Posts Tagged ‘Books’

My Little Free Library: The before.

May 9, 2017

Waaaaay back at Christmas, my sister gifted me with a Little Free Library kit. Well, she gave the gift to me – the name of the gift – because they were slightly back-ordered. So my kit arrived sometime in March – still long enough ago that it should be up and operational by now.

The problem is, I was ignoring it for the longest time because I was going through the darkest depression this spring and it was all I could do to act “normal”, get through my day, go to work, take care of the family… you get the idea. So the Little Free Library sat in its box, waiting.

A few weeks, I started thinking about it. It came out of its box and I checked out all of the books (the kit Kim ordered came with a bunch of free books), and looked at the design. I started thinking about where I wanted to put it. I mean, I knew where I wanted to plant my LFL: at the entrance to our neighborhood park. It would get a lot of traffic as everyone walked by, plus it would be visible from the streets – the entrance is at the elbow of two roads, so twice the visibility. And it would motivate me to get back to running again – if I have to check it out regularly to make sure there are books there and everything is copacetic, it’s something I can do as I go for a run. (If I go the long way, it’ll be the one mile marker. How smart am I?!) The only problem was: How do we get permission to put a semi-permanent structure on public land?

I called 2342 different offices in my rather large city. I wasn’t sure who would be in charge of the project. I spoke to about a dozen people, some of them twice as I got re-routed, and they were all sympathetic and trying to be helpful, but no one seemed to be in charge of either selling me a permit or saying it was okay to just go do. I was relaying the story to a guy at work, someone who’s had about a gazillion jobs in the past few years. He’s wicked bright, like scary bright, and he mentioned that he used to be a contractor back in his youth. He asked if I got along with my neighbors, how many of them liked the park, if I thought the LFL would be vandalized or if they’d complain about it being there. No? My neighbors are awesome. And even if no one used it, or even particularly liked it, I can’t see them calling the city. So, this guy said, I should just do it. No one is going to know unless someone complains.

Huh.

It’s an idea. One I rather like. I tried to do it the proper way, but that didn’t seem to be going anywhere. Now I’ll do it this way. And so, with a plan in mind, now I have to execute. And that means prepping my LFL box.

I’m thinking of painting the LFL box as if it’s a Tardis. (And not just because I wish the dang thing were bigger on the inside to hold all the books at once!)(But maybe.) I can buy Tardis blue paint (everyone was kind enough to send me the Pantone number) and then created the details at the top and on the sides and back (which I should have taken a picture of). It will be spectacular!

As you can see, we have a number of books ready for deployment. The free books that came with the kit are mostly younger kids books, which is perfect! The girls get books for their ages that they won’t necessarily want to keep when they’re done, and I have lots of grown-up books that I can donate after reading, so younger kids is definitely the area we wouldn’t naturally be able to fill. There are board books about Mickey Mouse, younger readers about the Avengers, two boxed book sets that are Cars themed, two big Disney themed 5-minute stories type books, two activity books by Don’t Let the Pigeon, and a bunch of bunny-themed easy readers. A good haul, even if there are duplicates, that means there are more for everyone! The haul for the grown-ups includes Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society, You, Shatter, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, The Divine Secrets of the Ya Ya Sisterhood, Everybody Sees the Ants, Ella Minnow Pea, The Eyre Affair, Pride and Prejudice, The Kite Runner, The Girl on the Train, The Red Tent, The Girl at the Bottom of the Well, August Moon, Everything for a Dog, Swiss Family Robinson, Gutsy Girl, and Everlast. Not a bad start!

So! We’ll get to painting this weekend. Then we’ll figure out how to attach the kit to a post. Then we’ll get that sucker planted into the ground. I have some favors to call in because I’m sure not digging a post hole in this clay soil! Ha!

Stand by for the rest of the story! I’m sure it will be an adventure and a half!

Book reviews: The week with all the balance – two must-reads, two huge misses.

January 12, 2017

Rumor has it that The Morning News is releasing their Tournament of Books finalists this morning! I tried working my rooster tee into my work ensemble today, but since things are kinda shaky at ThePlaceThatShallNotBeDiscussed, I decided to go a safer route. Which is to say you can imagine both my excitement (PARRRTAY!!!) at the imminent prospect of having a shorter list of books to focus on, and saaaaadpanda that the list wasn’t out when I started drafting my post. Instead of geeking out, I’ll tell you about the books I read this week.

shrillShrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, by Lindy West (2016, Hachette, 272 pages, digital copy). I had been hearing good things about this book since long before it was published. Which is why I probably had such a hard time getting my hands on a copy. I jumped when I saw it come up as a deal of the day right around Christmas. (Merry Christmas to me! I got allll the digital books!) West has all the cultural criticism acumen of Roxane Gay and the creativity of Tina Fey, plus the whip smart advantage all my favorite people have of being able to call it like she sees it in such an undeniable way. For those who are seeking to empower their best selves, or maybe just looking for a little hope, a little cultural criticism right now, this is what you need to pick up. As in, I will be buying a full-price copy to loan out to everyone. THAT kind of No kidding, I mean it. 5 of 5 stars.

ihateinternetI Hate the Internet, by Jarett Kobek (2016, We Heard You Like Books, 288 pages, e-loan). I picked this up because it was on the TOB longlist. In many ways, it’s a novelization along the same lines of Shrill – speaking out against the needless hate and bigotry swamping our culture – but it focuses on the Internet as Vehicle Supreme, the inevitability that foiling it will fail, and, well, does it all in third person. I couldn’t find my footing. The entire thing felt hopeless. I have enough hopeless in Real Life right now, Kobek, I don’t need another heaping plateful. It felt gimmicky and cheap as opposed to a sardonic wake-up call that I think it was supposed to be. 1 of 5 stars.

