Monday, September 24, 2018

What I'm reading this week (9/24/18)

Last week I finished:

I've added Celeste Ng to my list of "automatic buys"--whenever the author come out with a new title, I'll buy it, no questions asked. Earlier this year I loved her Little Fires Everywhere, and after finishing it, I immediately bought a copy of her earlier novel, Everything I Never Told You. I wanted to put a number of months between them, but it was finally time this month to see if her first novel is as good as her second. And it was. Ng has a distinctive writing style; her books build and build and build, and they tell the story both in the present and in the past. This book opens with the disappearance of the middle child in the Lee family, Lydia. She seemed the perfect child, the perfect daughter, the perfect student. As more memories come to the surface of her family members' consciousness, though, we get a fuller picture of Lydia. I was fascinated by how the book shows the main character in absentia, through nothing but memory. I loved that it was both novel and mystery at once. While this book was a smidge less subtle than her second one, it was every bit as good. It did contain moments of adulterous sex, but I wouldn't avoid the book because of that alone. My rating: 4.5 stars.

Eve Chase's The Wildling Sisters was a good, moody book for the end of summer. A domestic mystery of Audrey Wild who went missing from Applecote Manor in the 1950s and was never found; four sisters--Audrey's cousins--piecing together what happened and keeping it a secret for decades; and the present owners of Applecote Manor, a young mother, father, daughter, and his teenage daughter from a previous marriage who are having trouble becoming a family. While I generally detest books that tell two stories, one in the past and one in the present, it didn't completely annoy me here. The writing and characters were good, and the mood and pacing were very good. While I did feel that the book ended two too many times, I enjoyed listening to the story unfold. I've added her earlier English mystery, Black Rabbit Hall, to my TBR now, too. My rating: 3.5 stars.

I hadn't planned on listening to another of Jan Karon's Mitford novels this year, but I was desperate to find something to listen to when my audio holds were taking forever to come in at the library, so I picked up the sixth book in the series, A Common Life. This book goes back in the series to tell the story of Father Kavanagh and Cynthia's wedding. Apparently fans were upset that Karon skipped over the wedding in the books, and this became Karon's favorite book in the series (at least at the time of the interview). My favorite part of the audio was that the last disc was an interview with Karon, who is even more wonderful and gracious and Southern than I'd hoped. The book was published in the early 2000s, and at the time of the interview Karon said it would be a seven-book series. Something changed along the way, because I believe there are 11 books now. I'm glad I'm only at the halfway mark. I kind of can't imagine my reading life without another Mitford novel to look forward to. Although this wasn't my favorite of the series by any means--it was a bit too flowery and sentimental--I'm glad to have it, because I, too, wondered why the wedding wasn't in the previous books. My rating: 3 stars. 

If you raise nine kids, then you have a whole lot of photos to share. I'd long wanted to get my hands on a copy of Rose Kennedy's Family Album, but it's been out of print for awhile. I finally ran across a copy at a used bookstore this summer, and I snapped it up faster than you can say "JFK." Showing hundreds of family photos from 1878 to 1946, you see each of the Kennedy children grow up. Included are essays of the various periods of their family history (I'm unsure who wrote them, although Caroline Kennedy wrote the introduction), and there are many letters written between Rose and Joe and the children over the years, reminiscences, and various essays and journal entries. There are tons of photos of the children all tanned and smiling on the beach. The book takes you only up until Jack Kennedy's Congressional run in 1946. I'd love to see a volume II with the presidential years, Jackie Kennedy, and the next generation of big-toothed Kennedy smiles, but I've never heard another volume was in the works. If you're a Kennedyphile, you'll want to go through this book some day--if you can find a copy. My rating: 4 stars. 

And lastly, more poetry. I grew as a poet seeing Linda Pastan in every poetry textbook and anthology I used. I've never really done a deep dive into her work, though. And A Dog Runs through It, isn't that either. I'd always assumed her work was similar to contemporaries Anne Sexton and Adrienne Rich, whose poetry I find a bit too fraught and feminist and difficult. But I think I probably have that all wrong. This is a book of her past poems (I don't think any are new) about dogs. Some just mention dogs in passing. It's a slim volume, just 59 pages, but it's fun. It includes a number of drawings of dogs, which is always a delight. While I didn't mark any poems here to return to, it spurred me to pick up a copy of Pastan's poetry in the future. My rating: 3 stars.

Next up:

Finally, finally, getting to this one.

My other reads:

Working my way to the end of The Two-Family House on Kindle. A wonderful read.

I'm also enjoying my re-read of Carry On, Warrior.

I'll finish both this week.
My audiobook:

I am loving this book. I'd forgotten just how good a writer Jane Smiley is.

