Monday, November 20, 2017

What I'm reading this week (11/20/17)

Last week I finished:

It's no secret that I love to read about the Kennedy family. (Check out my recent post here in conjunction with Nonfiction November.) As soon as it came out, I bought a copy of Jackie's Girl, but after reading After Camelot earlier this year, I was a little burned out on Kennedy books for awhile. Trying to clean up my TBR a bit before the end of the year, though, I decided it was time to read Jackie's Girl. To be honest, I didn't have high hopes for this one. I figured it would either be a tell-all or a tell-nothing, like most of the other I-knew-a-celebrity books. But this one surpassed all my expectations. I fell in love with it right away. Kathy McKeon was Jackie's personal assistant and sometimes nanny from 1964 to 1976. Having just arrived from Ireland, McKeon didn't expect her career in service would ever intersect with the likes of Jackie O. She tells of her years with Madam (as Jackie asked to be called by her staff) with respect, humor, and honesty. She doesn't paint Jackie as the perfect icon so many others did, nor does she deliver a nasty hit piece. She just presents Jackie as a person with positive and negative traits, personality quirks, insecurities, grace, and a charming, girlish sense of humor. McKeon also talks about Caroline and John Jr. (her stories of John are wonderful), Aristotle Onassis, and her catty Irish spats with the other mostly Irish staff. She also tells of the difficulty she had forging a life of her own while still being "Jackie's Girl" almost around the clock. It was a charming book that hit just the right note. I loved this one. My rating: 4.5 stars. 

Every now and then I pick up a book to challenge my reading. Although I read widely across genres, there are several genres I just don't have a lot of interest in. Sci fi is one of them. Yet, I love sci fi movies, so I'm not unfamiliar with what sci fi is and why folks love it. I decided that reading a book that so many others read and loved (14,000 reviews on Amazon) would be kind of fun, so I picked up Ready Player One on audio last week. The story is this: In the year 2045, the earth is a grim place to live. Due to a global energy crisis caused by global warming (wow, that happened fast), people turn to either drugs or the virtual reality universe of the OASIS to escape. Most of a person's identity and interactions with others exist in the virtual world rather than in reality. A billionaire game developer dies and leaves all his fortune to the person who can complete a virtual reality quest full of video games, trivia, and movies from the 1980s. And one young man does. If you grew up in the 1980s like I did, and more importantly, if you were a part of the gaming culture of that decade, no doubt you've read and enjoyed this book. But I'm proof that you can enjoy the book even if you knew little or nothing of the 1980s gaming world. I did like this book. I'm probably glad I listened to it rather than read it, because it was narrated by Wil Wheaton and because what you're getting here isn't exactly literature-with-a-capital-L, which is best listened to than read, in my opinion. There's a great deal of swearing, though, when the teen characters get together and trash talk one another. I was bothered by one thing beyond the rather simplistic writing: If this is 2045, it's roughly 30 years in the future, but nothing much by the way of technology has changed. Other than having the OASIS, all the currently popular technologies are still in operation: eBay, YouTube, email, text messaging. Also, culture itself doesn't seem to have been imagined out of the mid-2010s. Meth labs are still a problem. There are still SNL skits. I expected a few futuristic trappings, but it oddly delivered none. Maybe we're supposed to think that society just stopped innovating once the OASIS was invented, I don't know. At any rate, if you haven't tried this one but like a good adventure, it's a fun book. My rating: 3.5 stars.