abundanceThe Abundance: Narrative Essays, Old and New, by Annie Dillard (2016, Ecco, 304 pages, digital). This was another Deal of the Day grab, and I was so looking forward to it. Personal essays are some of my favorite indulgences; they can go in any direction and seem so much freer than any other writing – even fiction, at times. I’d read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and thought maybe I’d enjoy Dillard’s non-fiction more. So now I’m left hoping I like Dillard’s non-fiction about writing, specifically, because I still have one of those books on my TBR at home, and nothing else seems to be working for me. Her writing is sparse, and yes that’s a stylistic choice that can work…but not here, and not for me. When I read books about nature, I want to feel connected. It’s especially frustrating for me as a reader if I know the author was there, in that actual scene, and limited themselves to these few words. I feel everything and write so much of what first comes to mind; I have a hard time understanding why people won’t use 50 words instead of 10. Nature writing…that particularly seems to me like the point is immersion itself. How are we so understand the scene if what we get is “The hill was tall and bare.” So the subject matter was interesting, in a fashion, but Dillard’s writing style was rather frustrating for me. 1 of 5 stars.

uglywonderfulthingsAll the Ugly and Wonderful Things, by Bryn Greenwood (2016, Thomas Dunne Books, 346 pages, digital). YOU GUYS. THIS BOOK. So many feelings! It’s not going to be for everyone, I get that. (There’s a bit of a Lolita angle that could be read in places.) But for me it was one of those magical reads that I couldn’t suck down fast enough. Greenwood created characters so believable and real that I just couldn’t get enough. It read for me as less Lolita and more of a Bone Gap setting, meets Constellation of Vital Phenomena heartbreak and spectacular, detailed characterization, and the survivory feeling of Homecoming. All some of my favorite books, so you can see how this just blew my socks off. My one hang-up was the way the Wavy-and-Kellen drama stalled a bit three-quarters of the way in. There was a lot of the same-old going on, and I needed either a bit to be excised, or some movement added. Kind of like how The Office was at its best when it was a comedy that used all of its talent for a variety of sketches, before it turned into the Jim-and-Pam show, I liked the story so much better when it showed the resourcefulness of Wavy as she faced all of her challenges, before it settled into the Wavy-and-Kellen show. Not that that kept me from reading as fast as I could, delighting in the sense of foreboding that never once left. 5 of 5 stars.

Okay, have I stalled long enough? Will the TOB brackets be posted…? And whose job is it to keep me sane until they do? HALP!

In which I resolve, I geek out, and I confess.

January 1, 2017

2017. Finally. Because: Wow, was 2016 not my favorite year to date.

And so…I resolve to focus a little more on the good going on all around me. That might mean gratitude lists, or it might mean making good things happen. It’s going to mean different things at different times. For sure it means more adventuring! The only resolution I’ve stuck to so far is the one I’ve made about reading more, reading “better”, and reading more diversely. I’m going to see if I can make this my second resolution that does the distance.

 

I geek out about how Santa was very good to me. In addition to several very lovely gifts, I got an entire stack – stacks, evenof the best gift of all: books! It comes to no one’s surprise that my favorite part (other than reading the books) is organizing and listing them. Drip with jealousy, dear readers. Drip.

It shall also come with no surprise that I finished one already. The surprise, really, should be that I finished only one. To be fair, I also finished Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Pride and Prejudice, which I was re-reading simultaneously, depending on which I felt would tickle my fancy that evening. Well, that and my sister is visiting, and I never get to read as much when I’m entertaining. It’s a good change of pace for me.

But before I get carried away with a social life and not reading, let’s see what I get to choose from when I do get to dip my toes into the pool of titillating stories and torrid affairs!

Difficult Women, by Roxane Gay (2016, Grove Press, 260 pages, hardcover). Short stories usually aren’t my jam. If you tell me they’re linked – like these – you’ll get a much better chance of getting me to jump into the pool. Ms. Gay’s writing, as always, was impeccable. Voice might not be the most critical of the holy triangle [voice, characters, plot][which, uh, is there a MOST critical?], but if it was, you’d find me hard-pressed to find someone who could wield her instrument with as much precision and beauty as Gay. The stories center around women of difficult natures, nasty women if you will, and how they have earned their badges of honor. These women are survivors, all. Many of them have stories that will make you cry – one of them quite literally, and you figure out how to do that quietly at two in the morning. 2. a.m. So you should pick the book up, with a pack of tissues – and highlighters and pens and your most critical eye. Because stories like these are even more important right now. 5 of 5 stars.

Setting aside the rest of my reviews (aren’t you glad I’ve only read the one!), what else did I get?

  • The Dead Lands, by Benjamin Percy (which was referred to me by @writerrhiannon, and I am very excited to read!)
  • The Nix, by Nathan Hill
  • Various coloring books (which: books. Still count. Especially: Jane Austen, Anne of Green Gables, and others…)
  • Agent Bride, by Beverly Long (delightfully delicious romance that I can’t wait to Mystery Science Theater my way through!)
  • A historical publication of town hall meeting notes from my hometown
  • Afterwards, by Rosamund Lupton (I very much enjoyed Sisters)
  • Ella Minnow Pea, by Mark Dunn (because it’s been recommended by several book peeps, including one who says it’s one of her all-time faves)
  • The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard
  • Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey, by The Countess of Carnarvon
  • We Are Unprepared, by Meg Little Reilly (which Kim says is wickedly awful in a hispter-y survivalist sort of way)
  • Full of Grace, by Gina Ferris (oh my – I remember reading this romance series unironically, back in the day)
  • Highland Whispers, by Sharon Gillenwater
  • Shatter, by Michael Robotham (blurbed by Stephen King. Need I say more?)
  • My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry, by Fredrik Backman (I’ve read, but didn’t own)
  • The Fighting Ghettos: First hand accounts of Jewish resistance to the Germans, by Merer Barkai
  • 50 Greatest Players in New England Patriots Football History, by Robert Cohen
  • Flatscreen, by Adam Wilson
  • Everybody Sees the Ants, by A.S. King (I LOVE King
  • The Sun Is Also a Star, by Nicola Yoon
  • Seriously, I’m Kidding, by Ellen Degeneres
  • Stories I Only Tell My Friends, by Rob Lowe
  • The Royal We, by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan (I devoured it this summer and will need a pick-me-up re-read in about 20 days, I’m strongly predicting)

