Monday, August 19, 2019

What I'm reading this week (8/19/19)

Last week I finished:

The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock is one of the oddest plots I've read in a long time. You know those writing exercises you did in college creative writing courses where you had to pick two things out of a hat, and both had to appear in your story? I'm wondering if the author did that. And the two things she picked were "mermaids" and "whores." Oh, and it's set in the late 1700s in London. Which makes it even a little odder. The story is this: merchant Jonah Hancock is informed by his sea captain that a recent buying trip resulting in him selling the ship to purchase a very unusual item: a small, gruesome, dead mermaid. Hancock has no choice but to put the thing on display in order to raise funds to have a new ship built. This leads him to make a deal with a madam to display it at a private party (so to speak) which brings together Mr. Hancock and Angelica Neal (sort of a high end whore?). She teases him and tells him she'll marry him if he brings her a live mermaid. And so the story unfolds. I like magical realism in small doses, and I enjoyed this story. It was infinitely readable. Though the author was true to some of the language mannerisms of the time, it was often difficult to remember this was set in the 1780s (for context, that's about the time of the American Revolution) in London. I felt this was a weakness, though relatively minor. The characters were interesting and likable. Hancock is rather milquetoast, and Angelica is a little bratty; other characters are quite exaggerated. The whorehouse element was truly odd. I can't decide if it was well pulled off or not. It was certainly interesting. Overall, I'm glad I finally got to this one. It may not appear on my best of the year list, but I did like it, mostly because it's so different from what I normally read. My rating: 4 stars.

I loved reading (actually, listening to) Tana French's In the Woods, the first in the Dublin Murder Squad Series. (Read my review here.) I enjoyed it so much that I immediately put the second in the series, The Likeness, on my TBR. And then I tried to work my courage up to read it for months. I really wanted to read the second one instead of listen to it, but I never succeeding in starting it, so I finally gave in to the audio, which is exceptional. (Although 20 CDs of a Dublin accent will really start to permeate your speech, and if you're like me, your dreams.) At any rate, you can't go wrong with the audio here. It's very well done. As for the book, it was a mind-bending trip. Psychological thrillers seem to get to me more and more these days. I've stopped watching shows and movies that are too psychological. I just don't like dark characters and plots getting too far into my head. In this murder thriller, detective Cassie Maddox (returning from the first book) is summoned to a murder scene in which she's a dead ringer for the dead girl, and in fact, the dead girl is using the name Cassie used when she worked undercover in the past, Lexie Madison. This gives the chief an idea: send Cassie into Lexie's life, specifically into the house she shares with four others, to try to break the case. She was grilled on Lexie's habits and mannerisms from information gained during questioning of the four and filming their home. It's a trippy book. You can feel Cassie momentarily losing objectivity and getting too close to the roommates, and you're constantly afraid she's going to slip up and blow her cover. And, of course, you're always wondering if one of the four is responsible for Lexie's murder (or, from their perspective, her stabbing). There is a fair amount of suspension of disbelief with the plot. How can any stranger reasonably be plunked into another stranger's life and not be found out by her four very, very close friends? But that is somewhat mitigated by the superb writing and by knowing Lexie took on Cassie's identity (though not to the same extent) before Cassie took on Lexie's. French's strength as a writer is in making every scene come to life, making every character deeply human, and making the situations believable. I've found both of the books I've read by her exceptional, though I might prefer this one a bit because of the plot. My only gripe is that the book seemed too long. Especially, the resolution after the climax just seemed to drag on and on. I was ready to leave the story long before the book ended. Overall, though, an excellent read. My rating: 4.5 stars. 

About five years ago, I read Brené Brown's Daring Greatly, and I really did not like that book. I assumed that was the last Brown book I'd read. (Read my review here.) I found her enormously successful book of dubious benefit. And yet, I felt bad for all these years that I didn't like it and that it didn't speak to me (or for me) as it had for so many. So I decided to try another of her books, and I chose the audio version of her recent Braving the Wilderness: The Quest for True Belonging and the Courage to Stand Alone. In it, she talks about the primal desire to belong, the vulnerability involved in belonging and remaining loving to those we disagree with, and authenticity. I found this book more palatable, yet, I've determined Brown's work just isn't my cup of tea. Or maybe, to be more precise, popular sociology tinged with social justice isn't my jam. I guess you could say Brown and I wouldn't attend the same rallies. While she strives to be fair in her assessment of the social divide in our country, I just find the things she studies of little use or purpose. I find all of her research findings, which seems to surprise her so much, common sense. It doesn't take a terribly deep thinker to understand the conclusions she reaches after spending years researching. Furthermore, I tend to value original thought to scientific research when it comes to personal issues, values, and beliefs. I simply do not understand the appeal of her books. I don't feel that I learn anything from her book I haven't already learned by being a wife, (step)mother, and most importantly, Christian woman. And yet, if her books make you a better person, God bless. To each her own. Two notes before I close. First, the audio was not my favorite. It was narrated by the author, and I didn't find her a particularly good reader. Second, there is a lot of swearing, which I find so odd in a book based on research. In the book she defends her swearing as "authentic." To quote my husband: it's authentic to fart in church, too, but that doesn't make it tasteful. My rating: 3 stars.

