Sunday, May 14, 2017

Getting Excited Yet About Summer Reading?

Memorial Day is right around the corner, which means...

 ...summer reading!

If you're anything like me, you've been perusing your own bookshelves, reviewing your library wish list, pondering the bookstore inventory, and just thinking about books.

I also am pondering summer reading lists of the past. Every year, I come up with a list, and every year I veer off-course almost immediately. (I mean, 2016. And 2015!)

Want to join the fun? Join the Summer Reading Club! (You may even win a new book.)

The "rules" of the Summer Reading Club, if any summer fun can have real rules, are singular: read as much as you wish from Friday, May 26 through Sunday, September 24. If you are the club member who's 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 will publish mine this month.

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!

Saturday, May 13, 2017

How Does Your Nightstand Reading Stack Up?

As I was dusting my nightstand, I found myself rather impressed by my stack of books to be read.

I think I need to have my head examined because I haven't finished Hamilton: The Revolution. I even have it on Audible. And yet. Unlike any other Hamilton-related experience, I am savoring the book. Plus, I just finished the chapter about Christopher Jackson, my Washington, and I want to spend an extra moment with him. I think I'll make it a summer read.

Interestingly, the book I am reading on my Kindle I also own in print — the latest translation of Anna Karenina, translated by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky. I hadn't really pondered translations until recently, when Oprah Winfrey's embrace of the new translation was chosen for her book club, and I heard a podcast featuring a strongly praised audiobook version of Don Quixote.

I have another translation on my Kindle, and whenever I read a delicious line in the newer book, I pull up the other translation to compare. So far, I have always, always preferred Pevear/Volokhonsky's translation. I may download the recorded book of the older translation that was so well-received last year, just to compare the page to the ear.

I actually read the first 300+ pages in January, but chose to start over this month so the entire book is fresh in my mind for my discussions next month with Carole. (This is our current Weighty Read.)

I have taken a bit of a break from Anna to read another book with Carole, The Persuasion of Mr. Cave. We read The Humans a couple of years ago, and it was one of the best books I had read in a while — so we decided to give this modest little tome a try. The foreshadowing is intense.

Of this list, I'm surprised that I have read some of every volume, except for one. I have started, put down, started another, put down, and re-started more than usual.

I must blame it on Elizabeth Kostova.

Her latest, The Shadow Lands, was not the book I expected. It's a love letter to Bulgaria, which isn't a bad thing, but the book jacket focused on what I consider the weakest storyline of the book. Had it been more aptly characterized, I would have liked it better; instead, I have to adjust my notions now the book is finished. I would have read it, anyway, mind you. I just prefer when the jacket blurb relates to the story more directly.

To be fair, she used her tools wisely, weaving between media and characters, which has served her well in the past, so the novel wasn't a disappointment. It was, however, a surprise (and not in the more pleasant way).

I am a huge fan of Cat Winters, but I don't think Yesternight is her strongest novel, either. Post-WWI America, West Coast, supernatural (but maybe not), women nearly thwarted, and trusting your own instincts — they're all interesting, but it doesn't get to where it should quickly enough, and there seems to be a stronger story not being told in the novel. (It's another I've put aside, just for a while.)

I started The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu a few times, but my mind wanders during the history portion of the book. I've tried the print and electronic books, so I think I'll give the audio a try next. (The library will come through soon, so I'll keep you apprised.)

Finally, I am working on two series: Johannes Cabal and Flavia de Luce. (Ne'er the twain shall meet, thank heavens, except on my nightstand.)

What are your reading challenges? Are you stopping and starting books? Or are you plowing through everything immediately, no holds barred? Let me know!

Monday, April 3, 2017

National Poetry Month: A Stunning Poem from NPS 2013

Celebrate National Poetry Month with a daily dose of poetry. Visit our sister blog, Hedgehog Lover, in April for a poem every day.

Got an idea for a poem? Send me a message and share you ideas!

Meanwhile, watch a stunning performance at National Poetry Slam 2013.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Polar Book Club 2017: Discussion Starts March 6!

Well, for some of us, this winter hasn't really been all that "polar." For the rest of us: have you dug out yet?

No matter your frost level, there's still time to catch up on this year's Polar Book Club selectionThe Bookman's Tale. I have been slowly savoring it, and it's coming along nicely.

If you haven't started it yet, maybe this description of Charlie Lovett's will tickle your fancy:

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.

All you have to do to join the club is pick up the book and start reading! 

