Archive for the ‘Bookishness’ Category

Book Reviews: The Catch-up Post.

July 20, 2017

It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged, but it’s been even longer since I’ve reviewed the books I’ve been reading. And since I’ve busted through my slump (again), I’m still about four books behind pace for my goal of 31 books this month.

Because I have so many books left unreviewed, I’m going to pick and choose some to review, and just list the rest. That way we’ll have a clean slate for next time, and if you want to know more, you can ask about particular titles down in the comments. Ta da!

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body, by Roxane Gay (2017, HarperCollins, 320 pages, ebook). Ms. Gay is one of the authors I will pre-order, no matter how broke, no matter the topic, no matter whether I am physically able to even read at that moment. She speaks nothing but truth, and her truth slays. Such was the case with Hunger, which I knew explored Gay’s lifelong battle with eating disorders, but because I knew I was going to read the memoir, I didn’t delve deeper than that in the pre-released hype. So I was unprepared for the story beneath the story: that much of Gay’s eating disorder stemmed from being gang-raped at a very young age. I knew Gay had been raped; I was not aware of the circumstances. It was a very difficult book to read, because of how Gay kept laying the words down one after another, surgically revealing layer after layer after layer of history and fact and feeling. She made it clear it was not to exorcise anything; she was not a survivor, but a victim, unwilling to mitigate one mili-measurement of blame that so righteously belongs at the feet of her abusers. Still: when a book hits close to home, the words are hard to read. At the time, I rated the book as a 4-star read because Gay jumped around when I wanted her to shine her light more brightly into a corner I was still examining, and because for me, as a reader, being compelled to read factors in to my rating system. This book I had to put down because so. many. ghosts. Still…Roxane Gay slays dragons, you guys. And that deserves fair princesses in all kinds of guises. Including the 5 of 5 stars variety.

The Nest, by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney (2016, Ecco, 368 pages, library book). 2 1/2 of 5 stars.

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, by Xiaolu Guo (2007, Nan E. Talese, 283 pages, library eloan). For my READ HARDER romance challenge! 2 of 5 stars.

The Other, by Thomas Tryon (1971, Alfred A. Knopf, 280 pages, eloan). Okay, you guys, I get why this horror story was so influential. You can see how King and everyone else drew inspiration. And not only horror authors, but Hollywood and even those writing the beautiful scores that set the mood for the movies and play in my head while I’m reading. But still…as much as I loved the mood and shiftiness, the suspense that reminded me of books like Henry James’ The Turning of the Screw, I didn’t like the stuffiness that accompanied it, the language that kept pulling me out, which sounded more like Knowles’ A Separate Peace. It sounded dated. Antiquated. And…meh. 2 of 5 stars.

The Inexplicable Logic of My Life, by Benjamin Alire Saenz (2017, Clarion, 452 pages, library eloan). Good YA book that discusses adoption, LGBTQIA+ issues, and is written by a POC. 3 of 5 stars.

Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon (1991, Dell, 850 pages, paperback). Re-read! But still 5 of 5 stars.

Whatever You Do, Don’t Run: True Tales of a Botswana Safari Guide, by Peter Allison (2007, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 243 pages, ebook). Re-read. 3 of 5 stars.

Don’t Turn Around: A Safari Guide’s Encounters with Ravenous Lions, Stampeding Elephants, and Lovesick Rhinos, by Peter Allison (2009, Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 240 pages, ebook). Re-read. 3 of 5 stars.

Loving Day, by Mat Johnson (2015, Spiegel & Grau, 287 pages, ebook). I picked this up as a Deal of the Day and didn’t quite know what to make of it at first. The voice was catchy, like falling into a David Bradley novel, and the subject would bounce back and forth between nerdtastic and straight up whacked. I loved the way ghosts played with the racial identity fumbling and searching. I loved the dark humor. I did not like how the second half of the book felt less structured and more of a plot-of-convenience. It was a book I longed to read with my New Black Aesthetic class back in college. 4 of 5 stars.

All Grown Up, by Jami Attenberg (2017, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 197 pages, library book). I liked Attenberg’s The Middlesteins alright, and even with my criticisms I could see the author had a whipsmart handle on psychology and knew how to wield her knowledge like a weapon. All the same, if I had know All Grown Up was going to be a novella told in second-person quasi-prose, philosophizing on everything I think about when I’m not supposed to be thinking. It’s a study in an almost-40-year-old woman’s narrative. Or, at least, of a kind. 4 of 5 stars.

