The Far End of Happy

*deep breath out*

It’s been awhile since a book has made me this emotional. If you are looking for a book that hits all of the feels–look no further than Kathryn Craft’s The Far End of Happy.

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Divorce, depression, and alcoholism combine into a Molotov cocktail ready to blow as soon as it hits the ground. This nightmare becomes reality one morning as Ronnie rushes to get her kids to school on the day her husband is supposed to move out. She had expected drama, but not the kind where he threatens her and the boys. The day becomes a roller coaster of agony as he holds himself and the community hostage.

As you can imagine from the description, The Far End of Happy is not an easy book to read–at least as far as content goes. The imagery is vivid and sucks you right into the action with the characters. I appreciate that Craft wrote the story from three different perspectives, and I like that there were memory flashbacks as well. At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about the unclear definitions between flashback and reality, but it made the narration purposefully unreliable and it worked in this very tense moment.

By the end, I could hardly set the book down because my nerves were stretched so thin, worrying what was going to happen with (or to) Jeff. It’s for that reason I am going to put a TRIGGER WARNING on this–this book is all about depression, alcoholism, and most importantly, suicide, so if any of those things are harmful to you, be aware that it is a very intense and anxiety-inducing book.

That said, Kathryn Craft has done a marvelous job with her novel. Ronnie is a fantastic character, someone who faces struggles head on, and does what she has to do to take care of her children, even if it’s not the easiest choice, and not what everyone else thinks is the right one. Add this to your TBR if it’s not there already, but make sure and bring some tissues!

 

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The Invasion of the Tearling

I’ve committed the ultimate blogging sin. The one, huge habit that I have had to stop doing since starting I Lay Reading.

My number one rule:  DO NOT FINISH THE BOOK RIGHT BEFORE BED.

Crap.

Why is this so terrible? I used to do this all the time–the finality of it meant I could fall instantly to sleep. Ahhh but therein lies the problem. When I finish a book, I blog it immediately (or, if I cannot get to a computer, then I at least write down a pretty detailed outline), so that my thoughts and feelings are fresh and vibrant.

Going to sleep between finishing and blogging basically smothers those feels with my pillow. My brain is sluggish and sleepy. No matter how much I loved the book (or hated it), I just never feel as good about what I have to say.

In fact…all of this is just procrastination because I didn’t know how to get started…

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We recently read The Queen of the Tearling for the #adultbooklr Book Club in July, and I was so looking forward to the second book. It seemed like everyone jumped right into The Invasion of the Tearling and loved it even more than the QOTT, so I was dying for the library to catch up to me on the hold queue.

My coreaders were not wrong. I really enjoyed QOTT, and IOTT just builds upon the series. Book 1’s setting is a little mysterious–is it medieval fantasy? Is it the future? What is The Crossing? We know there was America, and they are in something called New Europe, but where are they really?

In Book 2, Kelsea’s character and magic really develop, as does the whole background of the dystopian set up. Through Kelsea’s fugues, we get to see what happened pre-Crossing–who the Tear characters are, what happened to America, what the Crossing was. There’s also quite a lot of character development among the other main and secondary characters as well.

I really liked QOTT for what it was, but I know some people thought the writing not complex enough, or that it spends too much time building up to nothing. IOTT builds on everything that QOTT lays out. Don’t give up on Kelsea just yet, I encourage you to read the second book. It’s worth it.

 

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brown girl dreaming

#blacklivesmatter is everywhere these days, and seemingly everyone has an opinion about it. And the fight is ugly. If you had asked me even 2 years ago if I thought we would be living in the 60s again, I would have laughed and thought you meant fashion or the MidCentury Mod furniture design craze.

But nothing about this is funny. People aren’t just getting emotionally wounded, people are dying. And they aren’t just being killed by Joe Blow off the street, but by those sworn to protect us. No matter what side of the fence you’re on…that’s a very scary thing to think about.

