Posts Tagged ‘reading’

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!

#24in48 Readathon: Mission complete!

January 23, 2017

I was going to write about how Gracie, Bee, and I watched the Patriots annihilate the Steelers to advance to Superbowl LI, but we still have to win the Superbowl, and I don’t want to anger the Football Gods. Because I really want Goodell to have to hand the trophy to Tom Brady on the podium.

So we won’t talk about that, because: laden with superstition. Instead, we’ll talk about our the #24in48 Readathon we participated in! We had a blast! The girls and I jumped the gun and started Friday night. We got three hours in, and I finished my first book – a smutty romance, which was just the thing to get my mind off of other things that might have been happening Friday. Ahem.

On Saturday, the girls and I went all. out. We all wore literary shirts (Bee had to borrow one of my short-sleeve shirts to wear over a long-sleeve shirt), and I passed out literary socks for everyone to wear. (Who knew I had so many?!) We were dressed to impress!

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[For those who can’t see, mine is a Hermione Granger quote that says “When in doubt, go to the library”, Bee is wearing my “Team: Don’t Read Crappy Books” tee, and Gracie’s is her new Alice shirt.]

Then we tucked in. I spent Saturday reading all of the March graphic novels by John Lewis. Bee finished reading The Gunslinger, although when I questioned her about it, the graphic novel seems a bit different from the novel. So Imma have to read it before I give away certain plot points. [Uh, like the No Traveling Alone rule.] And Gracie finished reading Taken, about a teen who’s kidnapped and locked in a trunk. And lemme tell you how glad I am that I don’t have a trunk because Gracie desperately wanted to see if she could get out of one. Sigh. Teens!

After awhile, I convinced the kiddos to come out of their reading lairs. Bee spent the day switching between her bed and the couch, and Gracie had made a nest in our Book Nook – the spot behind the lounge chair, against the half wall and near the fire place. It’s the coziest, nookiest nook in the house.

Eventually we went to the library, to break up the day, and left with piles of books. Naturally. Then we treated ourselves to an early sushi dinner, because we had forgotten to eat lunch. (Reading good books will do that.) Then it was back home to read, read, read.

I ended the day with 15 hours of reading (if you count the time carried over from the night before), and the girls 10 hours. Not bad!

Sunday I read a Janet Evanovitch mystery and then called an early end to our Readathon because the reading wasn’t doing much for my sinus headache. I was supposed to sneak in a visit with some friends of ours, but I just couldn’t socialize. Not even fake-socialize. So we grocery-shopped and watched football.

Final book tallies! Me: 5 books, 20 hours. Gracie: 2 books, 12 hours. Bee: 4 books, 12 hours.

I am so proud of my squinkies for hanging in there! I know an entire weekend of reading isn’t high up there on their favorite ways to spend a weekend, but they do like the clout of saying they joined a Grown-up Book Event. I like that I “tricked” them into reading and got to spend so much time with them. Good job, us!

Here’s to reading! And many more readathons in our future.

 

Readathon, here we come!

January 17, 2017

This weekend is the next #24in48 readathon, and I can’t wait! The premise is pretty self-explanatory: you have 48 hours (Saturday and Sunday) in which you try to read for 24 hours. It’s different from, say, the 24hour Readathon because you can, you know, sleep.

That being said, the rules are bendy! Because it’s a readathon! It’s designed to be fun and get you to read! So if you want to start on Friday night after work, like I do, go for it! You can make the rules be whatever you need them to be. If you don’t hit 24 hours? Hey, you read a lot! That’s awesome! So decide what you can do, what you want to do and have fun.

The girls are just as excited. They participated in the last one and didn’t come close to the #24in48, but they read for hours and hours and hours and it was so much fun! They like the atmosphere and the idea of participating in a “grown-up” event. Because of course my tweens do. They also love that I splurge on lunch – I order in sushi and treat ourselves because by that point we usually have been reading for at least 4-6 hours! We break up the afternoon by reading at the library, and then back home. We surge ahead, breaking up our evening with dinner, or a walk in the park. Sunday, we break up our reading by heading to our local Barnes and Noble for some cafe treats and some more luxurious reading. (The girls are scandalized by the idea of reading books at the bookstore that we don’t intend to read. They think it’s like dine-and-dash.)

