Leading The Good Life

What I’ve Been Reading Over Christmas Vacation

The way the holidays lined up this year made for a wonderful Christmas break. We got Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year's Eve, and New Year's Day off from work, so with just 3 vacation days + weekends, I get 11 days off in a row!

This is made even more exciting by the fact that I get to spend 8 of them at home with Kate. I sure hope we don't get too sick of each other...

We've definitely be busy with holiday celebrations, preparing for/throwing a fancy cocktail party, and snuggling the pups by the fire while it snowed outside. However, I've also been doing my fair share of reading. I've got 3 books queued up on my iPad (all from the library) and a back-up list on hand just in case I become a speed reader or get bored with my choices. Here's what I'm looking at:

The Book Thief  by Markus Zusak - I forget how I stumbled upon this book, but perhaps it was browsing reviews on Goodreads. It doesn't sound like my typical choice of book, but I'm loving it so far. The story is actually told by Death and is set in World War II Germany. Maybe not a feel-good book, but I love the writing style. It follows a young girl who is placed in foster care due to some unfortunate circumstances. She is a strong character with an endearing relationship with her foster father. So far it is sweet, sad, and gripping. I can't put it down for long.

From Amazon: "It’s just a small story really, about among other things: a girl, some words, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist-fighter, and quite a lot of thievery. . . .

Set during World War II in Germany, Markus Zusak’s groundbreaking new novel is the story of Liesel Meminger, a foster girl living outside of Munich. Liesel scratches out a meager existence for herself by stealing when she encounters something she can’t resist–books. With the help of her accordion-playing foster father, she learns to read and shares her stolen books with her neighbors during bombing raids as well as with the Jewish man hidden in her basement before he is marched to Dachau.

This is an unforgettable story about the ability of books to feed the soul."

Defending Jacob by William Landay - I've been reading quite a few books set in courtrooms lately. I like the suspense and drama. But based on some recent selections (Nineteen Minutes, for example), I keep getting recommended books about high school killings. Although I'm really intrigued by this book, I had to give it a rest after the recent tragedy in Connecticut. Perhaps I'll pick it up again after I finish The Book Thief.

From Amazon: "Andy Barber has been an assistant district attorney in his suburban Massachusetts county for more than twenty years. He is respected in his community, tenacious in the courtroom, and happy at home with his wife, Laurie, and son, Jacob. But when a shocking crime shatters their New England town, Andy is blindsided by what happens next: His fourteen-year-old son is charged with the murder of a fellow student.

Every parental instinct Andy has rallies to protect his boy. Jacob insists that he is innocent, and Andy believes him. Andy must. He’s his father. But as damning facts and shocking revelations surface, as a marriage threatens to crumble and the trial intensifies, as the crisis reveals how little a father knows about his son, Andy will face a trial of his own—between loyalty and justice, between truth and allegation, between a past he’s tried to bury and a future he cannot conceive.

Award-winning author William Landay has written the consummate novel of an embattled family in crisis—a suspenseful, character-driven mystery that is also a spellbinding tale of guilt, betrayal, and the terrifying speed at which our lives can spin out of control."

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh - I read about this book on Eat, Live, Run. Honestly, I'm not usually interested in the books Jenna recommends...but only because we have very different tastes! This one, however, intrigued me. Maybe I have a soft spot for foster children. Or maybe it's the draw of learning something about flowers - which I know NOTHING about. Either way, I'm 4th in line on the waiting list for it, so I better get my other books finished so I'm ready for it when it's my turn!

From Amazon: "The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude. After a childhood spent in the foster-care system, she is unable to get close to anybody, and her only connection to the world is through flowers and their meanings. Now eighteen and emancipated from the system with nowhere to go, Victoria realizes she has a gift for helping others through the flowers she chooses for them. But an unexpected encounter with a mysterious stranger has her questioning what’s been missing in her life. And when she’s forced to confront a painful secret from her past, she must decide whether it’s worth risking everything for a second chance at happiness."

Lastly, not yet available as an eBook from my library, but definitely on my list to find is:

Netherland by Joseph O'Neill - Kate recommended this book when we were looking for suggestions for my (newly retired!!) father. I was so intrigued by the review that I had to jot it down on my own list. 9/11 stories aren't something I'm usually interested in (I have my own memories from that day), but these words from the New York Times reviewer definitely drew me in "...here’s what “Netherland” surely is: the wittiest, angriest, most exacting and most desolate work of fiction we’ve yet had about life in New York and London after the World Trade Center fell. On a micro level, it’s about a couple and their young son living in Lower Manhattan when the planes hit, and about the event’s rippling emotional aftermath in their lives. On a macro level, it’s about nearly everything: family, politics, identity. I devoured it in three thirsty gulps, gulps that satisfied a craving I didn’t know I had."

From Amazon: "In a New York City made phantasmagorical by the events of 9/11, and left alone after his English wife and son return to London, Hans van den Broek stumbles upon the vibrant New York subculture of cricket, where he revisits his lost childhood and, thanks to a friendship with a charismatic and charming Trinidadian named Chuck Ramkissoon, begins to reconnect with his life and his adopted country. As the two men share their vastly different experiences of contemporary immigrant life in America, an unforgettable portrait emerges of an "other" New York populated by immigrants and strivers of every race and nationality."

What are you reading? I'd love some recommendations!

Comments (4) Trackbacks (2)
  1. Lizz! Happy new year! Ooooh all of your recommendations are going on my “to read” list right now! Yay! And thanks!

    Ever since I got a Kindle, I’ve been reading more than ever (35 books in 2012, thanks to subway commuting!). I’m typically into nonfiction history or historical fiction so most of these were out of my comfort zone—fiction in a more contemporary setting. I really tried to force myself to read books I typically wouldn’t pick up and was really pleasantly surprised by all of them. Here are some of my favorite books from 2012, in no particular order.

