The Mouse and the Motorcycle | by Beverly Cleary

The Mouse and the Motorcycle

The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Bevery Cleary
(Avon Books, 1990, 158 pages)

I loved The Mouse and the Motorcycle when I first read it… decades ago. I picked it up again to encourage my husband to get some practice reading to our first child (coming in December!). It was no Beezus and Ramona the second time around, but it was still fun to revisit the book. We’re introduced to Ralph the mouse in a small California motel after Keith and his parents decide to stay there on their road trip. Keith gets his own room and while he’s out Ralph notices his collection of toy cars, but it’s a toy motorcycle that catches his eye. Once Ralph discovers the freedom that comes with riding a motorcycle he begins to question the confines of his life, which up to this point has been limited to the second floor of the motel.

Ralph and Keith both wish they could grow up faster, but a surprising friendship forms between the two as they bond over their love for a toy motorcycle. Ralph gets himself in lots of trouble along the way, but he learns about responsibility and maturity in the process.

The Tao of Martha | by Jen Lancaster

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The Tao of Martha: My Year of LIVING; Or, Why I’m Never Getting All That Glitter Off of the Dog 
by Jen Lancaster
(NAL Hardcover, 2013, 335 pages)

Jen Lancaster is known for her humorous memoirs and I enjoy her writing style. The Tao of Martha went a slightly different route from her other books in that she set a mission for herself to live like Martha Stewart for a year – this book is a record of how that went. I listened to this as an audiobook and it was narrated by the author which was appropriate. I didn’t think this was as funny as some of her other titles but I still enjoyed it. Lancaster’s attempts to live a Martha-approved lifestyle offered up more than a few mishaps, but she also motivates the reader to want to try and get their own life together. Martha didn’t become who she is because her advice isn’t sound ;)

If you’re looking for a new humorous memoirist to try I’d recommend Lancaster, but I’d start with her earlier work.

In the Drink | by Kate Christensen

In the Drink

In the Drink by Kate Christensen
(Anchor, 2000, 288 pages)

Claudia Steiner had big plans for what she was going to accomplish in her life. She moved to New York City after college and has worked a number of jobs since arriving, all of which were supposed to build toward her dream career of being a writer. Unfortunately her most recent job working for Jackie, a wealthy widow with a penchant for never taking the blame for anything, as a secretary/ghostwriter is pushing her towards the edge. Jackie is never at fault, and that means Claudia always is. She can’t wait for the end of each day when she can head home and soothe her nerves with a drink.

In addition to her issues with Jackie, Claudia is also struggling with her feelings toward William, a longtime friend. Despite all the time they spend together they’ve never hooked up and she spends a considerable amount of time pining for him. There’s always her married ex-lover, but she’s trying to keep that from re-entering her life. It’s hard to stay focused on the positive when it seems like nothing is going your way, but Claudia’s doing what she can to keep her sights on the happy future she hopes to one day have.

I’m definitely a fan of Christensen’s and enjoyed this book. I’ve already moved on to a more recent title of hers, The Great Man, and will have a review on that shortly :)

My Year of Meats | by Ruth Ozeki

My Year of Meats

My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki
(Penguin, 1991, 361 pages)

I read another Ozeki novel earlier this year, All Over Creation, and really enjoyed it so I was eager to check out My Year of Meats – her debut novel. While parts of it were hard to read (due to content) it was really well-written and kept me engaged.

Jane Takagi-Little is a documentarian living in New York City. She receives a call from one of her connections asking if she’d be interested in producing a show for Japanese TV that revolves around Americans and their meat consumption. Sponsored by Beef-Ex, the show would be a series of glorified advertisements showing American housewives and their families enjoying this staple in their diets – the goal is to get the Japanese population to eat more meat. As filming is underway we can see there’s a disconnect between the true “American” experience Jane wants to show and the “America” that the Japanese executives are looking for. We also delve a little deeper into Jane’s personal life and the those of a few other women whose lives she enters in some way or another.

As filming continues Jane starts picking up on some things about the meat industry that are on the “unsavory” side. She starts struggling with the idea that she’s responsible for promoting a product that can result in serious side effects.

I’m ready for my next Ozeki title, I’m definitely a fan of her work and the way she can work in relevant social issues without disrupting the rhythm of the story.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children | by Ransom Riggs

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Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
(Quirk Books, 2011, 352 pages)

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is the next title up for discussion at SCC’s Between the Covers book club and it had been on my “to read” list for ages. Jacob has always been close to his grandfather – he grew up hearing about his grandfather’s experience living in a group home for children during WWII but his stories always seemed just a little far-fetched. Tragedy strikes Jacob’s family and he has a hard time getting over it so when the opportunity comes to travel abroad and see the home his grandfather grew up in he’s encouraged to go. Jacob and his fatherset off for a small island off the coast of Wales and people seem to be hesitant to show Jacob where the group home is…

As Jacob wanders the island he meets a number of “peculiar” individuals – they all have special qualities that it’s hard to believe are real. But what’s really strange is that the people he’s meeting are the same people he remembers his grandfather talking about. How could that be possible?

This was a unique read with an enhanced experience provided through photographs incorporated into the text. I’ll be curious to hear people’s thoughts at the next book club discussion (10/29 at 2:30). It definitely ends in a way that has you curious to see where Riggs is going to go with the rest of the series. Fortunately book 2 (Hollow City) is already out :)

You can also check out reviews of this title from Theresa and Kelly.

Arts and Entertainments | by Christopher Beha

Arts and Entertainments

Arts & Entertainments by Christopher Beha
(Ecco, 2014, 288 pages)

Eddie used to have it all with his beautiful girlfriend, Martha, and both had acting careers that were on the rise. Suddenly Martha’s career shoots in front of his and she dumps him before he has the chance to move out to L.A. with her. Now Eddie is a drama teacher and his marriage is falling apart because his wife, Susan, wants children but they don’t have the money to get the help they need to conceive a child. After the suggestion of one of his friends, Eddie sells a certain tape that he kept of him and Martha and suddenly he has the money he needs and the attention he wasn’t asking for.

This was an ok read for me. It’s strange to see the characters get so warped by the temptation of fame and money. Plus the character I was most interested in, Susan, I never feel like a got a good handle on her. But that is probably the author’s intention with his look on realty TV stars in our culture right now. It was a pretty easy read but it was hard to really get into without a character I could cheer for.

Station Eleven | by Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
(Knopf, 2014, 333 pages)

When a famous Hollywood actor suddenly has a heart attack on stage during a performance of King Lear, everyone thought that is what they would be talking about for days to come. Little did they know that a few hours later, the Georgia Flu had started wiping out a majority of the world’s population. Only 1% of the world survives and twenty years later the world is a much different place. One of the child actors who was one stage during King Lear has joined the Traveling Symphony who travel from town to town doing performances of seldom heard music and plays. The symphony deals with the trials of this new everyday life but none has tested them like the strange occurrences that start to happen when they pass through a town and meet the self-proclaimed prophet.

I absolutely loved this read. It was strange and perfectly on trend but with such a fresh idea on post-apocalyptic life that I flew through the book in no time. The twists and turns were weird but fell perfectly in place at the end. The book shifts back and forth between before the flu outbreak and the famous actor who played King Lear to years after epidemic and the child actor who shared the stage with him. It’s such an interesting story and another finalist for the National Book Award this year.