on the uptick and love in his heart, A. J. finds himself becoming an essential new part of his longtime community, going so far as to woo the aforementioned sales rep (who loves drinking Queequeg cocktails at the Pequod Restaurant). Filled with interesting characters, a deep knowledge of bookselling, wonderful critiques of classic titles, and very funny depictions of book clubs and author events, this will prove irresistible to book lovers everywhere. –Joanne Wilkinson

Dogs and Goddesses

Dogs and GoddessesDogs and Goddesses by Jennifer Crusie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Goofy, funny (the talking dogs are hysterical, and the narrator of the audiobook did a WONDERFUL job with them), interesting characters (although a couple of them were very similar) – just right for a beach read or when you need to clear your brain after a hefty/intense/intellectual read. Now I’m ready to tackle some of the medieval non-fiction I’m taking on for a library conference later this year…

Lots of explicit sex if you like that sort of thing. It didn’t make me cringe, so I guess that’s a plus. It’s a little disjointed with three different authors. I assume they each wrote one of the three main “goddesses.” My favorite was Shar, the middle-aged heroine and her dog Wolfie. The other two women and their romantic interests were not as well developed (and as I said, at times hard to tell apart.) The mythology was okay, but don’t expect anything historical (it was made up.) The romances really didn’t have enough tension (will they, won’t they?) to create a very satisfying ending (endings?) And the fate of Kamani Gula (the Mesopotamian goddess) and especially Mina (the evil priestess) was just silly. Like cotton candy – fun once in a while, but I wouldn’t want a steady diet of it.

Book description: Abby has just arrived in Summerville, Ohio, with her placid Newfoundland, Bowser. She’s reluctantly inherited her grandmother’s coffee shop, but it’s not long before she’s brewing up trouble in the form of magical baked goods and steaming up her life with an exasperating college professor. And then there’s Daisy, a web code writer, and her hyperactive Jack Russell, Bailey. Her tightly-wound world spins out of control when she discovers the chaos within and meets a mysterious dog trainer whose teaching style is definitely hands-on. Finally there’s Shar, professor of ancient history at Summerville College, who wakes up one morning to find her neurotic dachshund, Wolfie, snarling at an implacable god sitting at her kitchen table, the first thing in her life she hasn’t been able to footnote. What on earth is going on in this unearthly little town? It’s up to Abby, Daisy, and Shar to find out before an ancient goddess takes over Southern Ohio, and they all end up in the apocalyptic doghouse…

State of Wonder

State of WonderState of Wonder by Ann Patchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

3 stars, but the more I think about it, the more I wonder why? It was okay – exotic setting, some interesting characters, some moral dilemmas, and basically well-written prose, but on the whole I was really underwhelmed by this novel. Her depiction of Minnesota had me wondering what century she was writing about. She kept extolling the “prairie” as the characters drive from the Twin Cities airport to Eden Prairie. Huh? I drive there quite regularly and it is not even remotely rural. Her depiction of the Amazon was evocative, though I can’t judge her accuracy. The science was extremely dodgy, I didn’t care about any of the characters, despite this being a book about a great adventure, nothing happened. The characters don’t grow, they don’t make any better choices at the end of the book, and I had guessed the end of the book. There was nothing that even remotely elicited a “state of wonder” for this reader. I still want to read Bel Canto, but except for that, I would not be reading any more by this author.

Description: Dr. Marina Singh, a research scientist with a Minnesota pharmaceutical company, is sent to Brazil to track down her former mentor, Dr. Annick Swenson, who seems to have all but disappeared in the Amazon while working on what is destined to be an extremely valuable new drug. Not only does no one know where Dr. Swenson is, but the last person who was sent to find her, Marina’s research partner, has been reported as dead of a fever. Marina embarks on an odyssey into the insect-infested jungle in hopes of finding her former mentor as well as answers to several troubling questions about her friend’s death, the state of her company’s research, and her own past.

