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...)