Summer Reading!

Well, we’ve come to the end of another wonderful season of reading, sharing, and bonding over great books!  And now it’s time to kick our feet up at the beach–grab your sunscreen, your swimsuit, and don’t forget that most essential ingredient of all: your beach read!  Below you’ll find some titles to get you through the long summer wait until Literary Masters posts the 2016-17 season reading list!

This Must Be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell: Ah…this may be a little unfair because this title hasn’t been released in the States yet.  However, by the end of July you should be able to get your hands on this wonderfully charming novel–highly recommended!  You’ll ponder marriage, parenthood, and the many selves each of us contain as you read what is, at its core, a thoroughly enjoyable love story.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman: Another charmer, this time from a Swedish author, whose debut novel is taking the world by storm.  About a grumpy man.  Well, really about the stories each of us has hidden within, and about friendship, and connection.  Enjoy!

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante:  If you’re one of the few people on the planet who hasn’t read this gorgeous book about two Italian friends, you have a treat in store!  Actually, four treats, because it’s the first of four sumptuous Neapolitan novels.  Be prepared to ignore loved ones for a long while.

Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan:  Well, we had to put this book as a beach read, right?  Even if you’re not a surfer, you’ll enjoy the journey this author takes you on in this autobiography that won the Pulitzer Prize.  He opens your eyes to new cultures and to, yes, the wonderful world of waves.  Have fun!

Disrupted by Dan Lyons:  No doubt you read an earlier WHIRL Books post about this hilarious memoir here.  For fans of the HBO series Silicon Valley (and if you’re not a fan, what is wrong with you???) and also for everyone who looks around the beach and thinks, “where did all these young people come from, and just how do they think they are making the world a better place?”  Laugh out loud with some serious questions explored.

The Upstairs Wife: An Intimate History of Pakistan by Rafia Zakaria:  If you can’t visit Pakistan this summer, it can visit you.  Exploring the personal as well as the public aspects of life in Pakistan, this eye-opener is a great nonfiction choice for the summer.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng:  A gripping novel about a family whose daughter is found dead.  How much did they really know about her?  How much do they really know about each other?  One of those books that absolutely lingers for days after finishing it.

High Dive by Jonathan Lee:  Suspenseful and thrilling in its blending of fact and fiction.  Remember the bomb that went off in Brighton, England, in 1984 in an attempt to assassinate the British Prime Minister and her cabinet?  Meet the characters (invented by Lee) who will take you back there.

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney:  We loved the writing in this debut novel, and the four siblings, negotiating their lives around a future inheritance (i.e. the ‘nest’) will make lots of our own families look better by comparison. 🙂  A quick, breezy, enjoyable read.

I Do Not Come to You by Chance by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani:  This award-winning debut novel from Nigeria was part of our Literary Masters 2015-16 season, and it was a hit!  You may not think you want to read a story about email scamming, but you will change your mind as the pages fly by!  So funny but once again, important themes are mined.  The best novel that book clubs don’t know about.

Zero K by Don DeLillo:  Weird, yes, definitely.  But compelling and thought-provoking and different for sure.  Set in a cryogenics facility in central Asia where bodies can be frozen until cures for diseases are found, this novel will challenge you to think about those deep questions–about life, about death, about meaning.  Call it a cerebral beach read.

Well, this ought to take care of your page-turning needs until we post our list!  That should be some time in late August, so STAY TUNED!

 Do you have any titles you’d like to recommend for summer reading?  We’d love to hear from you!

A Roll of a WHIRL!

As you well know, WHIRL stands for What Have I Read Lately, and I have to say, I have been on a roll!  I won’t have time to do full reviews or even “Should Your Book Club Read…” reviews–sorry!  But I can give you a “blink” of what I think.

So, What Have I Read Lately?

