Monday, April 4, 2016

National Poetry Month and A Poem from the Cat

National Poetry Month Includes 
A Poem From the Cat

Makes you tingle, doesn't it? Enjoy a new poem daily in April at my other blog, Hedgehog Lover. If you have suggestions, be sure to share them!

Thanks to Delaware Humanities Forum for the great poetry graphic at the top of the page. The cat poet is anonymous (which isn't unexpected — just ask T.S. Eliot about cat names.)

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Is it Time to Abandon the Reading List?

I have shelves and shelves of books. Nearly two dozen shelves alone are dedicated to fiction. A couple of these books already have been read, but most are waiting for the tender caress of this reader's eyes. The same holds true for my bursting-at-the-seams Kindle.

Many of these books are ones I have been promising myself to read. These were lovingly snatched out of the bookstore on Publishing Day or pre-ordered online. I couldn't wait to read them. So, what happened?

Time. Energy. A massive, towering, intimidating to-read stack on my nightstand and desk. Life. You name it, that pushes it down the to-read list.

From time to time, I jump the line (John Connolly and Night Music: Nocturnes 2, I am looking at you!) but certainly not often enough if The Map of the Sky is not yet read (let alone The Map of Chaos) and Beastly Bones remained "new" on my Kindle for months.

What is the answer to reading what I want when my sole task is to read what I want?

One suggestion is to abandon the reading list.

I approach this idea with more than a little trepidation. The intention of a reading list is to move books up my Abandoned-But-Still-Waiting List, such as The Gun Seller or The God of Small Things. It was the sole purpose of my Filling in the Gaps list (which continues to be a success). I am a member of a book club, which regularly hands me books I may never consider reading on my own. (Not all are successful, but the same could be said of my own independent selection — like anything by Neville Shute, which I submitted to that patient group.)

The other option is to implement something akin to The Book Jar, and choose titles regularly from there as often as I do from seasonal or special reading lists. I like this idea, but that still can dilute the effort, especially if I invoke first right of refusal. One would think The Book Jar is only for Special Books, but sometimes it's just not the right time to read Anna Karenina. (Perish the thought.)

So, it may be time to be a little more free-wheeling than a "reading list" often permits. Will de-listing books aid the cause? Will jarring my intentions help? Am I doomed to a teetering stack of to-reads, no matter what I do? I shall keep you apprised, fellow readers.

What have you done that has moved books up your to-read list, or do you still keep such a thing? Let me know!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Review: Luckiest Girl Alive

Critics think they are doing Jessica Knoll a favor by comparing her debut novel to Gillian Flynn's books. They are not. I, as a reader, was led to expect an entirely different book than I got.

Is Luckiest Girl Alive suspenseful? Sure. 

Does it tease out the story with plenty of foreboding and dangling clues and teasers? You bet. 

Are there some surprises in there? A few. 

In fact, it's one of the best-written books I've read in a while. However, the hype around the book influenced my reading of it, which wasn't fair to me, Knoll or poor TifAni.
As the book opens, Ani FaNelli is living the life of her dreams. She works not at just any magazine, but The Women's Magazine. She isn't just engaged, but engaged to a blue-blood, Old Money bachelor with an obscenely wealthy family. Her address, her clothes, even her friends are Just Right — rich in all the right ways, and all because of fiancé Luke. She is starving herself into a size six wedding dress, drunk half the time, wicked all the time. The veneer, however, is starting to peel, which her fiancé notices.

Ani's past unfolds alongside her present, and it's compelling. Her childhood was changed by a singular bad choice in middle school that propels her to Bradley, a posh private school in Pennsylvania. Readers meet TifAni, a desperate hormonal teen who will do anything to be popular and accepted by the blue bloods. Despite the central story’s surprisingly short fuse, the tale is well-paced and intriguing.
For 200-plus pages, Ani is a calculating, measured gold digger, a bizarre delight to read — until she nosedives in uncharacteristic missteps and unexpected displays of immaturity. I forgave that flaw in hopes of a big payoff, The Big Secret. In fact, I don’t think there was a Big Secret. There was, however, a logical and satisfying conclusion.

Long story short, abandon all expectation. Hide the dust jacket and ignore all adjectives. Approach this book as a debut novel with a well-told tale that provides an unraveling of a tightly-wound gold-digger whose fall is delicious and hearty.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Poetry Wednesday: Chocolate — and Looking Forward to National Poetry Month

National Poetry Month begins in April, so here's a tasty morsel to help you get ready!


Velvet fruit, exquisite square
I hold up to sniff
between finger and thumb -

how you numb me
with your rich attentions!
If I don't eat you quickly,

you'll melt in my palm.
Pleasure seeker, if i let you
you'd liquefy everywhere.