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

Right now, the schedule is to finish the book by March 5, so the conversation can begin the following day. (Give yourself a chance to savor the book, give it some thought, maybe even re-read it.)

The conversation will be relaxed and friendly. We all are book lovers who read the same book, and we want to know what others thought of it.

However, the conversation is better when readers offer details and examples of why they hated something, or how a particular character development changed the whole tenor of the story. Or, you know, whether you think William Shakespeare was really another writer using a pseudonym.

So, are you in? Let me know!

Friday, February 24, 2017

Review: Conclave

What a difference a few months make. Conclave was released in November 2016, before the political and cultural turmoil of the Trump presidency. I finished this book weeks into the tenure of the new U.S. President, and the politics of the Catholic Conclave struck me completely differently than they would have a scant month before.

Conclave sounded like such a great read: suspenseful, intriguing, and just fluff 'n trash enough to feed a craving. When I saw it on sale as I just happened to be strolling past the display, I thought it was kismet.

Imagine my surprise at finding myself bored early in the story.

A snap of excitement occurred as the story began with the death of the Pope (hopefully no spoiler alert was needed). Then author Robert Harris introduced so much expository information that was, frankly, tedious.

Harris takes readers inside the otherwise closed doors of this select society. Cardinal Jacopo Lomeli, Dean of the College of Cardinals, is riddled with guilt and susceptible to suspicion, and it is he whose tasks are conducted with mind-numbing detail.

To be fair, it's an accurate revelation of the tedium behind the beauty. The author faithfully shared details, facts, history, and trivia early in the book that, alas, dragged the momentum of the story to a crawl.While that may have been the point, I would have preferred a more balanced tapestry.

Thankfully, Harris softballed a few clues to reward faithful readers, starting with an unexpected range of international representation and a surprise contestant who slipped into the Conclave as the doors were closing to the world. (Well, almost closing: Lomeli stayed abreast of literally everything inside and outside of the Conclave, which seemed disingenuous to the spirit of the proceedings.)

The intrigue finally got intriguing as we met the international Conclave, the lead contenders of whom, in turn, revealed how they were less deserving than the next. These are the people with power in the Catholic Church: older, wealthy (mostly white) men with naked ambition they unsuccessfully concealed with faltering piety. Each had a sin ripe for exposure, and each was surprisingly similar to the rest (individual sensational sin aside). Each clique was power-hungry and clamoring for their seat at the right hand of the Father. No one was spared. Well, almost no one.

Only one character stood out, in the end: the perfect divergence from the parade of flawed men who all thought they deserved The Prize. That character, that antidote to Power, is the entire reason people should read this book.

The author completely lost me when he introduced the explosive ending that occurred outside the Conclave. Perhaps it was realistic, perhaps it was suitable for the world stage, but I am weary of what feels like the fallback position of every writer drawing "evil" with the same splotchy, faulty pen. Also, I was surprised the invisibility of women, except in certain circumstances, usually of servitude to the men — which may indicate more about the church than the author, but still struck me as antediluvian, even in context.

I cannot describe it with the same breathless praise of other critics whose reviews were published when the book was first published in November 2016. Perhaps that alone is praise enough: that the landscape in which I find myself is as merciless as the fictional world of power-hungry, flawed Catholic cardinals in Conclave.

Despite its flaws — maybe even because of them — I would recommend this book, if only to discuss it with other readers who may have a different perception than I.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Library Loot: Dinosaurs, Bookbinding, Poetry

What does a reader do when all of her books on hold at the library come forth at once? Collect them, of course!

To be fair, not all of the books pictured (left) were from my hold list. One was a surprise: I wanted to read a short story collection, and My Friendly Neighborhood Librarian suggested The Tsar of Love and Techno, with a distinct Soviet feel.

The African American poetry collection was on a display at the middle of the library. (I usually steal from those displays, often from the Youth or Juvenile-themed ones, and always when there's a DK book on display.) I have been lax at posting poems, but I promise I shall be better as time goes on, and not just during National Poetry Month.

The Bibliophile Mystery has been in my hands three times now. I really enjoy the series, but this particular one just leaves me a bit cold. (However, I see a cat on the cover, so I may have to persevere.) I am loathe to read a series out of order, but I did manage to live after reading #7 when I was on a cookbook kick...

The Cat Winters book is one I want to want to read, but not as much as the other of her novels the library doesn't yet own — so I may have to return this one for the next reader. (Fun fact: she publishes both in the YA and Adult fiction categories, and I enjoy books in both, so go Cat!)