The girls are usually tuckered out by that point, and I don’t push it. They can join when they like, and do other stuff when they need to. They like stacking up the books they’ve read. I post online what they’ve accomplished and that helps, too. They like the bragging rights. And I get that. I like being able to say how many hours, chapters, or books I’ve read. It keeps me going when my eyes are tired (or my ears, although audio is usually only if I have to get stuff done, or to break things up). However it happens and whatever we read, it’s a good time.

I have a shelf of books I haven’t read yet, and I’m going to get through some of them. I’m thinking Harry Potter and the Cursed Child finally, and that Freddie & Me graphic novel about Freddie Mercury? Definitely!

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The Rob Lowe and Ellen DeGeneres memoirs would make for some good, quick reading. Oh, and when we go to B&N, I am definitely checking off my poetry challenge for READ HARDER. I can probably make it through a bunch of books, if I average three hours per book.

The girls have a few choices. I know they got almost an entire shelf for Christmas, but some seem to have walked off already (which is good! It means they’re being read…)

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Bee is most of the way through The Gunslinger graphic novel adaptation (HUZZAH!), so she should finish that. Gracie is reading the 13 Birthdays book in that series. I want her to read Heartless so I can send it to Kim. I know we’ll have the Kindles charged and I’m sure I’ll be convinced to buy a few e-books. Mama’s money gets thrown around just a little this weekend. Because: BOOKS!

I can’t wait to share it all! So keep an eye open this weekend. Or, you know, mute me if it’s annoying. It will be sad to miss the Women’s March on Austin because we have obligations Saturday, but we will be reading John Lewis’ March this weekend. All three of us. Mandatory reading. (Which is funny, because when I ordered it, all three of us were arguing over who got to read it first. Subtitled: DOING IT RIGHT.) So! yes! Happy weekend ahead! Hope you join us!

 

#AMonthOfFaves: 5 Must Haves for Winter Survival!

December 20, 2016

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Brrrr! Winter has finally shown in face in North Texas – and because I’m a weirdo from New England, I’m rather enjoying the frigid air because Christmastime is supposed to be cold!

Just in time for that cold air, today’s prompt from #AMonthOfFaves asks for everyone’s favorite tips for surviving winter. So let me share a few of my tricks. I’m trying to think of different answers, and keep the conversation lively,

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Layers, layers, layers! Being cold is miserable, so my first counter-move against winter’s miserable temps is to bundle up! Simple, yes – but is anything more satisfying than pulling on a chunky knit sweater over feeling warmth, glorious warmth? Tank tops, long sleeve shirts, knee-high wool socks, leggings under jeans – I’ll take it all! And fancy sweaters just make my heart happy.

 

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Re-reading favorite books! There’s something about those cold, winter nights, when it gets dark out early and you’re just bone-tired when you crawl into bed. I re-read favorite books any time of year, but having a story to fall back into can make winter nights so cozy! Pair it with the perfect flannel or jersey sheets, a super-soft (but perfectly firm) memory foam mattress, lighting that’s bright enough to keep you up, but dim enough to make you sleepy, and pajamas so comfy they’re almost worn out. Now that is the perfect way to spend a winter evening!

glovesCreature comforts in the office. It’s all about the little things, isn’t it? So I’m not above introducing a few silly little things to my work day to warm me up. (My office doesn’t believe in heat, you see.) Some Most Every morning I turn on my illegal space heater to warm up the air enough so my toes don’t fall off from frostbite. I have a mug of tea or hot apple cider to gather the mental energy to make it through the rest of the morning afternoon day. Some mornings I even need to put on a pair of fingerless gloves and a scarf to keep me from running, screaming, back to my cozy, cozy bed. And those gloves – they feel like a dream. They’re the softest things I’ve ever felt!

tobThe Tournament of Books ramp up and throw down. Just about the time I start feeling all my feelings about football (the season is too long, my team is too injured, the world is ending because we didn’t advance in the playoffs, etc., etc.), the good people of The Morning News release the longlist for the Tournament of Books and my nerdy book chums and I fall on it like whoa. I start highlighting and crafting lists and poaching books from the library like… well, a really uncivilized person who couldn’t give too hoots how uncouth they look. Discussing books and characters and voice and plot with my friends is always the best part of my day, but the TOB always falls during the perfect time of year – just when I need something to carry me through the darkest, coldest months. It’s just the spark I need to get me super-excited about reading again!

owlProjects, projects, projects! Sometimes what I need is a new project to get me excited about everything again. When you’re engaged with the world, you don’t seem to mind that it’s 16° outside. Okay, yes, yes you still care that it’s winter and the cold will never end, but at least you have something to take your mind off it! I have a bunch of crafty type projects that I’ve been tackling (huzzah for Christmas crafts!), and there’s a certain writing project I’ve dusted off again. Having time to myself – entire weekends, in fact – is a glorious thing. And there is more than running the C25K program again that’s caught my eye. Rehabbing my spirits along with this body is definitely something I’m working on this winter. I’ve sulked long enough – now it’s time to roll up my sleeves and get to work!