Knotted smoke, dark punch
of earth and night and leaf,
for a taste of you

any woman would gladly
crumble to ruin.
Enough chatter: I am ready

to fall in love! 

by Rita Dove
courtesy Poem Hunter

Monday, February 1, 2016

Review: Beastly Bones

In Beastly Bones, William Ritter has created another delightful tale with the astute R.F. Jackaby and clever Abigail Rook, who are on the case of shapeshifters, dinosaur bones and a few more otherworldly creatures (including humans).

This tale may begin with kittens, but don't let that lull you into a false sense of security. This is a fast-paced story, a mystery wrapped in a riddle with lots of excitement and revelations. It is funny and poignant, clever and revealing.

Jackaby is a detective who specializes in the supernatural. Abigail fled England to find opportunity beyond the boundaries enforced by her family. It's 1892, and her options are limited — until she meets Jackaby and joins one of the most unique and delightful detective agencies on this side of the Atlantic.

Beastly Bones jumps right into the thick of things with shapeshifters who, for the time being, are adorable kittens (mostly). Their owner soon meets an unfortunate end, and Jackaby and Miss Rook are plunged into a mystery that takes them away from New Fiddleham to Gad's Valley to help their police officer friend, Charlie. A dinosaur skeleton has been unearthed on a farm  — and a mysterious death connects the valley to New Fiddleham.

Not only are we reunited with our favorite characters, we meet another: Hank Hudson, an old friend of Jackaby's, a trapper by trade with an interest in the more rare species. The mystery of New Fiddleham lurks in Gad's Valley, and Charlie has to try to keep the peace, assist in the investigation as only he can, and keep two hotheaded paleontologists from harm (as well as harming each other). Nellie, an intrepid reporter, does her part to get the facts, and the others in Gad's Valley round out this interesting cast of characters.

Readers will laugh out loud and gasp in surprise, well up with a tear or two and root for the underdog (literally). It's a great romp into the unknown with the best guides imaginable led by an occultist and a paleontologist.

This is the second in the series, so consider taking a few hours to read the first book, Jackaby. (I estimate "a few hours" because, if you're like me, you'll finish it in record time.) One need not read the first book to enjoy the second, of course — but an intimacy with the cast of characters will add to a reader's enjoyment of the story.

Readers, rest assured, this is not the end of the story: a third tale in the series is scheduled for publication.

Additionally, Algonquin Young Readers offers a novella titled The Map: A Jackaby Story to tide over Jackaby fans.

Finally, visit the publisher's website for  extras available for both Jackaby and Beastly Bones.

Enjoy the fun and suspense that only R.F. Jackaby and Abigail Rook can provide, and learn a little about a lot of unusual things along the way.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Filling in the 'Gaps' in 2016

Do you think classic books (even modern classics) are best left to students? Or do you indulge throughout your life?

I am in the latter camp. I read some great books in school, but there are too many good books to simply stop because no grades are involved.

As a result, I have begun "Filling in the Gaps" of my reading. The original challenge was to make a list of 100 books to read in five years. My list was originally published in 2010, was ambitious — and one that was destined to change. I realized some books were not worth reading after all, and others I discovered I already had read.

Additionally, the list was influenced by an interactive project with my friend Carole: Weighty Reads, in which we chose 20 books to read together in the next decade, with a few related books tucked into our repertoire along the way.

Frankly, one should adjust one's list as time goes on. Is Asimov as important as Bradbury? Should I keep three Dickens at the cost of Jerome K. Jerome and Patricia Highsmith? Do I sacrifice classics for modern classics? The answers differ depending on who one is at the time the decision is made.

Here is the most recent iteration of the list, with a few more books marked off since it was published.