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?, by Alyssa Mastromonaco (2017, Twelve, 244 pages, library book). I’d seen this book around and was intrigued at what a higher-up female political operative could tell me about the behind-the-scenes happenings of one of my favorite presidents – and how much would it differ from what I’ve learned from The West Wing? (Answer: Not a lot, and almost entirely, all at the same time.) I wish the book had been structured into tighter chapters with narrower focus, because as it stood, I found the dull parts hard to avoid, but the good bits hilariously entertaining and informative. It was just hard to predict what would fall where. It was a lovely trip down memory lane, making me pine for President Obama’s reign to return and save us all. 3 of 5 stars.

A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty, by Joshilyn Jackson (2012, Grand Central Publishing, 322, eloan). 2 of 5 stars.

We Are Unprepared, by Meg Little Reilly (2016, Mira, 362 pages, used paperback). 1 of 5 stars. (But good to laugh at, sort of like Zoo, if you like to laugh at unintentionally funny environmental thrillers.

Boy, 9, Missing, by Nic Joseph (2016, Sourcebooks Landmark, 329 pages, library book). 2 of 5 stars.

It’s Fine By Me, by Per Peterson (2012, Greywolf Press, 199 pages, eloan). 2 of 5 stars. [Sidenote: I adore Graywolf Press – they’re one of my favorites and just seeing their imprint can sway me to pick up a book – and I usually love reading books in translation, so I think this might just have been a right book, wrong time situation.]

Alphabet, by Kathy Page (2005, George Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 264 pages, eloan). 2 of 5 stars.

Lily and the Octopus, by Steven Rowley (2016, Simon & Schuster, 307 pages, eloan). There was a lot of eye-rolling involved. And so you know – I love a good dog story. I loved Marley & Me (uh…right until a certain chapter about a certain clearing at the end of a certain path). I loved Art of Racing in the Rain even more! I thought Lily was going to be an odd sort of mishmash of the two. But oh no. The magical realism felt forced. The popular acclaim promised via stickers all over the (digital) cover raised expectations that were never met. Lily? Not my favorite pet. It’s possible that I’m jaded by my ex-boyfriend’s demon dog who also happened to be a dachshund. More likely it’s that the author jumped from subject to subject and “cute” anecdote to another without properly explaining the last one so’s you could understand what the heck really happened. I think Rowley was trying to do too much, riffing and trilling and soloing before he had laid down a proper foundation. Or maybe that’s just the way it read to me. But – at least I didn’t cry? 1 of 5 stars.

What You Don’t Know, by JoAnn Chaney (2017, Mantle, 384 pages, eloan). 2 of 5 stars.

Ghostland: An American History in Haunted Places, by Colin Dickey (2016, Viking, 320 pages, eloan). I love ghost stories…in the daytime. They scare the shit outta me after sunset! Dickey’s selection of cities, businesses, houses, unusual locations, and other places was varied, well researched, and entirely believable – and that’s coming from someone who vacillates between being scared to not believe, and wanting furiously to believe if only to prove there’s something more after this is all over. Dickey’s writing is professional and entertaining – not an easy feat to maintain for so long a book. It’s not quirky enough to earn the title of cult classic, but conversational enough to pull in a varied audience. It’ll make a great gift for the believer and non-believer alike – and the hardcover is pretty enough for coffee table display. 4 of 5 stars.

Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, by A.S. King (2014, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 307 pages, eloan). 2 of 5 stars.

Still Life with Tornado, by A.S. King (2016, Dutton Books for Young Readers, 295 pages, eloan). King is one of my favorite contemporary Young Adult authors: she’s edgy and whipsmart. She doesn’t talk down to her readers, but isn’t afraid to ask them to think around corners or tackle magical realism or any other device or topic that might be entirely new (or a little intimidating, even if the reader is 38). So I wasn’t surprised that Still Life was asking me to believe two, three, four different versions of our protag were walking the city at the same time, visiting our protag’s home and staying for dinner with the family without being noticed. 10-year-old Sarah joins Sarah at the dinner table and no one notices? Um…okay. It was weird at first, and I wasn’t sure that I liked it, but as the narrative flipped between past and present, and more clues were revealed and – even more so – after I had finished the book and digested it bit by bit, piece by piece, I realized how much more transformative the reading experience was. I wouldn’t say I loved the book; I certainly wouldn’t say it’s a reading experience for just anyone. But it was different. It was remarkable. And for someone who reads as much as I do, being surprised by a book – especially an umpteenth book by the same writer you’ve read before – is worth noting, indeed. 4 of 5 stars.

There are more – so many more! – but let’s leave some for next week, shall we? God, I love when I actually get books read! BOOM!

5 for Friday.

