Saturday, June 20, 2015

Recent Reads - 6/20/2015

Another round up post, since I haven't read deeply enough for a substantial review lately. Audiobooks have been my go-to, keeping me moving through books when I can't find the time to sit down with a paper copy. All three of these had spot-on audio narration as well!

"The Room" by Jonas Karlsson, translated by Neil Smith

I'm glad Michael on Books on the Nighstand pointed me in the direction of this quirky little gem. Bjorn works in an office in Stockholm, and doesn't fit in too well with his co-workers. He's delighted to find a quiet room in the office where he can get his work done efficiently. His co-workers insist the room doesn't exist, however. Are they messing with him? His Bjorn delusional? This is a quick, fun read that will keep you pondering through the end, and Bjorn is a chuckle-inducing protagonist who manages to be both grating and endearing. Recommended for friends of "Office Space" and "The Office," or anyone looking for a brief palate-cleanser or something different.

"The Lifeboat" by Charlotte Rogan

Grace survived the sinking of the ocean liner carrying her and her new husband to America, only to be put on trial for the events that occurred prior to her rescue. Lucky enough to snag a spot on a lifeboat as the ship sank, Grace must navigate both the interpersonal perils and basic survival while awaiting rescue with only a few dozen others. As the struggle to survive becomes more dire, impossible choices must be made, and those choices result in the trial in which we first meet Grace at the onset of the book. She is a fascinating heroine who is trapped by the conventions of her time but so determined to survive that she will pick and choose the conventions that best promote her personal survival. This would make an excellent book club pick, with its fast-paced, slightly mysteriously plot, and weighty moral questions.

"The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey" by Candice Millard

A colleague recommend this book, and I checked it out from Overdrive immediately. The perfect example of non-fiction that reads like a novel, this book describes Teddy Roosevelt's journey to explore the River of Doubt in the Amazon jungle following his failed bid for re-election to the presidency. I knew going in that Roosevelt did not die in South America, yet this book was so well-written and engaging that it had me concerned over his immediate safety and re-thinking my knowledge of American history. Kyle even ended up listening along for the last two hours, every bit as enthralled as I was. Highly recommended for history buffs and fans of adventure tales.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

A Few Brief Mentions

I've been reading pretty casually lately since I've been so busy. I've finished a few books that didn't quite merit full reviews, but are still worth a brief mention.

"All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr

I was excited to read this book for both my NYC and DC book clubs. It got a ton of positive buzz and won the Pulitzer, after all. Basically, I thought it was just fine, but wasn't blown away. Maybe I'm being more critical of it after all the acclaim it has received, but I don't feel this is in the same league as "The Goldfinch" or "The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao." It has its charming moments, clever turns of phrase, and nifty novelties, but I don't think it adds anything substantially new to World War II novels. I'd recommend to fans of that sub-genre within historical fiction and those who like a heartfelt tale, but not much more widely.

"Shine Shine Shine" by Lydia Netzer

This audiobook, on the other hand, was underrated. I remember the buzz when it was first released, but it never really rose to the top of my list. I downloaded it on impulse when I saw it was available on Overdrive. It's difficult to capture all of the great things this novel has going on in a brief overview, and that might be why it didn't get quite the amount of attention it really deserved. Sunny's robot-programmer husband is up in space, and she's bald and pregnant back on Earth raising their autistic son. Though she tries to preserve her facade of normalcy, we learn just how unique and strong she really is. I can't put a finger on all the themes at play, but I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.

"Lord of the Scoundrels" by Loretta Chase

I appreciate a solid historical romance every once in a while, especially when I have a lot going on. I read this during finals and it was the perfect amount of escapism and smut. There's a reason this book has over 16,000 ratings and over 1,100 reviews on Goodreads. It's a textbook example of a rake romance - a smart, sassy woman and a devilishly handsome scoundrel who can't help but fall in love. But this novel executes the typical story line perfectly, with witty dialogue and steamy romance. As a romance reader who got started on Harvard-educated, Shakespeare-scholar Eloisa James, I have a high bar for my romance novels. "Lord of the Scoundrels" leaped over it without breaking a sweat.

"Unbecoming" by Rebecca Scherm

Rebecca Scherm's "Unbecoming" is completely undersold by its cover. The image itself did nothing to catch my attention, so I'm glad I read the text accompanying it in "Buy, Borrow, Bypass" on Book Riot. If "The Secret Wisdom of the Earth" hadn't topped the list, I might've skipped the piece and missed this gem entirely.

Grace is living in Paris several years after fleeing her home town of Garland, Tennessee. Now known as Julie, she takes care to hide her background from her co-workers in an antiques repair shop. She makes no friends and avoids her roommate. She simply checks her hometown newspaper for updates on her former lovers, both imprisoned for a heist gone wrong. She lives quietly with her guilt over escaping with her freedom and a valuable painting.

As Grace-Julie's lies begin to unravel, she recalls the circumstances that led to her current predicament and decides what to reveal and what to continue to conceal. Scherm has created an enthralling protagonist - she's not a good person, but she's absolutely fascinating, even (and especially) when she makes terrible split-second decisions. As I wrote in my brief Goodreads review, the novel has a little something for everyone. There's suspense, lies, a heist, an inside look into the antiques and art world, a love triangle in a small town, and a bit of growing up.

Verdict: Affirmed, for anyone looking for their next exciting female lead, thriller readers seeking a bit of depth, and fans of "The Goldfinch" looking for a bit more information on art restoration and theft hidden in an entertaining fiction. If you're a listener, the audio narration is on point as well.

"Unbecoming" by Rebecca Scherm, published January 22, 2015 by Viking. Audio narration by Catherine Taber, published January 22, 2015 by Penguin Audio.