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?

Monday, September 12, 2016

Summer Reading Winding Down — Or Is It?

Well, summer readers, how goes your reading list?

Personally, mine has gone as cattywampus as possible (which should not surprise anyone who reads this blog with any regularity). I make a list, I ignore the list, and summer just keeps spinning out of control.

Let me count how many from my published reading list I have consumed since Memorial Day weekend.

Six.

I have, in the past three and a half months, read six out of 35 of the books I planned to read. Oh, I've read 30 books, but I haven't read but a few I planned to read.

Why? Well, blame authors who place tasty morsels in my path that distract me. They're good "distractions," I assure you. One of them was The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, which you want to read. Well, "want" is a tricky concept. You  will be glad to have read it when it's been read, but it won't make you feel as giddy as, say, Ghostly Echoes. Or Farewell, Dorothy Parker. It is an important and great read, so don't miss it. Just know you're getting into something bigger than words.

When you read a book about a Broadway musical, such as In the Heights, have the soundtrack queued up, even if it's playing in your head, so you can listen to it in real time (not brain time).

I will finish another two books on my reading list before the weekend of the autumnal equinox — but my average won't get much higher. I am at peace with that, if only because lists are just guidelines, not contracts.

How is your summer reading going?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Review: The Bookseller

An independent single career woman in Denver during the Cuban Missile Crisis doesn't stand a chance in Cynthia Swanson's novel The BooksellerPerhaps I stayed up way past my bedtime to finish the novel last night, but — man, I feel a little cheated by the story's resolution.

The premise of the story is intriguing. Kitty, a 30-something bookshop owner living in Denver in 1963, begins dreaming about a fictional life with a husband and children. It's a far cry from her current life in a cheerful duplex with Aslan the cat and her struggling bookstore she runs with her childhood friend Frieda.

 The dreams are vivid and appear to have an actual (albeit tenuous) connection to her waking hours. Most importantly, her dreams are perfect. Her husband is handsome, loving and supportive. Her children are charming, well-behaved and beautiful. Her home is custom-built, her wardrobe just-so. She is not disappointed when she goes to the Denver of her dreams.

At first.

The more time she spends, the more she wonders which world is real. Is she Katharyn, wife and mother, or is she Kitty, single gal and entrepreneur? Both worlds have their charm and pitfalls. Which will she choose?

For me, the stumbling point of this tale was the introduction of a character with a very modernly recognized ailment. The symptoms are extreme and the character is almost a caricature. There are other era-appropriate elements, such as smoking cigarettes in public places, large cars without car seats (but, inexplicably, seat belts in constant use), lots of liquor and intoxicated behavior, treatment of women like fragile dolls (if they're of means) and workhorses (if they're not). If the author's intention was to place it in time, Swanson did a thorough job. And yet it felt out of place.

The trigger for this dream confusion, when it's revealed, is almost a let-down. Granted, Swanson tries rather hard to build her case, that a woman who is living such a life based on certain decisions must reconcile her life with her dreams, and vice versa. Yet it feels artificial, as if the author herself is reprimanding Katharyn for those very decisions.

The characters are real, but they're not. Readers will feel a tug: just as they start to solidify, the characters shift. Yes, Kitty/Katharyn is herself confused, and readers must be in the moment to experience The Big Reveal. Yet the author keeps us all off-kilter and uncomfortable too long.

In the end, I can't say I would recommend this book. It's not a bad book, and Swanson is a good writer. Yet the ending was formulaic and disappointing, a let-down after the long road of reading about two very different and valuable lives.

If you have read it, do you agree with this assessment? Let me know!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

August: Let's Get Reading!

It's August. Let's get reading!


Looking for a good book? E-mail me for suggestions, or pick a title or two from my summer reading list:

  • Hamilton: The Revolution
  • Wolf Hall
  • Bone Season
  • Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits
  • The Gun Seller
  • Wolf Hall
  • Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter 
  • The Sixth Extinction
  • Revival
  • Bellman and Black
See you in September — let's compare our reading list successes then!

Monday, July 11, 2016

U.S. Poet Laureate: @ the Crossroads - A Sudden American Poem



@ the Crossroads - A Sudden American Poem

RIP Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, Dallas police
                       officers Lorne Ahrens, Michael Krol, Michael J. Smith,
                       Brent Thompson, and Patrick Zamarripa—and all
                       their families. And to all those injured.
 