Surviving winter is more than just lotioning up your dry skin and conditioning your hair – not that that’s unimportant! It’s just that I like to work on the bigger picture. All of you has to be happy. What about you – what do you guys do to survive? Pile on your tips and tricks so I can steal some of my favorites!

 

#AMonthOfFaves: Reading outside my comfort zone.

December 19, 2016

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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?

#AMonthOfFaves: Five books I really want to read this winter.

December 14, 2016

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Five? Only five?! Okay, let’s see if I can do this. Because I think my To Be Read pile is closer to 500 than it is to 5!

As many of you know, The Morning News announced its Tournament of Books longlist this week. In early January, they’ll announce the finalists and we’ll get to start reading in earnest before the brackets are announced for March Madness. I get ridiculously excited about this because, hello! Mega book nerd! But before the excitement settles in – or, more accurately, I should perhaps say along with the excitement, I always get a little down on myself. I’m fairly well-read. I try hard to read diversely, from every section of my library. Certainly I read copiously: 230+ books this year so far. And yet, of the 120 books on the longlist, I’ve “only” read 22. Undoubtedly I’ll be able to cram in some more before the longlist is pared down, but for now I’m at 10%. Honestly, some days stats like that make me feel like I’m doing little more than beating on, endlessly against the tide. …But then I remember how awesome it is finding that one book you just can’t put down, and I happily dive right back into the next story.

So! My five books. All from the TOB longlist!

Here Comes the Sun, by Nicole Dennis-Benn. I’ve read the first chapter and Dennis-Benn’s voice reads like basking in the sun, just gorgeous! And contemporary stories (or, uh, any stories really) set in Jamaica always grab me. If I don’t get this under the tree, it’ll be a splurge item!

What Belongs to You, by Garth Greenwell. This is going to sound silly, but every time I see this book, the cover grabs me. The story is about a tender-turned-violent relationship between a man who grew up loathing himself for being gay, and the young man he traps in his seduction. This might be too gritty for me, but I’m willing to give it a go.

Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi. This is the It Book of the year, and one I think will go deep into the brackets. I needs to read it for no other reason – but if I needed any others, everyone says it’s gorgeously written and well told. Also? A diverse book and we always need more of those!

The Association of Small Bombs, by Karan Mahajan. This book has been at the top of my TBR for ages, and if I don’t come up on the waitlist soon, I’m going to break down and buy it. Also – that cover!!

Another Brooklyn, by Jacqueline Woodson. Brown Girl Dreaming was one of my favorites; I read it to the girls out loud, and they listened, enraptured. We talked about race and discrimination and the power of resilience and how necessary to survival hope and dreams are. I’m very much looking forward to reading another novel by an author who could beget all of that!

What’s on your list for the next few months? Who else out there is playing along with the TOB?

 

#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?!

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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!

#NonFicNov: Week 3.

November 17, 2016

After my massive rally last week in breaking my reading slump, I slowed the pace down a bit this week. Depression and anxiety can be a bit of a roller coaster ride. Also, my taste in books ran a little…um…shall we say macabre? Still seemed better than real life. But before I get into just how sprinkled my life is with inspiration sayings and true crime books, let’s take a moment to give thanks for our sponsors.

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#NonFicNov – which I plan for and look forward to year-round – is made possible by our wonderful reading community. This year Doing Dewey is hosting, along with Sarah at Sarah’s Bookshelves, Rachel at Hibernator’s Library, Lory at Emerald City Book Review, and Julz at Julz Reads. They have some lovely giveaways and book reviews going on, so go say hello! I’d also like to give a special shout-out to Kim over at Sophisticated Dorkiness. Kim is Non-fic November, for those who don’t know, and she’s still recovering from a huge, no-good, very bad Something right now. If you could all go love on Kim a little and send her the happiest thoughts, it would mean a lot to me. We’ve all been laid flat by grief at one point or another and I wish I didn’t know, but I do. I know I’ll be keeping Kim tucked into the back of my reading brain this month, raining some love down on her.

