Ahhh…Summer, the Time of Beach Reads!

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

Everyone is welcome to join.

Just link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND add your name to the Linky widget so that everyone can check out your list! If you don’t have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. Have fun with it! It’s a fun way to get to know your fellow bloggers.

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday Topic:
Ahhh…Summer, the Time of Beach Reads!

1.  The Blue Bistro by Elin Hilderbrand.  Set on Nantucket Island, as many of her books are, this is a sweet story involving (primarily) the restaurant staff of this popular eatery.  Perfect for a quick summer read.

2.  Home to Italy by Peter Pezzelli.  This is the first book I read by Pezzelli, and I was not disappointed.  It starts in Rhode Island with the death of Anna, Peppi’s wife, but it quickly transitions to Italy as he returns to the land of his birth, reconnects with an old friend, and falls in love again.  It’s predictable, but after a but of a herky-jerky start, Pezzelli settles into a quick & easy style that is perfect for a day at the beach.

3.  Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik.  As with most (or all?) of her books, this one is set in Minnesota, and centers around a group of women living on the same street who decide to start a book club.   It evolves to much more than that, of course, and though the arc of the story is fairly predictable, it is well written and has a lot meat on the bones.  Landvik has an writing style that makes for a fast, easy and enjoyable read, perfect for the beach.

5.  Bitsy’s Bait and BBQ by Pamela Morsi.  I was drawn to this book by the eye-catching title, and found it to be exactly the right thing for a summer read.  It is set in the South, a setting I love, and it has the predictable love story.  However, the writing is engaging and the characters are loveable, so it makes for a delightful read.

6.  Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson.  This was Jackson’s debut novel, but the unusual title suggested right away that it would be a book worth reading.  I was not disappointed.  This is a Southern author whose works I love, and because characters reappear from time to time in different books, this first novel is the ideal place to start.  It is a quick and easy read, but truly enjoyable on every level.

7.  The Last Beach Bungalow by Jennie Nash.  A beach setting, which (obviously) is a great beach read.  I think I picked this up because of the cover art, and it was a lovely, if predictable, summer read.  Great for relaxing in the sun.

8.  The Wednesday Letters by Jason F. Wright.  I love epistolary novels, and this is no exception.  It is the story of a 39 year marriage, documented in a letter written each Wednesday by Jack to Laurel, and it plays out for their children, who are home to attend their funeral.  Though it sounds like a downer, it is not, and it is rich with all the elements of a classic love story.  Worth the time, and great for the beach despite the subject matter because it is quick and easy to read.

9.  Sweetgrass by Mary Alice Monroe.  I have read several of Monroe’s novels over the years, but I particularly loved this one.  I love the Southern setting of South Carolina, the typical “Southern” way (even in the way Monroe writes), and the cultural issues that she included.  It has an authentically Southern feel.  It also deals with some heavy subjects, but Monroe does not have a heavy hand, which makes it a lovely summer read.

10.  Hearts on a String by Kris Radish.  A story that illustrates a grandmother’s anecdote about the thread that connects all women, it is sweet and fun and easy to read.  Radish always has some fairly implausible element to her story lines, but in the end it doesn’t matter, because she touches you, entertains you, and lets you escape from regular life for a bit.  You will not be disappointed.

These (Books) Should Have Some Staying Power

Top Ten Tuesday is an original feature/weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish.

Everyone is welcome to join.

Just link back to The Broke and the Bookish on your own Top Ten Tuesday post AND add your name to the Linky widget so that everyone can check out your list! If you don’t have a blog, just post your answers as a comment. Have fun with it! It’s a fun way to get to know your fellow bloggers.

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday Topic:
These Should Have Some Staying Power
(or Books Written In The Past Decade That I Hope People Are Still Reading In 2042)

1.  The Help by Kathryn Stockett – Excellently written and deeply moving, this is a powerful & thought provoking reminder of part of our nation’s history.

2.  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Burrows – A beautifully written epistolary, and definitely worth of a place in the literary canon.

3.  Harry Potter Series by J. K. Rowling – Not only are they well crafted and packed with action, the story line from start to finish is incredible, and they have been instrumental in getting kids (even professed non-readers) steeped in reading again.

4.  Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larssen – With an unusual protagonist and an oddball sidekick, technological intrigue and danger in spades, this is a detective / mystery series that rises above the rest.

5.  Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen – So well researched and realistic that it is hard to believe this is “just” a novel, but it is, and it is stellar.

6.  The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas – Controversial, and therefore so worth the read.

7.  The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini – A gripping story that spans a generation (or two), an emigration to the U.S., and all the difficulties and joys that are part of life-changing events.

8.  No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy – It’s dark and disturbing and violent, and written so well that you can’t help but be effortlessly carried to the end on McCarthy’s words.

9.  Rain Gods by James Lee Burke – As will all of his novels, the writing is wonderful, but this one is an especially gripping, disturbing tale of serial murder.  Similar in scope & setting to No Country for Old Men, it is my favorite of the two, though both are worthy of being in the literary canon.

10.  South of Broad and My Reading Life by Pat Conroy – Really, I would say anything by Pat Conroy should have longevity, and there are several that have already proven their mettle, but since we’re focusing on the most recent decade, I must include both of these books.  Pat Conroy is as accomplished an author as we have currently writing, and I believe all of his works will have staying power for decades to come.

REVIEW: Dear Author: Letters of Hope by Joan Kaywell

Hardcover, 272 pages
Published March 1st 2007 by Philomel
ISBN: 0399237054 (ISBN13: 9780399237058)
original title: Dear Author: Letters of Hope (Top Young Adult Authors Respond to Kids’ Toughest Issues)
2 stars

Goodreads Synopsis:
To millions of kids, the books they read are more than entertainment— they are mirrors to hold up to their own lives. And the creators of those books are more than just writers—they are mentors, confidants, friends, sometimes the only ones who understand. There is often an unspoken, unseen bond between an author and his or her readers.