Monday, September 17, 2018

What I'm reading this week (9/17/18)

Last week I finished:

I'm a huge fan of the George Bushes. And I'd pretty much like to be Laura Bush, so I'm glad to have finally gotten around to George and Laura by Christopher Andersen, who has written oodles of biographies of ultra-famous folks. Last month I read (listened to) his The Good Son, and I loved it, so I moved this book up to the top of my list. If you know much about the first couple, you know he was a perpetual frat boy, she's a quiet school librarian, and after suffering infertility and looking into adoption, they had twin girls, Jenna and Barbara (named for their grandmothers). You'll know about the loss of his little sister when he was a young boy, Laura's car accident that took the life of a teenage friend, his alcoholism, and the way they held this country together after the terrorist attacks of 9/11. This book explores all that, fleshes them out a bit more, and takes you up through the events of 9/11. Since the book was published in 2002, it doesn't deal a whole lot with President Bush's two terms. It's not really a political book, just a biography of each and of the couple. While it wasn't stellar, it wasn't boring, either. I enjoyed it, and I'm glad I finally got around to reading it. My rating: 4 stars.

This week I finished the third book in the Maisie Dobbs series, which I started in January. I read the first two, and I listened to the third. I'm not sure which I prefer. Since I have these in paperback, and the print is so tiny, I might prefer the audio, but there was something about the print books that made me feel immersed in the story in a way the audio didn't. Pardonable Lies may be my favorite of the three books, though I really did like them all. In this installment, set in the early 1930s, detective and psychologist Maisie Dobbs is asked to prove to a father that his son died in the war (World War I), to find what happened to a friend's brother in the war, and to prove a young girl didn't murder her stepfather. The cases were perhaps more interesting to me than the ones in book two, but with each book I like Maisie Dobbs and the series even more. I find it difficult to think of them as separate books, the series flows so well. They are so well written and serious, and though they're not flashy, they are just fantastic. I recommend them highly. My rating: 4 stars.

I'm always searching Amazon for new books of poetry by poets I know but don't know well. When I saw that Tony Hoagland had a new collection coming out, I was very excited to add it to my TBR list. Titled Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God (great title, no?), the collection is full of good poems. I marked several to return to, and while I checked this out from the library, I think I might want my own copy. I did mention earlier that I was surprised to come upon the "c-word" which I sort of have a visceral reaction to, but other than that, it wasn't objectionable (well, there was a dig at Fox News Channel, but that's to be expected from all American poets these days, so predictable). The poetry is maybe "intermediate," not infinitely approachable, but not too pedantic, either. I'd recommend this one to anyone wanting to know what's being written by established poets these days. My rating: 4 stars.

Next up:

After reading Celeste Ng's Little First Everywhere earlier this year and loving it, I have been excited to read her first novel, Everything I Never Told You.

My evening reads:

I continue with Carry On, Warrior (very therapeutic), Rose Kennedy's Family Album, and I began A Dog Runs through It, a collection of Linda Pastan's dog poems.

My Kindle read:

I abandoned the biography of Billy Graham. I guess I'd say it's preaching to a different choir, so I moved on. I finally settled on The Two-Family House which was on sale for Kindle this week. It's a keeper. I'm enjoying it very much.

Last week I abandoned:

I got maybe one track into The Age of Innocence on CD before deciding my reading list is too long to listen to this. Maybe I'll try it another time when I have more patience with slow, wordy books.

My audiobook:

I had to wander the library a bit to find a new audiobook that would fit the weird reading mood I'm in, and I settled on The Wildling Sisters. It's atmospheric, mysterious, moody. Very good so far.

Monday, September 10, 2018

What I'm reading this week (9/10/18)

Once again, I'm a little overwhelmed by the number of book reviews to write, so I'm going to try to keep these short.

Last week I finished:

I'm a sucker for any book about U.S. presidents, and one about presidents residing in the White House is my reading sweet spot. I've owned Upstairs at the White House in book and electronic form for ages, and I've finally read it. I don't know what I was fearing, because this book delivered. It was breezy and conversational, intimate but never gossipy, respectful, and a load of fun. I loved every moment and word of this book. Written by former White House Chief Usher J. B. West in the late 1970s, this is the story of presidents and first ladies from Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt through the first part of Richard and Pat Nixon's White House stay. The Chief Usher position is basically a catchall of tasks pertaining to managing the White House (from food to housekeeping to staffing to decorating to keeping within the budget) and catering to the needs and desires of the first family. West discusses what it was like to work for each first lady, how their personalities and styles differed, as well as a little about their husbands' presidencies. He covers such life-changing events such as the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the ending of World War II, the death of FDR, the assassination of JFK, the extensive Truman White House renovation that basically gutted the inside of the mansion, as well as the removal and installation of each new family on Inauguration day at precisely 12:00 noon. I believe that many of the books I've read about the White House have probably used Mr. West's account as a resource, as many stories here I've read elsewhere. It is a wonderfully intimate and respectful look at what it's like to serve (and decorate with) the first ladies of mid-20th century. I learned a lot about first ladies I don't know much about such as Mamie Eisenhower and Lady Bird Johnson. I was charmed, and I highly recommend this read. My rating: 5 stars.

