Friday, April 27, 2018

Bookstore Day is April 28: How Will You Celebrate?

I love bookstores. Big bookstores, little bookstores, mega-bookstores, chains, indie shops. Brick-and-mortar or mail order. Used or new, thrift store, department store, or dedicated bookstore, I'm in. In fact, I will find book sections in stores to shop — just ask the folks at the gift shop in Harpers Ferry National Park.

So, when Twitter told me about Bookstore Day, I didn't need to be told twice. Nor did it take much to remind me that I can visit multiple bookstores on that day, and I set about mapping my visits.

My kryptonite is older used books. If someone else has loved the book, I love it even more. I have been known to purchase used books as gifts — which may sound gauche, but as I ask myself with no discernible irony, who wouldn't like a hardback early edition of The Godfather? (To go with the cheap paperback loaner copy, of course. I mean, one doesn't loan out one's first-string books!)

So, here in Northern Virginia, I will hit a few indie and used bookstores. Bard's Alley in Vienna is right on the way home from World Tai Chi and Qigong Day celebrations, and Hole in the Wall in Falls Church is right up the road from Penzy's Spice (which gets my love, too).

If I go further afield, I can venture to McKay in Manassas, stay on Route 50 to explore Second Chapter Books in Middleburg, or hit the Beltway to travel up to Wonder Book.

Stay in town? There's Goodwill on Main Street (or Salvation Army on Little River Turnpike, up the road near a great Indian restaurant, IndAroma).

Don't get me wrong: my e-reader is locked and loaded, and I am always looking for a good deal (a.k.a. cheap book). However, if I am not willing to walk into a retail-priced bookstore and lay out a few Hamiltons, maybe I'd better not plunk down any Washingtons. (This may change when I get to spend Tubmans, but we shall see.)

How will you spend Bookstore Day? And will you stop with one day, or like with Christmas, carry it always in your heart (and wallet)?

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Poetry: Heal the Cracks in the Bell of the World

Heal the Cracks in the Bell of the World

                    For the community of Newtown, Connecticut,
                    where twenty students and six educators lost their
                    lives to a gunman at Sandy Hook Elementary
                    School, December 14, 2012

Now the bells speak with their tongues of bronze.
Now the bells open their mouths of bronze to say:
Listen to the bells a world away. Listen to the bell in the ruins
of a city where children gathered copper shells like beach glass,
and the copper boiled in the foundry, and the bell born
in the foundry says: I was born of bullets, but now I sing
of a world where bullets melt into bells. Listen to the bell
in a city where cannons from the armies of the Great War
sank into molten metal bubbling like a vat of chocolate,
and the many mouths that once spoke the tongue of smoke
form the one mouth of a bell that says: I was born of cannons,
but now I sing of a world where cannons melt into bells.

Listen to the bells in a town with a flagpole on Main Street,
a rooster weathervane keeping watch atop the Meeting House,
the congregation gathering to sing in times of great silence.
Here the bells rock their heads of bronze as if to say:
Melt the bullets into bells, melt the bullets into bells.
Here the bells raise their heavy heads as if to say:
Melt the cannons into bells, melt the cannons into bells.
Here the bells sing of a world where weapons crumble deep
in the earth, and no one remembers where they were buried.
Now the bells pass the word at midnight in the ancient language
of bronze, from bell to bell, like ships smuggling news of liberation
from island to island, the song rippling through the clouds.

Now the bells chime like the muscle beating in every chest,
heal the cracks in the bell of every face listening to the bells.
The chimes heal the cracks in the bell of the moon.
The chimes heal the cracks in the bell of the world.

by MartΓ­n Espada

From Bullets Into Bells: Poets and Citizens Respond to Gun Violence (Beacon Press, 2017). 

Monday, February 5, 2018

Library Loot: At Least, What the Cat Will Reveal

I love My Library. Often I visit virtually, but I treasure my trips to the wonderful building. I traveled to my local branch Friday afternoon, and I carried out some really good books on home organization, world history, sci fi, and more.

My cat Ginger — pictured below with (or, rather, on) my library loot — supports my reading, as long as my lap remains available for her occupation. So far, so good.

My Library helped me channel my Inner Organizer with a few books on home organization and decluttering. When I got the message from the library that my books were ready, I hurried on over to pick up:

  • Love the home you have
  • Living simple, free & happy: how to simplify, declutter your home and reduce stress, debt, and waste
  • Knack organizing your home: decluttering solutions and storage ideas

Whether or not any of that wisdom sticks, My Library did its part.