 

And this is where I confess that I met one of my dearest friends over Christmas break – the fantastically sassy and wonderfully witty Andi – and she was even more !!!! than I dreamed. Meeting your friends – for me, at least – is always awkward. I the Queen of Awkward – don’t all be jealous, now. But Andi was gracious and hilarious and forgave me when I had to cut our day short because of a work crisis. Crisis aside, I got to explore the flagship store of my favorite “little” used bookstore . And, yes, a few more books fell into my cart. Whoops. (And everyone who believes that “whoops” – I laugh at you, sirs. LAUGH.)

For my Little Free Library (making its way to me, as soon as the backorder unclogs itself), needs some books. And so for it, I picked up:

  • Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
  • Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, by Rebecca Wells
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann
  • The Eyre Affair, by Jasper Fforde
  • Pride and Prejudice, by Jane Austen

I am SO FLIPPIN’ EXCITED about my Little Free Library! But as much as I wanted to spend alllll my monies on that, I also splurged and got a few books for myself:

  • The Rotters’ Club, by Jonathan Coe (which looks a little like Trainspotting)
  • The Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett (which Andi and I impulsively decided to read together. It’s true love, I’m tellin’ ya…)
  • Caleb’s Crossing, by Geraldine Brooks (because I adore the fair Geraldine)
  • In Other Rooms, Other Wonders, by Daniyal Mueenuddin
  • Freddie & Me, by Mike Dawson (A coming-of-age [Bohemian] Rhapsody graphic novel loosely [or not] based on Freddie Mercury)(Guess which book I’m most excited to read?!)

I also got a few little things to put aside for Gracie, either for her birthday or next Christmas. I a $2 book of home plans, Gracie’s newest love; a mud mask; magnets that say “I ❤ Geeks”, the deathly hallows, Snape’s face and ‘Always’, and the Hogwarts Express 9 3/4 motto; oh, and Harry Potter pins for her backpack.

If only I could take Andi home with me, it would have been the most successful trip ever!

Not a bad start to 2017. So here’s a raised glass to you, New year – let’s keep things moving in this very promising direction, shall we?

#AMonthOfFaves: Reading outside my comfort zone.

December 19, 2016

monthoffaves

Good morning, everyone!  Christmas craziness is in full swing at my house. My sister has landed (I repeat- my sister has landed!), which isn’t code for anything, but it does mean that we’re busy having ALL of the fun at my house. And also bone-chilling arctic fronts and maybe a sinus cold or three.

Because that’s how we roll.

To try to get us back on track for a wacky week (I’m half-working, Kim is half-grant writing, one kid is home, and one still in school), I thought diving into our #AMonthOfFaves topic would be just the thing! But before we do that, let’s stop for a moment and thank our sponsors and purveyors of JOY: the giving and beautiful Andi at Estella’s Revenge, the hilarious and joyous duo of Tanya and Kimberly at Girl XOXO, and fabulous reader-with-it-all Tamara over at Traveling with T. Take a moment to go say thank you for hosting this month’s festivities!

Today’s prompt is to think back on some of the reading you’ve hit upon that’s been maybe a little outside your comfort zone. Which is kind of funny, because the book I’m reading now might be the biggest candidate:

The Regional Office Is Under Attack!, by Manuel Gonzalez. It’s on everyone’s “Best Books” of the year lists, and I’ve been bombarded by this book from every direction – and resisted just as hard. Have you ever had that book? The one that just looks at you the wrong way? Or sounds so stupid? Last year it was Ready Player One, and several years ago it was Eat, Pray, Love – the one you spend so much time actively avoiding until you can’t anymore, and then you just about die hating yourself because you love the book so much? Yeah. That’s this book this year. I spent all last week trying to convince Kim to buy a copy, which she totally would have if she could find a physical copy anywhere in the state of Connecticut. I love the sarcasm and the immediate voice; I also love how cinemagraphically it’s written – it will get scooped for a series on FX or Netflix before long. Just watch. And definitely read! 5 of 5 stars.

Lumberjanes; Ms. Marvel; El Deafo, etc. Graphic novels are not my thing. I see movie screens naturally when I’m reading, so having to stop to take in the detail the illustrator wants me to notice – and make sure I’m not missing anything – that’s not a natural flow for me. But it is for my daughter, SheWhoUsedToBeAReluctantReader. So I’d read graphic novels with her so we could bond. She absolutely delighted in knowing the plot points before I did (knowledge=(evil)power=BeeGirl, for sure), and liked that the two of us had something to do that Gracie was NOT involved in. And I like both making my girl smile and feel good about herself and “tricking” her into reading, so I read quite a few graphic novels this year. And will be again next year if I remember how many are sitting under the tree. Also, I got to hand it to Bee – for as many misses (Babymouse) as she has, she has some really top notch picks (Nimona). Average: 4 of 5 stars.

Bats of the Republic, by Zachary Thomas Dotson. This was part of the 2016 Tournament of Books, and I read it really only for that reason. I don’t even know how to describe it… God! Um… A sci-fi Western filled with unreliable narrators, characters, plotlines that are buried in weird places, and books within books that may or may not be true? It gave me a headache trying to figure it out, and while I’ve heard the payout is worth it – and I am not opposed to reaching for sideways thinking – this book just didn’t have enough rewards to keep me motivated. Good gravy. 1 of 5 stars.