July 14, 2017

Good gracious – is it really Friday? I can’t believe this week sped by so fast. Things happened.

1. Postcards for the girls arrived from Auntie Kim’s stay in Prince Edward island. They were stunning; gorgeous pictures dotted the front and Kim described such happy adventures…I was seriously tempted to steal them. In fact, I was given the idea because Kim told Bee not to let me do it! I put them down on the kitchen table for the girls to find…but I maybe placed them on the corner quite close to my bedroom door. With an idea that they might accidentally fly in through the doorway later. Then the next day my own postcard arrived! And it was a postcard packet of tea! Which means it was lovely and descriptive and delicious! I immediately placed the girls’ postcards on their placemats. All was well.

2. Speaking of Auntie Kim, this arrived in the mail this week, too:

Anne Hair

All I’m gonna say is you should maybe expect to see it again this summer when Kim is here. Mwa ha ha!

3. I told a cute story on Facebook this week, and it could be its own post, but I have another story that relates to it, so I need to re-tell it.

Bee has been enjoying quite a few sleepovers with Mama this summer. We made the delightful discovery that she’s outgrown her kicking and sleeping-sideways phase, and now can go an entire night on the other side of the bed better than anyone I’ve shared a room with. (Yes, that includes 4 different college roommates, and Auntie Kim, with the exception of Audra, my roommate junior year – she was gloriously quiet and considerate and a good egg.) Anywho, George, Bee’s pet giraffe who serves as her protector, was in my room still, and so I told Bee that I had slept with him the night before while she was at her Dad’s house.

Bee: Moooooom!!!!
Me: But I had bad dreams!

And then that night after work I went looking for George so I could take a playful picture and send it to Bee, for we are a playful family.

Bee: Aw, man! You found him?!
Me: Yeah, he fell under the bed, waaaaay under, behind some boxes, and inside a bag! Silly George!

George

And then I slept with George again. Because July is long.

4. So the story that relates: Bee came home last night and rushed into the house. “You better not have hidden George!” I teased. Well – half-teased. Bee was only staying for dinner, and then I was on my own to fend against bad dreams and PTSD. Bee kinda did the deer in the headlights thing, so I told her to go find him. “But he’s mine!” she whined. I checked for packages as we were having The Great George Debate, and thank god my Prime Day packages arrived. Know what my big splurge was? A gallon of white Elmer’s Glue! Bee has been the Glorious Slime Master this summer, so much so that I’ve refused to spend any more money on it, because glue and shaving foam adds up! (We have borax for years, thanks to Uncle Kene.) Bee has been pouring all of her allowance into the necessary items, and I lucked into my glue purchase for just $8! I have never gotten such hugs. And then George turned up pretty quickly. Huzzah for Prime Deals!

5. My cousin Hillary is reading the Dark Tower series with me and I AM SO EXCITED!! She made it six chapter in during her commute yesterday, and I didn’t get a chance to talk to her last night (the first night in a long time we haven’t chatted – I love reconnecting with cousins!), so I’m curious to see if she made it through to Tull yet. I forget exactly when the movie comes out, but I think it’s when I’m back home. I know the movie conflates the first couple books and I don’t know if Hill can make it that far, but by golly, I’m going to use every trick in my bag to try to get her there. Because adding her and Em to our movie adventure would make it so much more fun! And if I can’t bully my baby sister into reading my favorite book of all time, then I’m glad I can make someone else read it! Huzzah! And Harrumph!

And that’s just a small slice (mmm…pie) of my week. Here’s hoping for a wild and fun weekend you guys!

Book Reviews: The MeetCutest, A Book NOT about Wolves, and Black Hair Love.

June 15, 2017

Morning, all! Just a few books to talk about this week, because I had some re-reads not worth re-hashing am thiiiiis close to finishing my daytime book and my nighttime book. (You know I have my reading groove back when I’m making excuses for a low number!)

So what do we got? Let’s look!

DimpleWhen Dimple Met Rishi, by Sandhya Menon (2017, Simon Pulse, 380 pages, ebook). This book is the book to read this summer and believe me when I say Sandhya Menon is the new John Green – YA Whisperer Extraordinaire! I hope she’s half as prolific because I can’t wait to get my hands on her next story…and I just finished her first! The story is about two American teens whose (uh, somewhat) traditionalist Indian parents have arranged for them to be married – if all goes well when they meet. Dimple kicked herself for not realizing why her parents suddenly caved and allowed her to go to computer programming camp, and Rishi just about wants to kill himself for blurting out his intentions to spend the rest of his life with Dimple the second he meets her. Turns out Dimple wasn’t aware of the deal-io. And on it goes. It’s the meet-cutest, even if it does feel annoyingly teenagery at times, and a little heavy-handed on the foreshadowing. It all balances out, though, because Dimple and Rishi click from (almost) the first moment, and its in the funny, laugh-out-loud moments that Menon’s writing really shines. That, and she really knows how to write secondary characters – not a skill you really hear talked about, partly because not a lot of people really know how to excel at it. All in all, it’s wonderful debut novel and I will definitely be following Menon’s career with interest. 3 1/2 of 5 stars. (That cover, though! 5 of 5 stars for cover art!)