I read the first Waylon book when it came out last year, and I really liked it. I also adore Sara Pennypacker's series of Clementine books, of which this is a spin-off. But this book, Waylon! Even More Awesome, was superb. I think Pennypacker is at her best here. If the Clementine books are a hair silly for you, try the Waylon books. They're a little more sophisticated and serious, but they're missing none of the heart or good values of the Clementine series. In this book Waylon and his friend Baxter are hatching a scheme to adopt a dog that neither of them can take home (allergies in Waylon's family and a no-dogs lease in Baxter's), but they have a plan as to where they can keep him safe, warm, dry, and hopefully, in one place ("Dumpster Eddy" is a runner). But when they go to the police station to collect Eddy from lockup, he's already gone to a shelter in another city. Will Waylon ever see him again? Will he ever get to have a dog of his own? In addition to the main dog plot, there are other plots involving Waylon collaborating on writing a science comic, Waylon's dad's screenplay that doesn't seem to be selling, the amount of time Baxter spends at the police station (in trouble?) and whether Waylon should be friends with him. I loved this book. It's great for a child looking for chapter books that will uphold good values. My rating: 5 stars.  
Oh, Emily Dickinson, why do I have such a problem with you? I can read 2,000 poems a year, understand almost every one of them, but a slim volume of Dickinson's poetry can absolutely flummox me. I can read page after page and not understand a word. Why? I think part of the problem is the almost cryptic way Dickinson writes her poems. They all seem to be a series of thoughts connected only with dashes (oh those dreaded dashes!). I prefer a more prosaic poem. Also, these poems are pretty old, and I've always had trouble with older poetry. While Dickinson doesn't often reference other works (like mythology, for instance), I still don't have a clue what she's writing about half of the time. So, I didn't get much out of The Essential Emily Dickinson, selected by Joyce Carol Oates. I will take all of my poetry professors' words for it that Dickinson is a cornerstone of the poetry canon, but I will go on shaking my head over her poems nonetheless. My rating (based on my own ignorance and how I enjoyed the process of reading the book): 2 stars.

You know by now how much I love a good book of cute photos. While I generally opt for photos of dogs, I recently discovered an Instagram account which has become the book Naptime with Joey. Joey is an absolutely adorable baby girl with huge cheeks who is a very sound sleeper. She sleeps so soundly, in fact, that her mother can dress her in costumes during her naps. And dress her she does! The photos are adorable and very well-imagined. Some are sent from folks in other countries as representations of their national dress. It's a happy little book, but if you pick it up without a background of the Instagram account, you'll have no idea what's going on. There is absolutely no introduction explaining who Joey or her mom are, that Joey is a girl, that this all happens while Joey naps, nothing. I don't understand that utter lack of information. A single paragraph would have been better than nothing. Also, you need a strong background in pop culture TV, movies, and music, or you'll miss a lot of the references. I sure did. The puns with each photo help sometimes, but not always. The whole thing kind of felt like a series of inside jokes that I just wasn't in on. It was frustrating to me. So I guess maybe I'm not the demographic Joey's folks are marketing toward. Still, cute book, but I prefer the Instagram photos. My rating: 3 stars.

Next up:

I have been waiting for this one for ages. I'm so excited to begin over Thanksgiving break.

Last week I began:

I'll finish The Penguin Lessons this week. I am loving this book. Too bad it took so long for me to get to it.

I also began Max Garland's newest book of poetry The Word We Used for It. It's amazing.

This week I'll finish:

Still loving this book. I hope to finish it before I have to cook my 15th Thanksgiving dinner for 9 to 12 later this week.

My audiobook:

I'm finally getting around to Circling the Sun. Since I finished Beryl Markham's West with the Night, I've wanted to read the novel based on her life (though it was on my TBR long before that).

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Nonfiction November 2017 (week 3)


Week 3, Be the Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

I guess you could call me a "Kennedy expert." I've read oodles of books about the Kennedy family, including biographies of JFK, Jackie, Rose Kennedy, Kit Kennedy, and Rosemary Kennedy; the Kennedy assassination; and the whole Kennedy family since the 1960s. I also have a bunch more to get to someday. Following are five of the most informative of the Kennedy books I've read. (Of course, I couldn't choose just three!)


Killing Kennedy is a scene-by-scene examination of the Kennedy assassination.

Mrs. Kennedy and Me is written by Jackie Kennedy's secret service detail, Clint Hill.

Jackie's Girl is the memoir of Kathy McKeon, Jackie's personal assistant and sometimes nanny, of her time with Jackie and her children in the years following the president's assassination.