                                               Let us celebrate the lives of all
As we reflect & pray & meditate on their brutal deaths
Let us celebrate those who marched at night who spoke of peace
& chanted Black Lives Matter
Let us celebrate the officers dressed in Blues ready to protect
Let us know the departed as we did not know them before—their faces,
Bodies, names—what they loved, their words, the stories they often spoke
Before we return to the usual business of our days, let us know their lives intimately
Let us take this moment & impossible as this may sound—let us find
The beauty in their lives in the midst of their sudden & never imagined vanishing

Let us consider the Dallas shooter—what made him
                                                            what happened in Afghanistan

                                                  what
                flames burned inside

(Who was that man in Baton Rouge with a red shirt selling CDs in the parking lot
Who was that man in Minnesota toppled on the car seat with a perforated arm
& a continent-shaped flood of blood on his white T who was
That man prone & gone by the night pillar of El Centro College in Dallas )

This could be the first step
          in the new evaluation of our society    This could be
                the first step of all of our lives

by Juan Felipe Herrera, Poet Laureate of the United States, July 8, 2016Copyright © 2016 by Juan Felipe Herreracourtesy philly.com

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Poetry Wednesday: Wilfred Owen, Graphically Rendered



Wilfred Owen: Dulce Et Decorum Est,
Graphically Represented


One century ago, the world was stunned and wounded by The Great War.

Poet Wilfred Owen, a casualty of the war himself, tried to tell us the cost. here is one of his most well-known poems rendered graphically by Nathan Gelgud.

courtesy Signature

Monday, July 4, 2016

Independence Day: Our Diversity Is Our Strength

Independence Day, celebrated on July 4 in the United States, is an exciting day, one whose origin is all but forgotten — or, perhaps, ignored.

In the late eighteenth century, a group of immigrants occupied a country under the control of a monarch across the ocean. Rather than live as subjects of the English crown, the people of the nation rose up and claimed independence from the crown.

Who were these people? French, English, Irish, Scottish, African — in a word, immigrants. Some came for personal safety and security, some came for financial reasons.

We celebrate still, two and a half centuries later. Yet let's always remember what made us great: our diversity, which, when harnessed, exuded a power too great for even a king.

When we stand together, we are too mighty a force to be defeated. Do not let anyone, within or without, divide us and dilute our greatness and power.

Click on the video below for a reading of the Declaration of Independence, courtesy of Max McLean.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Library Loot: Magic and Mystery

I am sorry to admit, my last Library Loot was less than thrilling. The short-story collection featured love scenes more reminiscent of Fifty Shades of Gray than Gone With the Wind.

Tails of Love, indeed.

So, I approached the Vacations from Hell with great caution. (So far, so good.) I think I already read Sir Terry's book — I am a fan of Discworld's witches — so I may have to read it (again?) to be sure.

Interestingly enough, neither of those delightful paperbacks were among those that took me to the library in the first place.

I met Victor LaValle through his most recent story that hearkens to H.P. Lovecraft without the racism. (I am embarrassed to say that I hadn't paid close attention to anything but Cthulu— who is even scarier when portrayed by modern artists as something that stands thigh-high in the deepest oceans.) (How Cthulu fits below passing ships is entirely beyond me). Anyway, I found The Ballad of Black Tom, LaValle's latest novella, intriguing, so I figured I'd give his award-winning novel a try.

Family Life sounds amazing, frightening and overwhelming. Which isn't exactly what I want to try to cram in with a couple of books about witches, not to mention other books on my nightstand (including Evicted and The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu) — but when one doesn't manage her library hold schedule well, such bunching will happen.

I'm kind of excited. What have you checked out from the library lately?

Thanks to Linda (Silly Little Mischief), Claire (The Captive Reader) and Mary (The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader ) for establishing the weekly Library Loot. Check out what they're checking out!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Library Loot: Critters, Book Mystery and Love Medicine

Lately, I've been spending more time at the library website than actually inside the building. Yes, I've discovered the thrill of audiobooks and e-books downloaded to my very own Kindle. It's like a miracle: a click or two and I have free loot on my machine!

