Thursday, January 10, 2019

And The 2019 Polar Book Club Selection Is...

What else should an Intrepid Reader do during the winter but — well, read?

Join the Polar Book Club in reading The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster by Scott Wilbanks

It's a novel loaded with time travel, mystery, and — you know what? I'll let the author describe the book himself:

Annabelle Aster has discovered a curious thing behind her home in San Francisco: a letter box perched atop a picket fence. The note inside is blunt—“Trespass is dealt with at the business end of a shotgun in these parts!”— spurring some lively correspondence between the Bay Area orphan and her new neighbor, a feisty widow living in a nineteenth century Kansas wheat field. 

The source of mischief is an antique door Annie installed at the rear of her house. The man who made the door—a famed Victorian illusionist—died under mysterious circumstances. Annie and her new neighbor, with the help of friends and strangers alike, must solve the mystery of what connects them across time before one of them is convicted of a murder that is yet to happen... and somehow already did.

Now that you're hooked... start reading!

Let's begin the discussion on Monday, March 4. 

You can leave a comment on the blog, below, or email me your impressions and observations and I'll publish the thread of our conversation on the blog. You can decide how you want to be identified, if at all, in the conversation.

Thanks to Intrepid Reader Karen for giving me the book last summer, and for suggesting it for the Polar Book Club.

Questions? Comments? Ideas for the Spring Reading Club? Comment below or contact me!

Friday, January 4, 2019

Reading in 2018: What I Read, What I Liked, What Comes Next

2018 was a good year for reading. 

In 365 days, I read 79 books in total — almost tying my own record — and enjoyed a variety of authors and subjects. Though some books were modest — How a Mouse Saved the Royal Cat was a mere 14 pages — books in total averaged 241 pages.

I wandered my local library and combed the shelves of used bookstores. I read some books recommended by trusted critics, and learned who shared my taste. I perused my own library and shuffled my hefty Kindle selection for some delights, and a few clunkers.

I read general fiction, children's books, cookbooks, how-tos, and travelogues. I was intrigued by the art of tattoos. I marveled at libraries around the country, grand and modest. I was shocked and horrified by violence and sexism in classic literature, and shocked and horrified that it took me this long to notice it.

I read books narrated by immigrants, gay men, time travelers, people living with autism, journalists, people living with mental and physical illnesses, political dissidents, psychics, and crazy rich people. Whether it was fact or fiction, there was something new to encounter in every book.

I fell unabashedly in love with "young adult fiction." My favorite YA novels this year were Far From the Tree, Marcelo in the Real World, and The Sun is Also a Star. As soon as I finished the latter, I started it again to savor an unexpected delicious character. 

My favorite books of 2018 were: 

  • A Gentleman in Moscow — Alexander Rostov, the titular gentleman, is as memorable and noble as (dare I say it?) Atticus Finch. 
  • A Man Called Ove — I approached Ove much like he approached everyone else: cautiously, and expecting only disaster. In the end, he won me over, too, and even now my heart swells and my eyes tear up as I think of a character who felt (and still feels) so real.
  • The Useful Book — Truth be told, I was a little relieved that I was doing more than a few things correctly, lo these many years after middle school home economics classes. Cooking, cleaning, sewing, and minor repair are less scary, and more possible, by my hands now.
  • The Sun is Also a Star — Two strangers spend the single most important day of their lives together, with chapters that alternate between their perspectives and an occasional revelation by an omnipotent narrator.
  • Far from the Tree — What is family? Three biological siblings who grew up in different families through foster care and adoption discover just what love is between themselves and the history they try to uncover together.  
  • Spinning Silver — In her second modern fairy tale, Naomi Novik introduces us to strong women in 19th century Russia. Myriem is a Russian Jewish moneylender  who can spin silver into gold, and when she catches the eye of the wrong person, her life changes — as do the lives of everyone whom she has touched.

My least favorite reads were few, but powerful:

  • Basic Witches — Oh, you mean "witch" in the generic sense! Wait, what?
  • Murder on the Orient Express — I don't remember Agatha Christie being so boring, and I didn't even remember the ending!
  • The Plant Paradox — I feel about this much like I did about The Case Against Sugar: it would have been a good magazine article. After reading more than half the book, I was numb and confused. 
  • How to Relax — This author's books are tedious and pithy to the point of absurdity.

Here is a list of books I read in 2018, and the format in which I consumed theme: print (📖), audiobook (🎧), or e-book (📲):