Rose Kennedy is a biography of the Kennedy matriarch, Rose (JFK's mother).

After Camelot is a comprehensive look at the Kennedy family after the assassinations of President Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy. Lots of dirt in this one.

What are your favorite Kennedy family books?

Monday, November 13, 2017

What I'm reading this week (11/13/17)

Last week I finished:

I'm not a personality typing buff. In fact, I have very mixed feelings about the value of such a thing for society. My spiritual outlook is such that we are created in God's image, products of the one Mind, and therefore, the same. I deal with things on the material level only to the degree that they can be perfected and brought up to the spiritual standard I was created by. Therefore, if I see something in my personality that causes me (or others) discomfort, I treat it. Personality typing, however, divides society into groups of like-acting individuals. Some types focus on the positive traits or strengths of each group, some on the negative traits or shortcomings of the group, and some a mixture of both. Needless to say, this sort of thing makes me uncomfortable. While it can be helpful to know yourself in order to improve yourself, it can also be a trap of limitation. Enter personality typing aficionado Anne Bogel and her book, Reading People. In her book, Bogel goes into some depth explaining several of the most common typing systems: Enneagram, Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, 5 Love Languages, and StrengthsFinder. She talks about the backgrounds, methods, and her results with each test. It's presented in a friendly manner that makes the book enormously readable. I really enjoyed my time with the book, and it gave me much food for thought. While I won't be taking any of the tests to identify my personality group, I was able to identify some things that I might want to address with spiritual work in order to become more Christlike. I recommend this book to anyone interested in this topic. It's certainly a good place to start with the exploration of personality. My rating: 4 stars.

Back in college a friend of mine introduced me to the James Herriot books, and I was intrigued. Growing up a farm kid, I though I might find them interesting. And...ahem...20 years later, I finally got around to the first in the series, All Creatures Great and Small. I listened to this on audio, and it was hugely enjoyable. The narrator is wonderful, his accents are great, and he nails the dry humor. This is memoir of a country veterinarian (James Herriot is a pen name), practicing in Yorkshire in the 1930s. Herriot works for ,and lives with, a more experienced vet, Siegfried, who has a holey memory. Also a part of the stories is Siegfried's brother, Tristan, who is going through vet school. Most chapters tell a single story about a farmer and his cows, horses, dog, what have you, and they're all funny and/or touching. Herriot is a natural storyteller who isn't afraid of a big of embellishment for the sake of the story, and listening to this book I missed my dad who had that same gift. If you haven't tried a Herriot book, I highly recommend this one. I'll definitely continue on with the other four books in the series, probably on audio as the experience was so good. My rating: 4 stars.

And speaking of charming English books, I finished I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith last week, and it was wonderful. It's a cross between an updated Jane Austen romance and a Flavia de Luce book (without the humor or mystery...). I knew very little of the plot of this one going in, and I felt that was a good way to enjoy this book, so I'll try not to give you too much plot summary. It's the story of 17-year-old Cassandra, her sister Rose, brother Thomas, father and stepmother Topaz, and boarder/caretaker Stephen who is Cassandra's age. They live in a falling-down castle in England in bad straights since her father has been unable to follow up his first critically-acclaimed book with another. Two brothers, Simon raised in England, Neil raised in America, happen upon the castle one day, and folks fall in love with each other, chase each other to London, etc. Like I said, it's very much an updated Austen novel. The whole book is written as Cassandra's journal. It was a good read for this time of year. The family's gloomy prospects fits well with the chilly weather and short days of autumn. I would definitely encourage you to get ahold of this one if quiet English books are your thing. It was published in 1948, but it's enjoyed a bit of a revival, perhaps because of J.K. Rowling's endorsement printed on the front cover. Dodie Smith is the author of The Hundred and One Dalmatians of epic Disney fame. My rating: 4 stars.