Finally, I can't remember if I read about Dinosaurs in the Attic from Brain Pickings or my dinosaur illustrator buddy on Twitter, but there it is. Written by Douglas Preston. How could I resist?

Career advice: that one definitely came from Brain Pickings. I think. Or Life Hacks. Either way, I'll gobble that up this weekend to help get my career wherever it's going.

Thank goodness it's a holiday weekend, or I may not get it all done.

What gems have you borrowed from your library? Do tell!

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Recommending Books, Sharing Books: Do You?

A few days ago, my stepdaughter Valerie asked me if I had heard about/read/owned a few books.

And my response was:
What are you looking for, my pretty?
To be fair, many of them I had read, owned, and would recommend. For example, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and Everything I Never Told You are two I am thrilled to recommend. I've heard good things about Room, but I just cannot safely approach it. I started Wild, but I couldn't get too far because it hit too close to home. I enjoyed the perspective of Americanah, but I gave away my copy a week before Valerie mentioned it.

So, I grabbed the handful of Jodi Picoult novels I had been collecting for her, tossed in a few others I really wanted to share with her (including one I had purchased an extra copy of, just in case), and high-tailed it over to her place before she could change her mind.

Oh, and on the top of the stack was the copy of Room from my library. I truly hope Valerie reads Room right away, for my sake. To be fair, I have had the book since the days of Borders because it was so well-received by the reading community. I worry that it may be hard to read for the mother of two small children. I'm the grandmother of four small children and I didn't have the courage. I had strangers offer me encouragement, and I still wasn't brave enough. Let's hope Valerie's courage will buoy my reading of that well-received book.

To be fair, I am a dangerous person to ask about a book. As soon as my friend Melanie uttered the phrase "looking for a good book," I was off to the races.
This would have accommodated
the Children's Classics delivery. Part one.

She got books. Her sons got books. I'm sure there were a couple in there for the dogs. I included classics, new releases, and a variety of genres.

I gave her so many books, she brought them back in stages. I had forgotten which books I shared with her. However, her rule was, "If it didn't belong to me or the boys, it must be Chris'." (For the record, she was right.)

When Melanie ventured into the world of audiobooks, I was at a loss. I knew nothing about them: how to listen to them, how to buy them, where to buy them, how to share them, how to find recommendations and ratings, and how to give them as gifts.

Oh, don't worry, I figured it out in no time, and Melanie has been subject to unsolicited audiobooks from time to time. (I warn her beforehand in case she needs to wave me off the carrier deck.)

This has renewed my interest in book hunting. As a book lover and avid, er, collector, I like to peruse every new and used resource I can find. Alas, lately the quest has bored me. My collection is so ample that if I don't currently own it, I've read it and given it away. Now, however, the hunt is not only for a book or two I might enjoy, but for others and their reading interests.

When someone asks for a recommendation, or wonders aloud if you have or can recommend a book, how do you respond? Are you enthusiastic, or do you approach the topic with caution? Do you keep extras of some books around so you can hand them out as needed? (Please tell me I'm not the only one who does that...)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

New Year, New Pledge: Resisting the Urge to Purchase Every Book

I love books. I adore cheap books. Free books make me giddy.

This summarizes my 2016 buying frenzy. With more than a little help from online vendors, I found dozens of inexpensive e-books and low-cost audiobooks to load on my Kindle. I subscribed to three different email services advertising cheap e-books. (Maybe four. Possibly five.) Book Bub and I are close friends. I haunt Amazon's Kindle e-book Web pages. Goodreads and I correspond regularly.

My Kindle is so full, I don't know where to begin. (I'd tell you how many books are on there, but I don't want to count that high, then subtract expired library books. Lazy? Nah, man: survival.)

So, without further ado, let me say: Hi, my name is Chris and I am a book hoarder.

Don't get me wrong: I am thrilled, for the most part, by the e-books I have purchased. Some of them duplicate print books in my library. A few free ones may not be my exact cuppa, but don't mind a (cheap or free) gamble: how else would I have discovered my surprising attraction of murder-mysteries? I also have lots of books to share with friends, as Kindle permits.

However, I have a literal library (a 10x12 bookshelf-lined room of print books), and now my Kindle is equally loaded. Some days, the weight of these unread books is too heavy to carry.

So I have made a decision: I am stemming the flow of purchased books into the house for the next three months.

I have done this before with great success. After a book purchase fast, I have emerged reinvigorated and focused on choosing the right book, rather than a book.