(Maybe I should try a little more indulgent self-care this week, because this past week self-care looked like basking in the glow of things even more horrible than our current affairs – true crime and lots of it!)

book210Crash Detectives: Investigating the World’s Most Mysterious Air Disasters, by Christine Negroni (2016, Penguin, 288 pages, paperback). I am a terrible flier. I work in aviation and it’s a bit like watching how sausage gets made – you lose your appetite for it just a little bit. I know all of the things that can go wrong, and in every sense imaginable. (I also see how rarely that happens, but why aren’t those the facts that run through my mind when I’m taking off on an adventure?) Negroni does a fantastic job of walking the layperson through the ins and outs of aviation without losing the narrative to tedium. While she focuses on how, exactly, we could fail to find Malaysian Airlines flight 370, she also looks at other missing aircraft and crashes. It was very compelling reading, both for the looky-loos and aviation nuts. The fact that the book was written by a kickass female investigative reporter in a male-dominated field? Bonus points. 4 of 5 stars.

book211Conviction: The Untold Story of Putting Jodi Arias Behind Bars, by Juan Martinez and Lisa Pulitzer (2016, William Morrow, 384 pages, library ebook). I needed a book so engrossing I could forget about the real world, and hoo boy did Conviction deliver! I didn’t follow the Jodi Arias trial much while it was unfolding. I remember it happening, but I wasn’t particularly shook. When I saw the double episode of Snapped! that featured the crime, I was reeled in. So of course I checked out this new true crime account written by the prosecutor and one of the better known collaborators, Lisa Pulitzer. I raced through every page with my mouth agape, marveling over Arias’s misplaced confidence in herself. She truly thought she could get away with her appalling crime. Tales like this one are why men and women are scared of the proverbial crazy boyfriend/girlfriend. Truly, truly insane. And wickedly fun reading. (Although “fun” doesn’t quite feel right, ya know?) 5 of 5 stars. Because for a few days, I forgot we even had an election.

book212The Souls of Mixed Folk: Race, Politics, and Aesthetics in the New Millennium, by Michele Elam (2011, Stanford University Press, 308 pages, paperback). I was a bit amazed that Elam dared to play so boldly on W.E.B. DuBois’s title The Souls of Black Folk – I mean, that’s about as anthemic as you can go. And yeah, it’s clever, but those are shoes to fill! It put me off reading the anthology of essays for nearly a year. But you guys – Elam’s got game. Her writing was evocative as the artwork she chose for the cover, and tied to pop culture and history throughout in ways we are both constantly aware of and completely ignorant of at the same time. Racism just won this dang election, and I needed to completely immerse myself in writing about how far we’ve come and what we can do to keep moving conversations and awareness in the right direction. 4 of 5 stars.

book213The Killer Book of Serial Killers, by Thomas and Michael Philbin (2009, Sourcebooks, 345 pages, library ebook). I told you my reading selection was a bit shocking this week. This true crime book wasn’t a deep analysis or portrayal of any one crime, but more of small glimpses into a wide array of crimes and the people who committed them. It was fluff designed to carry me away from the drama in real life, and it worked. Though I think I might have burned through my ability to wade through any more for quite awhile. 2 1/2 of 5 stars.

We’ll see what this next week brings. I’m looking for something a bit more inspirational after a week spent pillaging and burning. I have a book about the founding mothers of the country (screw you, patriarchy), and we’ll see what else catches my eye. Just so long as it’s bright and shiny!

#NonficNov: Week 2.

November 11, 2016

“Katie,” I can hear ya sayin’, “- it’s not time for book reviews. It’s time for your Five Things.” But you guys, I don’t think I can handle even five things today. Not with any sort of good cheer or absence of teeth gnashing. Or, even abject horror. So I’ll just plan to stay hidden in my books a little bit longer. Say…four years or so.

With that being said, it’s #NonficNov Week 2! [Look: I summoned an exclamation mark and everything. I’m rallying.] Not only did I join a few of my friends for the challenge, but I seem to have broken my reading slump, too. I slammed my way through six books this week. How you like them apples?!