This year I've had a voracious appetite for audio fiction. I'm always on the lookout for good stories to listen to, and if you are too, try Eowyn Ivey's To the Bright Edge of the World. She's known for The Snow Child, which is about a couple who build a child out of snow who later comes to life. Since I'm not a fan of magical realism, I'd avoided this book though I know many who love it. Well, after listening to To the Bright Edge of the World, which has magical realism elements, too, I may have been won over. This is the well-told story of an 1880s exploration to the Alaskan territory, specifically, following the Wolverine River. The expedition consists of only three men, but they meet many indigenous Indians along the way, some with fantastic stories. For the most part, the book stays in reality, so someone like me who isn't fond of magical elements can be pulled into the adventure and is allowed determine what is fact, what is fable, and what could possibly be chalked up to starvation and ailing minds. I was unsure if the meta elements of book would lend itself well to audio since the story is told entirely through the Lieutenant Colonel's journal while on expedition, his wife's journal back in Vancouver Barracks, Washington Territory, the modern-day correspondence between the Colonel's descendant and an Alaskan museum director, as well as various ads, museum exhibition notes, etc. The audio was very well done. With the use of different voices, you don't miss the visual parts of the book at all (though of course they are included on the CDs). Everything about this experience made it a good one. I found the book well-written, the characters original, the magical elements easy to take, and the pacing impeccable. I highly recommend this one to all. My rating: 4.5 stars.

And now for something completely different: Greg Gutfeld. If you're unfamiliar with Gutfeld from his various shows on FNC, including The Five, The Greg Gutfeld Show, and his older Red Eye, I'll try to describe him for you. He's sort of like that guy in your high school class who was hilariously astute, was set apart by a certain physical feature (in Gutfeld's case, height, or lack thereof), who was edgy, tuned into pop culture and politics, and who freely shared his strong opinions with others, often to his own detriment. You know the guy. He probably sat behind you in Civics class. (Do they even have Civics class anymore?) And you probably would have admitted to having a crush on him if doing so wasn't a little risky. On his shows, he delivers punchy, funny, and very pointed monologues taking presidents, politicians, and folks in the entertainment industry to task. Ideologically, he's a conservative libertarian. This is a collection of his monologues from The Five, a political panel talk show, and the content is divided into broad categories such as identity politics, Hollywood, Islamic terror, the environment, the campus, etc. In the book, he interrupts his monologues to offer updates, apologies, and critiques on his old ideas or jokes. I loved this book, but then, I never miss an episode of either of his shows. I appreciate his analysis and sense of humor. Though I don't always agree, I like the way he thinks and the way he forms and presents arguments. Highly recommended if you are willing to be challenged in your ideological opinions. My rating: 4 stars.

Speaking of FNC. Before her loud, ugly departure from the channel following sexual harassment allegations, Gretchen Carlson was one of its stars. Getting Real is her first memoir, written before leaving the channel (after leaving, she penned Be Fierce about being sexually harassed in the workplace). In it, she tells about growing up in Anoka, Minnesota, the granddaughter of a Lutheran minister, the daughter of the owner of one of the oldest operating car dealerships in America. She was a violin prodigy and was expected to be one of the most talented female violinists in the world. She became Miss America in 1989, about the time the pageant turned the corner toward making the competition more about talent and platform than appearance. After her year traveling the country with the crown, she completed Stanford Law, then embarked on a television journalism career, which eventually landed her on Fox and Friends and with her own afternoon show. She talks about all of this as well as her husband, kids, and her faith. It's a pretty straightforward celebrity memoir. I feel that I know her better after reading it. I could have done without a few of the "prodigy" reminders, and I was annoyed each time she assured me she was a confident woman (if you say it, are you?), but over all, it was a good book. My rating: 3 stars.

Up next:

I'm looking forward to this one.

My Kindle read:

I put One Beautiful Dream aside. For the second time. I guess it's just a little too crazy/chaotic to interest me right now.

So I finally settled on Through My Father's Eyes, Franklin Graham's biography of his father, the late Billy Graham.

My nighttime reads:

I'm enjoying Carry On, Warrior for the second time.

I've been reading Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God a couple poems at a time, and I am liking it more than I'd thought I would, even if I was jarred by seeing the C-word in a poem.

