Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Rockin Reads to Kick Off 2017

Hi all,

I imagine I don't even need to state the obvious, but I am an avid, passionate, nearly obsessive reader.  I love books more then most things.  Books (along with writing) are two of the most loved activities of my life.  They bring me immeasurable joy, fill my mind and heart with new ideas, give me thrill, entertainment and a sense of romance, they teach me about topics which I may not have known much about previously, they inspire me, move me.  I just cannot get enough of books.

On my "to read" list over the next few weeks:

(Yes, these books are sitting in stacks on my desk and floor)

This author is pretty fascinating.  He quit high school and worked in a meatpacking industry for thirty two years before getting his MFA and beginning to write.  All three of his since published books have won awards.  Here is the synopsis from Amazon.com:

From Donald Ray Pollock, author of the highly acclaimed The Devil All the Time and Knockemstiff, comes a dark, gritty, electrifying (and, disturbingly, weirdly funny) new novel that will solidify his place among the best contemporary American authors.

It is 1917, in that sliver of border land that divides Georgia from Alabama. Dispossessed farmer Pearl Jewett ekes out a hardscrabble existence with his three young sons: Cane (the eldest; handsome; intelligent); Cob (short; heavy set; a bit slow); and Chimney (the youngest; thin; ill-tempered). Several hundred miles away in southern Ohio, a farmer by the name of Ellsworth Fiddler lives with his son, Eddie, and his wife, Eula. After Ellsworth is swindled out of his family's entire fortune, his life is put on a surprising, unforgettable, and violent trajectory that will directly lead him to cross paths with the Jewetts. No good can come of it. Or can it?

In the gothic tradition of Flannery O'Connor and Cormac McCarthy with a healthy dose of cinematic violence reminiscent of Sam Peckinpah, Quentin Tarantino and the Coen Brothers, the Jewetts and the Fiddlers will find their lives colliding in increasingly dark and horrific ways, placing Donald Ray Pollock firmly in the company of the genre's literary masters.

Amazon.com synopsis: can two people stay connected for a lifetime and each know the complete truth about the other? When New Yorker Nick Satterborn falls in love with Sassa Vikander, he’s convinced the answer is yes.

 "The Color of Home sings an achingly joyful blues tune. It’s the song of
lives stripping away the hardened scars until all that’s left is the possibility
of each other. It’s a tune we’ve all sung, but seldom with such
poetry and depth. Read this and weep... and laugh, and sing, and sing
some more.” Myron Rogers, co-author of A Simpler Way.

This one has excellent reviews on Amazon.com, so we shall see.  I have high hopes for it!  This was a gift from my mom to me for Christmas <3

Another Christmas gift from my mom, also with excellent reviews on Amazon.com.  I am looking forward to reading this one!!

Amazon.com synopsis:  Paige is a rock star. The world just doesn’t know it yet. With a name like Paige Plant, how could she be anything but the future frontwoman of the next Led Zeppelin? She’s got the charisma, the drive, and, of course, the mega-musical skills. All she needs is to make her debut album, one that will change the world, inspire revolutions—and make her galactically famous along the way.

When John Bustin, a rich, reclusive, former semi-famous singer/songwriter offers to record Paige’s album for free, it feels like destiny, like the next step on her way to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, like some strange attractor is pulling her in. Guitar in hand, Paige sets off to John’s recording compound, ready to unfold her future.

But the ever-elusive John, with his mysterious history, and Paige, a big dreamer but naïve about her footing in life, clash as much as they coalesce. Before they can change the world through Paige’s music, the improbable duo must learn to work together, and in the process, discover their authenticity.

Undoubtedly a cheesy chick lit novel but I am looking forward to breezing through it for a light, fluffy, feel good read whenever that particular mood strikes me in the coming weeks. 

The Amazon.com synopsis: #1 New York Times bestselling author Karen Kingsbury has written a modern-day classic with this unforgettable love story set against the struggle of the American bookstore. Molly Allen lives alone in Portland, but she left her heart back in Tennessee when she walked away from Ryan five years ago. They had a rare sort of love she hasn’t found since.
Ryan Kelly lives in Nashville after a broken engagement and several years on the road touring with a country music duo. Sometimes when he’s lonely, he visits The Bridge—the oldest bookstore in historic downtown Franklin—and remembers the hours he and Molly once spent there.

I am about 3/4 of the way through this book and while its not earth moving literature, I have really enjoyed it.  Its the story of a woman who ended up with a man whom she certainly loves but who leaves her with a lot to be desired.  She is often lonely (he is a workaholic, and not the best with affection nor with emotionally connecting) and bummed out by these aspects of his personality.  She continues to ruminate on a guy from her past whom she believes was her big love.  The stars align and she happens to cross paths with him again suddenly.