I had considered writing a Haggadah for my family because I had yet to find one that inspired me (nothing personal, brother-in-law's preferred version), so I decided to look to Steve and Cokie Roberts' Our Haggadah: uniting traditions for interfaith families.

While I was picking up my holds, I wandered around the stacks. Tucked into the "NEW" books was Crosstalk, the latest by Connie Willis, and I snatched that baby right up with glee.

One of the librarians had set up a display on books about World War I, and I picked up the one that was most attractive to me: World War I in cartoons. War is terrible, and the Great War was a shock and betrayal beyond imagination.

While perusing the mystery section, I discovered a new-to-me series, Haunted Guesthouse Mystery, starting with Spouse on haunted hill by E.J. Copperman. I promptly put the first book on hold, and can't wait to give it a gander.

So, what delicious delicacies have you found at your library lately? Do tell!

As always, thanks to The Captive Reader and Silly Little Mischief for launching the "Library Loot" column that inspired me.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

2017 Reads: What Rocked, What Did Not

In 2017, I read 60 books. I think.

Keeping track isn't as easy as it should be. Marking e-books as "read" on Goodreads is easy, thanks to a feature that prompts readers to "mark as currently reading" when opening the book and automatically listing them as "read" when flipping the last page.

Alas, print books don't offer the same auto-prompt when a reader cracks the spine. However, I try to remember to record completed print and audio book titles on my cloud drive, and cross-check my drive list against Goodreads from time to time. It's a handy resource to remind myself why a book seems so familiar. (Ahem, Mariana!)

Which is a long way of saying, "In 2017, I am pretty sure I read 60 books, give or take."

It's not a personal best, but it is a healthy number considering my bout of reading ennui this summer. A friend experienced the same thing last year, and I didn't understand until I stood in front of my bookshelves and perused my bursting Kindle and could only muster, "Meh." I managed to recover after a few months by gorging on "junk food" books, mostly rumpled paperback mysteries with titles that had numbers, letters, or other gimmicks. I may not be completely through it, but I feel like I'm on the reading side of my slump.

Of the 60 books I finished in 2017, Goodreads calculates that  I averaged 271 pages per book, so an occasional Inside-Outside Dinosaur balances out Anna Karenina

I discovered some interesting graphic novels this year, which were surprisingly substantial. Before I read them, I was known to confuse them with comics. I understand better the differences between the genres (but still counts as "reading," people!).

Here are my top eight favorite books of the year, in no particular order:

  • What the Hell Did I Just Read? — The latest raucous David Wong novel, whose title is accurate: I couldn't describe what I read in the book.
  • Little Fires Everywhere — A storm quietly brewing in suburban Ohio in the 1990s, reminding us how much our world, and expectation of privacy, have changed.
  • Uprooted — A new fairy tale with a strong female lead character. (Review here)
  • Pride and Prejudice — A wonderful classic that is as good as everyone told me, and I will re-read often. (Related article here)
  • Big Little Lies — Kept me going until the last page. If you watch the series, don't skip the book. (And if you read the book, you may not want to watch the series, I've been told.)
  • The Inexplicable Logic of My Life — Another fabulous novel by Benjamin Alire SΓ‘enz, who can share the truest, deepest parts of a teenage boy's heart.
  • The Handmaid's Tale — Alas, it is not as far-fetched as it seemed when I first read it back in 1987.
  • Wrinkles — Old people are people, too.
My least favorite books were:
  • Origin — One of my favorite authors has fallen asleep at the keyboard, and his latest book is almost a parody of his better tales. (Review here)
  • Yesternight — Cat Winters wrote a good book until she went off the rails at Chapter 25.
  • The Case Against Sugar — The author made a case, relentlessly, in chapters that started to blend together. The takeaway, in one sentence: sugar is big business, and the sugar industry has worked hard to protect their investment — at the cost of demonizing other food and throwing up smoke screens about the evils of sugar. 

Here is a complete list of what I read, and the format in which I read it (print πŸ“–, ebook πŸ“², or audiobook πŸŽ§). 