The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck!, by Sarah Knight. I usually don’t have many flips to give anyway, so this wasn’t so much as permission as it was a reminder. I’m not big on self-help books because I have a pretty good internal compass. I use books for entertainment, and for escapism; never for permission, and hardly ever for justification. But it was getting a lot of buzz and some of my favorite book people were in the chorus. I think I liked it better at the time than I remember looking back. So I’ll go with 3 1/2 of 5 stars now, with the caveat that if you do need some buttkicking reminders, this is a good place to get them.

Snowblind, by Christopher Golden. I don’t do hardcore, schmutsy horror if it’s not Stephen King. I don’t do Koontz. I don’t do Lovecraft or Clive Barker or Rice or Straub or…okay, I do read Shirley Jackson. I just can’t be bothered. Psychological thrillers – okay, I will do those. It reminds me of every day life with just that one thing that’s off. So I wasn’t expecting to like a book about snow monsters. Except I did like it! Not so much I would hunt down any of Golden’s other books, but enough that I was glad I was reading during the daytime and not when it was the least bit cold outside.

Those are just five books from my many I’ve read this year that normally wouldn’t be a blip on my radar. I have wide-ranging tastes – I’ll try nearly anything – so it’s hard to find something that fits the definition of “outside my usual scope”. Finishing something I wouldn’t normally read might be more of a task, or purposely timed reading even more so. With my organic bookfinding methods, I find that most challenges do just that – get me to read books not so much that I wouldn’t normally read, but read them at a particular time. I have to see those books out right then, instead of just sticking to all the contemporary fiction and memoirs that are constantly circulating through my local library. Now that’s an interesting thought that needs a bit more teasing out!

What about you – what are some of the books that you’ve read this year that you might not have? Which one surprised you most because you ended up falling for it? Or did they elicit a very stubborn told you so! instead?

#MonthofFaves: Favorite Books of the Year

December 2, 2016

Good morning! It’s day two of #MonthOfFaves and have I mentioned how much I love this month-long focus on all of the good?!

monthoffaves

Today Andi and the #MonthOfFaves crew are asking what our favorite go-to books are – and I’m tweaking it slightly so I can talk about my favorite books I’ve read this year. Mwa ha ha, the power!!! Ahem.

Okay, so I talked about my Top Ten back in May, which you can read here, or I’ll recap for you below.

  1. The Sky Is Everywhere, by Jandy Nelson. Because Nelson can draw grief like no one else. And the families she creates remind me an awful lot of mine.
  2. My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, by Fredrik Backman. Because this is magical storytelling of the highest order. Like Ya-Ya type magic. I’m sad that these characters don’t really exist type of magic.
  3. The Book of Aron, by Jim Shepard. Because Shepard absolutely nails the horrors of the Warsaw ghetto. It’s a testament to Shepard’s mastery of character development that he has two books on my list.
  4. The Royal We, by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan. Because sometimes you need a silly doorstop-sized romance that makes you cancel plans to find out what happens to the fictionalized William and Kate couple.
  5. Girl at War, by Sara Novic. Because the cover art is effing gorgeous. And because war orphans from Croatia and identity crises are my jam.
  6. H Is for Hawk, by Helen MacDonald. Because no one has written about grief and obsession and lyrical madness quite like this.
  7. We Are the Ants, by Shaun David Hutchinson. Because I shouldn’t have liked a book about aliens abducting a teenage boy and asking him whether to push a button and save the human race or let it die. I refused to like it. But then I loved and devoured it.
  8. Project X, by Jim Shepard. Because only Shepard could make me understand and sympathize with why two brutally bullied middle school boys would want to shoot up their school.
  9. You, by Caroline Kepnes. Because it said it was the next Gone Girl and actually pulled it off.
  10. Becoming Nicole, by Amy Ellis Nutt. Because everyone should understand the ins and outs of transgenderism, and because everyone should have an ally, like Jonas, and people willing to change their minds for you, like Wayne.

So now I just need to think of my Top Ten since then and I’ll end up with a nice Top 20. I can do that.

  1. The Boy Who Drew Monsters, by Keith Donahue. This was a creepy, creepy scary story that I could read at night…but just barely. It was delicious, though, and played just enough on imagination to make me read with shoulders somewhere up near the top of my ears. It’s enough to make you miss winter in New England! Ish.
  2. A Study in Charlotte, by Brittany Cavallaro. This was such a well-designed whodunnit that could have been a cheap play (the main characters are descendants of Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, they despise each other, and need to solve a crime at their college), but ended up being so lovely that I was sad I’d have to wait at least a year for the next installment. It read like a modern Agatha Christie. Seriously, you guys!
  3. The Long Shadow of Small Ghosts, by Laura Tillman. This is one of the few non-fiction on my list, because not only should people be writing about community and social justice, but we need to be reading it and discussing it. The book could have sailed off into the land of commercializing a horrible crime against three voiceless victims, but Tillman took care to criticize call to action more than just the community. Authorities and those in power, the whole damn system in other words, were even more to blame than anyone else. (Except, perhaps, the murderers themselves?)
  4. The Widow, by Fiona Barton. This book was just plain, old-fashion fun. I spent the entire book trying to figure out did-he-really? And who-did-it? Zipping through the pages as fast as I could. Books that are well constructed and well written both are few and far between. Characters, plot, pacing, writing – it wasn’t dazzling, but it was fun.
  5. A Tyranny of Petticoats, by Jessica Spotswood. I loved that the stories were short enough to pop off three or four in a (short) sitting, and short enough to hold Gracie’s attention. I loved the variety, the audacity – everything, really. If you’re looking for a book for a YA book club, strongly consider this one. There’s something for every girl looking for a hero in the mirror. No matter who she sees there.
  6. Hamilton: A Revolution, by Lin-Manuel Miranda. Yes, Hamilton is everywhere. Still not sick of it. And this was masterful because there are so many secrets and behind-the-scenes and between-the-lines that I was sucked in. I felt like I was there, listening to Miranda as he gossiped over a pint.
  7. In a Dark, Dark Wood, by Ruth Ware. After I finished, I couldn’t believe I hadn’t heard of Ware! I read the other book she had out and wasn’t as impressed, but Dark, Dark Wood was still a fun whodunnit (though I wish the fight wasn’t over a guy). Also, will not be staying in any cabins in the wood with all the books I read this year. Sheesh!
  8. Eleven Hours, by Pamela Erens. Oooooh, the writing! Erens can take eleven hours of time and with such evocative prose, make us wish the microscope dialed in even tighter. Even something as mundane as a laboring woman’s trip down a hallway became a chance for philosophic musing of the highest order. It was a glorious tribute to how brave we can be, and how we don’t need anyone other than ourselves, no matter the challenge or celebration. We are our own champions! And Pamela Erens states that case with much more grace and poignancy than I could ever manage.
  9. Exit, Pursued by a Bear, by E.K. Johnston. Oh, mama – what a book! It makes cheerleaders look like athletes who have souls (points), and tackles a terribly tough subject (rape) with aplomb and sensitivity. I’m reading it to my girls – yes, even with the tricky subjects at their very young ages – so they will know to speak up. No matter what. And that even if things don’t go right, the right people (family, true friends, and MAMA, especially) will be there. You can’t control everything that happens, but you can control how you write the rest of the story. [Side note: How sad that I need to worry about my 7th grader and parties and what she will be offered?]
  10. Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy, by Karen Abbott. The other non-fiction on my Best Of list, because it totally read like a thriller (a theme this year). And it also featured kick-ass women (another theme). Everyone should know how many women contributed to the successes of this country, and we should shout those stories louder than we have been. Abbott’s book is a good start. Now I wanna go be a spy.