As a white woman in America, I mostly keep my mouth shut. While I support #blacklivesmatter, this isn’t my time to speak. My voice is not the one that needs to be heard.

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Adult Booklr chose Jacqueline Woodson’s brown girl dreaming for our August Book Club and it could not be more poignant. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about it, since it is a story written in poems instead of prose, but it ended up being incredibly beautiful. It is also a perfect book to release right now. It not only speaks to Black Culture, but it did a lot of good to me as well.

The rest of my review is written, obviously, from a white woman’s perspective. I have not been in the fight. I cannot understand what you are going through. I would love to hear your feelings on this beautiful book, and I hope you will share them with me.

brown girl dreaming is essentially Woodson’s memoir, written from the viewpoint of her as a child in the 1960s. Through her vivid poetry, she talks about growing up in Ohio, South Carolina, and New York, and the differences between prejudices and struggles in each location. She also lays out the foundation of learning to write, her family life, and just growing up as a whole.

Even though the words were spoken with a child’s voice, the wisdom in them was so pronounced. This was a child who saw the world through her pencil–every moment was a word waiting to be written. Her composition notebook was her tool to sort, file, organize the world around her and try to make sense of everything that was happening. For the reader, that notebook, in turn, helps us understand what is happening in our similar world today.

I couldn’t relate to everything she wrote. I grew up in a privileged home, with both parents, in the same house until the end of high school. I very much understand what people mean when they talk about White Privilege now. I can’t say I have never struggled…they are just different struggles.

There were, however, some poems that made my heart expand until I thought it was going to explode. Some made me want to weep. The ones about reading and writing, especially–not knowing how to use those gifts as a kid but just knowing they were there and she had to use them somehow.

Then there were the poems that really spoke to me on a human level. Those shook me. They are the reason I’m writing the review this way–because I really wasn’t sure how I was going to approach it. One of the last poems in the book was this one, called “how to listen #10”:

 

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I think that is the most important thing as a white person in America right now, because we are privileged, whether we can see it or not. It’s a hard thing to admit sometimes–pride is a hard thing to let go of. But we just have to shut up and listen.

 

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Half a King

High fantasy. Seems like it’s everywhere now, since Game of Thrones became popular.

I dunno, maybe it was everywhere before that, but it’s one of those things where you don’t notice it until you do, and then it’s everywhere.

Either way–I’m glad, because I love it. I mean, I don’t foresee anyone writing as hardcore and complicated a world as George RR Martin’s, but there is a lot of great stuff out there.

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Today’s selection was Half a King by Joe Abercrombie, and it did not disappoint. Yarvi, a second son, is set to take his minister’s test, when his father and brother are killed. Suddenly he is thrust into kingdom and all it’s responsibilities. He is quickly betrothed to his brother’s promised wife, and coronated. However, his uncle sees the opportunity to take the throne. I don’t want to give you any more, because, spoilers, but the book is essentially Yarvi’s fight for a kingdom he wasn’t supposed to have.

If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say this is based in Viking/Norse history. The names have sort of a Scandinavian feel to them, and the lifestyle is based around the sea and oarsman powered boats. Besides that, the world is fairly simple in it’s structure, at least in this first book. The characters are well written, and everything flows well.

I especially liked the banter between the oarsmen (and women). As you’d expect, they were an ornery, dirty lot, but good-natured and hearty. Once they got out of captivity, I loved how they banded together into a family group. Oh, and the author sneaks in a Homer-esque joke in there, so watch out for that. Definitely got a smirk out of me!

Something else important about this story–the hero of this book is disabled. While everyone else gives him a world of crap for it–like thinking him the lesser prince, for instance–he never lets it slow him down. If anything, it makes him smarter and stronger.

I just added the second book to my TBR, which is about as great a compliment as I can give any series. If it’s good enough for me to pick up the next one, you know you’ve got a winner in my heart! Now, let’s see how soon the library will take to get it to me.