  1. What the Hell Did I Just Read? πŸ“–
  2. Do Unto Otters πŸ“–
  3. Miracles and Other Christmas Stories πŸ“²
  4. Adulthood is a Myth πŸ“²
  5. The Little Pup Collection πŸ“²
  6. Drama πŸ“²
  7. OriginπŸ“²
  8. Little Fires Everywhere πŸ“–
  9. One Book in the Grave (Bibliophile Mystery #5) πŸ“–
  10. The Tortilla Cat πŸ“–
  11. The Magician King πŸ“²
  12. Good and Cheap πŸ“²
  13. Uprooted πŸ“² 🎧
  14. The 5 Second Rule πŸ“²
  15. Truly Madly Guilty πŸ“²
  16. The Magicians πŸ“²
  17. Ghosts πŸ“²
  18. Gwendy’s Button Box πŸ“²
  19. Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? πŸ“²
  20. Yesternight πŸ“–
  21. Mariana πŸ“²
  22. Paws and Effect πŸ“²
  23. My Cousin Rachel πŸ“–
  24. Murder Under Cover (Bibliophile #4) πŸ“–
  25. The Graveyard Book Graphic Novel, Vol. 2 πŸ“–
  26. Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire  πŸ“–
  27. Other Wordly πŸ“–
  28. Wrinkles πŸ“–
  29. Clockwork Scarab πŸ“²
  30. Star Wars: Jedi Academy 1 πŸ“²
  31. The Case Against Sugar πŸ“²
  32. Pride and Prejudice 🎧
  33. The Handmaid’s Tale πŸ“² 🎧
  34. Forgotten Bones πŸ“–
  35. My Best Everything πŸ“–
  36. The Lies That Bind (Bibliophile #3) πŸ“–
  37. Anna Karenina πŸ“² 🎧
  38. Big Little Lies πŸ“–
  39. The Inexplicable Logic of My Life 🎧
  40. Speaking From Among the Bones πŸ“–
  41. The Burning Page πŸ“²
  42. Ruined πŸ“–
  43. Ida, Always πŸ“²
  44. The Possession of Mr. Cave πŸ“–
  45. The Shadow Land πŸ“–
  46. Once Upon a Poem πŸ“–
  47. The Masked City πŸ“²
  48. The Bookman’s Tale πŸ“²
  49. Slumdog Millionaire 🎧
  50. The Annotated Godfather πŸ“²
  51. Conclave πŸ“–
  52. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them πŸ“²
  53. Congratulations, By the WayπŸ“²
  54. Cast Iron Nation πŸ“–
  55. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight 🎧
  56. Toss the Gloss πŸ“²
  57. Hillbilly Elegy πŸ“–
  58. Inside-Outside Dinosaurs πŸ“–
  59. A Cookbook Conspiracy πŸ“²
  60. Turbo Twenty-Three πŸ“²

Have you read any of these books? Which did you like best, or least?

I have three books going right now: Little Dorrit, A Gentleman from Moscow, and The Dire King: A Jackaby Novel. What's on your nightstand?

Let's chat!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Review: Uprooted

Warning: ahead be spoilers. Continue at your own risk.

I was looking for a book that was a good October read (fantasy or something equally unique) that wasn't a series, a fete increasingly hard to accomplish. I had begun listening to it a few months ago, and it was interesting, so I gave myself a reason to carry on.

I am so glad I did. That was one rocking, rollicking ride!  Every time I thought a storyline was resolved and wondered what in the world could come next, Naomi Novik came up with something totally original, logical to the story, and fantastic. 

It felt like an Old World fairy tale, and the audiobook reader had a Polish accent - which, after reading the afterward, made total sense. I also thought it was brilliant to include Baba Yaga, the European witch of lore, and introducing Jaga was a very subtle move to provide that element and make it feel as old as that tale.

As much as I love the first line — indeed, the first paragraph — the story started out a little slow for me, which is why I set it aside the first time. I am a firm believer that books should contain only the "good stuff," and the beginning felt like it wasn't doing that. But it was, I saw when I started it again, and the writing was clever and interesting, and the characters were rich and full-bodied, and the dialog was conducive to the story and true to the tale/characters/timeframe.

Our heroine, Agnieszka, is an amazing, strong character. She respects the Dragon, but allows her fear to ebb and even dissolve when she needs to. Her power she discovered in the Wood was brilliant: almost a "knock it off!" power. I like her when she's angry, and when she needs to solve issues on her own, and when she puzzles through a problem. It's her love of her home and the people in it that saves her, and them, and ultimately the Dragon.

