Sunday, February 16, 2020

Currently Reading: The Cactus League

The Cactus League by Emily Nemens
It's baseball season, y'all!  Finally!

In Shreveport, we aren't lucky enough to have a minor league team anymore. We used to have The Shreveport Captains but they moved to Frisco, TX several years ago and are part of the Rough Riders organization now. Their old stadium is now part of our urban decay landscape and has been take over by bats -- and I don't mean baseball bats. It's a source of much contention and local grumbling.

We do have several college baseball options, though, and so only a couple of blocks from my house is the Centenary Gents baseball field. Part of the SCAC, the Gents give us a few months of good, fun baseball every year. LSUS also has a baseball team, so we are not completely without options.

This week I started reading The Cactus League by Emily Nemens.  What fun this book is!  I love it so far. I'm not even halfway yet, but I can tell that this is one I'll want to own; I'm reading it as a library book right now. Apparently the book is told in chapter long vignettes from various characters; I'm still with the first character, a batting coach named Michael who returns home to Arizona for spring training to find his house has been occupied, and wrecked, by squatters. And where does Michael go to relieve the anger and anxiety from this discovery? To the batting cage, of course, at the brand new stadium complex.

I'm drawn into the story already and can't wait to get back to the book. Of course, I started it yesterday while at the Gents ballpark; I was reading before the game and during the doubleheader intermission. Totally set the mood!

This is a debut novel from Emily Nemens, but she's been involved with books and literature for some time as editor of The Paris Review and former co-editor of The Southern Review. Bonus: she graduated from LSU with a MFA degree in fiction.  I can't wait to follow her new path as novelist.

Monday, February 10, 2020

What are you Reading?

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 turned to 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!