I’ve read three books since my last post: one good, one meh and one great.
The good was Plan B by Jonathan Tropper. I’ve read a few of his more recent books, and this debut was as solid as the rest. A just-turned-30 year old, freshly divorced, conspires with three other old college cronies to kidnap and rehabilitate another college friend who’s become a coke head. He also happens to be a movie star. Things, obviously, don’t play out as anyone imagines, but the characters are interesting, the plot is fun and the book is full of late 90s pop culture gems. It’s an easy read and a good intro to Tropper’s work. This Is Where I Leave You (the first book of his I read) is going to be a movie soon with Tina Fey and Jason Bateman, so there’s that.
The meh was Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead. I really wanted this to be good. It takes place in the ballet world of the 1970s and the 1990s, focusing on a corps ballet dancer who helps a Soviet ballet star escape in the 1970s. Years later, she’s raising a son to be a dancer with her devoted husband and hiding a whole lot of secrets. Let’s just say it didn’t astonish me, though I will say it ended better than it began. It really started to hit its stride around 80% through – not nearly soon enough.
The great was The Confabulist by Steven Galloway. It weaves the story of Harry Houdini’s rise to fame and the behind the scenes intrigue of his life with that of Martin Strauss, a man who can’t seem to determine which of his memories are real and which are made up. It dives into how Houdini performed some of his most famous tricks, and focuses on his determination to debunk spiritualists who prey on people’s grief for money. This book is fantastic. So well written and so intriguing. I loved it.
I’ve also read a few books with the kid. We’re a big reading family, and both Chad and I want to have a hand in her literary discovery, so every night I read a few chapters of a book with her, Chad reads a few chapters of a different book with her and then she reads on her own in bed. She’s got to have crazy dreams.
Aside from my own book challenge, I’ve read a number of “chapter books” with her lately. Here are a few.
Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh. I loved this book as a kid and was excited to find the 50th Anniversary edition at Chapters, so picked it up and read it with Scarlett. It’s about an only child growing up in New York, who dreams of being a spy – and tries her spying skills out on everyone in the neighbourhood, including her friends. One day she loses her notebook, which records all of her truthful and sometimes hurtful spying activity and finds herself shunned by the friends she’s been spying on. A great, honest novel about friendship and growing up. It was one of the first books I read – probably right before I dove into Judy Blume – that didn’t sugar coat childhood. This is a great one to read with your kid as there’s lots to discuss. A gem.
We also recently read The School for Good and Evil by Soman Chainani. Scarlett and I watched the trailer for this book a long time ago and decided this was a “must read”. It’s a pretty complex story about two friends – one beautiful, charming and princess-like, the other ugly, morose and witch-like – who are stolen away from their home in the woods to attend the School for Good and Evil, a place where all fairy tale characters get their start. The twist is that the beauty is thrown into the school for evil, while the witch-like girl is put into the school for good. Why were they switched? How can they get back to their proper spots? Will their friendship last? Unlike a lot of fairytales, this one really dives into the meaning of beauty and ugliness, good and evil, and how nothing is truly definitive. My one gripe with this – there’s a sequel. Clocking in at around 500 pages, this isn’t a quick nighttime novel, and jumping into the next one right away feels like a bit much. I think we’ll end up reading it, but we (I) need a bit of a break.
The last book we read together was Doll Bones by Holly Black, the co-creator of The Spiderwick Chronicles. This is not for the easily-scared child or one who is prone to nightmares. The book is about Zach, Poppy and Alice, three friends in the 10 to 12 age range who have been playing this amazing and imaginative game with old dolls and action figures, creating their own world of adventure, ruled by the bone china doll in Poppy’s mom’s china cabinet. When Zach’s dad throws his figures out because he thinks he should focus on more age appropriate activities, their world is thrown upside down until Poppy starts having vivid dreams about the china doll and claims she’s visited by the ghost of a girl who won’t rest until the doll is buried in her empty grave. The three set off to put this spirit to rest, but nothing goes to plan. Well written, kind of disturbing, and super creepy. We both liked it.
Next up: Then We Came to the End by Joshua Ferris.
Next up for me and the kid: Who Could That Be at This Hour? (All the Wrong Questions) by Lemony Snicket.