  1. The Mortal Word 📲
  2. Frugal Living for Dummies 📖
  3. Look Alive Twenty-Five 📲
  4. Spinning Silver 📲🎧
  5. 5 Ingredients or Less Slow Cooker Cookbook 📲
  6. Pygmalion and My Fair Lady 📖
  7. Llamas 📖
  8. Harold and the Poopy Little Puppy 📲
  9. Everything, Everything 📲
  10. A Simple Favor 📲
  11. Welcome to Night Vale 🎧
  12. Rich People Problems 📖
  13. I Met a Traveler in an Antique Land 📲
  14. A Wrinkle in Time 📲
  15. The Little Stranger 📲
  16. G’morning, G’night 🎧
  17. Lobster is the Best Medicine 📖
  18. Fire Watch 📲
  19. The Public Library 📖
  20. The Useful Book 📲
  21. The Book With No Pictures 📖
  22. China Rich Girlfriend 📖
  23. Standard Deviation 📲
  24. The Plant Paradox 📲
  25. How a Mouse Saved the Royal Cat 📲
  26. Robert Kennedy Jr.’s American Heroes: Robert Smalls, the Boat Thief 📖
  27. Seven Miles to Freedom 📖
  28. The Princess Bride 📲
  29. Thunderstorm 📖
  30. An American Marriage 📖
  31. A Man Called Ove 📖
  32. Dear First Lady 📖
  33. What if Everybody Said That? 📲
  34. Quilt of States: Piecing Together America 📖
  35. Crazy Rich Asians 📖
  36. Frogs Are Funny! 📖
  37. The Lost City of the Monkey Gods
  38. Thrall 📖
  39. Dear Evan Hansen 🎧 📲
  40. The Devil’s Arithmetic  📲
  41. The Sun is Also a Star  📲
  42. Cat Haiku 📖
  43. Basic Witches 📖
  44. Less  📲
  45. Differently Morphus 🎧
  46. The Ideals Guide to Literary Places in the US 📖
  47. The Emerald Circus 📖
  48. The Fall of the House of Cabal 📲
  49. Pen & Ink Tattoos & the stories behind them 📖
  50. How to Relax  📲
  51. Marcelo in the Real World  📲
  52. They All Saw a Cat  📲
  53. Dog Songs: Deluxe Edition  📲
  54. How to Stop Time 📲
  55. Hero Cat 📲
  56. Texts from Jane Eyre 📲
  57. The Magician King 📲
  58. The Immortalists 📖
  59. A Beautiful Bowl of Soup 📲
  60. Unbelievable  📲
  61. The Choice 📲
  62. The First  📲
  63. The Returned 📲
  64. The Lost Plot 📲
  65. Night of the Living Deed 📲
  66. Murder on the Orient Express  📲
  67. I am (Not) Scared 📲
  68. World War I in Cartoons 📖
  69. Living Simple, Free, and Happy 📖
  70. KNACK Organizing Your Home 📖
  71. Love the Home You Have 📖
  72. Crosstalk 📲📖
  73. Hardcore Twenty-Four 📖
  74. Far From the Tree 📲
  75. Little Dorrit 📲 🎧📖
  76. A Gentleman in Moscow 📲
  77. All My Friends Are Dead 📲
  78. Her Right Foot 📲
  79. The Dire King: A Jackaby Novel

I started this year's reading with two well-known British women, Mary Poppins and Queen Elizabeth II; they're both delightful, and nothing at all as I expected. More as the stories develop.

How about you: How was your reading year? What did you read that you would recommend? Better yet, what did you read that you would not recommend? Do tell!

Monday, December 3, 2018

Summer Reading: Karen Made It Count

Intrepid Reader Karen had a great summer reading.

How great? Well, it looks like she consumed the entire Outlander series and immersed herself in cozy mysteries. 

Did you know "cozy mysteries" is a thing? I have been reading them for ages and just thought that was my author's pet name for her series. 

"Cozy mysteries" apparently involve cats saving humans from their own foolishness. (Maybe it's just me....) Well, I know my cats are exhausted each night after they keep me out of danger every day, even when I am at work — thanks to the Cat Networks.

At any rate, here is what Karen read this summer:

  1. Troublemaker 
  2. Outlander 
  3. Dragonfly in Amber 
  4. Voyager 
  5. Drums of Autumn 
  6. The Fiery Cross
  7. A Breath of Snow and Ashes 
  8. An Echo in the Bone
  9. Written in my Own Heart’s Blood 
  10. Murder in the Art Gallery 
  11. A Sip of Murder:A Japanese Tea Garden Mystery 
  12. Cream Puff Murder
  13. Gone with the Ghost 
  14. You’ve Got Tail
  15. The Secret of Seaside 
  16. Cruel Candy 
  17. Marigolds and Murder
  18. Wicked for Hire 
  19. Sweets and a Stabbing 
  20. Bakeries and Bones
  21. Horribly Haunted in Hillbilly Hollow 
  22. A Shot in the Bark
What an ambitious summer! Intrepid Reader Karen knows how to get some good books under her belt.

As a reward for a summer well-spent, Karen received a copy of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore — which you all might want to put on your holiday gift list. Just saying.

What did you read this summer? Did you discover a new author or genre? Let us know: comment below, or send me an email.

Have you plotted out your Winter Reads, or are you winging it and banking on a book bonanza for the holidays? Discuss!

And a special shout-out to the artist of this year's Summer Reading graphic: Beth Wilson and her DoodleCats!

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Poetry Wednesday: Home


no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city running as well

your neighbors running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats
the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory
is holding a gun bigger than his body
you only leave home
when home won’t let you stay.

no one leaves home unless home chases you
fire under feet
hot blood in your belly
it’s not something you ever thought of doing
until the blade burnt threats into
your neck
and even then you carried the anthem under
your breath
only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets
sobbing as each mouthful of paper
made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.

you have to understand,
that no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land
no one burns their palms
under trains
beneath carriages
no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck
feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled
means something more than journey.
no one crawls under fences
no one wants to be beaten

no one chooses refugee camps
or strip searches where your
body is left aching
or prison,
because prison is safer
than a city of fire
and one prison guard
in the night
is better than a truckload
of men who look like your father
no one could take it
no one could stomach it
no one skin would be tough enough

go home blacks
dirty immigrants
asylum seekers
sucking our country dry
niggers with their hands out
they smell strange
messed up their country and now they want
to mess ours up
how do the words
the dirty looks
roll off your backs
maybe because the blow is softer
than a limb torn off

or the words are more tender
than fourteen men between
your legs
or the insults are easier
to swallow
than rubble
than bone
than your child body
in pieces.
i want to go home,
but home is the mouth of a shark
home is the barrel of the gun
and no one would leave home
unless home chased you to the shore
unless home told you
to quicken your legs
leave your clothes behind
crawl through the desert
wade through the oceans
be hunger
forget pride
your survival is more important

no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear
run away from me now
i dont know what i’ve become
but i know that anywhere
is safer than here

by Warsan Shire (British-Somali poet)