The women in this book were well-written characters, sometimes literally strong enough to carry everyone else. The strongest Wizard, the warring monarch, the most flexible Witch, the townsperson who could ask for help ... all amazing women and robust characters.

My heart hurt when the story of the Wood-queen came to light. Like Agnieszka and the people of the land, I saw the Wood as evil, when it was so much more tragic and complicated than that.I loved Agnieszka's natural solution, and how she became the best of the girls who left the castle: she was no longer of the people, but she was their advocate and protector. 

At times, I was exhausted by the story: what else could possibly move it along? What other plot complication was worthy and logical? What else could I face as a reader?  The chapters were not all cliffhangers, which was nice; that is an exhausting trick to pull on readers, Γ  la Lianne Moriarty (of whom I am now a fan). I followed Agnieszka's logic: okay, Kasia's safe and we can save people, so what now? okay, so we saved the Queen, what now? So, the Queen is pure, what now? We found the bestiary, what now? Crap, war, well, okay, darned Wood, but — wait, who is in on this? Why? What now, Ms. Novik, can you possibly trot out with any success? oh, fine, you win, and I will follow you and Agnieszka as far as you take me.

I somehow pictured the Dragon as Gandalf rather than Aragorn, so the initial magical lust between the Dragon and Agnieszka sort of freaked me out. However, their relationship was wonderful: he was all " discover your power, Grasshopper," and she was all "you may be the Dragon, but I know I am right and you'd better recognize." and the moment when he revealed why he put her in the heavy "princess" gown? Priceless. (I thought that's what all girls want.) And she was so much more practical. Talk about preconceived notions!

The ending was perfect. While I didn't need the sex scene, it made sense, moving them past teacher/student into equals and mutual adults. However, for me, the joining of their powers for spells was very intimate and trusting and loving. The Summoning for Kasia was such a loving and generous act, and changed them forever. Their relationship at the end was so well-suited for the: she remained a mess and open, he remained neat and gruff, but they were perfect for and accepting of each other. They respected and valued each other, and were powerful and fulfilled apart and together.

I am still glowing from that book. Crazy, but true. I discovered that listening is much slower than my own reading, so I need to factor that in when necessary. I don't want to listen to every book, or even listen exclusively rather than read it myself — but some books I want read to me, and this fairy tale fit the bill.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Review: Origin

I love Dan Brown. From Angels & Demons to The DaVinci Code, he was on-point. I'll never forget the early excitement and thrill of the chase with the brilliant Harvard swimmer — er, professor.

But my love for Robert Langdon and his adventures thins out in subsequent novels, and Origin doesn't revive it.

In fact, I stopped reading Brown's latest novel about a quarter of the way through.I feel like I kept reading a lot longer than I wanted, but I was trying to get to the "good part" before I surrendered.

Origin made me start counting how many ways smiles could be used as adjectives. The villain nearly twirled his big black mustache every time he appeared on the page. The villain was so much like Silas, deep in his misguided faith in his boss and his deity, I kept expecting references to albinism.

I appreciated Brown's patient, thorough, and loving description of the Guggenheim Bilbao; someday, I may return to the book just to see to what other geographic locations he spreads the love.

If the Robert Langdon series remain as formulaic and tedious as Origin, perhaps Brown can branch out and consider taking up travel writing, or write art catalogs; everyone wants to visit a place or view art someone else loves, and Brown obviously loves his locations, and the museums and art in them.

What I don't appreciate is Brown's repetitive story elements. Robert Langdon's claustrophobia. His athletic swimming abilities, and how that keeps him trim and youthful-looking. His ability to attract perfect specimens of femininity, and for them to have an instant, perfect, and lasting attraction. That aspect of his character is very "daytime drama," falling deeply in love with every beautiful, toned, and brilliant heroine with whom he shares an adventure, then having to explain away the deep, true love in the next novel because he's destined to fall in love as deeply and truly with yet another perfect woman. I've grown tired of the perfect physicality and intellectualism of Langdon and his partners, and the perfect villainy of Langdon's foes.

Somehow, other series I read don't inflect this tedium. Stephanie Plum, Flavia de Luce, Encyclopedia Brown, and Jackaby all seem to be fresh and new (though, to be fair, I'm not sure I can take Stephanie's love triangle much longer). I understand some familiar story elements needs to be re-introduced, or at least referred to, in each book to clue in new readers. However, it isn't supposed to seem to readers as if the author globally replaces words in an old manuscript to create a new book.

