Report from Louisiana: Book Report

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – I’m an avid reader and am often reading at least two, sometimes three, books at one time. We do independent choice reading in my secondary ELA classroom, and so I am often reading along with my students; that’s usually some kind of YA novel that I might be reading so I can discuss it with my students, or recommend it to someone. At home I usually have two books going: one on the Kindle which I read right before bed, and often another physical book that I might read when sitting outside, or when I’m ignoring the Law and Order reruns on television. 

I recently joined NetGalley which is one source of my reading fodder. In return for a fair and honest review I can get advance reading copies of books. This is right up my alley! I joined NetGalley because I discovered a new author that I enjoyed a great deal: Kelly Harms. It’s “chick lit” primarily, but she’s always got some kind of twist that I wasn’t expecting and her characters are usually engaging; I dislike a lot of chick lit characters because they are often insipid and silly, but with this author I don’t really see that. At any rate, I was so anxious of her next novel that I joined NetGalley for the sole purpose of getting my hands on an advance copy.

Harms is the author of The Overdue Life of Amy Byler, which is a fun read. After I finished that book I went back and read her previous novels, and thoroughly enjoyed them. The new book, coming out in May, is called The Bright Side of Going Dark and explores the world of social media influencers from both in front of and behind the lens. It gets a little vapid at times, I mean, we spend a lot of time focusing on a woman who makes her living as an Influencer, staging perfect pictures of her perfect life, and of course most of it is not real. But, overall, it was a fun, light read.

I’ve just finished reading Recipe for a Perfect Wife by Karma Brown, which came out in January. This book disturbs me a little bit, in part because I see missed opportunities with the story. It was a good book and the initial premise is engaging.  Alice and Nate leave New York and purchase a 1950s era home in the suburbs The house is sold “as is” and includes the previous occupants belongings, old floral wallpaper, Formica kitchen table, and overgrown garden.  Then we meet the previous owner in a dual storyline: Nellie and Richard lived in the home in a stereotypical 1950s marriage with Nellie in pearls and June Cleaver skirts preparing dinner before the successful Richard gets home from work. Nellie spends her days gardening, baking, and attending Tupperware parties.

When Alice discovers a box in the basement containing Nellie’s favorite cookbook, complete with annotated margins, and boxes of 1950s Ladies Home Journal magazines, she begins to learn a great deal about the life Nellie and Ricard led, which of course was not necessarily as perfect as it seemed.

I found myself much more engaged in the Nellie and Richard storyline and wanted to throat-punch Alice most of the time. She made many self-destructive and irrational decisions which often made no sense. The ending of the book left me with the impression that it was rushed and just needed to end. Alice needed one more chapter, for example.

I’m glad I read the book, and I ended up giving it four stars in my review, only because I couldn’t give it 3.5 

I’m enjoying my NetGalley experience so far, as I think it will expose me to new authors and force me into some genres I may not normally explore. And hey, I’m always open to recommendations so if you’ve got one, drop it in the comments!

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.

Report from Louisiana: Reading List

By:  Pat Austin

SHREVEPORT – It seems like January lasts forever, but one thing these long, cold months are good for is to catch up on some reading. My reading tastes range far and wide, and I tend to binge read when I discover an author new to me that I enjoy. I’ll generally read almost anything, from chick-lit to serious non-fiction. I’m not a big fan of fantasy.

I did read, and loved, Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus a while back, and now that her long awaited second book is out, The Starless Sea, I picked it up, but I couldn’t get into it. I’m going to try again, maybe in the spring. It’s getting nice reviews, but just was not resonating with me at the time.

I’ve been on an Elizabeth Strout binge; I loved Olive Kitteridge, so when Olive, Again came out, I snapped it up and loved it. I relate to Olive. The older I get, I seem to get crankier. Cantankerous. I’m not as bristly as Olive, but I can relate. And now that I’ve seen the HBO adaptation of Olive Kittridge, I can’t help but see Frances McDormand as I read. Such fun! Now I’m on to My Name is Lucy Barton, also by Strout, and am enjoying that. Strout is sort of like a female version of Fredrik Backman, to me. Both authors are so adept at character development and in creating characters we become sympathetic to even though we may not want to.

In that same way, consider Steph Post’s final book in her Judah Cannon series, Holding Smoke. Post is an author who should be on your radar and who is not as well known right now as she will be.  Her Judah Cannon series has been referred to as “grit-lit” as a nod to its gritty, Florida noir setting and characters, some of whom are truly inspirational in their evil deeds. I received an ARC of Smoke a few weeks ago – its release date is next week, and I immediately jumped in and could not put it down. I would recommend reading the first two books in the series so that you are more invested in this one, plus, the story arc is fabulous. Post is a versatile writer and her last novel, Miraculum, might be my favorite of her works; that’s hard to say because I dearly love the Judah Cannon series.  Miraculum can hold its own with Night Circus any day, all day long.

In the non-fiction realm, I’ve recently finished Sarah Broom’s The Yellow House, which is a memoir about growing up in New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina, and the aftermath. It is more than a story about her family and Katrina, however. It reminds you that so many people around us are living lives that are ignored and unseen, forgotten, misunderstood. Broom’s skill in wrapping complicated themes around her family’s little yellow house is what makes her the gifted writer she is.

I just finished reading The Silent Patient, the much acclaimed new book by Alex Michaelides. It was a page-turner, and I couldn’t put it down, but in the end, I felt manipulated. I’m not sure how to explain that without spoilers, but let me just say the book was a good read, I enjoyed it, but the ending left me irritated. I’m not sorry I read it, and I’ll read this author again, but ….  I guess the last time I felt irritated by the conclusion of a book was Stephen King’s Elevation. I don’t want to give spoilers on that either, but at the end of Elevation, let’s just say there was a lot of profanity involved on my part and a huge reluctance to contribute to King’s bank account any further.

Next on my reading list is American Dirt. What are you reading? Give me some recommendations!

Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport and is the author of Cane River Bohemia: Cammie Henry and her Circle at Melrose Plantation. Follow her on Instagram @patbecker25 and Twitter @paustin110.