Saturday, November 26, 2016

Polar Book Club: Book Lovers Reign in 2017!

Temperatures are dropping in the Northern Hemisphere as Old Man Winter tries to settle in for a nice, long visit. (Okay, maybe it's not that long, but it feels like it.) 

You know what that means, right?

It's time to announce the selection of the 2017 Polar Book Club! 

Make sure you have enough hot beverage and snacks, nab the warmest blanket, carve out the comfiest spot with excellent lighting, charge your device, grab this year's tome and settle in for a long winter's read. 

Uber-Reader Karen has chosen the book for the 2017 Polar Book Club: The Bookman's Tale.  It sounds like a doozie!

Hay-on-Wye, 1995. Peter Byerly isn’t sure what drew him into this particular bookshop. Nine months earlier, the death of his beloved wife, Amanda, had left him shattered. The young antiquarian bookseller relocated from North Carolina to the English countryside, hoping to rediscover the joy he once took in collecting and restoring rare books.  
But upon opening an eighteenth-century study of Shakespeare forgeries, Peter is shocked when a portrait of Amanda tumbles out of its pages. Of course, it isn’t really her. The watercolor is clearly Victorian. Yet the resemblance is uncanny, and Peter becomes obsessed with learning the picture’s origins.
As he follows the trail back first to the Victorian era and then to Shakespeare’s time, Peter communes with Amanda’s spirit, learns the truth about his own past, and discovers a book that might definitively prove Shakespeare was, indeed, the author of all his plays.

If you want to join the club, there's only one thing you need to do: get the book and start reading! 

Okay, two things: get the book (from the library, bookstore, thrift store with a book section — or shared with a friend) and email me so we can coordinate our discussion.

Let's aim to finish the book by March 5, 2017, so the conversation can begin.

Relax: this is not a book report or a school assignment. It's all about the book and reading, and sharing your thoughts and ideas with your fellow readers. 

Here are a few things that may stimulate your thinking:

  • Which character was your least favorite, and why? 
  • Was the story plausible — and if not, was it the right kind of fantastic? 
  • What would you do in the same situation? 
  • Were there enough dragons in the book? How many do you think are needed for this story?
  • How would you cast a movie of the book? Do you think the writer thought the same thing while creating it?
  • If you didn't finish it, where did you stop reading? Why did you read that far?


Remember, if you liked the book, telling others why may not be as easy as if you didn't like it, so think about specific things you liked: passages, tone, characters or points in the story.

So, are you in? Let me know!

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Review: The Invisible Library

Any reader who loves books, adventure, libraries, librarians, and chaos is in for the best treat with The Invisible Library, the debut novel by Genevieve Cogman.

When we first meet our intrepid hero, Irene, she is a servant at a posh boys school in — well, it feels like a British boarding school, but I'm not sure where. Or when. I don't know if Irene even knows. All she knows is that she must get her hands on a particular book, and it won't be easy. You see, Irene is a Librarian, and that is her job. She cannot fail. And this time, she doesn't. 

Fast forward to — well, I'm not sure when. Irene is in The Library when she receives her assignment, as well as an assistant, a Librarian-in-training named Kai. There's something about him she just can't put her finger on... but an assignment is an assignment, and the only way a Librarian-in-training can truly train is on the job. There are other, older, and wiser minds at work, and they know what they're doing. 

Or do they? 

Irene is an interesting Librarian, who has been born into the job. She knows no other life, and she is ready for anything — even if it's conniving rogue Librarian and her nemesis. Send her to what appears to be a version of Victorian England with an untrained assistant to face a dead Vampire, a nosy Fairie, and a whip-smart detective to retrieve a book, and she's on the case. Only, when things get tough, when the crocodiles enter the ballroom or she's holding sk—er, something she shouldn't, she improvises with her lifetime of experience and learns to let go, to trust, and to get the job done in a way she's never attempted.

This first book in the trilogy is fast-paced and exciting. The information is revealed in good time, to the proper people, under the correct circumstances. There are moments when it's absurd, but the absurdity not only makes sense, but belongs there. There are moments when I held my breath, hoping for the best but expecting the worst. There are moments when all I can think is, "I want to be a Librarian!"

For me, it's all about the characters. Irene, Kai, Vale, and all the others, from the butlers to the cabbies, are Characters with a capital C. They are real, and interesting, and challenging, and complex, and likable (but not too). The author's background in role-playing games help create an adventure and world extraordinaire.