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe

For months I’ve been seeing this beautiful blue starry cover across Tumblr, and a gazillion Booklrs raving about (what I thought) was a pair of philosophers falling in love. I rarely read Goodreads reviews before adding a book to my TBR–I tend to just jump in to the story, preferring to discover along the way. My library never had it available, but they finally released the audiobook to me, and I am so glad they did. I think it was almost better in that format probably!

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I quickly learned that this wasn’t about the two ancient philosophers at all, but two teenage Mexican boys living in the desert city of El Paso. I generally can only read audiobooks while doing something–chores or walking–so falling in love with this story motivated me to walk more often! Except guys, it damned near broke my heart! Do you know how hard it is to keep pace while crying? I’m sure I got some weird looks on the trail.

Ari and Dante’s friendship is completely beautiful. For those of you who haven’t heard of this book before–it isn’t just a coming of age story, it’s also a coming out story. It’s powerful, sad, happy, scary. About every emotion you can have, you will have it while reading this book. A must read this year, absolutely.

And if you like audiobooks, definitely listen to this one. The narration is extremely well done!

 

WWW Wednesday 7/29/2015

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What are you currently reading?

Armada by Ernest Cline

For Study:  The Ramayana by Ramesh Menon

 

What did you just finish reading?

 

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware (Review Tomorrow)

The Good Earth by Pearl Buck

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

 

What do you think you’ll read next?

A Room with a View by EM Forster

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh

 

The Good Earth

Today we are shooting across the globe to China and reading about yet another culture I haven’t spent much time in. I’m so glad to be opening my world up beyond the normal White America that is so prevalent in publishing.

I’m thinking about doing an Around the World challenge–reading a book from every country. Does anyone know of any “Map My Books” apps or websites? I have what I want in my head but I’m not sure if they are out there. I’d really like a way to track the books I’ve read from outside of the US in certain places, and maybe look up books in countries I’ve not read yet. Not sure if anything like that exists.

Just brainstorming. May be a challenge I’ll put together for 2016–and that’s still a ways away. Hmmmmm…..

Aaaaannnyyyywayyyyy….Back to China.

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The Good Earth takes place in the late 1800s-mid 1900s in mostly northern China. Wang Lung starts his adult life as a poverty-stricken farmer living with his old, grumpy father. He wants a wife, so he skimps a few coins to buy an ugly (but not pock-marked) slave from a rich family in town. She becomes his life-long friend and companion, not only giving him many children, but because of her help in the fields, they are able to grow the farm to success–with a few struggles along the way, of course.

I loved the first half of this book. It’s almost a Fiddler on the Roof kind of love story (OK, so I MAY have watched that episode of Gilmore Girls last night where Kirk is in an elementary play.). They don’t start by loving each other, but they work next to each other in the fields, hardly talking, gaining mutual respect, and it’s a marriage. It’s a hard life, but a seemingly happy one. O-lan supports his constant yearning for landownership and never pushes him towards material things. It’s a simple life that they both want.

But, something breaks in Wang Lung after the first famine, when they have to go south, I think. After they get back, he immediately starts gaining new land and capital, and is never the same. When he realizes how rich he is, and above the Old Lord, his ego overcomes him and his life just goes downhill from there. The more “successful” he is, the less fulfilled he becomes.

I did have to remind myself a few times that this is a different culture, and so things like concubines and sons getting education over working in the fields were normal. But I was so frustrated for O-lan. And I did not always understand the dynamic between Wang Lung and his uncle.

Really, I think my main takeaway is just that you don’t always need to be rich in order to have a full life. Oh, and Chinese farm wives are badass. That too. O-lan, you’re pretty much my hero right now. “Just bring me a sharp reed, and stay out.”

Ok, O-lan, whatever you say, O-lan.

 

Fulfills PopSugar #18:  A Pulitzer Prize-winning book