Review: Happy Like This by Ashley Wurzbacher

I sometimes have a hard time connecting to short stories, as I am often left wanting more. I was drawn to this collection mainly because it’s published by University of Iowa Press (my alma mater) and won the Iowa Short Fiction Award.

I am very glad that I stepped out of my comfort zone. These ten stories are all about smart women in different stages of their lives and the choices they are faced with, each on their own search for happiness and fulfillment. The writing is just gorgeous, the characters all unique and real, and I saw a little of myself in more that one of their internal explorations. There’s a story about a professional ballet dancer who has recently ended a pregnancy that just floored me. A story about a family of four each dealing with their own issues and coexisting that felt authentic. Themes of loss and new beginnings throughout, with wit and humor sprinkled throughout. I took my time with these stories and I’m really surprised with how connected I was to each one. Fantastic storytelling, and I look forward to more from this author.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

My first two NetGalley reviews

I joined NetGalley in late July, and made the (likely usually) mistake of requesting way too many books right out of the gate. Now I’m sitting here with 23 books to review, so I promptly had to join the #Reviewathon. Whoops!

I finished both of these books a couple of weeks ago… I had big plans of blogging my galley reviews at least weekly, but that hasn’t worked out so far. I will do better!

Seneca Lake by Emily Heebner

This was a short read with a really good concept. I enjoy historical fiction set during WWII, and I liked the characters assembled here. It was interesting to have a Native American character and the author did a good job of showing some of the difficulties he would have living and working with non-native people during a time of war.

There is a lot of beautiful imagery in this book and I enjoyed reading it. However, the book starts and ends very abruptly, is very heavy on dialogue, and the characters don’t feel as fleshed out as they could have been. Overall, a pleasant way to spend my afternoon.

⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Laws of the Skies by Grègoire Courtois

This little book is brutal and horrible and savage. It’s like Lord of the Flies plus Friday the 13th (with literal 6-year-olds instead of teenagers). I’m not giving away anything that isn’t in the description: of the 12 children and 3 adults on this camping trip, none of them survive.

I can’t recommend this book to anyone I know, but it’s well-written, beyond disturbing, and I could not stop reading it. Do with that what you will, but know that this book is one giant trigger warning.

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

#1001Books audiobook review: Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

I’m slowly making my way through the Boxall list of 1001 Books to Read Before You Die. These books (obviously) aren’t all I read, but I try to get to at least one each month.

So…this is what I have done all week.

Normally, I finish 2-3 books per week, but this week, only this one. This audiobook is long: actually 3 different novels pulled together. In print, it’s over 1000 pages, and this Audible edition is 45 hours long. It is a lot to take in, and I have a lot to say about it.

Set in Norway in the 14th century, this is the story of Kristin, who is the daughter of a wealthy noble, from childhood through her death. Rich in detail, obviously rigorously researched, and beautifully written. There were parts that literally brought me to tears, and parts where I wished I had a physical book to throw across the room.

The imagery is intense, and some of the descriptions were just poetic. The way Undset describes the moon sailing over the world… just blew me away, and I can’t even articulate why.

As a mother of 5 children, I totally connected to Kristin’s feelings towards her children and motherhood. As a single mom in my early 40s, with kids in college, high school, and elementary, I also identified with her internal struggles with regard to her changing role as she and her kids got older. Some things are timeless.

All of that said, I had moments when I wondered why I was still listening. I struggle with books about devoutly religious characters, and I had more than enough of hearing how Kristin sinned against God and her father by having the audacity to want something passionate for herself. There is lots and lots of judging going on here.

Still, Kristin is a great character because she could be anyone at anytime… struggling through life and making decisions about what she wants and what is right and proper.

Ultimately, I couldn’t stop because I was invested in Kristin’s experiences, and I’m glad I read on. I have many feelings, but this is an awesome read.

#1001books

⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Dewey’s Reverse Readathon!

The day may come when courage does not fail me and I read for the whole 24 hours, but it is not this day!

It’s been a really long first-week-back-to-work after my glorious 11-day vacation, and I’m tired. Still, I’m going to read as much as I can!