And I'm loving Rose Kennedy's Family Album, too. That family was something else.
My audiobook:

I'm now listening to the third in the Maisie Dobbs series, Pardonable Lies.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

September 2018 reading list

I always intend to do something special for September reading, because that back-to-school feeling (I work at a university, after all) lends itself well to feelings of self challenge and renewal, but I never get around to it. This month I chose much the same thing as usual, but I chose a lot of comfort reads: lots of presidential and White House books, lots of woman-y self-help-y books, some new poetry, and other familiar-feeling things including the next book in series by James Herriot and Jacqueline Winspear.

Presidents & the White House

Classic Fiction


Women & Self-Help

Nonfiction & Memoir

 What are you planning to read this month?

Monday, September 3, 2018

What I'm reading this week (9/3/18)

Happy back to school week! I figured it out recently, and this is my 25th back to school at the university where I work (and earned my degree). That's a full one-quarter of its existence! And each year, I still feel that hyper-electric buzz of excitement in late August and early September. It's the one thing that hasn't changed in my years here.

What I finished this week:

There are some books I just don't look forward to reviewing: popular books that everyone has read and loved and deemed "important" and any book about race issues. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Americanah is both. This is the story of Nigerian immigrant Ifemlu, her various loves including her on-again-off-again boyfriend Obinze, her struggles in American, and her struggles adjusting back to life in Nigeria after returning. I'll stick here with my overall impressions. First, I think it was just too long. It wasn't necessarily boring, but it would have been a tighter story had it been shorter. Second, and relatedly, it really felt like Adichie had an exhaustive spreadsheet of race issues to address in the book, and she doggedly addressed Which leads to my third overall impression: this book was exhausting. It had an overall dark feeling to it, a gray cloud of discontent. I was disgusted by the dishonesty in the book--folks cheating their spouses and partners, folks cheating the government, folks cheating customers. Adultery and dishonest characters are two big turnoffs for me in fiction. All of the white characters (when Ifemelu is in America) and all of the Nigerians (when Ifemelu goes back to Nigeria) are shown to be foolish and shallow--only provocative Ifemelu is rational and has though deeply about the issues. Frankly, I just did not care for the Ifemelu. She was preachy and judgmental and shrill. I had a feeling I was supposed to appreciate her directness and intelligence, was supposed to see her as a race and feminist warrior, but I just didn't like that she had no humility in her whatsoever. Yet, in spite of all this, I liked the book. I love books about belonging (and not belonging). I love immigrant stories. I love stories set in Africa. And this book was very well written. The main characters were well-fleshed--even if the lesser characters were simpleton husks. I'd say if you've been on a college campus in the last ten years, nothing much in the book will be new to you, but this one might still make a good book club discussion, because there is so much here. So, if you like books that unpack racial issues and haven't already read it, I urge you to try it. If you're disheartened by all the polarizing race talk these days and wish folks could just come together already, this isn't a book for you. It lays bare the issues, but it never puts forth any answers. My rating: 3 stars.

Earlier this year I discovered Max Lucado's books on Christian living, and I've become hooked (read my review of Anxious for Nothing here). They are so positive, but not fluffy, so full of wisdom, but not preachy. Because Mr. Lucado and I differ in our Christian beliefs, there are points of diversion (and more in Unshakable Hope than in Anxious for Nothing), but overall, since the books are scripture-based, there is more common ground than not. Unshakable Hope is a series of promises laid forth in The Bible (such as: "Your prayers have power," and "God gets you") illustrated in Lucado's trademark way, using examples from his own life to explain doctrinal points. This book, as most/all of his others, includes questions for discussion or further study, which some folks might appreciate. It is an inspiring and wonderful book, often funny and lighthearted, and I was sorry when it ended. My rating: 4 stars.

I have always loved Jane Kenyon's poems, and frankly, I find her a more enjoyable poet than her much more famous husband, Donald Hall. I read her Collected Poems (about 350 poems) throughout the month, and I really enjoyed the experience. Her poetry falls into the "domestic poetry" camp, I'd say, and she writes about a quiet life in the country, her farmhouse, her community, and her dogs. The poems are easy to come to, often contain humor or lighter themes, and just lifted my spirits in the evenings. Her voice is easy and contented. I enjoyed this collection very much, and I'm sorry we lost her so early in her career. My rating: 4 stars.

This week I'll finish:

I don't know why it took me so long to get to this one. I am loving every word of it.

I continue with:

I'll likely finish this one this week.

Last week I began:

A couple of days ago I had a strong desire to re-read Glennon Melton's Carry On, Warrior, so I decided to squeeze it in to my September reads.

I also started Tony Hoagland's new book of poems Priest Turned Therapist Treats Fear of God and Rose Kennedy's Family Album which I found in a used bookstore this summer.

My audiobook:

I'm thinking that a magical realism plot will erupt any moment, and I'm actually looking forward to it!