I have been testing the waters for the past month, reserving at my library the books I want to read. I can spend hours perusing Overdrive's e-book and audiobook inventory. I can "shop" my brick and mortar library, and even stop by various nearby branches for additional options. Books purchased for a buck or two at a "friends of the library" sale are easy to hand over to the next reader, stranger or friend.

Earlier this week, before I clicked "purchase" on a writing "prompt" book, I paused. I reviewed the table of contents and didn't get as excited as I thought I would — so I made a decision: rather than pay to play, I opened my public library's catalogue. There it was, the exact same book, this time in print. I promptly reserved the book and closed the Amazon browser tab.

Oh, Amazon has nothing to worry about: I also signed up for Kindle Daily Deals email. One would think that might be dangerous, but I assure you: receiving the list of sale books allows me to consider purchasing a finite number of books, rather than tempting me with suggestions, recommendations, and access to my wish list. I did this with Audible, and my impulse purchases have decreased to a trickle.

I will continue to use Amazon, Audible, Goodreads, Book Riot, Book Bub, and other resources to discover what's on the shelves, and to find out what my fellow readers are consuming. Fewer choices can make me a better consumer.

How do you control your purchases

Coda: No sooner did I publish my pledge than I purchased a new book. In my defense, the library would not have had it in time to read for my book club, and it was on sale at the bookstore. Plus, I had to go get a weekly calendar booklet anyway. (How's that for rationalization?)

Monday, January 2, 2017

7 Favorite Books of 2016: A Year in Review

2016 was a great year for reading. I consumed 80 books in three different formats, a personal best this century. 

To be fair, a handful were children's books, but Goodreads assures me the average length of books on my "read" shelf in 2016 was 298 pages, so I rest easy with my total (thanks, Joe Hill!).  

My Exceptional Reading Year included an inordinate (for me) number of re-reads: six books. For the most part, I credit this to catching up on original or first books before launching any sequel or companion books. However, Good Omens was re-read via Audible just for fun — and it remains one of the funniest books I have read.

Audiobooks changed my reading habits: one-fifth of the books I read this year were audiobooks, and three of those were re-reads. This format gives me an opportunity to read while I run or work out in the gym. I listened to Caitlin Moran read her immensely funny memoir, and I discovered Juliet Stevenson reading Sense and Sensibility. Audiobooks are not always the best format; I kept getting lost during The God of Small Things, and David Sedaris' essays waxed a bit too long for a listen. 

Additionally, I was surprised to discover that nearly one quarter of the books I read were on my Kindle. I own most of those in print, but I found the Kindle version more convenient; my bedside lighting is not stellar, and I have limited nightstand space. 

(Full disclosure: I recently purchased new furniture in part due to the nightstand size; however, my cats aren't keen on sharing their nightstand space with each other, let alone books that can be oh so fun to rearrange. As a result, I read my books on Kindle — and occasionally on audio — for the convenience of my cats. Do not judge my indulgences, and I shall afford you the same courtesy.)

Here are seven of my favorite books I read this year, in no particular order.
  • Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe — I began this book because of the narrator and finished it because it was a beautiful read. I have never been in the mind of a teenage boy, and Benjamin Alire SΓ‘enz was a wonderful guide. There is no Big Reveal at the end of the book, but the truth still feels large, and it was gorgeously wrought.
  • The Year of YesShonda Rimes is an amazing person, and very wise. She hit her stride after the commencement speech and never slowed down. Would I call it a memoir, a self-help book, a feminist book, a humor read? Yes.
  • The Cure for Dreaming — Cat Winters writes good books, so I recommend them all. However, this one I read in late October, and its examination of early 20th century suffrage was revolutionary.  
  • The Underground Railroad — Imagine... no, don't imagine the world Colson Whitehead brought to life in his novel. Read it. It will change your perception of antebellum America. 
  • Life After Life and A God in RuinsMust be read in this order. I reviewed the first book a few years ago. Together, they command readers to re-think what life is, their own and others.
  • The Invisible Library — I am a sucker for library and librarian stories, and this is a good one. I recently reviewed this book, which is the first of a trilogy. I can't wait to start the second volume. (The third book will be released in the U.S. on January 20.) Find out more about this trilogy on the author's website.

What books did I read in 2016 I would I not recommend?

  • The Museum of Extraordinary Things — Weird, disappointing, and hard to follow.
  • The Bookseller — The premise was intriguing, but the resolution was unsatisfying. Read my review here.
  • Everything We Keep — The story stretched out so long before the second act that the resolution was singularly unsatisfying. The story coda, which attempted to bring the story full-circle, was awful.
  • Big Magic — A self-help book that did not provide any new or interesting information. (Full disclosure: I avoided reading the author's chart-topping memoir, and I really disliked the movie.)