Fill in the Gaps, 2016

  1. 1001 Nights / Arabian Nights
  2. Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
  3. Highsmoor, Peter Ackroyd
  4. Foundation, Isaac Asimov
  5. Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood
  6. Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen
  7. Sense and Sensibility, Jane Austen
  8. √ Sundays With Vlad, Paul Bibeau
  9. Ten Days in a Mad-House, Nellie Bly
  10. √ The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown
  11. The Early Fears, Robert Bloch
  12. The Good Earth, Pearl S. Buck
  13. A Little Princess, Frances Hodgson Burnett
  14. Cold Sassy Tree, Olive Ann Burns
  15. √ The Land that Time Forgot, Edgar Rice  Burroughs
  16. √  Tobacco Road, Erskine Caldwell
  17. √  Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card
  18. Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather
  19. O Pioneers!, Willa Cather
  20. Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes
  21. Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, Michael Chabon
  22. The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler
  23. The Stories of John Cheever, John Cheever
  24. Girl with the Pearl Earring, Tracy Chevalier
  25. √ The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins
  26. Moll Flanders, Daniel DeFoe
  27. The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, Junot Diaz
  28. Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens
  29. Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens
  30. The Count of Monte Cristo, Alexandre Dumas
  31. The Man in the Iron Mask, Alexandre Dumas
  32. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, Dave Eggers
  33. Middlemarch, George Eliot
  34. So Big, Edna Ferber
  35. Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert
  36. Where Angels Fear to Tread, E.M. Forster
  37. The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen
  38. The Women’s Room, Marilyn French
  39. In the Woods, Tana French
  40. The Talented Mr. Ripley, Patricia Highsmith
  41. √ Unbroken, Lauren Hildenbrand
  42. √ Goodbye, Mr. Chips, James Hilton
  43. Les Miserables, Victor Hugo
  44. The Bone People, Keri Hulme
  45. Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston
  46. The  Lost Weekend, Charles R. Jackson
  47. √ The Haunting of Hill House, Shirley Jackson
  48. The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James
  49. Three Men in a Boat, Jerome K. Jerome
  50. √ Up the Down Staircase, Bel Kaufman
  51. On the Road, Jack Kerouac
  52. √ Please Don’t Eat the Daisies, Jean Kerr
  53. √  The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver
  54. The Jungle Books, Rudyard Kipling
  55. The Man Who Would Be King, Rudyard Kipling
  56. A Separate Peace, John Knowles
  57. The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, John LeCarre
  58. The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing
  59. Sliver, Ira Levin
  60. Elmer Gantry, Sinclair Lewis
  61. √ The Monk, Matthew Gregory Lewis
  62. The Call of the Wild, Jack London
  63. √ The Best of H.P. Lovecraft, H.P. Lovecraft
  64. Love in the Time of Cholera, Gabriel Garcia Marquez
  65. Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel
  66. The Road, Cormac McCarthy
  67. The Member of the Wedding, Carson McCullers
  68. √ Atonement, Ian McEwan
  69. Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurty
  70. Peyton Place, Grace Metalious
  71. Beloved, Toni Morrison
  72. Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
  73. Suite Française, Irene Nemirovsky
  74. A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy O'Toole
  75. The Portable Dorothy Parker, Dorothy Parker
  76. Doctor Zhivago, Boris Pasternak
  77. Bel Canto, Ann Patchett
  78. Anubis Gates, Tim Powers
  79. Remembrance of Things Past/In Search of Lost Time, Marcel Proust
  80. All Quiet on the Western Front, Erich Maria Remarque
  81. Home, Marylynne Robinson
  82. The Human Stain, Philip Roth
  83. The God of Small Things, Arundathi Roy
  84. Midnight’s Children, Salman Rushdie
  85. √ A Town Like Alice, Nevil Shute
  86. Prayers to Broken Stones, Dan Simmons
  87. Enemies, A Love Story, Isaac Bashevis Singer
  88. Angle of Repose, Wallace Steigner
  89. √ Dracula, Bram Stoker
  90. The Magnificent Ambersons, Booth Tarkington
  91. The Man Who Fell to Earth, Walter Tevis
  92. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Hunter S. Thompson
  93. Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy
  94. War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy
  95. Traffic, Tom Vanderbilt
  96. All the King's Men, Robert Penn Warren
  97. Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh
  98. Night, Elie Weisel
  99. Trainspotting, Irvine Welsh
  100. The Portrait of Dorian Gray, Oscar Wilde
  101. The Inimitable Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse

I tried to make my list as inclusive as possible. If you have suggestions, please share your ideas with me.

Do you have a Fill in the Gaps list? What's on it? If you haven't compiled such list yet, what would you put on it? Let me know!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 Reads in Review: The Good and Bad

Not to brag, but I managed to put quite a few new books (and more than a couple of re-reads) on my "read" list in 2015. Some were great. Others... well, let's just "live and learn," shall we?

Let's start on a positive note, with my favorites. I won't bother with the synopsis, but I will link to the ones for which I wrote a review.

The Martian — If you haven't read the book, stop what you're doing right now and read it. Seriously. Seeing the movie won't help. There are some things that a book can do that movies have to leave out. When Mark, who's been in his own head for weeks, is told to tone down his messages to Earth because they are being read in real time, his response made me want to be him. I've never loved an inappropriate word more than I did in that moment.

More importantly, The Martian reminded me just how precious our planet is: it sustains us, despite what we do to foil that effort. I truly fear that we will make our planet as inhabitable to us as Mars. (review)

Station Eleven — What happens to humans who lose their civilization out from under them? How do they retain their humanity? Shakespeare and a traveling orchestra. Never tell me the arts don't matter. In the end, it's all we have.

Double irony: the loss of technology was keen in this story, and I read Station Eleven on my Kindle. (review)

the life-changing magic of tidying up — Stop trying to organize your crap. Weed it out with one single criteria: do you love it? I still struggle with that question, and I find myself loathe to let go of what's unloved in case it's all I can find. My effort in 2016 will be to take this final step to heart and trust myself enough to live with love only. (My husband and cats are relieved.) I am sure the author was more explanatory than I, which is why you should read the book.