So there you have it. My Best Of list. And if you’re really gonna make me, I’ll tell you my three top book of the year.

My absolute favorite is by far and away My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry. If I’m not a grandmother some day so I can go all Narnia on them, I’ll be pissed.

The runner up would have to be You, by Caroline Kepnes. The idea that this situation could play out is so twisted and downright SCARY, partly because it’s somewhat believable. And it was BRILLIANT. This year’s Gone Girl for me.

And our third place winner (out of 200+ books, so really – not too shabby) is Jandy Nelson’s The Sky Is Everywhere. Just knocked me flat with its intricate and beautiful ways to handle loss and grief and absence. It picked me raw and helped me heal, both.

What were your faves? I can’t wait to read and see!

Top Ten Tuesday: Flashback edition!

August 23, 2016

Last week’s Top Ten Tuesday was themed “10 books about a place”, or something like that. First of all, can we discuss – there’s a theme that goes out?! I’m the dolt who thought everyone just picked their own theme, or saw something cool and piggy-backed. Apparently someone hosts and publishes a theme in advance. Brilliant!

Second of all, my dear friend Trish (I’m not picking, I swear) hoodwinked me into helping me think of some really good books set in Texas (Ruby by Cynthia Bond immediately came to mind). Of course I helped; I can’t resist any question about reading and books! And then that sneakypants wrote a post about books set in the BEST state: Texas! Which – no!! This is not the best state and I live here under protest! (Yes, yes, I’m going to be flooded with people who love it here. And that’s great! You can love it here! Keep living here! It’s just not a good fit for me and mine.) My (pretend) issue was that I contributed to such a list…uh, even though Trish hasn’t yet met read Ruby and didn’t use it for her list.

The point is that our banter challenged me to create a top-ten list of books from Massachusetts (although I reserve the “best state” moniker and twist it into a “best region” for New England because I simply can’t choose). So here’s my list. That I, um, came up with in 20 minutes after Trish asked. Yes, I’m ridiculous. (And well organized – I checked my New England list on Goodreads.)

I give you, in no particular order, my Top Ten Books set (at least partially in some cases) in Massachusetts:

Book175In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex, by Nathaniel Philbrick. You know I tend more towards fiction, but this book had already been on my radar when the movie trailer hit everyone’s screens. The fervor caught me, too – and for good reason, I realized, once I started the book. I’ve read a bunch of books by Philbrick – he’s a New England historian I especially admire. His facts are straight, his storyframing is solid, and his writing reads like fiction. I read this while away for vacation meeting Jeff’s parents and it was a welcome escape at times. Has to be a 5 of 5 stars book for that action alone!

Book176Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane. I could have picked a couple of Dennis Lehane novels – he does love the Boston area. My original choice (a runner up, in fact) was Mystic River, which really captures the essence of Boston and its people so well. Lehane novels are gritty, but they’re good reads. He’s great at observing people and pinning them to paper. Shutter Island was another book I devoured before seeing the movie (with Kim, I believe) and it was creeeeepy as facking anything! Not something to read at night, alone, if you’re weak-hearted!

Book184All Souls: A Family Story of Southie, by Michael Patrick MacDonald. My sister Rhianyn kept going on and on about how I should read this, and so I finally picked it up at my used book store. It’s another non-fiction, a memoir this time, and once I started, I couldn’t put it down. Now – I’m not really from Boston. My sister Kim gives me crap all the time for identifying with it so strongly. I’m really from a much smaller city about 40 minutes east of Boston, just far enough outside its reach to not be considered a suburb (though it would be if the cities were here in Tejas). But no one writes stories about the Woo, and so I turn to stories about Boston – like this one. The people in All Souls remind me of the people in my hometown, and so I loved the book. The loyalty, the stubbornness, the contradictions, the poverty (although Southie has it way worse than my section of Worcester). It was hard not to root for the author and his family all the way through.

