23 July 2018

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: The Traveler's Edition

4 Books to Read in JulyThis turned out to be the summer of big travel. It seems as if every weekend is a long weekend. While that’s fantastic for my social life and has given me lots of time with family and friends, I’m really feeling the pressure to keep up with work.

That also means I’ve barely read a blog let alone a book for weeks. This is so unlike me! And the summer isn’t over yet. I still have another big trip coming up. I’m so happy to get a chance to explore the world, but I’m also looking forward to September. Is too much to ask if I can just stay home for an entire month?

Here are my short thoughts on what I’ve read and listened to over the last couple of weeks. My book count is way, way down, but that’s okay. It’s not like I’ve lost interest in reading; it’s that I’ve been out and about.

Review of America for Beginners by Leah FranquiI listened to America for Beginners by Leah Franqui (Harper Audio; 10 hr, 49 min), read by Soneela Nankani, for a review assignment. I enjoyed this story of a widow who leaves her home in India to travel across America in the hopes of learning why her son loved living abroad. She makes arrangements ahead of time through a New York City tour company and is accompanied on her journey by a Bangladeshi male tour guide and a (white) American young woman companion. The trio seems to have little in common, yet all three are unsure of what they’re going to do after the tour is over. I really liked the way the three characters grew and changed over the course of the book and how they were able to form bonds, despite their very different backgrounds. The end was, perhaps, a little too neatly tied up, and some sections felt rushed, but it’s still a solid read. I’ll watch for more books by Franqui. Although Narrator Nankani can come across as too earnest, she held that in check for this audiobook and did a good job rendering the diverse accents needed for the story. (For more, see AudioFile magazine.) America for Beginners is worth your time in either medium.

Review of My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa MoshfeghI wasn’t sure what to expect when I started My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh (Penguin Audio; 7 hr, 14 min), read by Julia Whelan. The gist of the book is this: An unnamed protagonist decides a yearlong hibernation will cure all her woes and give her a fresh outlook on life. With the help of a prescription-writing psychiatrist, a girlfriend, an ex-boyfriend, an up-and-coming artist, and an inheritance, she manages to sleep away the better part of a year. As you can imagine, there isn't much action, but Moshfegh’s sharp observations of New York and her subtle wit kept me invested. The real credit, however, goes to Whelan. Her brilliant narration made this novel for me. I really loved her characterizations and perfect pacing and the way she performed the story as told by our somnolent hero. Honestly, I’m not sure I would have stuck with this in print, but the audiobook is highly recommended. (For more, see AudioFile magazine.)

Review of The Shortest Way Home by Miriam ParkerThe Shortest Way Home, coming out next week from Dutton, was written by Miriam Parker, whom I’ve know since my early days of blogging. I received a copy of Parker’s debut novel several months ago, but I waited to read it because I wanted to review the book just before it hits the stores. Let me say right up front that I loved this story about Hannah, a brand new business school graduate who is suddenly questioning her career decisions and her feelings about her live-in boyfriend. Instead of moving from Berkeley to New York to start her high-power life, she says good-bye to an internship and to her man to work for a family winery in Sonoma, helping them revive their business. I could totally relate to Hannah’s feelings and decision, seeing as I, too, turned my back on my academic field after grad school, and I’ve never regretted it. Parker’s characters are easy to root for, while defying cookie-cutter clich├ęs. The details of the family wine business are interesting, and Hannah’s enthusiasm for her new job feels real. Hannah, a woman of her time, knows what works on social media (especially Instagram photos of the winery’s dog) as well as she knows bookkeeping software. The Shortest Way Home is fun summer reading, peppered with literary references and realistic relationships. This is smart contemporary fiction, perfect for your beach bag and for your book club. Just one warning: You’ll want to pour some wine and get into the kitchen—good food scenes ahead.