    • Tell the Wolves I’m Home, by Carol Rifka Brunt. A heart-wrenching and beautiful story. I thought about it for days and days after I finished it. Again, not a synopsis that would usually draw me in but I am so glad I read this book. Warning: Emotionless ol’ me cried on the subway while reading this so be warned! From Amazon: “In Tell the Wolves I’m Home, Carol Rifka Brunt has made a singular portrait of the late-’80s AIDS epidemic’s transformation of a girl and her family. But beyond that, she tells a universal story of how love chooses us, and how flashes of our beloved live through us even after they’re gone. Before her Uncle Finn died of an illness people don’t want to talk about, 14-year-old June Elbus thought she was the center of his world. A famous and reclusive painter, Finn made her feel uniquely understood, privy to secret knowledge like how to really hear Mozart’s Requiem or see the shape of negative space. When he’s gone, June discovers he had a bigger secret: his longtime partner, Toby, the only other person who misses him as much as she does. Her clandestine friendship with Toby–whom her parents blame for Finn’s illness–sharpens tensions with her sister, Greta, until their bond seems to exist only in the portrait Finn painted of them. With wry compassion, Brunt portrays the bitter lengths to which we will go to hide our soft underbellies, and how summoning the courage to be vulnerable is the only way to see through to each other’s hungry, golden souls.”

    • The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker. Another one that, based on the synopsis, would not typically appeal to me, but I’m so glad I read it. Beautifully written and gives you a lot to think about. It’s not so much about the science/apocalypse, as the main character’s coping with the huge changes in her life. The earth’s rotation slowing is just this heavy backdrop—it is what it is, you don’t really question it when you’re reading it—to this really well-written story. I read this several months ago when the new Mumford and Sons album came out and was sort of reading/listening simultaneously. The Mumford and Sons album is filled with lyrics about light, which is also an important fact/theme throughout the book—the album was a strange and unexpected, but really lovely, compliment to the book. From Amazon: “In The Age of Miracles, the world is ending not with a bang so much as a long, drawn-out whimper. And it turns out the whimper can be a lot harder to cope with. The Earth’s rotation slows, gradually stretching out days and nights and subtly affecting the planet’s gravity. The looming apocalypse parallels the adolescent struggles of 10-year-old Julia, as her comfortable suburban life succumbs to a sort of domestic deterioration. Julia confronts her parents’ faltering marriage, illness, the death of a loved one, her first love, and her first heartbreak.”

    • May the Road Rise Up to Meet You, by Peter Troy. Historical fiction, set in Civil War America, told through the eyes of four different characters whose lives eventually intersect in various ways (I love that kind of storytelling, sort of like The Poisonwood Bible—getting different characters’ perspectives). This book is definitely more about the characters and their stories than history, per se, so don’t be put off if you’re not into the historical aspect of it. From Amazon: “An engrossing, epic American drama told from four distinct perspectives, spanning the first major wave of Irish immigration to New York through the end of the Civil War. Four unique voices; two parallel love stories; one sweeping novel rich in the history of nineteenth-century America. This remarkable debut draws from the great themes of literature—famine, war, love, and family—as it introduces four unforgettable characters. Ethan McOwen is an Irish immigrant whose endurance is tested in Brooklyn and the Five Points at the height of its urban destitution; he is among the first to join the famed Irish Brigade and becomes a celebrated war photographer. Marcella, a society girl from Spain, defies her father to become a passionate abolitionist. Mary and Micah are slaves of varying circumstances, who form an instant connection and embark on a tumultuous path to freedom. All four lives unfold in two beautiful love stories, which eventually collide. Written in gorgeous language that subtly captures the diverse backgrounds of the characters, and interspersed with letters, journals, and dreams, this unforgettable story, rendered in cinematic detail, is about having faith in life’s great meaning amidst its various tangles.”

    • The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern. The imagery this author creates kind of blew my mind. I’m typically not into fantastical, whimsical, flowery type of stories, but I do like magic, old timey settings and mysteries, so I downloaded this book. I was so glad I did. It is really imaginative, mesmerizing and beautiful. From Amazon: “Erin Morgenstern’s dark, enchanting debut takes us to the black and white tents of Le Cirque des Reves, a circus that arrives without warning, simply appearing when yesterday it was not there. Young Celia and Marco have been cast into a rivalry at The Night Circus, one arranged long ago by powers they do not fully understand. Over time, their lives become more intricately enmeshed in a dance of love, joy, deceit, heartbreak, and magic. Author Morgenstern knows her world inside and out, and she guides the reader with a confident hand. The setting and tone are never less than mesmerizing. The characters are well-realized and memorable. But it is the Night Circus itself that might be the most memorable of all.”

    I am currently reading Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, by Robin Sloan. It’s a “technothriller”—a puzzle-solving mystery/thriller book set in modern day San Francisco. The characters sing modern day technology and know-how to solve puzzles (one of the characters works at Google and uses her knowledge and resources there). There is a lot of coding, data visualization, design and tech stuff in it, which is fun since that’s partially the world I deal with everyday (in fact, the organization I work for, AIGA, is mentioned twice in the beginning of the book as the main character/narrator is a graphic designer right out of RISD). I’m about 40% through it and it’s a really fun read thus far.

    Wooooooooooo! Happy reading in 2013!!!!!!


    • Katie, thank you for all of these recommendations!! I love being surprised by books I wouldn’t necessarily pick out myself. I’ve picked up & put down the circus one several times…I might actually have to give it a whirl! And the first one you recommended sounds so good. Yay!!

  2. Just finished Tell the Wolves I’m Home – excellent, excellent book!

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