Still not convinced? Think Jasper Fforde. Think Erin Morganstern. Think Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Think Karen Marie Moning. If that's not enough to convince you, honestly, do you even read?

This may be one of my favorite books of the year, so my recommendation may be a little biased. Oh, who cares — read this book, and the sequels, promptly, and let me know what you think!

Friday, November 11, 2016

In Flanders Fields, on Veterans Day 2016



In Flanders Fields


In Flanders fields the poppies blow
      Between the crosses, row on row,
   That mark our place; and in the sky
   The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
 
We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
   Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
         In Flanders fields.
 
Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
   The torch; be yours to hold it high.
   If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
         In Flanders fields.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Summer Reading Wrap-Up: Plenty of Books, Multiple Media

As the days get shorter and chillier, I decided to add up my summer reading — and I decided, "Not bad."

Well, not bad for a slacker. I read one less book this year than last year, but I guess we can't all be Karen.

So, without further ado, I bring you...





Chris' 2016 Summer Reading List


  1. Fates and Furies
  2. Summer House With Swimming Pool
  3. Between the World and Me
  4. Ghostly Echoes
  5. Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls 
  6. The Underground Railroad
  7. The Uninvited 
  8. Who Goes There? (The Thing)
  9. Big Magic
  10. Dorothy Parker Drank Here 
  11. A Spirited Tail 
  12. The Goodbyes
  13. Secondhand Souls
  14. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
  15. Everything We Keep
  16. If Books Could Kill
  17. The Bookseller 
  18. Unlikely Friendships
  19. Homicide in Hardcover
  20. Ghostly Paws
  21. The Sleeper and the Spindle 
  22. The Body Reader
  23. Blackout
  24. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl 
  25. Vacations From Hell
  26. 168 Hours
  27. Farewell, Dorothy Parker
  28. When Breath Becomes Air
  29. In the Heights
  30. Crenshaw
  31. How Do You Sleep
  32. In the Shadow of Blackbirds
  33. NOS4A2


I tried something new this year. Some titles listed above were e-books, others were printed books — and, new this year, was the introduction of audiobooks to my reading repertoire. Five of the titles above were audio, a mix of Overdrive library books and Audible purchases.

I can hear a bit of a stir in Reading Land: Why audio? Is audio even reading? What the heck, woman?!?

I was once like you, my cautious fellow readers. However, after going to the Audio Side, I have come to realize: reading is reading. With one book, I was getting lost on the page. With another, my only reading time coincided with my trips to the gym (and I don't read visual/print material on exercise equipment). I challenge you to listen to Fisher Stevens read a novel by Christopher Moore and not find the joy in listening to someone (besides Carole) read to you.

There is a danger to reading at the gym: trying to not cry in public during an intense cardio workout. (I am looking at you, Benjamin Alire Sáenz, with the assistance of Lin-Manuel Miranda!)

The books I enjoyed most were both Cat Winters books, every Dorothy Parker (and related) book, Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, The Underground Railroad, and Ghostly Echoes. Each taught me something and took me out of my comfort zone.

My least favorites were The Body Reader (not as taut as expected), Summer House With Swimming Pool (not as good of villains as in the author's first book), and Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls (too long in the wrong places).

As always, my summer reading will benefit my community: I will donate $5 per book read to Main Street Child Development Center and I will buy three new books for the Fairfax County Public Library from its Amazon Wish List.

Tell me how you did with your summer reading, and you may win a book!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

All Hallows Read: Poetry Makes Everything Better!

So, Neil Gaiman encourages you to — well, let me let him tell you himself.


Long story short, give friends, family — even total strangers — scary books to read.

I think that's a lovely idea.

Personally, I include a Halloween poem with candy for my trick-or-treaters, and take the poem to work for wide distribution.

Stop by Hedgehog Lover on Halloween to see what poem I chose this year.

Can't wait? Check out the poem from last year on Hedgehog Lover. Or the year before. Try Halloween 2012. Seriously, I'm a fan, and I know you will be, too.

See you October 31!

Monday, October 17, 2016

Summer Reading: How Did You Do? Here's How Karen Did!

The days are getting cooler, and our intrepid fellow reader, Karen, has updated us on her reading.

Karen reported that she, too, has veered from her reading list. (Unlike anyone else I know who adheres so well to the list constructed with best intentions and good wishes.)

Back to Karen: her reading was off the list, but also off the charts!

Well, I will let her tell it herself.