I love a good decorating book. And more and more I'm finding décor books that are partly memoirs, and Erin Gates' second book, Elements of Family Style, is one of these. I don't follow Gates' decorating website, but I'm led to believe she's kind of a big deal in the online decorating world. In her first book, Elements of Style, she examines each room of her home, including a personal essay in each chapter. (Read my review here.) I was not enamored with the book. This book, however, was a different story. Perhaps her design style has matured (or perhaps mine has), or maybe I liked many the rooms included in this book because they were created by other designers, but this is one library book I want to buy for myself. I found the children's rooms and libraries/dens especially wonderful. If you have kids and also want a pretty space, there's a lot of inspiration here. Although the design advice isn't stellar, the rooms kind of speak for themselves. I did find that most of the rooms lacked the meaningfulness I am most drawn to (for example, most of the accessories look like recent HomeGoods finds, which is fine, it's just not my style). The nurseries and libraries seemed the most personal, so maybe it's no surprise they were my favorites. Overall, a lovely book. My rating: 4 stars.

I was sure I'd read a book of Natasha Trethewey's poetry, but my list of every book I've read proves me wrong. I know I've found some of her poems through other channels over the years, and I've loved several. I picked up her Monument: Poems New and Selected at the library, and I really liked it. Trethewey was the United States Poet Laureate from 2012-2014. Monument, published late last year, collects poems from her previous four books. Born to a black mother and white father, she often explores themes of race and belonging. Her poems beautifully articulate what is means to look white but feel black. I found her work powerful and easy to identify with even though I'm not mixed-race. This is a good collection if you're looking for poems that explore race and identity. The best I've read in awhile. My rating: 4 stars.

This week I'll finish:


This re-read is kicking my butt. It's taking me SO long to finish it. Some days I can only get through 30 pages, and I ALWAYS finish 50 pages per day.


My evening reads:
 

I'm just in love with these first two, and I just started the third. Hicok is an interesting poet.


My next audiobook:


I think this is my next audiobook. I've been looking forward to it for awhile, and it finally came in at the library.


 
 

Monday, August 12, 2019

What I'm reading this week (8/12/19)

Last week I finished:

Several years ago I found the delightful Homer's Odyssey, the memoir of a woman who owns a blind cat named Homer (blind Homer, get it?). I found it delightful, but I didn't really remember much about the book other than it had a good first-hand account of someone living in New York City on 9/11. So when I was looking for books for my year of re-reading, it was near the top of my list. While, in general, books about cats (and especially cats that teach you "how to love" or "how to live") aren't my cup of tea, this one is well done enough, and the cat's personality (catality?) comes through well enough, that it is much better than the other cat books out there. Homer suffered an infection shortly after birth. He was abandoned at a vet's office, and she removed his eyes to treat the infection. Since this was done before the kitten had opened his eyes for the first time anyway, Homer never knew what sight was. This gives a different perspective on living, as you can imagine, because Homer did not know that others, specifically his owner, could see. He never got away with anything! But never having the ability to see, Homer never developed a fear of the unknown. Keeping him safe without "overparenting" him was quite the task. I enjoyed this book a great deal. I listened to most of it on audio, and the narrator's voice was a good match for the book. It's a humorous book, but also has the ability to make you think about things like limitations and fear and what it means to live a full life. It's a great story. I hope you'll try it. My rating: 4 stars.

The fifth in the Calpurnia Tate Girl Vet series is A Squirrelly Situation. I've read all of the Calpurnia Tate books, the five shorter chapter books in the vet series as well as the two longer books, The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate. I do prefer the longer books, but these chapter books would be great for little readers who love animal stories. Set in the late 1800s to early 1900s, Calpurnia and her brother Travis (there are several more Tate brothers, but they mostly don't figure in to the chapter books), who has a tender heart for animals, take in a squirrel who ends up being raised by the cat that resides in their kitchen. But keeping a squirrel in the kitchen can create issues, as you can imagine. This was a fun one, one of my favorite of the five. The other books in the series feature a skunk, sheep, an owl, and a porcupine. A good series for your little animal lover. My rating: 3 stars.


This week I'll finish:

This is the oddest story I've read in awhile. It features mermaids and whores. A full review will go up next week.


My evening reads:

Still loving all of my nightly reads. I added the Max Lucado book to the mix, and it's wonderful, too.


My current audiobook:


Whew, this one is a mindbender.



