My Constantly Evolving List of All-Time Favorites.

Kyle 's favorites books montage

Gone Girl
The Night Circus
The Woodcutter
The Graveyard Book
Sharp Objects
Dark Places
Shutter Island
The Passage
The Twelve
Rules of Civility
The Aviary
Heir to the Glimmering World
Wool Omnibus
The Weird Sisters
A Song of Ice and Fire
A Game of Thrones

Kyle Uniss's favorite books »

Monday, March 31, 2014

Sunny start to spring break and Oscar Wao

Finally!! It's spring break. We're staying at home this year (we usually do), so it should mean sleeping in and late nights. We try to go to Arizona earlier in the winter, because rates are lower and its usually worth getting out of the cold and snow to spend a week at my moms. This year, we did Christmas there and a week at Disney in February. AND I just got a new car, so we really can't afford electricity or heat any longer, let alone another trip.

And it looks like it is going to be spring, finally. Just to make us appreciate it even more, winter decided to say goodbye loudly with one last snow on Saturday. I grew up in Colorado and lived for a time in the beautiful Vail Valley in the mountains, so snow at the end of March isn't a shocker for me, but it isn't my favorite thing when there isn't the promise of spring skiing. So I'm hoping we get a few sunny days, because I would like to go to the zoo and maybe go for a couple of hikes.

So, we'll spend our week sleeping in and eating pancakes, late(r) night movies and family time. I'll break up fights and find it AWESOME when the girls get along. Maybe we'll bake some cookies and hit the Y (when it does rain, like it's promising to do.) Spring break is the promise of summer to come, and I can't wait.

After reading The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, I think my life just changed a bit. There are writers that I have missed in the last few years--spending time trapped in children's books and YA dystopian fantasy has taken this from me. Wow, Junot Diaz is one of those writers.

This is my New Jersey book, and I'm so glad I read it. My husband is a Jersey boy, so I didn't want to read about suburban kids growing up, or even the Jersey Shore. I went for the inner city, the gritty New Jersey. And I stumbled on Diaz.

I've looked at this book a few times and decided against it, I guess because I didn't relate to the culture, the setting or the story. STUPID REASON, I know. You should read out of your comfort zone; that is how you learn!!!

The story is breath-taking and wonderful and loopy and sad, and even a bit predictable because of the title and the opening, but the way Diaz puts words together creates a story that is beautifully rich, even magical. YES, I had (got?) to use the translate button on my Kindle Paperwhite a few times to translate phrases from Spanish to English, but the gist of the sentence came through, I just wanted to use that technology. It was just wonderfully, creatively crafted. And his characters--WOW!! He takes a crazy--Loco--Dominican, combines them with Sci-fi geekiness and fatalistic love and creates a character that you want to shake, want to cheer for, want to read--a character you can't help but falling in love with a bit. Oscar Wao, and his whole crazy family, are well worth meeting.

I'm going to have to find time to read more Junot Diaz. This Is How You Lose Her and Drown are next on my list. I cannot wait.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

First Reconciliation and Someone Else's Love Story

Here was our dilemma, one that I have been worried about for awhile: How do you tell your developmentally disabled daughter that it's time to sit down and confess all the sins she has committed in her nine years? (Well, not maybe not all of them . . .) Confess, not to me or her father, but to the highest moral authority in her life, a priest. Somehow, we got her to do it. My Katy made it through her First Reconciliation (that's confession to you non-Catholics.)

It wasn't easy. For those of you who don't know her, my younger daughter Katy has Down syndrome. SO, explaining the whole tell-them-what-you-did (aka confess your sins) was difficult. Her standard line when she gets caught doing something wrong is, "Libby did it." (Libby is her older sister). We talked (and talked and talked) about how she would be forgiven, she wouldn't get in trouble, that this was a great chance to tell the truth and let God forgive her sins. We went over and over it, and thought we had it figured out--in January. And then SNOW. And her First Reconciliation was postponed.

So, fast forward two months. We continued to talk, and the two months seemed to have done some good. She got it!! She confessed some sins without blaming anything on her sister, the priest was wonderful and patient, and she walked out relieved and happy, asking if she could do it again. Right then.

So, I'm proud. I'm relieved. I'm happy, but I'm sad at the same time. It took a long time to get her to this point, and she did a wonderful job. But it means my baby, my little girl that works so hard for every milestone, is growing up. She's my own miraculous, and I'm not ready for her to grow up.


"Our genes define our capacity. They set the range, and we have to act within it. But it is a range, which means it can’t be simple. We are limited, all of us, and imperfect. We are broken in specific, quantifiable ways."

I can't really say enough about this book. I first was introduced to the characters when I read Joshilyn Jackson's s prequel short story, My Own Miraculous and I fell in love with them during this too-short interlude. Someone Else's Love Story just added to the infatuation.

Shandi Pierce is a bright, creative seventeen year-old girl living in a small Georgia time when she gets pregnant--but she's still a virgin. My Own Miraculous picks up four years later with Shandi living at home letting her mother parent her son, Natty, letting her father pay all her bills, letting her best friend, Walcott, sweep in and become her white knight when necessary. When she realizes that Natty is an extraordinarily brilliant four year-old, Shandi realizes out that she needs to start taking care of herself and her son and not let others live her life. She discovers that Natty is her own miracle, in more ways than one.

This takes us up to the start of Someone Else's Love Story. Shandi has decided to leave her small town with Natty and move to Atlanta so he can attended a preschool for gifted children. In a quirky turn of events, the two of them are held at gunpoint at a Circle K. It is in that moment that she meets the next miraculous part of her life; the Thor-like savior, William Ashe.