Well, this Friday, I stopped by the library and discovered a couple of honest to goodness paper books I simply had to take home, starting with the first of a "bibliophile mystery" series, followed by more than one about animals (shocker) and a National Book Award winner.

I probably will not read them all — I think I'm more in the mood for short stories these days — but we shall see. My lending period is three weeks, and a lot can happen in that short period of time.

I still have my summer reading list to plow through — and yes, I already have gone off the list for my latest read, but what a great novel! I'll review that one soon, but here's a hint: World War I, Spanish influenza and San Diego spiritualists.

So, what's in your reading pile, and what gems have you picked up from the library lately?

Thanks to Linda (Silly Little Mischief), Claire (The Captive Reader) and Mary (The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader ) for establishing the weekly Library Loot. Check out what they're checking out!

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Summer Reading Club: The List

Summer means reading — and summer reading club! 

As a child, I loved joining the local library's summer book club the first day of summer break, reading the requisite number of books and more, and visiting the library as often as I could get there (I lived within walking distance, ands it was the 1970s, so it was often).

Well, let this be your annual summer reading club for those of us who do not have one anymore. Read for the sheer joy of it — and perhaps win a free book!

Visit your library (public or private), your local bookstores and thrift shops, yard sales and online book suppliers, friends and family, and choose what books look like they need to be read this summer.

So here's what I hope to consume this summer between the Memorial Day weekend and the first weekend in autumn. This year, that date is Friday, May 27 through Sunday, September 25.

If past years serve as guides, I shall carefully create a list, pondering my own library and my published library wish list, check out what is scheduled for publication — then eschew most of these titles for whatever strikes my fancy as the summer progresses. I'll express surprise, as will you, and we'll laugh at my foibles. Good times.


Now, the summer has unofficially begun with Memorial Day, a solemn occasion to remember why we have the freedom and opportunity to exercise our rights and privileges as Americans. Please, take a moment to remember the true reason for the day.

Review your bookshelves or nightstand to decide what to put on your summer reading list. Here is mine, in no particular order:

  1. Hamilton: The Revolution
  2. In the Heights: The Complete Book and Lyrics of the Broadway Musical
  3. Evicted
  4. Crenshaw
  5. Dark Money
  6. Between the World and Me
  7. The Portable Dorothy Parker
  8. Farewell, Dorothy Parker
  9. Fates and Furies
  10. Map of the Sky
  11. The Map of Chaos
  12. Ready Player One
  13. The Labyrinth of Dreaming Books
  14. Me Before You
  15. The Descent
  16. The Bookseller
  17. At the Water's Edge
  18. When Breath Becomes Air
  19. The Glass Sentence
  20. Wicked
  21. Son of a Witch
  22. A Lion Among Men
  23. Out of Oz 
  24. Bone Season
  25. The Gun Seller
  26. Wolf Hall
  27. The Lowland
  28. And the Mountains Echoed
  29. Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter 
  30. The Sixth Extinction
  31. Revival
  32. Bellman and Black
  33. Just Mercy
  34. Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits
  35. Redeployment

This is a working list, so I suspect it will change. I shall come across another delectable morsel, possibly this afternoon, and I shall have to include it.




Join the Summer Reading Club and put yourself in the running for a new book. Read as much as you wish from May 22 through September 27, and if you read the most book, you will win a book of your own. 

To join the club, just send me an e-mail or leave a message below. Then, at the end of the summer reading period, send me a message or include your reading list in a blog message. If you read the most, congratulations! If not, you still are a winner because you spent your summer reading.

I've already had a few e-mails from eager readers, and I can't wait to read your list!

I make sure summer reading is beneficial to my community. As I have done in years past, I will  donate $5 per book I read to Main Street Child Development Center (minimum $150) (I know, no sweat, right?), and I will buy three new books for the Fairfax County Public Library from its Amazon Wish List


Hopefully, reading club members also will find a way to help their communities through their reading, or to help share the love of reading with their communities. It's not a requirement, of course, but it certainly is a worthy effort. It doesn't have to be financial support, either — think of what the community wants and needs. Every reader can determine what is within her or his power to bestow.

Even if you don't join the reading club, I still would love to know: what's on your summer reading list? Tell me!