I ended up way off my reading list this time, but I enjoyed the adventure. In fact, I think this is the longest list I have completed.  I really love my Amazon Kindle Fire.  I am having some vision issues-oh my aging eyes! Luckily the lighted screen on my Fire makes it so much easier to read.
Books read: 

  • Lord Grenville's Choice 
  • A Love That Never Tires 
  • The Red Tent 
  • 32 Going on Spinster 
  • Somewhere in Time 
  • Slim Pickins in Fat Chance, Texas 
  • Salmon Fishing in the Yemen 
  • Tuesday Takes Me There: The Healing Journey of a Veteran and his Service Dog 
  • The Girl With all the Gifts 
  • Clapton: the Autobiography 
  • The Lincoln Penny 
  • House of Reckoning 
  • The Long Walk 
  • Zoo 2 
  • Deep Summer 
  • Chez Stinky 
  • Finders Keepers 
  • Hard Listening: The Greatest Rock Band Ever (of Authors) Tells All 
  • Lightning Rider 
  • Ellie Jordan Ghost Tracker 
  • The Heartbroker 
  • The Waiting Booth 
  • Thursdays at Coconuts 
  • The Haunting of Blackwood House 
  • Learning to Ride 
  • The Bone Labyrinth 
  • The Midnight Watch 
  • Genesis 
  • Exodus 
  • Leviticus 
  • Numbers 
  • Deuteronomy
  • The Mating Season 
  • Highland Archer 
  • Sacking the Quarterback 
  • The McCullagh Inn in Maine

My favorites were Ellie Jordan Ghost Tracker and The Haunting of Blackwood House.  They were exciting and scary.  I did have to leave on lights to sleep.  I liked the satisfying endings in both books.  Everyone ended up getting what they deserved and/or needed.  The characters were believable.  I felt like I was in the story. 

My least favorites were Slim Pickins in Fat Chance, Texas and Thursdays at Coconuts.  Both were boring to me.  The characters were dull and uninteresting.  Especially in Thursdays at Coconuts; I was annoyed by the characters' behavior.  Drinking and driving and infidelity.  Not to my liking at all.

 By my count, Karen read 36 books this summer. Not bad, slugger: you beat me!

For her hard work of reading, Karen will receive a book of her choice, in the format she chooses. Karen, just let me know!

So, how about you: what did you read this summer? Let me know what you read and how you liked it, and you may win a book!

I will report on my reading soon! Until then

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Review: Fates and Furies

Marriage is unknowable to anyone but the couple — and, in Fates and Furies, Lauren Groff illustrates that even they may not know the complete story.

In her third novel, Groff created an interesting, complex view of a marriage between two very different people who appear deeply in love and totally committed to each other.

The first half of the book, "Fates," captures the tale of Lancelot "Lotto" Sutterwhite, a walking contradiction who finds his calling in the theater. The second half of the tale, "Furies," is told from Mathilde's wifely perspective.

The sections brilliantly capture the characters: "Fates" is careless, while "Furies" is tight and angry. (I picture Tilda Swindon as Mathilde; strange I don't have the same bead on Lotto's Hollywood counterpart.) 

I like the retelling of tales, so to have the same life story told from two different perspectives is brilliant, and a very good demonstration about how little we truly know others.

Lotto kept many friends around him so he would feel well-liked, even loved. He let them ebb and flow as they needed, drawing all of his energy from them, but primarily from Mathilde. In contrast, Mathilde kept people around to satisfy Lotto and for an almost business-like relationship that never quite reached friendship. Lotto skimmed across the top of life, paying attention to things outside himself when they interested him; Mathilde was always looking out — looking out for Lotto and their survival.

The tone and energy of each of the halves was deliciously different. The author thought of the stories as two books (à la Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge), but I agree with the editor: putting the volumes together was the right move. Not only did it require both halves to be read as a single tale, but it also required them both to be spare enough to comprise a single novel.

This interesting tale, a "he said/she said" story full of contradictions, was not flawless. The third-person narrator is unnecessarily interrupted by a Greek chorus, omnipotent and occasionally foretelling (which, only on a rare occasion, was welcome). The author used very specific words, which I looked up with a click on my Kindle — and I am still pondering the value of that specificity against the distraction. I love new language, but I almost felt as if Groff handed me a box of vocabulary words.

The ending felt abrupt, so I overthought it and completely misread it. Thankfully, the author was able to set me straight after I met her at her lecture, and I could enjoy it even more.

I am a fan of Groff and enjoyed this novel. I would recommend it, and her other two novels: The Monsters of Templeton and Arcadia. I'll soon be reading her short story selection Delicate Edible Birds, too.

So, are you more Lotto or Mathilde?