Monday, August 5, 2019

What I'm reading this week (8/5/19)

Last week I finished:

I've read six or eight Agatha Christie mysteries in the past few years, and while I've enjoyed each one, I do like some more than others. I didn't think I was a Miss Marple fan until At Bertram's Hotel, though. This is one of my very favorites. It felt so different from the other books where a body is discovered in the early pages. This book was nearly over before there was a body at all. This mystery takes place in Bertram's Hotel in London. Miss Marple was gifted with a weeklong stay at the hotel where she had stayed as a little girl--and which hadn't changed much at all in the decades since. It is almost too good to be true, attracting an old-fashioned, dignified clientele that is treated the way they would have been in bygone years. But something doesn't feel quite right to Miss Marple, and when an absentminded clergyman goes missing, things certainly don't seem all they appear to be. I really liked this one. Perhaps I tend to like mysteries that don't involve murders more than murder mysteries, but the book also owes its charm to the setting. I was reading it while enjoying a few days in our favorite Minneapolis hotel, which was a lucky coincidence. I think I'll read a few more from the Miss Marple series soon. Perhaps I'll find more treasures. My rating: 4 stars.  

I'd originally planned to read Peter Heller's Celine, but I just could not get into it. I did, however, get far enough to realize it might make a good audio option for me instead. And the audio was very good. Celine is a mature amateur detective who specializes in reuniting families. She is asked to find a woman's father who went missing while on a photographic assignment in the northwest. Celine and his husband go on the trail looking for clues as to the man's whereabouts, as Celine (and the man's daughter) does not believe he was eaten by a bear as the official reports indicate. The writing here was excellent. The character of Celine is very well-imagined. And the action of the case is interesting. And yet, as good as I thought it was, I couldn't bring myself to love it. I tend to dislike strong, capable female characters, women with no fear or intellectual deficit. They all feel like an author trying too hard. I know I'm in the minority here, and I was impressed by Celine's emotional vulnerability, but I just didn't love her the way I'm sure other women will. It was definitely a case of "it's me, not you." It's a great book, well executed, with a satisfying ending, and better in many ways than his newer The River, but there was something that held me back from loving it. My rating: 3.5 stars.

I try to keep up a bit with current middle-grade award winners when they appeal to me, so I decided to listen to Kelly Yang's Front Desk. It won the 2018 Asian / Pacific American Award for Children's Literature. Lately, I feel that too many books for children are dealing with social justice issues. I don't really care for this sort of thing in adult fiction and nonfiction, and it often reads as indoctrination to a cause in children's literature. This book is for tweens, and while this is the age for encouraging empathy, anything beyond that looks and feels like a social agenda being pushed by adults. This book tips the scales a bit in that respect. In it, young Chinese immigrant Mia Tang (age nine, if I remember correctly) and her parents take a job running a motel for an unscrupulous man. While the parents tend to the rooms and laundry, Mia runs the front desk. She has many run-ins in both the motel and at school of prejudice, and she often takes matters into her own hands to make things right--to which there are seldom any negative consequences. I enjoyed the story, but I was distressed at how often Mia lies, fibs, and bends the rules to fit her social agenda. What a horrible example for little kids. So I had some medium-to-big-sized qualms about this one, but the overall message was to look out for one another, and that's something we can all get behind. My rating: 3 stars.


This week I'm reading:


This is an odd story, but it's definitely been fun to be along for the ride.


My evening reads:
 


I am loving all of my nightly reads. Burnt Toast is a re-read, and I love this book. The others are all very enjoyable, and my evening reading hour goes much too quickly these days.


My current audiobook:
 


This is a re-read, and so far it's as good as I remember. It's the story of a blind cat who is sure to capture your heart.

Friday, August 2, 2019

August 2019 reading list

I've got a little bit of everything on my August reading list. I haven't decided on a fourth "main" book for the month. I think I'll leave a wild card spot for that. Otherwise, I'm finally getting to a number of books I've wanted to read but haven't fit well into other months. There will be lots of nonfiction this month, which sounds very, very good to me.


Fiction




Children's Fiction



Memoir / Biography



Nonfiction




Poetry

 
 
 


Thursday, August 1, 2019

July 2019 wrap-up

I eeked out 15 books this month. I'd planned on reading more, but I had a lot less time for audiobooks this month. Hopefully I'll get back on track in August. I found some wonderful new friends this month (Outer Order, Inner Calm and At Bertram's Hotel), read two great books from series I love (Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd and The Good Husband of Zebra Drive), and revisited some old favorites (Ask Me and Textbook Amy Krause Rosenthal). Overall, it was a good month. One-word reviews are linked to full reviews below.


4 stars

5 stars

4 stars

3 stars

4 stars
 
3 stars
 
3 stars

3 stars

4 stars

3 stars

4 stars
 
4 stars
 
5 stars
 
terrific
4 stars
 
noteworthy
3.5 stars