Someone by Alice McDermott.  Sigh.  So good.  I’m resisting returning it to the library because I want to ignore all my other books and pick this back up and read it again.  Savor it, more like it.  Irish immigrants living in Brooklyn, female narrator remembering her life.  Nothing of importance in her life–except to her, of course.  Filled with the ordinariness of life.  Just someone’s life.  Five stars, if I gave stars.

Benediction by Kent Haruf.  Another quiet book to savor, this time with characters on the Colorado plains.  Spare prose, simple plot (or is it?)–another look at the ordinariness of everyday life–and how extraordinary it can be when summed up.  A dying man whose family is taking care of him–his present, his past, and how they intertwine.  Five stars, if I gave stars.

All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu.  I’ve been wanting to read something by this author from Ethiopia, the recipient of the MacArthur Genius Grant.  This novel goes back and forth between Isaac in Uganda to Helen in the US Midwest.  Isaac has fled war-torn Ethiopia and Uganda and landed in the Midwest with Helen as his social worker.  Helen has never been beyond the end of her nose.  A very readable novel but not earth shattering.  Three and a half to four stars.  If I gave stars, that is.

God’s Hotel by Victoria Sweet.  Our Literary Masters selection for the month of April, this non-fiction account of the only alms hospital left in the United States–Laguna Honda in San Francisco–raises some serious questions.  The author’s thesis is that we should incorporate much more slow medicine (closer to pre-modern medicine) into our health care system because we would save lives and money in the long run.  Important issues here.  Literary Masters members loved the book for the most part, although there was a small minority who found the author insufferable.  Four stars.  If…

Telex from Cuba by Rachel Kushner.  Our Literary Masters selection for the month of March, this novel will take you back to the 50’s with the added bonus of a trip included–to Cuba!  Here’s the story of the American ex-pats and Cuban revolutionaries mixing it up–right before Castro successfully takes over Cuba.  The prose is as lush as the Cuban jungle and as intoxicating as the exc-pats’ nightly cocktails.  We loved it!  Four and a half stars

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.  Literary Masters read The Innocents by Francesca Segal for our February selection, which is a re-imagining of Wharton’s classic.  For that review, click here.  To read these two book together is a real treat, but if you don’t have the time, read this one!  It is a sparkling gem of a novel!  New York City in the late 1800’s–and the social climbing involved in surviving there.  The more things change, the more they…
Five stars.

Well, what have YOU read lately?


I have been thinking about themes for my next season of Literary Masters book groups.  I have fond memories of the time I did “Literary Masters Falls in Love“–I mean, who can resist that?  I was considering books about marriage, but thought that might get too, I don’t know, personal???  Anyway, all of a sudden, just by chance, I ended up reading a bunch of books that fall right into that category.  I don’t have time for a long post, so I am just going to WHIRL here, but if you want “Points to Ponder,” please let me know.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin.  I just love this title.  The book is quite good, if a tad dated.  (Is that heretical?)  Four stars, but would probably bump up to five if we discussed it in one of my Literary Masters book groups.  The books always improve in my salons!  I couldn’t help but think of other books I’ve read while I was reading this, such as The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, or Coral Glynn.

On Canaan’s Side by Sebastian Barry.  Four stars.  Again, I kept thinking of other books, like Brooklyn.  This is a quiet yet compelling story, and the writing is beautiful.  I almost feel I should read it again, and I might bump it up to five stars.  This book is about much more than marriage, but it deals with that institution in a certain time frame as well.  This book has been on long or short lists for many prestigious prizes, and I can see why.

Mudwoman by Joyce Carol Oates.  Wow.  This is one hefty book, yet I tore through it.  I had always wanted to read something by this prolific author, and now I have.  I’m glad I chose this book; it was really…creepy, compelling, thought-provoking, and quite a page-turner.  I am considering this for my next season of Literary Masters.

What about YOU?  What have YOU read lately?

Springtime WHIRL with the Stars!