My answers to the opening survey:

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? And what time is it where you are?

Iowa, USA. My start time was 7 pm.

2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

I’m about halfway through The Poisonwood Bible and I’m absolutely loving it, so finishing this one.

3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? 

Chocolate covered almonds. Yum.

4) Do you have a #reversereadathon plan of attack?

Just to read as much as I can, hydrate, and use my audiobooks whenever I can’t sit to read.

5) Are you doing the readathon solo or with others?

All by myself, which is exactly how I like it.

Best of luck to everyone participating!

Book and (sort-of) Film Review: The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

If I have any interest in a book that has been adapted to film, I have a fairly strict book-before-movie policy. This tends to result in me seeing adaptations long after they have come out, because my TBR is ridiculous. This week, I am participating in The Reading Rush readathon. One of the challenges is to read and watch a book to movie adaptation, and it seemed like a great time to finally get to this novel. This meant I watched the film within just a year of it’s release…practically a new release by my standards.

The Book:

This was my first experience with Sarah Waters. I had three of her books, including this one, planned for my 2019 reading, and after finishing The Little Stranger, I am very much looking forward to the other two.

The narrator of the story is Dr. Faraday, son of working class parents who sacrificed to send him to school. He’s built a respectable life as a country doctor in the English village that he came from. In the late 1940s, Faraday is called to Hundreds Hall, a local manor where his mother worked as a nursemaid before he was born, and where he had a memorable visit as a young child. Hundreds has been the home of the Ayers family for hundreds of years, but is in decline post-war, and the remaining members of the family are struggling with a changing way of life. As things get darker and stranger at the Hall, Faraday finds himself more and more entangled with the family and the house itself.

This is a creeping, atmospheric gothic novel. The writing is strong, and Waters has crafted a pervading sense of unease. With mounting tension and beautiful imagery, the revelation of the identity of the ‘little stranger’ is very subtle, but none the less jarring. Parts of the story are slow, but as a reader, I tend to appreciate a well-done slow burn. This book was a delightful experience for me, even if it got a little too scary in parts for me to continue listening after dark. (Disclaimer: I am a weenie.)

I listened to this one on audio. It’s read by one of my favorite narrators, Simon Vance, and is a very good production.

★★★★☆

The Film:

Please note that I am most definitely not a film critic. That said, I thought this movie, released in August 2018, was fairly faithful to the book. It definitely succeeded in bringing the house, the characters, and the countryside to life for me. It’s very well cast, especially with Domhnall Gleeson, who is brilliant and moody as Dr. Faraday, and Ruth Wilson, who is outstanding as Caroline Ayers. The film translated that creepy atmosphere well, and the house used for Hundreds is perfect. I really liked the movie, but everything subtle about the book is lost in the film. It seems like the filmmakers want it to be very obvious to the viewer early on who the ‘little stranger’ is, but just in case it wasn’t obvious enough, they sort of smack us upside the head with it at the end of the movie. This is not a horror movie, and it’s really not even very scary (remember, I am a weenie), but if you like gothic movies and don’t mind a slower movie, I definitely recommend this one.

As is generally the case for me, I liked the book more than the movie.

If you’ve read this novel or seen the film, I would love to hear your thoughts!

Obligatory first post.

This is my first post on my first-ever blog, so it will come as no surprise that I have no idea what I’m doing. I started rating all of my books on Goodreads about seven years ago, and then started reviewing everything I read on Listy three years ago, so I feel like this blog was the natural progression. I recently took the plunge and joined NetGalley, and I have every intention to be a good reviewer of the books I receive there, so here we are. I plan to use the blog to review books and talk about other bookish stuff that strikes my fancy or otherwise gets me all worked up.

Speaking of Litsy, have you checked it out? It’s my very favorite form of social media – all books, all the time. I have been a daily user for over 3 years, so it wasn’t a passing fad for me. Feel free to check out my Litsy profile (and my other social media accounts) on the Contact page, and if you’re not already Litsy-ing, consider joining us.

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