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But before we get to the which, let’s talk about the what and the who, shall we? In November, with more purposeful selection, I balance out my reading for the entire year. And it’s all because of the movement hosted by our wonderful reading community. This year Doing Dewey is hosting, along with Sarah at Sarah’s Bookshelves, Rachel at Hibernator’s Library, Lory at Emerald City Book Review, and Julz at Julz Reads. They have some lovely giveaways and book reviews going on, so go say hello! I’d also like to give a special shout-out to Kim over at Sophisticated Dorkiness. Kim is Non-fic November, for those who don’t know, and she’s still recovering from a huge, no-good, very bad Something right now. If you could all go love on Kim a little and send her the happiest thoughts, it would mean a lot to me. We’ve all been laid flat by grief at one point or another and I wish I didn’t know, but I do. I know I’ll be keeping Kim tucked into the back of my reading brain this month, raining some love down on her.

Now that we know who to thank for these feast, what was I nibbling on this week?

book204The Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl, by Donald Sturrock (2010, Simon & Schuster, 655 pages, used paperback). I have been working on this book forever! Seriously – months! And that for me is practically years. I found it in great condition at my favorite used bookstore and grabbed it for a dollar or two, not knowing how widely acclaimed it is or how dang readable. It really was a wonderful read. The fact that it took me so long to finish had nothing to do with how compelling Dahl’s life was (I am even more fascinated than when I started, moreso than even when I had just finished Charlie and the Chocolate Factory), or the quality of the writing (Sturrock seemed to get Dahl in a way most biographers wouldn’t have been able to, in my opinion) – it’s just that the book was long and when I read at night, I’ve been falling asleep in approximately two pages, every single time. So it takes a girl awhile to make her way through 655 of them. If you like biographies or you’re looking for a peek into home life of a Royal Air Force pilot or want to chew on how such a gifted children’s author could at times be a world-class jerk, I highly recommend. 4 of 5 stars.

book2051 Dead in Attic: Post-Katrina Stories, by Chris Rose (2005, Simon & Schuster, 158 pages, ebook). I bought this on a whim – okay, not really. More as a reward, I suppose. I’ve been coveting this collection of essays for awhile, and it didn’t disappoint. Each was just a few pages long, just enough to capture a few thoughts or a the heart of some cultural flashpoint in the days, weeks, and months after Katrina leveled New Orleans. For those who engage in community politics, and are interested in social justice, this is just the ticket. I wish some of the essays had been fleshed out more – ultimately, it’s what kept me from recommending everyone go buy the book outright – but there was enough there to keep me reading. If you see it in a used bookstore, grab it. If you can borrow a copy, do it sooner rather than later. I just wouldn’t spend my finite book dollars on a brand-new copy. 3 1/2 of 5 stars.

book206Liar, Temptress, Solider, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War, by Karen Abbott (2014, Harper, 513 pages, paperback). I got this book for Christmas last year, and have been working my way up to it. At one point, we had talked about doing a read-along, particularly with #NonFicNov in mind. All the awards it won? Were for a dang reason! Liar was one of those rare non-fiction books that read like a spy thriller, bouncing back and forth in omniscient third-person narrator that I love so much, tantalizing the reader with hints and allegations as facts build up to stories of these four amazing women. It made me proud to be a woman, and small in the million things I complain about and take for granted. You have got to read this if you’re at all interested in war stories, espionage, feminism, or being a person. 4 of 5 stars.

book207Blindsided: Surviving a Grizzly Attack and Still Loving the Great Bear, by Jim Cole (2010, St. Martin’s Press, 304 pages, ebook). I splurged. I needed some escapism this week, and everyone who knows me knows that animal attacks – as silly as it is – are my version of celebrity gossip. You know it shouldn’t entertain you and you shouldn’t rot your brain reading it, but sometimes you can’t help it. This book served just that purpose. It wasn’t greatly written, but the gore levels were sufficient that I was distracted from the real-life circus around me. (I told you I was a terrible person.) If you like reading about animal attacks, it’s good enough to borrow. Most notable is how after two bear attacks Cole can still be as dedicated to preserving the great bear and its habitat as he is. He isn’t just all talk. 2 of 5 stars.