The Rosie Project

The Rosie Project (Don Tillman, #1)The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

3.75. Although it is never stated, Don is clearly someone with high-functioning Asperger’s syndrome. I can’t speak to how well he may or may not represent a true picture of someone with Asperger’s. Don is just Don. The book doesn’t label him, and I’m not sure how helpful that is in real life any way. I think we have all experienced being socially uncomfortable and can both empathize with and laugh at the humor in Don’s predicament. And he does manage to get himself into some highly amusing situations. Don and Rosie are both quirky, unique characters. This is a light and funny read, and other than that, the plot is completely predictable. Some of the quirkiness began to get a bit tiring by the end, so I’m not sure I want to read the sequel.

Description: Don Tillman is a brilliant, yet socially challenged professor of genetics. Don decides it’s time he found a wife and designs the Wife Project to find his perfect partner: a sixteen-page survey that filters out the drinkers, the smokers and the late arrivers. Rosie Jarman is not a perfect candidate. Although he disqualifies her for the Wife Project, Don is particularly suited to help Rosie on her own quest: identifying her biological father. Suddenly a relationship develops as they collaborate on the Father Project.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Where'd You Go, BernadetteWhere’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I loved the structure of this book – as we piece together what happened through a variety of written correspondence. I loved the character of Bee, and her relationship with Bernadette. The social satire was very funny. I would have given this 5 stars until it went off the rails about two-thirds through the book. At that point, the evolving situation became a bit too absurd to be funny, and Bernadette’s POV began to overshadow Bee’s. The overall takeaway seems to be “Don’t believe anything you think you know about anybody.” The ending was too big a shift for me, and didn’t resolve any of the heavier issues that still face the family. Perhaps that hints at a sequel?

Book description: Bernadette is a frightfully intelligent wife and mother whose intense allergy to Seattle specifically, and to people in general, has driven her to hire a virtual assistant in India to execute even her most basic tasks. Then her daughter, Bee, insists on a family trip to Antarctica as her reward for getting perfect grades in middle school, and Bernadette is faced with the daunting prospect of actual human interaction. On the verge of a breakdown, Bernadette vanishes, leaving her Microsoft-guru husband, a horde of angry parents, and questioning police officers to pick up the pieces. Desperate to find her mother, Bee probes her emails, invoices, school memos, private correspondence, and other evidence, conjuring out of those shards a portrait of a woman she never knew before–and a secret that could explain everything.

Audiobook narrated by Kathleen Wilhoite.

The Silent Wife

The Silent WifeThe Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Touted as a psychological thriller, but it’s really more of quiet puzzle. We’re already told at the very beginning who dies, so no suspense there… The puzzle is in what causes these two people, who have had a stable 20-year relationship, to come unraveled. They have both complacently accepted the status quo – a long-term live-in arrangement (never actually married). As long as Jodi gets to play housewife, and enjoy the luxury of a comfortable home, she has kept silent about his “extra-marital” affairs. But everything changes when Todd gets a girl pregnant and is badgered into actually leaving Jodi. Neither Todd nor Jodi are particularly likeable, and that made it hard for me to care about anything that happened to them. The story became much more compelling after the assassination, and although I had already anticipated the twist in the plot at that point, it was enough to raise this from 2 to 3 stars for me.

Book description: A chilling psychological thriller about a marriage, a way of life, and how far one woman will go to keep what is rightfully hers. Jodi and Todd are at a bad place in their marriage. Much is at stake, including the affluent life they lead in their beautiful waterfront condo in Chicago, as she, the killer, and he, the victim, rush haplessly toward the main event. He is a committed cheater; she lives and breathes denial. He exists in dual worlds; she likes to settle scores. He decides to play for keeps; she has nothing left to lose. Told in alternating voices, The Silent Wife is about a marriage in the throes of dissolution, a couple headed for catastrophe, concessions that can’t be made, and promises that won’t be kept.