HistoryOfWolvesHistory of Wolves, by Emily Fridlund (2017, Grove Atlantic, 288 pages, used hardcover). Trigger warning for sketchy-as-hell student/teacher relationships, and child abuse. In small town Minnesota (the book flap describes it further as being part of the lakes region of Minnesota, but is there part of Minnesota that isn’t the lakes region? Seriously?), Linda/Maddie lives with questionable parents in a hut that is part of a counter-culture left over from her maybe-parents commune days. History was so hard to read because relationships were never clearly defined – between characters, places, causes, nothing! It wasn’t even clear whether this was by design. So I wasn’t sure if Linda’s blurry AF relationship with her parents and miserable home life was responsible for why she kissed her teacher, or was jealous when a fellow student started rumors that she had gone all the way with their history teacher – an awkward man who later fled because they found out he was fired from his last job in California for pedophilia. As that story line was falling apart, Linda is hired by the weirdo neighbors across the lake to babysit for their toddler, Paul. You know from the beginning that something horrible is going to happen to Paulie – and I thought from the teacher story line that it was going to be sexual abuse – but it wasn’t, and the No Good, Terrible, Horrible Thing was a bit of a let down when I finally found out what happened. I mean, it was awful, sure; it just wasn’t the shock it was built up to be. Yeah, this novel was a hot mess, through and through, in need of a much stronger editor. Solid ideas, they just all fell to the earth and fizzled. 2 of 5 stars.

YouCantTouchMyHairYou Can’t Touch my Hair, by Phoebe Robinson (2016, Plume Books, 285 pages, library paperback). This was nominated as a Goodreads Choice for Humor last year, and YOU GUYS! I am both bummed it didn’t win, and horrified it had to go up as humor! Yes, Robinson is a comedian, and yes, she glossed all her essays with humor, but I think that’s all mostly because there isn’t anything close to “I’m Laughing Because It’s All Funny Because It’s So True It Hurts” – in either an awards category or life profession. There were essays about hair and beauty as the title suggests, but also how Robinson is too black to be white, and too white to be black. She’s the post-Soul aesthetic defined, and I LOVE it. I love her! I can’t believe I hadn’t run across so much as her name before. Bottom line: you should all read her book, see her in person if you can, and help me track down any- every- thing else she has done. 4 of 5 stars.

InvisibleLifeOfIvanIsaenkoThe Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko, by Scott Stambach (2016, St. Martin’s Press, 326 pages). Lauded as the next coming of The Fault in Our Stars, I was so excited to sit down and read Ivan! I knew it was going to be sad, but Holy Moses. Ivan is beset by every mean trick the universe could bestow. He was born without both legs, without his right arm, and with only a thumb and the first two fingers on his left hand. He has a connective tissue disorder, making it hard to talk, and leaving his features flat, making him not only hard to look at, but like he’s even more handicapped than he is. Oh, and when another person at Mazyr’s Hospital for Gravely Ill Children (in the Ukraine that cares for 30 children crippled by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster) dares to fall in love with Ivan, SHE DIES TOO. We know this from the first page – a choice that rankled with me every step of the way. I wanted to hold out hope, no matter how foolish. I needed to believe. Without that bit, even with Nurse Natalya who is the only friggin ray of sunshine in a thousand mile radius, everything was so. unflinchingly. bleak. I’ve read a lot of bleak stories, you guys. I can handle a lot. If I have hope. This…it was interesting. I wanted to change the outcome. So even though it was bleak, there was an undeniable intrigue and sneakery and brilliance that crackled throughout and drew me to the story. I couldn’t put it down because of it, and, honestly, it’s what kept me turning page after page. Without it, I’d have ditched. So…I guess brilliance trumps hope. Who knew? 3 of 5 stars.

There you go! What are YOU reading this week? What do I need to add to my shelves this summer?

Mid-year Check-in: Read Harder Challenge 2017.