Book177Stronger, by Jeff Bauman (with Bret Witter).  The Boston Marathon has always been something that defined Boston. It’s one of the toughest and most elite marathons in the world of running. The survival stories after the  bombing at the finish line that occurred three years ago will define the residents of Boston for years to come. Our city repaired itself without a ripple, shrugging it off and running again as soon as the idiots were caught. The people who were hurt: not as easy. This memoir was written by one of the icons photographed that day, a man who lost both legs above the knee. It was a story I had to read, and one that I found honest, well-paced, and incredibly inspiring. It’s not for those looking for vicarious thrills in graphic medical or crime novels, but those looking for inspiration in how to keep on keeping on.

Book178Make Way for Ducklings, by Robert McCloskey. This Caldecott Medal winner not only has gorgeous drawings to keep children engaged in the story, it’s awfully fun to read to your children, especially if you’re missing home. Bonus points if you bring out your New England accent while reading the adventures of Mr. and Mrs. Mallard and their ducklings. [Bonus story: I read this book to my children so many times that when we needed to walk single file while out in public, I told them to “duckling up” – and they knew what I meant.]

Book17986 Years: The Legend of the Boston Red Sox, by Melinda Boroson. This is another kids book with warm, detailed drawings, but the real fun is the story behind the Red Sox first World Series win in…yes, 86 years. Gracie was just a few months old when the Red Sox did it, and yes, I stayed awake for every minute of every game, waaaaay into the early hours of the morning. Reading the book out loud – even to my too-old children, even to myself – still gets me choked up, every time.

Book180The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne. This is one of my favorite classics, the story of Reverend Dimmesdale and Hester Prynne in the wayback Puritan colony of Boston. And I mean waaaaay back. 17th century wayback. The romance of the story didn’t do it for me, it was the gothic feel almost, the way everyone seemed doomed and the drama was over the top. Feelings, man – they’ll ruin ya. But it will be extremely entertaining for those reading the story.

Book181Interpreter of Maladies, by Jhumpa Lahiri. I love all of Lahiri’s writing, but this was by far my favorite! Short stories that knit together, all of them filled with love and light and interesting musings far to clever for me to have imagined, and, yes, maladies of all sorts. The characters are rich, the writing richer – this is a collection not to be missed.

Book183Homecoming, by Cynthia Voigt. I re-read this series almost yearly. The story of four kids abandoned by their mom who has a mental breakdown while trying to drive them to the safety of a distant relative, the oldest daughter somehow walks the kids to Connecticut, improvising survival skills along the way. A gorgeous coming-of-age story and one about the value of family and knitting together in hard times. God, if you haven’t read it yet, I don’t know why. It’s certainly at the very top of this list.

Book182Boy, Snow, Bird, by Helen Oyeyemi. Ironically enough, even though I just explained that no one writes stories set in the Woo, um, this one is. At least, the beginning of the story is set there, and then moves on to a nearby suburb. The story itself is a spin on Snow White, a fantastic, wonderful, awesomely impactful story of the wicked stepmother as she inherits a stepdaughter, Snow White Whitman, who is beautiful and lovely and challenges Boy’s image of herself. Naturally, Snow gets shipped off to a distant aunt when Boy’s own daughter is born, but Bird is born dark-skinned, revealing that her parents have been passing all this time. The story is meaty and revelatory and filled to the brim with so much to unpack – be careful you don’t miss it for thinking it a simple story. Oyeyemi is genius.

Books that should have been on the list, but I actually kept it to 10: Mystic River, by Dennis Lehane; The Woman Upstairs, by Claire Messud; With or Without You, by Domenica Ruta; the Autobiography of Malcolm X (starts in Boston, so it counts); The Boston Girl, by Anna Diament; Girl, Interrupted, by Susannah Keyes; I Am the Cheese, by Robert Cormier.

Mini Reviews: War, Missing kids, and Smuggled immigrants.

July 7, 2016

It’s Thursday! I feel like we haven’t had a “normal” Thursday in awhile, and so we’ll get back to our regular programming: book reviews! Let’s see what we’ve got…

Book147The Leaving, by Tara Altebrando (Bloomsbury, 2016, 432 pages, hardcover). I took a risk and bought this during one of Kim and I’s many trips to the bookstore(s). It has a very Katie premise: six kids disappear during their first day of kindergarten. Eleven years later, five of the kids come back…with no memory. The plot unfolds like The Maze Runner or 5th Wave. Very teen sci-fi/drama. It didn’t cross over well. I couldn’t connect to the characters. Altebrando wrote down, rather than opting for rich description that teens could tangle themselves in and be lifted up, unawares. I couldn’t get lost in the story and didn’t really care what happened. A total miss for me, but I could see it very much being Gracie’s cuppa tea. 2 of 5 stars.

Book141The Small Backs of Children, by Lidia Yuknavitch (Harper, 2015, 224 pages, ebook). I had been lusting after this book since before it came out, and one day it was an ebook deal of the day. $1.99 cannot be beaten! It’s a solid story, one that belongs on my War-torn Eastern Europe Tales shelf. It tells the story of a small girl who barely survives a bomb and flees into the woods, and the American photographer who was there to snap a picture of the incident – that, and the fallout that happens to both (and a few others wrapped up in their stories). The writing didn’t feel as natural, and so the flow wasn’t as readable as, say, Anthony Marra’s A Constellation of Vital Phenomena or Sara Novic’s Girls at War, but I would still borrow it sometime if you’re interested in these kinds of tales. 3 of 5 stars.

Book143Because You’ll Never Meet Me, by Leah Thomas (Bloomsbury, 2015, 344 pages, library ebook). I have certain niches of YA literature that I can’t pass up. Kids with some sort of medical or emotionally related issue – my jam. Kids who are isolated, especially in the woods? I will knock you over to get to it. This book combined the two and so I snapped it up…and then paused. It’s a decent read – said protag is isolated because his body is “allergic” to electricity (it causes him to go haywire, have headaches, auras, and seize all over). His doctor puts him in touch with a pen pal who has a pacemaker. The two write rambling letters back and forth – this is where I sort of fell out of love with the story. The premise was great, and I get why some people really enjoyed the book (debut literary awards and everything), but I didn’t think Thomas really sounded authentic writing teen boys’ voices. They just sounded a bit off to me. And so I was partially disconnected the entire time I was reading. And that sucked. 2 1/2 of 5 stars.