book208The Elephants in My Backyard, by Rajiv Surendra (2016, Regan Arts, 288 pages, ebook). I can read memoirs centered around just about any adventure or anyone’s life – it’s a supertalent of mine. This story was particularly interesting not because I’ve seen Mean Girls, in which Surendra starred, but because it was about his quest to get in touch with his Indian and Tamil routes in order to better his chances at starring in the film adaptation of Life of Pi. The movie doesn’t quite work out – and neither did the memoir, considering I’d been hoping it would serve as a poor man’s version of Eat, Pray, Love – but the tale itself was interesting. It could have been fleshed out a bit more…or maybe what I wanted was to lose even a little the sense that Surendra was conscious the entire time that he was crafting a tale, writing, writing, scripting, writing… It wore on me after awhile. But at least he had many adventures with which to pull from. 3 of 5 stars.

book209The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness, by Elyn Saks (2007, Hachette, 340 pages, ebook). I’d been saving this ebook deal of the day for #NonFicNov and flew through it. Memoirs about mental health struggles are smack dab in the middle of my wheelhouse. I liked that Saks portrayed her constant struggle; it wasn’t just a one-hurdle memoir and now the beast is slain and shall never rise again sort of deal – because that’s not how mental health ever plays out in real life. It’s something you constantly question and face down and battle. I was a little less thrilled with the no-medicine message in the beginning, even if Saks was careful to explain it was foisted upon her and she was glad to have corrected those beliefs since then. That’s dangerous – especially given its responsibility as a mental health memoir. 3 of 5 stars.

There you go. I’m continuing my romp through terrible-for-me-but-terribly-entertaining reads with a book about the Jodi Arias murder, and I’m also slowly making my way through Crash Detectives, about how aviation experts determine how a crash happened based on the data available afterwards. Fun happy reads that have nothing to do with why I’m not sleeping at night. Heh. Next I’ll have to scourge my brain with the illustrated Little House biography and wholesome cookbooks or something. Because good lord, Katie.

Still. There are weeks you get through however you can, and these is one of those if ever there was one.

Non-fic November!

November 2, 2016

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It has gotten to the point, Dear Reader, that I look forward to celebrating Non-fic November as much as I look forward to eating pie in November. It’s one of my favorite reading traditions. I smatter my reading all year long with memoirs and fact books, biographies and true crime; and yet when you look at the sheer volume of books I read each week, it’s like I’m barely reading any non-fiction.

Until November.

In November, with more purposeful selection, I balance out my reading for the entire year. And it’s all because of the movement hosted by our wonderful reading community. This year Doing Dewey has taken up the mantle, along with Sarah at Sarah’s Bookshelves, Rachel at Hibernator’s Library, Lory at Emerald City Book Review, and Julz at Julz Reads. They have some lovely giveaways and book reviews already going on, so go check them out! I’d also like to give a special shout-out to Kim over at Sophisticated Dorkiness. Kim is Non-fic November, for those who don’t know, and she’s still recovering from a huge, no-good, very bad Something right now. If you could all go love on Kim a little and send her the happiest thoughts, it would mean a lot to me. We’ve all been laid flat by grief at one point or another and I wish I didn’t know, but I do. I know I’ll be keeping Kim tucked into the back of my reading brain this month, wishing her well.

Now that we’ve covered the WHO, maybe I should talk a little about the WHAT. The last two years I did quite a bit of planning for Non-Fic November. This year, not so much! Other than maybe mindfully passing on a non-fic book that I owned so that I’d have at least one or two little somethings tucked away for this month. I managed to grab a few more along the way: I’ve already finished my ebook of Meghan Daum’s The Unspeakable; I’m halfway through Donald Sturrock’s Roald Dahl: The Storyteller; I am dying to dive into The Crash Detectives; The Souls of Black Folk has been staring at me from my shelf for ages, as has Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy. (Hey, Trish – weren’t we going to do a readalong for that?) In Harm’s Way, Founding Mothers, 1 Dead in Attic, and Fifty States are all waiting, too. And those are just the ones I’ve planned in advance!

Because if I’m being honest, I get really distracted when I’m reading non-fiction. I’ll fall down factoid rabbit-holes, chasing tidbits of information. Or I’ll get bored and need to shift gears to something slower, or more dramatic, or more gruesome and illicit (hey, I’m being honest). I’m a fickle reader, come November. But that’s half the fun – giving myself permission to go where my interests take me! It could be anywhere, at any time.

And every tale, every trail, is true.

I swears it.