After the hold up, Shandi weaves her way into Ashe's life, fancying herself in love with him. It is during this time that she finds the courage and the strength to face up to her past, and to help William face up to his. And once the past is the past, the two of them can face the future . . . just not in the way you think.

Someone Else's Love Story is filled with rich, wonderful characters that leap off the page. The story is quirky and unpredictable, coming to a wonderful conclusion after some interesting, winding roads.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

An Ideal Family For a Week, Slogging Back To Life and a Few Book Reviews

We got back from the most perfect vacation EVER a couple of weeks ago. For a week, I felt like we were a television perfect family, with the funny dad, the grounded mom, the sometimes sullen pre-teen and the cute younger child--with a bonus tv perfect, she has a visible developmental delay (Katy has Down syndrome). We smiled, laughed, walked, rode, and bonded. We had a few grumpy moments (mostly when we waited too long to eat), but all and all we had THE BEST TIME!!!

Yes, we went to Disney World.

I swear the happy smile didn't leave my face for a week. I told my husband to forget the Caribbean, let's go to Disney for EVERY vacation. Everyone there works so hard to make your vacation wondrous and unforgettable. I love Aruba, have had a spectacular time in many places, but Disney takes their job seriously. Yes, everyone there has had their fill of the Disney koolaid, but if that's what it takes to make family memories, then I'll take it! 

And the back to real life . . . .

Back to school, where older daughter's grades slipped a bit because of vacation. That's okay, she went from all A's to a couple of B+s. Back to swimming, and to REALLY COLD Ohio. Back to play practices and dance. Back to work and cleaning (I loved that they came and cleaned our cabin every day--and did our dishes. The Cabins at Fort Wilderness rock!) and laundry. Back to the real world. UGH. 

So, I will cherish our memories of the perfect vacation and of being the ideal family. I know it is just one week of glossy, unrealistic expectations--but it was a week that was real. And it was sublime. 


"I’ve always known that there’s more going on inside me than finds its way into the world, but this is probably true of everyone. Who doesn’t regret that he isn’t more fully understood?" Bridge of Sighs

I haven't been very good at doing my reviews: February was crazy busy. But I have been reading, so there are reviews to be done. I'm going to cover the three books I read as part of my Reading Across America--Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New York.

For Rhode Island I traveled back to the mid-eighties and read a book about witches in the early seventies. Yes, I read The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike. It was well written, the characters were vivid and real, the town was described perfectly. BUT I didn't love it. It was okay, but it wasn't great.

The story is of three divorced women living in Eastwick. Before they meet the elusive Darryl Van Horne the three of them get together and 'magic.' They seduce married men and dabble in artistic endeavours and generally scare most of the small town of Eastwick. None of them are good mothers, but somehow their kids are fine.

Along comes Darryl Van Horne, causing their artistic talents to explode and their sexual adventures to expand. And life gets much darker, and that's when I really stopped liking the women. The middle of the book muddles, and it then it ends.

There are some beautifully written moments, my favorite being Jane's Cello Scene. These well written expositories made the book worthwhile. But, after all is read and done, I can find better books.

My Connecticut read was A Season in Purgatory by Dominick Dunne. This one I loved. Written in 1993, it is a fictionalized story mirroring the Martha Moxley murder and The Kennedy involvement.

The story is told by Harrison Burns, a school friend of the young, charismatic Constant Bradley. Harrison becomes a reluctant after-the-fact accomplice of the murder of Winifred Utley by Constant, who enlists Harrison to help him move the body. Constant's larger than life Irish father and his older brothers help cover up the murder, and Harrison's college is covered as payment for his keeping his mouth shut. Years later, he is drawn back into their world, and the guilt gets to be too much. Harrison does and turns in Constant, which leads to a trial and more Bradley stories.

Dunne does a wonderful job of making the reader feel like Dunne knows the truth, that he is Harrison Burns and this is what really happened. Of course, the Moxley murder was not a Kennedy but a cousin, Michael Skakel, who was later convicted of killing Martha Moxley. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It's not high literature, but Dunne does a good job.

And finally, for New York I went back to Richard Russo. After loving Empire Falls so much in Maine, and knowing that Russo grew up in upstate New York, I went back to him and read Bridge of Sighs, and it was the worth the trip back. This book was wonderful, nostalgic and poignant, and contains surprises in the most unexpected moments.

Lou 'Lucy' Lynch remembers his life in small Thomaston, New York with his normal, glass-half full kind of way. His small world revolves around his family's corner store, which becomes successful despite itself. In this world there is first Lou and his parents, and Lou's friend Bobby. Later, a big space is filled by Lou's girlfriend and later wife, Sarah Berg. As we start to realize that Lou may not be remembering everything quite right (leaning toward the good and ignoring some of the dark), in step Bobby and Sarah as narrators, the forces that keep the story honest.

Lou's memories, and Thomaston in general, are filled with wonderful characters that Russo does a great job of introducing and fleshing out. I can picture Thomaston and the people in it, imagining the streets and houses, the river and the tannery. Russo leaves the reader with some questions, which will haunt me forever. Questions like:

What really happened to Lou in the truck? What are his spells? Was it his mother and uncle he saw while in the trunk? Did Nan leave Thomaston pregnant? What happened to Bobby's mom, brothers, dad? Were they his brothers or half brothers? Did he die at Penn Station or was he at dinner? What happened to Sarah's dad?