Monday, May 30, 2016

Review: NOS4A2

I love a good horror story, and Joe Hill's NOS4A2 is a good horror story.  In fact, it was a great horror story. It had true fear and horror, great characters and a fascinating storyline.

I read it on three platforms — audio, e-book and print book — and it was great in each. In fact, I would strongly recommend giving Kate Mulgrew's audio performance a try, no matter your stance on audiobooks.

However, it was relentless enough, and long enough, to make me beg for sweet release by the end.

Plus, I can never stomach how the King men kill animals in their novels. (Seriously, guys, just stop it. Just because you can doesn't mean you should. Even when it makes total sense and makes the story more poignant, resist the urge. Thank you.)

Okay, back to the topic at hand. I started the book a couple of times since its publication in 2013. I got as far as the prologue, maybe a couple of pages into the body of the book, and put it down. It was weird and fascinating, but it didn't snag me. Why the nurse? Why this kid? Lots of portended creepiness, but nothing concrete.

Then I let Kate Mulgrew pull me in with that throaty voice I've loved since "Ryan's Hope." Her portrayal of the characters was sincere and gripping. (A couple of them sounded more like Minnesota hicks than I would have imagined them to, like Lou, but it fit their personas.) Because I was switching between platforms, I never heard her read Maggie Leigh, for which I am grateful.

I loved Maggie. I found her flawed and tragic, and the progression of her story was poignant and gorgeous. I would love to read a book in which Maggie is the central character.

I think.

I am still processing how brittle and flawed Hill makes his female characters, and what the male characters of his story have to contribute to the definition and capabilities of the females. I think every character has a chance at redemption — well, nearly every one — and most work hard to become more of who and what they are. It's a lovely progression, even for the people who appear to be villains. (Not all "villains" actually are villainous, after all. Some are just incapable of being more than their weaknesses.)

As much as I enjoyed the story, Hill has taken on the mantle of writing the horrific joy out of a scene by stuffing it full of superfluous information, buffoonish characters and ridiculous situations. I stopped reading Stephen King for a while for that same reason, and now still approach his work with the same caution. I am sorry to do the same thing with Hill.

I am about to discuss details of the storyline, so if you have not read the book, beware spoilers.

Okay, you've been warned.

Proceed with caution, or skip the following bulleted paragraphs.
    • Hill belabored the haunted telephones that drove Vic to destruction and institutionalization. It didn't spiral, but dragged. Snipped a little, the scene could have been even scarier and more haunting — but instead, readers wove through the longest streets in Denver with a woman in underwear that, inexplicably, no one seemed to see.
    • Hill handled Charlie Manx's autopsy scene with an unexpected level of clumsiness. The security guard was totally ridiculous, a sex-crazed stupid kid who was even more useless than Barney Fife. The senseless buffoon felt superfluous and distracted from the horror of the situation. 
    • How did a dead man and a masked psychopath in a huge vintage car move in across the street from Linda McQueen's house without detection? In every neighborhood in which I have lived, everyone knew everyone else's business. Even if I wasn't in the know about, say, the Brown family, Mrs. Herrera was, and she told us. Major loss didn't distract us from each other, so Linda's death should not have created such a vacuum of observation.
    • Finally, the ending was way too weird. No municipality would have allowed Sleigh House to remain standing (such as it was) after all of these years, thanks to back taxes, death and human heebie-jeebies. Children who have not aged in centuries would be hard for anyone to accept, even an open-minded fibbie. I loved that Lou had to break the spell, but if NOS4A2 was the key to Manx's power, why in the world didn't Manx's power end when NOS4A2 did?


    Thus endeth the spoilers.

    I don't know if I can recommend this book. Have you read it? Would you recommend it? Why?

    Sunday, May 29, 2016

    Discover Summer Reading in 2016!

    It's that time of year again: summer days full of books and discovery.

    Join our annual summer reading club and spend the summer reading all of the books you want — and put yourself in the running for a free book!

    That's right: if you are the book club member who reads the most books — electronic, audio and print — you will win a new book.

    The reading period is from Memorial Day weekend through the end of summer. This year, let's choose Friday, May 27 through Sunday, September 25.

    Send me your list any time you're ready. I'll publish mine by the end of May.

    Join the club: read all summer!


    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.