June 14, 2017

We’re at the halfway point of 2017, and as I set down my summery drink* I realize how much sweat and hard work has gone into this year already, because I just wrote the challenge was for 2018, not 2017. (Yeah, I’ll get right on that correction. Oops.)

This reading year has been a struggle for me. I’ve spent most of my time re-reading favorites (thanks, Goodreads, for finally allowing those re-reads to “count”), sinking into steamy romances, and…well…not reading. The last time I had this much trouble finding time and energy to read was the year before my divorce when things weren’t going the greatest for me and so I spent my time not thinking about anything. You’d think escaping into fiction would help, but for some weird reason, it doesn’t. This year, in the middle of this political nightmare, things are much of the same. My reading tallies are a hot mess!

Except when it comes to my Read Harder Challenge.

I was pleasantly surprised to see how close I am to finishing already! But I do have a few categories I still need to fill, and I need your suggestions to help get the job done! So let’s see where I’m at…

Read a book about sports: Sudden Death, by Alvara Enrigue

Read a debut novel: The Hate U Give, by Angie Thomas

Read a book about books: My Soul Looks Back, by Jessica Harris (I cheated a little – it’s about authors more than books, but meh meh meh…)

Read a book set in Central or South America, written by a Central or South American author:

Read a book by an immigrant or with a central immigration narrative: Lucky Boy, by Shanthi Sekaran

Read an all-ages comic: March, by Rep. John Lewis

Read a book published between 1900 and 1950:

Read a travel memoir: An African in Greenland, by Tete-Michel Kpomassie

Read a book you’ve read before: The Chaneysville Incident, by David Bradley

Read a book that is 100 miles of your location:

Read a book that is set more than 5,000 miles from your location: The Association of Small Bombs, by Karan Mahajan

Read a fantasy novel: Version Control, by Dexter Palmer

Read a nonfiction book about technology: Hidden Figures, by Margot Lee Shetterly

Read a book about war: American War, by Omar El Akkad

Read a YA or middle grade novel by an author who identifies as LGBTQ+:

Read a book that has been banned or frequently challenged in your country: This One Summer, by Mariko Tamaki and Jill Tamaki

Read a classic by an author of color: Amiable with Big Teeth, by Claude McKay

Read a superhero comic with a female lead: Rani Patel in Full Effect, by Sonia Patel (I make my own definitions of what is and isn’t a superhero. An outsider, a woman, who steps up and finds her voice? Superhero.)

Read a book in which a character of color goes on a spiritual journey: When Dimple Met Rishi, by Sandhya Menon

Read an LGBTQ+ romance novel:

Read a book published by a micropress: Fish in Exile, by Vi Khi Nao

Read a collection of stories by a woman: Speak Gigantular, by Irenosen Okojie

Read a collection of poetry in translation on a theme other than love:

Read a book wherein all point-of-view characters are people of color: The Sun Is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon

See? So much better than I thought it was going to be when I sat down, looked at what I had, and figured out what could go where.

Now here’s where you come in – what should I read to fill up my bingo card? For my “within 100 miles of your location” clue, think of anything in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. (It makes it easy, no?) One last requirement – if you’ve noticed (or remember from my other posts), I am filling up my challenge with books by people of color. I do diversely on my own, but this is one more way to make a very focused effort to do an even better job.

So hit me up with your recommendations! I’m only 5 books away from standing up and yelling BINGO!! …And maybe treating myself to something from the Book Riot store.

 

 

*Not really. But if wishing made it so…

#Riotgram, Day 8: Books and ice cream.

June 8, 2017

I almost forgot to post today. I framed and snapped my photo a day or two ago, and it didn’t quite slip my mind, per se, it just wasn’t quite at the front.

Perhaps it was because what I wanted to do was snap a picture of my collection of poems by Wallace Stevens, the one I had left over from 19th Century English Literature class. There was a poem, “The Emperor of Ice Cream,” that would have been perfect for this assignment. I remember discussing the poem at great length in class, and then the professor refused to give us his take on it! But…that’s besides the point. Because instead, for “Books and Ice Cream”, I got you this:

BooksIceCream

A comfort book, paired with comfort ice cream. The book in questions just happens to be a better picture of the edition of Anne that I told you about earlier. Isn’t it gorgeous?! The cover is soft; I don’t quite know what it’s made of.

The ice cream it’s hanging out with is almost as good a friend as that Anne-girl. You can’t find black raspberry ice cream here in Tejas, but the Haagan Daz Raspberry Sorbet is pretty tasty. You just know Anne Shirley would swoon over the word “sorbet”!

It’s a silly #Riotgram prompt. It’s my least favorite so far. But I swung at the pitch when it was thrown at me. What about you all – are there food pairings you think of to go with your favorite books?