Now she is faced with some big questions.  Is this what she really wanted all along?  Or might she have something worthwhile and special that maybe she doesn't see as fully in her disillusionment?  Can we love two people deeply, different loves having brought out different sides of us?  (Hint: the answer is yes).   

This is one of the most highly acclaimed memoirs of all time.  Naturally, I have to read it.

Amazon.com synopsis:  Sent by their mother to live with their devout, self-sufficient grandmother in a small Southern town, Maya and her brother, Bailey, endure the ache of abandonment and the prejudice of the local “powhitetrash.” At eight years old and back at her mother’s side in St. Louis, Maya is attacked by a man many times her age—and has to live with the consequences for a lifetime. Years later, in San Francisco, Maya learns that love for herself, the kindness of others, her own strong spirit, and the ideas of great authors (“I met and fell in love with William Shakespeare”) will allow her to be free instead of imprisoned.

Poetic and powerful, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings will touch hearts and change minds for as long as people read.

Adultery, the provocative new novel by Paulo Coelho, best-selling author of The Alchemist and Eleven Minutes, explores the question of what it means to live life fully and happily, finding the balance between life's routine and the desire for something new. 

I am particularly excited for this one, as I have read a number of Stephen Kings novels and really enjoyed them.  I am not a huge King fan but regardless, one cannot deny his obvious talent for writing as evident by his success.  I am on a memoir reading tangent at the moment, and with this one having garnered particularly high reviews on Amazon.com, I am really looking forward to it!!

Amazon.com synopsis:  Immensely helpful and illuminating to any aspiring writer, this special edition of Stephen King’s critically lauded, million-copy bestseller shares the experiences, habits, and convictions that have shaped him and his work.

“Long live the King” hailed Entertainment Weekly upon publication of Stephen King’s On Writing. Part memoir, part master class by one of the bestselling authors of all time, this superb volume is a revealing and practical view of the writer’s craft, comprising the basic tools of the trade every writer must have. King’s advice is grounded in his vivid memories from childhood through his emergence as a writer, from his struggling early career to his widely reported, near-fatal accident in 1999—and how the inextricable link between writing and living spurred his recovery. Brilliantly structured, friendly and inspiring, On Writing will empower and entertain everyone who reads it—fans, writers, and anyone who loves a great story well told.

Agatha Christie being the queen of murder mysteries and the fact that I consider myself an avid reader both mean that I have to read at least one of her books, just to see what the big deal is ;-), so this is the one I selected.

Amazon.com synopsis: Just after midnight, a snowstorm stops the Orient Express dead in its tracks in the middle of Yugoslavia. The luxurious train is surprisingly full for this time of year. But by morning there is one passenger less. A 'respectable American gentleman' lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside . . . Hercule Poirot is also aboard, having arrived in the nick of time to claim a second-class compartment -- and the most astounding case of his illustrious career.

I actually own this book back in the US, so I have already read it and I absolutely loved it (though the fact that its sitting in a cardboard box packed away in my moms basement isn't particularly helpful to me now, so I bought a cheap used copy here to re-read).  Part memoir, part cookbook, I love David Lebovitzs witty, engaging style.  He is hilarious, a visual and to the point writer, relatable and lots of fun.  And of course, I am always immediately swept up in his descriptions of life in Paris, this being one of my top favorite European cities without question.  I love being able to picture all of the places he describes, having been to most of them already myself as well as easily imagining myself living there someday (I absolutely could, and would).

A nonfiction book that captured my interest, along the psychology lines...I am really intrigued and excited for this one.

Amazon.com synopsis:
Everyone wants happiness and success, yet the pursuit of both has never been more elusive. As work and personal demands rise, we try to keep up by juggling everything better, moving faster, and doing more. While we might succeed in the short term, this approach comes at a high cost in the long term: it hurts our well-being, our relationships, and—paradoxically—our productivity. 

In this life-changing book, Emma Seppälä explains that the reason we are burning ourselves out is that we fall for outdated theories of success. We are taught that getting ahead means doing everything that’s thrown at us with razor-sharp focus and iron discipline, that success depends on our drive and talents, and that achievement cannot happen without stress. 

The Happiness Track demolishes these counterproductive theories. Drawing on the latest scientific research on happiness, resilience, willpower, compassion, positive stress, creativity, and mindfulness,
Seppälä demonstrates that being happy is the most productive thing we can do to thrive—whether at work or at home. She shares practical strategies for applying these scientific findings to our daily lives. 

A fulfilling, successful, and anxiety-free life is within your reach. The Happiness Track will show you the way.

And, in the meantime, a few books I have read within the last few weeks...