Thankfully, most of the less-than-stellar books were library loans.

Here is the complete list of books read in 2016. Most of them are good reads, so I hope you find a few to add to your nightstand (or e-reader, or listening device). I have indicated the format of each book (e-book πŸ“² , print book πŸ“– , or audio 🎧 ) and whether they were borrowed from the library (via nerd face πŸ€“ ).

  1. Passage πŸ“² πŸ€“
  2. Bear Counts πŸ“²
  3. Ish πŸ“²
  4. The Roll-Away Pumpkin πŸ“²
  5. The Deep and Snowy Wood πŸ“²
  6. Plum Spooky πŸ“– πŸ€“
  7. Octopuppy πŸ“²
  8. Between the Plums πŸ“² πŸ€“
  9. 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People πŸ“² πŸ€“
  10. The Year of Yes 🎧 πŸ€“
  11. Thirteen Chairs πŸ“²
  12. Commonwealth πŸ“–
  13. The Invisible Library πŸ“²
  14. Good Omens 🎧
  15. Thin Mint Memories πŸ“²
  16. The Forgetting Time (½) πŸ“² πŸ€“
  17. Lamb 🎧
  18. The Cure for Dreaming πŸ“– πŸ€“
  19. A Mew to a Kill πŸ“²
  20. Sense and Sensibility 🎧 πŸ€“
  21. Fates and Furies πŸ“² πŸ€“
  22. Summer House With Pool πŸ“²
  23. Between the World and Me 🎧 πŸ€“
  24. Ghostly Echoes πŸ“²
  25. Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls 🎧 πŸ€“
  26. The Underground Railroad πŸ“–
  27. The Uninvited πŸ“²
  28. Who Goes There? (The Thing) πŸ“²
  29. Big Magic πŸ“– πŸ€“
  30. Dorothy Parker Drank Here πŸ“–
  31. A Spirited Tail πŸ“²
  32. The Goodbyes πŸ“–
  33. Secondhand Souls 🎧 πŸ€“
  34. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe 🎧 πŸ€“
  35. Everything We Keep πŸ“²
  36. If Books Could Kill πŸ“– πŸ€“
  37. The Bookseller πŸ“²
  38. Unlikely Friendships πŸ“² πŸ€“
  39. Homicide in Hardcover πŸ“– πŸ€“
  40. Ghostly Paws πŸ“²
  41. The Sleeper and the Spindle πŸ“– πŸ€“
  42. The Body Reader πŸ“²
  43. Blackout πŸ“– πŸ€“
  44. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl πŸ“² πŸ€“
  45. Vacations From Hell πŸ“– πŸ€“
  46. 168 Hours πŸ“–
  47. Farewell, Dorothy Parker πŸ“–
  48. When Breath Becomes Air πŸ“–
  49. In the Heights πŸ“–
  50. Crenshaw πŸ“²
  51. How Do You Sleep πŸ“²
  52. In the Shadow of Blackbirds πŸ“² πŸ€“
  53. NOS4A2 🎧 πŸ€“
  54. The Humans (play) πŸ“–
  55. Random Harvest πŸ“²
  56. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? πŸ“²
  57. Vader’s Little Princess πŸ“²
  58. Darth Vader and Son πŸ“²
  59. Darth Vader and Friends πŸ“²
  60. Good Night, Darth Vader πŸ“²
  61. Americanah πŸ“² πŸ€“
  62. Winter of the World  πŸŽ§ πŸ€“
  63. A God in Ruins πŸ“² πŸ€“
  64. Rip Van Winkle 🎧 πŸ€“
  65. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow 🎧 πŸ€“
  66. The Fall of Giants 🎧 πŸ€“
  67. Life After Life πŸ“² πŸ€“
  68. How to be a Woman 🎧
  69. Twenty Yawns πŸ“²
  70. True Grit 🎧 πŸ€“
  71. It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs πŸ“² πŸ€“
  72. The Museum of Extraordinary Things  πŸ“² πŸ€“
  73. The Luckiest Girl Alive πŸ“–
  74. Grandma Drove the Snowplow πŸ“²
  75. The Map πŸ“²
  76. Beastly Bones πŸ“²
  77. Impossible Things πŸ“–
  78. Girl Waits With Gun πŸ“²
  79. Library of Souls πŸ“–
  80. Emerald Green πŸ“²

What did you read in 2016? Anything you can recommend? Do tell!