Kindred — if you love time-travel stories and you haven't read Octavia Butler's classic story, make it your next read. This story mixes love and hate, confusion and clarity, with one of the most American of institutions: human slavery. Butler jettisons the omnipotent narrator and allows readers to be as confused as the narrator in this classic story. I am thrilled to add her to my library, and I will be reading her as voraciously as I can in the coming years.

The Power of Habit — How are habits made, and changed? Why do we do what we do, and how do we reinforce habits, good and bad? 

Take a look into the brain with an engaging writer and discover how habits are formed and broken, and how much reward matters in the forming of habits — and decide how you may want to use this information in your own life.

(Full disclosure: I skimmed over the animal tests, which made me ill.)

Arcadia Tell the Wolves I'm Home (review)
Everything I Never Told You (review)
These  novels offer storytelling at its written best. Each has its own magic, whether it's a quiet power, a refreshing honesty or an unforgettable, vivid tale. Their stories and characters will remain with you long after the final page.

Night Music: Nocturnes Volume 2 — John Connolly scared the crap out of me with his short story collection Nocturnes, so of course I would not pass up the chance to be equally terrified again with a second installment. In a word: amazing. I did have to stop reading every so often to catch my breath and stop freaking out. More than one story made me question myself, reality, my concept of right and wrong and a whole lot of other things.

Now, for the Books I Hated.

Natchez Burning — As a reader, and as a woman, I was never so insulted by a writer's characters than I was with this book. Two men and two women arrive at a life-changing historical scene. The men talk business, the women talk relationships. It's more than that, but that is where I stopped reading. Three Pulitzers between them and the women were too busy talking about their men to talk shop? Please. (review)

Gone, Girl — Had it not been a library book, I would have not only thrown it across the room, but also have torn it in half. How can an author be so untrue to her characters? What she did was just downright mean: if you don't like your characters, kill them. Don't make them stop being who they are. No one wins: characters, readers or authors. (review)

Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Feelings Betray Us — Not convinced, despite the author's credentials, that I need to jettison my own judgment. I am not saying I should disregard the bloody apron the suspect is wearing and climb into the windowless van, but I do want to credit the small clues my brain is clever enough to collect to help me make my decisions.

I have listed my 2015 reads below. Let me know what you read, and tell me what you think of any books we both read this year.

Also, have you started compiling your 2016 list? What is on it?

  1. Ruby Red
  2. Sapphire Blue
  3. We Should All Be Feminists
  4. Beautiful Day
  5. The Winds of Marble Arch
  6. The Humans
  7. Tricky Twenty Two
  8. The Monk
  9. Simon’s Cat in Kitten Chaos
  10. Night Music: Nocturnes Volume 2
  11. The Girl With All the Gifts
  12. What Alice Forgot
  13. Alexander Hamilton
  14. I Could Pee on This
  15. Chronicles of Old New York
  16. The Witch's Big Night
  17. The Borrower
  18. The Dalai Lama's Cat
  19. Prisoner of the Devil
  20. Everything I Never Told You
  21. Kindred
  22. The Four Agreements
  23. A Dirty Job
  24. 52 small changes: one year to a happier, healthier you
  25. Interred With Their Bones
  26. The Cats in Krasinski Square
  27. Daily Rituals
  28. Earth (DK)
  29. Stepmonster
  30. the life-changing magic of tidying up
  31. The Husband’s Secret (half)
  32. I Am Half-Sick of Shadows
  33. Puff the Magic Dragon
  34. Story of the Nile
  35. Arcadia
  36. The Light Between Oceans
  37. The Real Thing: Lessons on Love and Life from a Wedding Reporter
  38. Orphan Train
  39. She Walks in Beauty: A Woman’s Journey Through Poems
  40. The Martian
  41. Start Late, Finish Rich
  42. Picture of Grace
  43. The Death of Me
  44. Divergent
  45. As You Wish
  46. The Three Monarchs (re-read)
  47. Moriarty
  48. Station Eleven
  49. Good Omens
  50. What If
  51. Tell the Wolves I’m Home
  52. Auntie Mame
  53. Trigger Warnings
  54. Unhappenings
  55. Fun Home
  56. The Girl on the Train
  57. I Knead My Mommy
  58. The Woman in White
  59. Where There’s Smoke
  60. Leaving Time
  61. The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse
  62. Natchez Burning
  63. The Total Money Makeover: Classic Edition
  64. Ruby Slippers, Golden Tears
  65. Gone, Girl
  66. The Power of Habit
  67. The Quiet Book
  68. The Quiet Christmas Book
  69. Dangerous Instincts: How Gut Feelings Betray Us
  70. Jackaby
  71. Dear Committee Members
  72. The Three Monarchs
  73. The Quick