I really enjoyed this one, though I will admit, it wasn't AS good as I was hoping.  I had been dying to read it for months now and have to admit, while I really enjoyed it, the book wasn't quite all I imagined it to be.  The writing style was excellent though.  Rich and lyrical, sensual, full of visual and witty metaphors.  I enjoyed the story as well, though the best part is the big reveal at the end ;-)

The tagline of this book which holds true for the overarching gripping aspect of this story is: "sometimes it turns out that the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets."

Let me preface this review by saying that this was a good memoir overall.  However, it was not as good as I hoped.  The rave reviews on Amazon.com give the book, in my opinion, more hype then its worth.  It is a decent read for sure.  However, this memoir got a little bit too into the introspective, self analysis talk for me. 

In my book (pun intended), a great memoir is as much about the story as it is the self analysis.  In fact, I would argue its more about the story, with the self analysis being an important but clear side note (key word: side).  This book goes on and on and on with regards to analyzing herself, her feelings, her take on things, the deeper meaning of everything.  I will briefly say in defense of this over analysis that there are moments in the book in which when she is shockingly insightful, she really articulates things with crisp clarity and totally hits the nail on the head.  Impressively analytical and observant in a few revelations that I would label as particularly poignant gems. 

However as a whole, it gets to be too much and actually, it grew dull for me because of this.  I wanted more details with regards to her and her husbands relationship.

I loved this book.  I found myself laughing out loud numerous times.  Aziz is hilarious.  I thought he did an excellent job of taking an interesting, relevant topic and adding in a major smattering of hilarity and wit.  I was literally giggling out loud on the elliptical machine at the gym as I read this.  I breezed through this one in just three days.  If you are looking for an engaging read that will also give you a case of the giggles, give this one a shot.

I have to say, another highly acclaimed memoir that I was also disappointed by.  This one along with Love Warrior have phenomenal reviews on Amazon.com, yet I found both of them to be lacking meat.  The two of these were a lot of fluff.  The Last Lecture did contain some emotionally moving scenes, as well as a few insightful, inspirational gems.  But in general, it was a bit on the boring side.  I kept waiting for it to become incredible, as I had anticipated this having see the reviews on Amazon.  This never happened.

FYI, two memoirs with major hype that is 100% legit and well deserved: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and Wild by Cheryl Strayed.  Read these.  They will knock your socks off.  They are incredible.  I have read both of them numerous times. 

This is another highly acclaimed book that, while I thought it was better than The Last Lecture and Love Warrior, it also wasn't nearly as good as I expected it to be with all the hype it comes with.  There were some inspirational nuggets in here.  I did feel more inspired as I read it, to really delve into my writing and push myself harder then I sometimes might.  However, it was not the majorly life changing book that it seems touted to be.

This book was excellent.  On the list thus far, it was one of the few that lived up to its excellent reviews.  Its written in a conversational, engaging, easy to read style.  I flew through this one in just a few days.  I found the subject matter to be fascinating, important for everyone who is interested in having the best possible relationship they can to read.  I loved the psychology aspect of it. 

Relationships and psychology are two of my favorite topics in general, so I really enjoyed this one and absolutely found numerous insights inside that can and will be applicable to my own life and relationships.  I highly recommend this one.

This was a fun, light read.  If you feel as though you are in a bit of a rut, looking for some inspiration to shake things up a bit but are unsure of what you might wish to do or where to go next, this is a great place to start.  This book does focus on the subject of quests, as in having one overarching goal that you work towards, either for a definitive amount of time or an undetermined amount of time until whenever you reach the end of said goal.
However, the book serves to kick up some dust in your mind in terms of getting the cogs spinning, pushing you towards wanting to shake things up a bit, and even potentially giving some ideas for how to do so.  I found it to be a worthwhile read.

This book is excellent.  Natalie Goldberg is a phenomenal writer, known best for her bestselling book "Writing Down The Bones" (which I have also read and found absolutely awesome).  She has a way of writing about the mundane details of everyday life that somehow transform them, making the small details captivating, fascinating, and romantic.  Whenever I read Natalie Goldberg (I have three of her books sitting on my shelf now, and if you have ANY interest in writing, even in its smallest amount, I highly recommend checking out one of her books), I feel inspired.  I always find my writing to move a bit deeper and is just far more solid overall after I have paged through one of her books.

I was skeptical and had reservations when I first gave one of her books a chance.  I was so wrong.  My only mistake was waiting this long to read her stuff. 

I really enjoyed this memoir.  Though it wasn't quite as excellent in terms of the actual writing itself as I would say both "The Glass Castle" and "Wild" were, this one was up there because of the actual story.  Liz grows up with parents who are hard core drug addicts, mainlining cocaine right in front of her when she is 6, 7 and 8 years old.  This book is gripping, heart wrenching and poetic.  I read it in three days.  Inspiring, emotional, I absolutely recommend it.

One more list of outstanding reads for you to take a gander at, if you wish.  This list is also books I highly recommend and that which I have read myself.

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