Dear Author brings this bond to light for the whole world to see and to celebrate. Laurie Halse Anderson, Chris Crutcher, Jerry Spinelli, Christopher Paul Curtis, and many more of today’s bestselling YA authors respond to this intimate mix of heartbreaking and heartwarming letters, giving a glimpse into the hearts and souls of kids today, and the writers who have changed their lives. It’s nothing short of inspirational.

My Thoughts:
I got about 1/3 of the way through this book and decided to put it down. It was interesting enough for the part that I read, but I just got bored with it after a while. So my take is that it’s a great idea, but in a more limited scope, and perhaps picking reader letters that are real standouts. A lot of these letters just seemed like run of the mill teenage musings. The other thing that bogged me down was the occasional author preachiness, which was somewhat off-putting. Again, a great idea if done exceptionally well, and that is not how I would characterize this effort.

REVIEW: The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

Audio CD, 6 disks (6.5 hours)
Published January 28th 2006 by Recorded Books (first published February 1st 1999)

ISBN:1419387243 (ISBN13: 9781419387241)
original title:The Perks of Being a Wallflower
characters:Patrick, Charlie, Sam

4.5 stars overall / 3 stars audio narration

Goodreads Synopsis:
Caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it, Charlie is navigating through the strange worlds of love, drugs, “The Rocky Horror Picture Show”, and dealing with the loss of a good friend and his favorite aunt.

My Thoughts:
** spoiler alert ** Before starting to review this book, I read a lot of reviews on it to get a sense of what others were saying about it. This may be cheating, but in this case, I was having a lot of trouble coalescing a lot of impressions into any sort of articulate analysis, and reading other reviews has really helped me organize my thoughts.

I had a lot of personal reactions to this book because of the fact that so many of the references were cultural staples during the time I was a high school student. Contrary to what some reviewers stated – that the cultural references were out of date and/or unrealistic, I think they were pretty much spot on. I was in college during 1991-92, but as a high schooler I remember the cult of Rocky Horror (though I was not a part of it), and I remember the whispering, bullying, shunning, etc. that those on the fringes received in high school. At that time, the fringes included homosexuals, artsy types, druggies (and those who dabbled), super smarties, and of course all the other standard groups. There is no question that taunting, bullying and the like happened to the fringes kids. There is no question in my mind that Charlie would have experienced that type of treatment. I don’t know how high schools are now, but I expect things have not changed a whole lot with regard to kids who are weird, unfashionable, or different. It is certainly realistic to me that oddballs tend to draw to each other, especially if they have any kind of kindred feelings and kindness toward others like them as a result. Chbosky was hardly speaking of the mainstream high school kids here, so that the mismatched element to this group of friends seems right to me.

With specific regard to Patrick & Brad, and how they navigated their relationship, I think to some extent you have to have lived through the 80s and early 90s to understand some of their behaviors. Attitudes were a lot different toward homosexuality…it wasn’t as mainstream as it is today, especially in high school. There absolutely were known areas to go for the purpose of casual sex. It wasn’t at all easy to “come out.” Additionally, this was before there was a widespread understand of sexually transmitted disease, and the risky behaviors (meeting in the park after dark to hook up with an unknown person) that made one a high risk candidate.

I think Charlie’s voice rang absolutely true in the book. He was smart, weird, emotional and broken. He felt completely responsible for the death of his Aunt Helen because she died on his birthday while out to buy him a present. What teenager wouldn’t feel like that to some extent, especially a teen who had other emotional and psychological issues (as we learn at the end). I certainly did not expect that turn of events, but in the end, it explained a lot about Charlie and his fragility.

I also think that, again contrary to what some reviews suggest, it was completely realistic for Charlie’s parents to be somewhat naive to what was going on in his life. For a kid who had emotional & psychological problems – from which he appeared to have largely recovered – they were realistically and understandably glad that he had made some friends. He had a teacher at school who showed particular interest in him because he was so smart…as a parent, especially one who was unaware of the molestation, this would be a welcome experience. I remember going through high school and being pretty much autonomous when it came to my academic decisions…not surprising when you’re a responsible student, and Charlie was definitely that. Now I do think that they were ridiculously out of touch when it came to his social schedule, but there are a lot of kids out there who, at 15 or 16, have an inordinate amount of freedom (and free time). It seems understandable to me that this inattention to his activities is part & parcel of their characters, and also of their happiness at seeing him make some new friends…especially after his best friend committed suicide.

Finally, it is easy to see why this book created controversy. While I didn’t see it as encouraging deviant behavior necessarily, I can see how the fact that it was accepted and there weren’t really any negative consequences could make Charlie’s 9th grade experience seem exotic and desirable. He was essentially a good kid who went through a lot of crap, so this whole situation is an anomaly. But then again, back in my high school days when we were reading Catcher in the Rye (to which Perks of Being a Wallflower has been compared), Holden Caulfield’s experiences were an anomaly as well. I don’t know that I’d be comfortable as a parent with it being on a required reading list, but I’m not a believer in censoring lit, nor in being an uninvolved parent. I believe it should be available, and parents should know what their kids are reading so they can, when necessary, talk about it.

All in all, I loved this book. I loved the epistolary format. I loved that Charlie had an emotional outlet. I loved that his family pulled together when it counted. I loved that he had a teacher who was interested in him for his brains, and who was not a pervert. I loved that he had friends like Sam & Patrick…because there are kind kids out there, and there is always a net gain when people are kind to each other. And I loved most of all that he recovered. To me, that may be the most important part of this whole story…that you can recover, that suicide is not the answer, and that help is available when you need it.