For those of you who are new to this site, welcome!  WHIRL stand for “What Have I Read Lately,” and it’s just a quick round-up of my reading that I don’t have time to make longer posts for. (If you’d like “Points to Ponder–in-depth, thought-provoking questions for your book club–for any of these books, please let me know.)  So…here goes:

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides.  If I gave stars like other sites do, I would give Middlesex by this author five stars, but I would only give The Marriage Plot three stars.  It was extremely disjointed, and although the section on one of the character’s descent into depression was so well-written that I felt like I was descending into madness myself, I still think the book as a whole was just not…stellar.

The Road Home by Rose Tremain.  Again, I’d have to give this novel three stars.  That is, if I gave stars.  Hmm, perhaps I’ll start.  Anyway, this novel is from another author whom I look forward to reading, but–and this speaks to my philosophy of “low expectations are a good thing”–I was disappointed in this book. Immigrant from Eastern Europe tries to make a success of his life in England.  It went on a bit too long, and I was just glad to be done with it.  Actually, that’s too harsh.  I did enjoy the book until the very end, which dragged.  Maybe three and a half or four stars.  Tremain’s writing is always good, and her character development is great. 

Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates.  Brutal.  Brilliant but brutal.  Five stars.  Read it.  And see the movie.  I may choose this book for my Literary Masters book groups next season.  I’m not sure, though, because it really is emotionally wrenching.  The portrait of a marriage, and the individuals within it.  A period piece that resonates for anyone in any era who strives to be special, amazing, the best he/she can be…

Coral Glynn by Peter Cameron.  Another period piece that resonates with anyone who has ever felt trapped–within a relationship, within a job, within one’s own expectations.  Four and a half stars.  At first I thought this novel was rather simplistic, but it stayed with me a long time after I finished it.  If you liked Brooklyn and The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne, I think you will like this book.

So, what about you?  What have YOU read lately?

WHIRL is on a Roll!

As you all know, WHIRL stands for What Have I Read Lately, and I must say, I have read some wonderful books lately.  Don’t you just love it when your reading is on a roll, so to speak?  So.what have I read lately?  Read on to find out:

You know from my previous post that I loved The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham.  I loved it so much, I went to the library and took out another novel by Maugham, The Razor’s Edge.  This was one of those books that you look forward to returning to when you’ve finished whatever else it is you must do.  Many of the same themes are present in this novel that are in The Painted Veil, and there’s much here to ponder, but, as we all know, it’s the story that matters most, and this story is compelling.

Isabel is in love with Larry and he’s in love with her.  However, Isabel wants the good life, the fun life, the high society bourgeois life.  And Larry is in search of something else.  Something else entirely.  So how to reconcile their differences and hold onto their love?  This is a large part of the story–but not all of it.  You’ll meet other wonderful characters, you’ll contemplate what “love” really is, you’ll ponder how one should live, and what makes a successful life.  This is a slow-paced page-turner, if that’s not too much of an oxymoron for you.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.  Oh, we all know by now that this novella won the Booker Prize this year, and you probably have read many reviews on it.  I quite enjoyed it, but I have to say, and you won’t understand this until you’ve read it, I felt a little cheated when I was through.  Yes, it is worth reading.  Absolutely.  And YES, I get that my feeling was part of the point of the book.  But I just think that it came up just short of being a WOW of a book for me.  I can’t say why because that would give too much away.  So you’ll just have to read it and see what I mean.  Enjoy!

Obviously I liked Barnes’ writing because I went straight to the library and took out Arthur and George by the same author.  Now, this book I loved.  It is a bit on the slowish side, just a tad, but it is so good.  It is based on the true story of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle helping to clear the erroneous conviction of George Edalji, a half-Indian son of a vicar.  This is a fantastic book–it was short-listed for the Booker in 2005, and there is MUCH to ‘dig deep into’–I may just choose it one of these days for a Literary Masters Salon selection.

What about you?  What have you read lately?

Women WHIRLing!