Book Reviews: Found legends, all the nonfiction, and a quiet SK story.

June 8, 2017

It’s been ages since I’ve posted book reviews! Since I’ve finally found my reading mojo, I have so many books stacked up to choose from! Rather than try to squeeze them all in, I’m going to pick and choose…

JaguarsJaguars Ripped my Flesh, by Tim Cahill. (1987, Vintage, 320 pages, eloan). It’s a catchy title, I have to admit. And a jaunty little adventure book, if you’re looking for very short stories into the wild. But don’t expect high-faluting, serious-minded forays into the jungles. The title is meant to be funny and ironic; a nod to when men’s magazines all went overboard with their tabloidy stories. Cahill argued then (and then demonstrated via his books) that what men really wanted to read were honest-to-god travel stories. No fanfare needed. Okay, so I’m not the intended audience, but still – meh. 2 of 5 stars. And that’s generous.

GirlFromEverywhereThe Girl from Everywhere, by Heidi Helig. (2016, Greenwillow Books, 464 pages, ebook). This was a deal of the day, and I’d been hearing good things from reliable YA crowds – the ones who read what I read. So I gave it a whirl. And it was decent – not phenomenal like the Daughters of Bone series I had just finished, and that probably didn’t help much – nothing was going to be “good” after finishing that. I can see how the voice here would draw people in and plenty would like Helig’s writing style and the flow of the story. The characters were interesting and well developed. The plot – a ship that can sail anywhere, anywhen if it can follow a map it’s never used before – is brilliant. For me, it was just lacking that oomph to make it special. 3 of 5 stars.

SeriouslySeriously, I’m Kidding, by Ellen DeGeneres (2011, Grand Central Publishing, 241 pages, used hardcover). I’m glad I read it – I love seeing how celebrity’s books translate from their physical world of acting to the medium where your ability to communicate in words (and negative spaces) rules the day. It’s an interesting shift. Ellen managed quite beautifully, as I’d suspected and hoped, but…her stories, while amusing, seemed surface-y to me, and were on the extremely short side. Each story took me about two minutes to read. Not exactly the in depth memoir I’d wanted. So I’m glad I tore through this one, but mostly for the experience of having done so. 2 of 5 stars.

FoundlingThe Foundling, by Paul Joseph Fronczak (2017, Howard Books, 368 pages, ebook). I bought this ebook on a whim after seeing it advertised and recognizing it from my TBR. It’s the story of a couple whose newborn was stolen from the hospital, and of another little boy who was abandoned half a country away, on the sidewalk in front of some stores. The FBI decides the toddler was that newborn, the family is reunited and all was well. Except all was not well, because that boy grows up and discovers not only his story, but that he was not the baby they thought he was. Genealogical mystery unraveling ensues. And you know me – I’m a huge genealogy nut! This book was so my jam. It was written well; well-paced, interesting, yes – a little whiny at times, but I thought Fronczak had good cause. I tore through it, wanting to know how it played out. Definitely worth the money I shelled out. If you’re into true crime, this is definitely worth your time and your dollars. I highly recommend. 4 of 5 stars.

AmiableAmiable with Big Teeth, by Claude McKay (2017, Penguin, 352, hardcover). I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for a fair review. One of my two bachelor degrees is in African American Studies, so I was beyond pleased when I found out I was selected to win the new novel based on the manuscript by Claude McKay found in 2012. McKay was instrumental in the Harlem Renaissance, one of the greatest periods of creativity this country has ever had the joy to behold. That’s not to say a lot of the pieces produced during that time were joyful in nature; many focused on the need for African Americans to rise up, become financially mobile, break free from the tyranny of social injustice, both here and abroad. Amiable is the story of the Harlemites in-the-know working to help liberate Ethiopia, after Mussolini has invaded. The book is a satire and fun is poked at the political machinations of the different factions, fighting over¬† a piece of the pie, and arguing loudly over the “right” way to fight for it. If you like The Sellout by Paul Beatty, or pieces from the post-Reconstruction era, this is what you want. 3 of 5.

GwendyGwendy’s Button Box, by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar (Cemetery Dance Publications, 175 pages, hardcover). I was a little wary as I started; I wasn’t a big fan of Stephen King’s Bill Hodges trilogy, and I haven’t read anything else by Richard Chizmar. But this, a Castle Rock novella, ended up being…well, if not exactly classic Stephen King, pretty close. From a world next door, if you like. It’s a quiet story, one filled with dread and a slow build to the finale. I’ll tell you how quiet it was – I could have read this at full dark and not been afraid. It’s the horror of what the human race will do to each other…with a little bit of magic thrown in. The ending was a bit anticlimatic – given events that happened at the start of the novel, I was expecting something a bit grander. But, I suppose it will do. I’m glad I read it. I’m not sorry I spent both my money and my time on it. But I can’t say the story changed me one way or another. 3 of 5 stars.