Robert Langdon doesn't have to save the world from God yet again. Maybe he doesn't have to save the world at all. Like Indiana Jones, who also doesn't know how to retire, maybe it's time for the Pilgrim to hang up the Mickey Mouse watch. Being a cranky professor who can recite his lectures verbatim from memory isn't a good look for such a dashing adventurer.

Have you read Origin? What did you think? Am I wrong? Comment below or email me!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Summer Reading: Did You Make It Count?

Happy autumn! 

It's been a busy reading summer. I tried to keep the pages turning relatively consistently as the summer progressed, but at times battled reading ennui

However, I refused to be thwarted, and managed to get a couple dozen books under my belt under the summer sun — or in the summer air conditioning. Either way, I read.

I didn't beat my personal best — that would be summer 2015 — but I read widely and bravely. Plus, I read multiple books at a time, so my TBR shelf continues to groan from books begun in the heat of summer.

I re-read The Magicians, because the author will be at this year's Fall for the Book Festival When I originally read it a few years ago, I really wanted to like it. This summer, I can honestly say I liked it, and have just begun reading the second novel in the series. 

I discovered some great graphic novels, including one about a young girl with cystic fibrosis and her older sister's understanding of loss. In contrast, I did not like a new-to-me graphic novel by Neil Gaiman — which may sound heretical, but is completely true. Graphic novels also taught me a little more about love, patience, and dementia.

As always, many — okay, most — of the books were not on my original summer reading list. I don't mind so much this year, in part because it was more important to me that I read, rather than read specific tomes. I wandered the library as an antidote to my self-diagnosed reading ennui, and I reminded myself the books I didn't read yet will be there when I'm ready.

Here is the list of the books I read for the 2017 Summer Reading Program between Friday, May 26 and Sunday, September 24:
  1. The Magicians πŸ“²
  2. Ghosts πŸ“²
  3. Gwendy’s Button Box πŸ“²
  4. Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? πŸ“²
  5. Yesternight πŸ“–
  6. Paws and Effect πŸ“²
  7. My Cousin Rachel πŸ“–
  8. Murder Under Cover πŸ“–
  9. The Graveyard Book Graphic Novel, Vol. 2 πŸ“–
  10. Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire πŸ“–
  11. Other Wordly πŸ“–
  12. Wrinkles πŸ“–
  13. The Clockwork Scarab πŸ“²
  14. Star Wars: Jedi Academy 1 πŸ“²
  15. The Case Against Sugar πŸ“²
  16. Pride and Prejudice πŸŽ§
  17. The Handmaid’s Tale πŸ“² πŸŽ§
  18. Forgotten Bones πŸ“–
  19. My Best Everything πŸ“–
  20. The Lies That Bind πŸ“–
  21. Anna Karenina πŸ“–πŸ“² πŸŽ§
  22. Big Little Lies πŸ“–
  23. The Inexplicable Logic of My Life πŸŽ§
  24. Speaking From Among the Bones πŸ“–
  25. The Burning Page πŸ“²
  26. Ruined πŸ“–

I mixed up my media, spending time on the page via print (πŸ“–), e-book (πŸ“²), and audio (🎧) — and, in one case, all three with a single book.

Only two books were read totally audio. I will always love the lyricism of Benjamin Ailres SΓ‘enz's prose, and I suspect Jane Austen was written to be read aloud.

The books I enjoyed least were, surprisingly enough, written by my favorite authors. I think Cat Winters really misstepped in her "adult" novel, and Forbidden Brides was, in my opinion, not one of Gaiman's finest stories.

I adored spending time with teenagers in the company of novelist SΓ‘enz, whose characters showed great maturity and restraint. Alas, Sarah Tomp's teens didn't show the same maturity, which may serve as a lesson as to what moonshine is capable of doing to reasonable people.

I got a few more classics under my belt, including a story that remains creepily prescient three decades after its original publication — and others that remind us that, in the words of a modern poet, love is love is love is love is love.

I tried steampunk and found it little gritty and weird. I didn't realize how important the "steam" was to steampunk, so I learned something new.

As always, my reading will help others: Main Street Child Development Center will receive $5 per book, and my public library will receive three new books.

How was your summer reading? Did you read more than you expected? Were you surprised by the novels you liked the most or least?  Do tell! Feel free to comment below, or send me your thoughts.