Book144The Year of the Runaways, by Sunjeev Sahota (Picador, 2015, 468 pages, library ebook). This is the story of illegal immigrants who have fled to the suburbs of London, cramped in a small flat and working as day laborers. The stories of who and why they are were fascinating and unfolded a layer at a time, always hinting at more – more you had to work for, be patient for. The unfolding was a beautiful, well-told, natural-feeling thing. There was subtlety and realism on every page. I am a very picky reader (you’re shocked, I know), and I gloried in this. I don’t often read immigration stories from the Indian sub-continent, but I need to read more. This very nearly tore four stars out of me. I held back only because I didn’t fall in love with any of the characters, even if I was rooting for several of them.  3 1/2 of 5 stars.

Book145The Summer Before the War, by Helen Simonson (Random House, 2016, 496 pages, library ebook). When I read Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, I was charmed. I loved lonely Major Pettigrew and cheered his every move. Naturally, I held similar expectations going into The Summer…and found myself drowning. Too many characters thrown at us for once, too many confusing living situations, and the characters edges were a bit muddled. The characters sort themselves out, even if nothing else does. Everything else was a bit mucky, if only from the residue. I’m afraid the charming feeling wasn’t present – at least not for me. I wanted a slow pace, and though that was there, it was too bogged down. Simonson is not my favorite author for this sort of book, I’m afraid. If she wants to write a character piece with a tighter focus, I’ll be back. Otherwise… 2 of 5 stars.

Book146A Murder Is Announced, by Agatha Christie (1950, 288 pages, paperback). This was a fun re-read for me, great comfort food for after my surgery. It’d been on my To Be Re-Read list for ages and I found the perfect time to indulge. It’s not my first re-read and I’m happy to say that it held up well again. I remembered just enough about the who-dunnit and forgot enough about the why to keep me turning pages. Charming, all the way through. The dated bits were easy enough to overlook (though I am very cognizant that that won’t be the case for every one). Miss Marple never lets me down! If you like mysteries and you haven’t had the pleasure, you should try her. This was my first Miss Marple story, and so naturally I suggest this title as your jumping in point. 5 of 5 stars. (Still.)

Book147The End of Everything, by Megan Abbott (Reagan Arthur, 2011, 246 pages, ebook). I’ve read a few Megan Abbott books (my favorite still being Dare Me), so I grabbed this when it was a $1.99 Deal of the Day. It was a decent read, though not her best. I’d lump it in with my Teen Girl Goes Tragically Missing novels, subset: Those With Nostalgic 1970s Feel. It entertained and kept me turning pages, though not that quickly or investedly. I paused, even, in the middle to read another book, going back to finish when the second book was done. So it’s good, but either borrow or grab it on sale. 3 of 5 stars.

And there you go! I’m still working on some good ones. I’m still working on Long Ghosts of Small Children, and I’m devouring A Study in Charlotte. I’ll have those and more mini-reviews for you next week. Promise!

The Mini-Review with all the distractions.

June 2, 2016

I took a bit of a reading break this week. Not really on purpose – I just found a book that I was really enjoying, one that accomplishes what no book ever does: it made me want to read slower. I wanted to stop and savor things as I went along. Yeah, SheWhoReadsMoreThan150PagesAnHourWhenReadingDownhill – she wanted to stop and taste the words and so she only finished one book this week. And she was more than okay with that!

(Pssst – Light spoilers ahead for The Fireman, Kim. Look away! Look away!)

Book131The Fireman, by Joe Hill (2016, William Morrow, 768 pages, hardcover). I had a copy of the book pre-ordered since Barnes&Noble announced such things were possible. N0S4A2 had hit all my buttons so hard they were mashed into the console, fully cementing Joe Hill as one of my must-have authors. I had enjoyed Horns, but had loved the stuffing out of his latest. So much so that I was a little worried whether The Fireman could ever stand up to the hype I was building.

I started Fireman the day it came out, almost two weeks to the day from when I finished. For someone who has been known to read an entire shelf during readathons, this was a bit unusual. And at first, it wasn’t even for the right reasons. Fireman does start out a bit bogged down in first and second gears. The backstory take a little while to knit together, and even more so than that, it was the cast of characters that sounded a bit muddy. Characterization has always been one of Hill’s strong points, and so…I worried. I dallied. I realized I had made it past the first 50 pages of the book (my fears that the jacket copy gave away too much officially retired if it had already all been covered), but still wasn’t feeling the hook? I was nearing panic folks.

And then Harper’s crazy (Ex)(ish)Husband mistakenly slips and uses the word “gun” for “chain” and, welp, we were off to the races. With that one sentence, Joe Hill finally set the hook down around his trap and quit trying to manage the story. Once he stopped fussing so much on what we knew, it all seemed to sound so much more natural. He quit saying instead of showing and I felt like he was finally being himself once he let Harper flee headlong into the plot.

It was like rolling down the windows and cruising along a favorite scenic highway, when all your favorite songs have started after a worrisome bunch of commercials. Things were clicking. I was happy to shut the lights off each night (okay, that might be overstating it a bit) and still have more story left for the next day. I never went so far as to ration off the story, but I did enjoy how endless my stores felt. Not that I didn’t gulp sections – there were plenty of moments when I emailed my sister and told her in bold, all caps that I had just read THIS SECTION!! and to hurry along. (It didn’t matter that I knew she hadn’t started yet; I knew that when she did get to that section, she would remember my enthusiasm and it would be like we had read along.)