#Riotgram, Day 7: Most Loved.

June 7, 2017

Today’s #Riotgram challenge, hosted by the ever-fabulous Book Riot, focuses on most loved books. But what exactly does that mean?! Should I focus on the books I love best (and show it in the wear and tear)? Talk about my Stephen King obsession? The series I re-read every year? My favorite books shelf?

My favorite books shelf – let’s start there.

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My favorites shelf is missing quite a few of my favorite books. My favorite series – Stephen King’s Dark Tower; Cynthia Voigt’s Tillerman family saga; Harry Potter; The Eyre Affair series by Jeffrey Fforde; Anne. There simply isn’t room and it would hurt my heart (and the books)(shoosh) for the series to be broken up over multiple shelves. Also, this way I can fit most of my absolute favorites on one shelf.

The Christmas book is there because it’s one of those Hallmark books that let you record your voice, and my mom’s voice is in there. And that’s all I’m going to say about that, or else I’ll need a tissue or forty.

Oh! I lied – a collector’s edition of Anne is on the shelf! I’d forgotten about that! I’ll try to grab a better picture of that and post it later. It’s gorgeous!

Then there are a favorite from high school РThe Great Gatsby. My girlfriends and I (who ruled AP English) fell madly in love with it, and that love was cemented in college when we discussed symbolism and motifs and, dear god, all the irony. The same with what I think of as my college favorites РTheir Eyes Were Watching God; The Portrait of a Lady; The Chaneysville Incident; and The White Boy Shuffle. 

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood might be part of a trilogy, but I pretend it isn’t because of…things…that complicate favorite characters beyond the pale.

Pride and Prejudice I didn’t read until the year after Gracie was born and I was mind-boggled over how it was such a fan favorite until I got to the botched proposal…and then I couldn’t put it down.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert might be a bit hokey, but it got me through my divorce. And that’s a good enough reason for me!

The Anne Fadiman collections of personal essays were divine! I couldn’t read them for want of writing, and I couldn’t write because I wanted to keep hoovering up more of her writing! It’s my favorite dilemma, really. There are readers, though, who really aren’t all about writing, and I wonder – honestly – how well Fadiman holds up for those sorts of people.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver is a great family drama, one where you can’t tell where the function of family ends and the dysfunction takes over. Perhaps because the dysfunction of my family is so readily apparent, it fascinates me that for some families, the dynamic hasn’t always been that way, with one or two or three functional souls in the middle of the chaos.

White Oleander is the opposite – dysfunctional family drama at its best. You can also find perhaps the Cruella deVillest character this side of Disney. (Yes, yes – Dodie Smith, I know.)

Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is – just go read it. This novel embodies the group of characters I’m most upset I can’t meet in real life. Which maybe doesn’t make sense because they’re located on a tiny island in the middle of the English Channel. Doesn’t matter; still holds true.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern wasn’t a hit the first half of the book. I trudged through to make my sister happy. The moment the love story became more than apparent, I fell for it. Which now seems silly – the reason I really love it is because it’s hands down the most imaginative book I’ve ever read. If Guernsey contains the characters I most want to meet, Night Circus is the book I most want to be real.

The White Mary by Kira Salak and State of Wonder by Ann Patchett are two stories on the same theme. Wild adventures in the remotest of remote places; feminist lenses; love vs. career vs. self…so many shared themes, but with different characters and different ways of carrying it off.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao is perhaps the most adventurific character study I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading, especially given that it breaks down stereotypes left and right. Will Grayson, Will Grayson, by John Green and David Levithan is the least likely John Green novel you’ll ever read. It, too, plays into stereotypes so hard in its identity-heavy examinations that it often shoots right past them. Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork is similar, but throws in some ableism into the mix. They’re three on a theme.

Tell the Wolves I’m Home is like a throwback to the 80s all the way around. It’s set during the decade, it tweaks the heart like a break-up power ballad, and it’ll make you relive all the best and worst bits of growing up.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra is kind of like Elegance of the Hedgehog, but if it took place in the middle of the Serbian War. Or, wait, is that quite right? I can never quite categorize this one. Except it’s lovely.

Harriet the Spy is everything about who I wanted to be when I was a little kid. And still.