So, I promised to compile of list of books that Literary Masters Book Groups and Salons members devoured over the summer.  In no order whatsoever, and with very little accompanying commentary, here are some of the more popular titles (numerous members read these) that you may want to check out:

Submisson by Amy Waldman; here’s a link to the NY Times review of it:

The Invisible Bridge by Julie Orringer; here’s a link to The Washington Times review of it:

In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson (non-fiction); here’s a link to the NY Times review of it:

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain; NY Times review here:

The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (non-fiction); here’s a link to the WSJ’s review of it:

Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand (non-fiction); here’s the NY Times link:

The Hare with the Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal (memoir); here’s a review from the Washington Post:

Just in case you’re looking for something to read~enjoy!

Where in the WHIRL Have I Been???

I love you all–thanks for the flood of correspondence wondering where I’ve been–it’s so nice to feel loved and missed!  I have been away on a literary mission (!) and as soon as I get my photos downloaded, or is it uploaded?, I will post a couple and blog more about my adventure.

Have I piqued your curiosity?

For today, though, I am blogging about some books that are on my side table.  These are books that I am in the midst of reading, but I’ve put them down because I knew at a certain point in each book that they would not work for my Literary Masters book groups and literary salons.  However, these are books that I do intend to finish!  We can call it a Mid-way WHIRL, if you like, or an In-Progress WHIRL:

First off, Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami.  My brother, yes–the one who disdains used books, is a fan of Japanese literature, and he introduced me to Kenzaburo Oe, the author of A Personal Matter, which I reviewed here.  Murakami is the author of The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, which you may have read; I never have.  I decided to start with Norwegian Wood on my brother’s advice, and I…like it…I don’t love it, but I do like it and I am willing to persevere with a rather slowish read.  I am not, to be fair, very far into the novel.  So far I think I’ve met the key players, although not a tremendous amount of action has taken place.  The back of the book describes it as:

“A magnificent blending of the music, mood, and the ethos that was the sixties with the story of one college student’s romantic coming of age, Norwegian Wood brilliantly recaptures a young man’s first, hopeless, and heroic love.”

Umm…okay.  I hope to finish this novel to see why, again stated on the back of my book, “This stunning and elegiac novel propelled Hauki Murakami into the forefront of the literary scene…”

When I do, I will review it at length.  Stay tuned!

Next, Tyrant Memory, by Horacio Castellanos Moya.  You’ll remember that I became an instant fan of this author when I read his novel, Senselessness.  I eagerly anticipated his new book, and was so impatient, I bought it instead of waiting for a library copy!  Although I am thoroughly enjoying it, I don’t think it measures up to Moya’s previous work–but, to be fair, I have not yet finished reading it, so stay tuned…

It follows a certain family, their trials and tribulations, in El Salvador in 1944 during the month between an attempted coup and a general strike that forced out the dictator Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez.  Staggering between laugh-out-loud hilarity and close-your-eyes horror, this novel is a very compelling read.  I just didn’t think I could subject my book groups and literary salons to it, though.

Finally, for today, The Counterlife by Philip Roth.  Many consider this to be his best work, so I was excited to read it.  I am a fan of Roth, although I know a lot of women have difficulty reading his work.  I’ve said before, as you know, that one of the funniest books I’ve ever read is Portnoy’s Complaint, which I read many, many years ago.

I am enjoying The Counterlife, and I can see why it is so highly regarded, but I have to admit, I was getting kind of bogged down in the second section, after loving the first…and I imagined my Literary Masters members getting bogged down also.  The idea of the novel is a character who dies in the first section, but then who isn’t dead in the next.  From the little I’ve read, I’m surmising that we are delving into the area of parallel universes, or the lives we could have, would have, should have lived.  Something I find very interesting, so I do hope to finish this book.  Again, stay tuned!

Right, now that I am back turning pages and pressing keys, I hope to be posting much more frequently than I did during this past month.  What about all of you, though?  What Have YOU Been Reading Lately???