Review of In the Distance with You by Carla GuelfenbeinI enjoy reading books in translation for the broader perspective they provide, and Other Press is one of my go-to sources of the best books from around the world. In the Distance with You by Carla Guelfenbein (translated by John Cullen), set mostly in Chile, is a quiet, character-driven novel that creeps up on you in increments. There are four main characters, but only three have a voice. The silent one is Vera, an elderly reclusive author who is in a coma after a fall. The others are Emilia, a Chilean French grad student whose thesis is about Vera; Daniel, Vera’s neighbor and friend; and Horacio, a well-known poet who was Vera’s lover when they were young. The story is told from the latter three characters' viewpoints via alternating chapters. Guelfenbein creates an almost misty atmosphere for her layered novel, which explores relationships and finding one’s true path. The book also includes a mystery of sorts. In the Distance with You isn’t an easy novel to become lost in, but it will reward those who stick with it. The book has weaknesses, though; one is in how the mystery is resolved and the other is the foreshadowing of what I think was supposed to be a twist. This is another novel I’m not sure I would have stuck with in print. The audiobook (Highbridge Audio; 11 hr, 24 min) was read by Nicol Zanazarella (who took on Emilia’s chapters) and Robert Fass (who read the two men’s chapters). Their performances were well matched in pacing, mood, and characterizations, and I credit them with keeping me engaged. (For more, see AudioFile magazine.)

14 comments:

rhapsodyinbooks 7/23/18, 6:51 AM  

I am very influenced by food scenes. It's like watching food commercials I guess and suddenly you have cravings for whatever it is!

Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves) 7/23/18, 7:41 AM  

I've been hearing about the Year of Rest and Relaxation. Not great enough things to pick it up yet, though...

bermudaonion 7/23/18, 8:39 AM  

All your travel sounds fun to me.

I agree with you on The Shortest Way Home - I think it's going to be a hit! I'm listening to My Year of Rest and Relaxation right now - for some odd reason, I thought it was a memoir when I started it.

Laurel-Rain Snow 7/23/18, 10:23 AM  

These all sound good, in different ways. My first pick would be The Shortest Way Home.

I hope you finally get your time at home...I would hate not having time at home, even though the traveling sounds wonderful.

Thanks for visiting my blog.

Susie | Novel Visits 7/23/18, 10:52 AM  

I absolutely love Julia Whelan's narration of most anything, but I still think I'll skip My Year of Rest and Relaxation. It sounds just a little too relaxed for me right now.

Glad you enjoyed In the Distance With You. I read it and found the same flaws as you, but overall still liked the story.

Have a great week and enjoy those travels!

Yvonne 7/23/18, 1:08 PM  

I love traveling, but I can imagine how much time that takes away from the things you want to do. I hope things will eventually calm down for you. Have a great week!

Kay 7/23/18, 2:44 PM  

The first two of these books sound really good to me. And audio is often my way of reading a lot of things these days, especially books that might not be best for me in print. I love Julia Whelan's narration. Hope you get a bit more 'reading' time soon. Yes, travelling is great, but it's fun to be home too. Have a good week!

(Diane) bookchickdi 7/23/18, 3:24 PM  

America for Beginners is next up for me, and then I’m going to read The Shortest Way Home.

Kathryn T 7/23/18, 3:24 PM  

Beth thanks for letting me know about the email glitch being fixed. I am so far in now that I will move to WordPress but may not have if I had known.

Kathy Martin 7/23/18, 3:58 PM  

Nice variety of books. Your traveling sounds great but tiring. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

Greg 7/23/18, 7:56 PM  

Glad you're getting lots of traveling in! America For Beginners sounds great, and so does The Shortest Way Home. I love the sound of her interning for a winery and taking a different path. Sounds like a great gift book, and I might read it myself!

AJ Sterkel 7/23/18, 8:18 PM  

Enjoy your traveling! Books and the blogosphere will be here when you get back. Have a great week!

Aj @ Read All The Things!

Nise' 7/23/18, 8:58 PM  

Enjoy your travels. A couple of these audios have my wanting to listen.

Daryl 8/4/18, 3:45 PM  

some interesting selections ... not my cuppa but still interesting

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