The Martian is everything about my voice as a grown-up. Except you’d never get me into outer-space.

Tiny, Beautiful Things is the best advice book I could ever recommend to anyone going through a tough time, about to go through a tough time, or who wants to be a writer when they “grow up.”

My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry is variant on a Ya-Ya theme. If you like one…

And the Daughters of Smoke and Bone trilogy. I’m so glad I ignored all of the praise for it when it first came out, because if I couldn’t read it all in one go, I don’t know what I would have done. I’m selective about my fantasy, and this still passed the test.

Sometimes I can’t believe I can fit all of those stories on just one shelf! What about your shelf – what favorite books do you have on yours?

#Riotgram Challenge, Day 6: Titles with Numbers.

June 6, 2017

Today’s #Riotgram challenge, sponsored by BookRiot, is pretty straightforward: books with numbers in the titles. In fact, it was so straightforward, I figured that I could skim each and every shelf in my house last night at 11 p.m. and pull books for a quick picture.

“Quick.” HAHAHAHAHA!

I didn’t manage to pull from every bookshelf, because I forgot about the memoirs and autobiographies on the window ledge and corners of my bathtub in the master bath, and I didn’t want to attempt navigating the mess in the front room, so I didn’t get to any of the girls’ books on those shelves. I still found a pretty good number of them. (Get it? “Number” of books with numbers in the titles? I slay me.) Um, uh, okay – take a look:

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If you can’t make out all of the titles, there’s The Drawing of the Three from SK’s Dark Tower series ruling over all of the piles; One, Two, Buckle my Shoe; SK’s From a Buick 8 and Four Past Midnight; A Tale of Two Cities; 1984; A Thousand Splendid Suns; Nineteen Minutes; N0S4A2; Th1rteen R3asons Why; Flight 232; 3000 Degrees; One Breath Away; Counting by 7s; Ready Player One; The Thirteenth Tale; 102 Minutes; The 9/11 Report; and Three Dark Crowns. A plethora of different stories and genres and rabbit holes!

What about your piles of titles? Did you find anything good? Did it make you want to re-read any of your finds? Were there titles you held out of the picture? (I confess – I nearly held back the Jodi Picoult.) I can’t wait to see what everyone else has to show!

#Riotgram, Day 5: Something Magic.

June 5, 2017

I was going to use my silly string picture for “Something Magic”, but then I needed to use it for “How You Read” instead. So I went looking in my older pictures for a particular shot of toddler Gracie pulling every. single. book. off the bookcase…and peering over her shoulder to see if she’d get caught. (She totally missed the camera, for the win!)

Instead, I found this:

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One of my favorite aunties [Hi, Auntie Cheryl!] reading to Baby Bee, back home in Massachusetts at my mom’s house. You want to talk about magic? I think there’s plenty stuffed into this moment. Family who loves me? Check. Reading to your babies even at this age, so they grow up to be readers? Check. Being back home in New England? Check. I happen to know that there’s snow outside. Check! And that pic was taken Thanksgiving night, so there is lots of pie about to happen. Check! [Except for Rhi. Don’t think about that particular night of pie, Rhi!]

There is so much magic happening in and around that picture of Auntie Cheryl reading to Bee, I just can’t stand it. Reading is awesome. And magic ain’t too bad, either.

#Riotgram Challenge, Day 4: Notebooks & Journals.

June 4, 2017

Sometimes, dear reader, I can be very naive. I’ve kept a reading journal since I was in high school, but I never once realized such journals were a thing! And quite a big thing, indeed.

I started my reading journal at first because I couldn’t keep straight which Agatha Christie novels I had read, and since my goal was to read them all, keeping track was somewhat important. So I started writing down every book I read in the back of my diary. It was simple: title, author, month/year I’d read it.

I wish I’d kept up with the habit, but for some reason, at some point – I stopped. I picked up the habit again after the divorce. That one I didn’t even need my therapist’s help to understand: I needed a little more order and control in my life, and this was one easy way to obtain it. So I splurged on a black leather notebook. My real Little Black Book!

The format is still simple. I write down the title, author, and month/year read. I star in the left margin if the book was one of my absolute favorites. I make a small dot in the right-hand margin if the book was published in the same year I’d read it (reading fewer backlist books was a reading goal of mine a year or two ago). And next to the date I might make a few notations – YA (young adult), NF (non-fiction), R (re-read), POC (author or characters of color). I track soooo many more categories in my digital spreadsheet, but those are the ones I found myself looking for most frequently so I could make recommendations.

It’s just a small thing, my Little Black Book, but she’s my precious.