And along with the good, there were a few sections were the car would hit a pothole and shimmy a bit before getting back on track. The heavy-handed clues for one thing. Whenever the story slowed down to make it around the bend, it lost a bit of that magic it had when it was cruisin’ along. But most of the bends in the road were brilliant and extremely well-told. There’s the bit about the title – I can’t wait to have a good long discussion without someone about why Fireman? – and Hill’s penchant for strong female protagonists this past few books. But mostly it worked. His supporting characters were a good, hearty bunch. Renee, oh my god, I hope facking Renee gets a medal.

And then there’s this: two weeks ago, I thought I had the beginnings of a goodish bladder infection. I had antibiotics at home, treated it, it got better and then it didn’t. I kept reading. Tried a coupla different solutions. Went into the doctor, got new drugs, and still didn’t get any better. Yesterday I ended up in the emergency room and discovered I’ve had a kidney stone stuck near my bladder this entire time. THAT IS HOW GOOD THIS BOOK IS. It will distract you for two whole weeks while your body staves off a small asteroid. A story so good that you keep reading, through the morphine, despite the pretty colors on the wall.

A story that distracting, that good – that’s pretty good magic right there.

5 of 5 stars.

Top Ten Tuesday.

May 24, 2016

Because I seem to be in a big of a blogging fog – where either everything going on is fantastically mundane or completely unbloggable – I thought it was time to post a Top Ten list.

Today, it’s the top ten books I’ve read this year. In no particular order:

  1. The Sky Is Everywhere, by Jandy Nelson. Because Nelson can draw grief like no one else. And the families she creates remind me an awful lot of mine.
  2. My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, by Fredrik Backman. Because this is magical storytelling of the highest order. Like Ya-Ya type magic. I’m sad that these characters don’t really exist type of magic.
  3. The Book of Aron, by Jim Shepard. Because Shepard absolutely nails the horrors of the Warsaw ghetto. It’s a testament to Shepard’s mastery of character development that he has two books on my list.
  4. The Royal We, by Heather Cocks & Jessica Morgan. Because sometimes you need a silly doorstop-sized romance that makes you cancel plans to find out what happens to the fictionalized William and Kate couple.
  5. Girl at War, by Sara Novic. Because the cover art is effing gorgeous. And because war orphans from Croatia and identity crises are my jam.
  6. H Is for Hawk, by Helen MacDonald. Because no one has written about grief and obsession and lyrical madness quite like this.
  7. We Are the Ants, by Shaun David Hutchinson. Because I shouldn’t have liked a book about aliens abducting a teenage boy and asking him whether to push a button and save the human race or let it die. I refused to like it. But then I loved and devoured it.
  8. Project X, by Jim Shepard. Because only Shepard could make me understand and sympathize with why two brutally bullied middle school boys would want to shoot up their school.
  9. You, by Caroline Kepnes. Because it said it was the next Gone Girl and actually pulled it off.
  10. Becoming Nicole, by Amy Ellis Nutt. Because everyone should understand the ins and outs of transgenderism, and because everyone should have an ally, like Jonas, and people willing to change their minds for you, like Wayne.

What are some of the best books you’ve read this year? Send them my way!

Bout of Books: Day 3 recap.

May 12, 2016

BoutOfBooks

Good morning, all! I fake singsonged that because I? Did. not. sleep. I did, however, fare better with the reading of the books yesterday.

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. The girls were at their dad’s house, so I didn’t get to read our Traveling Pants book out loud. That was missed much more than I would have thought, given that we’ve been so spotty with reading after dinner.

You. I got through another chunk of Kepnes’s You, and I don’t want to spoil too much, so how can I describe where I’m at? It’s still relatively early. Ah! I know. I can talk about the two punches of pop culture. The first came as a chapter cold-opened with something along the lines of I hope the world understands by now that the world’s best poet is actually Prince, or something to that effect. The exactly words aren’t important (HA! did everyone laugh at my little joke? Of course words are important! I just don’t have them in front of me.); what is important is that the sting of Prince’s death is still every where for me. Even, it appears, in my creepy!scary thriller, where it sucker punched me in the doctor’s waiting room.

The second pop culture shout out, and perhaps a more accurate bookmark, is Stephen King day. Our protagonist goes on and on, lambasting the reading masses who only buy ebooks…unless it’s a book by their precious Mr. King. It’s really a clever riff, watching Kepnes parade loathing and disgust for the sheeple via a diatribe against Stephen King’s writing, while at the same time lauding Uncle Stevie’s with and against attitudes for his fan base. It’s nuanced and complicated and lovely. And in any case: I’m at the part of the story just after Stephen King day.

I also finished off A Fierce and Subtle Poison. I very much enjoyed the modern fairy tale, and can’t quite decide whether I should call it YA or not. You experience the book through the adventures of a 17-year-old privileged white boy, as he attempts to best his father, a detective, and the cursed girl’s father. So…yes? But the bigger picture of the book, the fairy tale feel, and the weight of the thing kinda tip me towards…not necessarily. Whichever category the story “properly” belong to, it’s a crossover book, so what does it really matter. I wish more time had been spent on character development, particularly with the missing girls, and the Greek chorus of the senoras of the village. I found them fascinating. Still – a solid 4 of 5 stars from me.

Project X. I was able to sneak in some reading before bed last night, just long enough for Flake and Hanratty to get into a fight with the entire soccer team. I felt bad for them – I mean, they were brutally beaten! – but I have to admit, in a tiny, tiny voice, I thought to myself, But they went out of their way to antagonize the soccer team. They practically dared them to start whaling on them! So…why? Was it a measure of maintaining control over their situations rather than admit they have absolutely no control over anything? Nothing excuses the violence…but how much ownership of it must the two antagonists claim?

Not easy questions. I did pick excellent books for my #bout this week! Now I just have to go out there and find another one to take Fierce and Subtle‘s place.