I've long been curious about the additional selections in online State pull-down menus: Puerto Rico, U. S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam. I don't know about you, but I never learned a whit about them in school. Well, same for The Not-Quite States of America author Doug Mack. In fact, Mack, who studied American Studies in college, knew no more about them after his coursework than you or I. So, he set out to change that. He visited each of the territories (in addition to my list is Northern Mariana Islands), examines the culture, asks the natives questions, and presents his information to us. I looked forward to reading this book all year (it was released in February), and I finally picked it up when the recent hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico really brought the island to my consciousness again. Unfortunately, I didn't love the book. First, and it may just be me, but I felt Mack wasn't impartial in his portrayal of the facts. He was very much of the liberal mindset that colonialism was wholly bad and the folks of these islands should have the same rights and privileges as Americans in the states. This may or may not be true, but I resented his out-of-hand assumption that it was true--and that his readers would agree. I don't think it's racist to say, for instance, that American blacks--though descendants of slavery--are better off in present-day American than in most countries of present-day Africa. Mack takes issue with that stance. That aside, I don't feel that all of my questions were answered. I came to the book wondering: Are all of the people in the territories American citizens? Do they pay taxes to the American treasury and live under the laws of the American Constitution? How does America support the economy of the territories? What is mainland America's responsibility to the territories? among others. I didn't feel that I got any hard answers. The book was mostly the adventures of Mack in the different territories, and I could have done with less of that and more facts. Perhaps the problem is that it's different in each territory. They all seem to have different designations: organized vs. unorganized, incorporated vs. unincorporated, commonwealth. I got confused by the unclear information, and I came away with almost the same questions I went in with. It may very well be that I was dense and missed things. Regardless, I was expecting something a little different from what I got. If you like travel memoirs, this is pretty good, but if you're looking more for facts than entertainment, this one may frustrate you. It did me. Still, I will never hear one of these territory's names again without thinking about their tenuous status and varied cultures, and that is a credit to Doug Mack's book. My rating: 3 stars.

Next up:

This one has been on the TBR for well over a year, and with the recent dip in temperatures (5 degrees on my way into work on Friday), a book about a penguin might be just about right.

Last week I started:

This is a re-read for me. As the holder of the Becker family Thanksgiving since 2002 (my gosh, 15 years already?!), I know the drill, and I have the whole thing down. But I still adore Sam Sifton's book for its rigid you-must-do-it-this-way-or-the-day-is-ruined approach. God bless him.  

This week I'll continue with:

I'll be finishing this one soon. Dickinson is like Shakespeare to me, both are great, and I don't get either.

My audiobook:

File this under Getting Out of My Comfort Zone. Sci-fi! (It's actually my second this year! Link to the other.) As a child of the 80s, I thought I'd give Ready Player One a listen. As someone with zero gaming experience (except a game or two of Pong--is that even gaming?), we'll see how that goes.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Nonfiction November 2017 (week 2)

Week 2, Book Pairing: This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.

This week I decided to give a sampling of the nonfiction and fiction books I read this year about Africa. The countries of Africa are full of beautiful and heartbreaking stories. There is so much adventure, lots of poverty, and a fair amount of laughter in these books. 

Nonfiction. I read Beryl Markham's memoir of life and aviation in Africa, West with the Night and Trevor Noah's memoir of growing up in South Africa, Born a Crime.

Fiction: I read the first three books in Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, and Yaa Gyasi's Homegoing.

Monday, November 6, 2017

What I'm reading this week (11/6/17)

 I didn't finish anything last week, but I'm set to finish this today:

I don't remember what interested me about this book when I was introduced to it on a blog years ago, but I went into it with no idea of what it was about other than a girl and her family live in an old castle in Britain. I'm loving the cozy (or cosy) Englishy tone. It's one of those wonderful quiet books where nothing much happens.

Next up:

I was so excited when The Not-Quite States of America was published, because I'd always wondered about the U.S. Territories--how we acquitted them, how they were governed, how "American" they are. And now with the recent devastation in Puerto Rico, I'm even more interested to learn about Puerto Rico and the others.

Last week I abandoned:

Miss Burma is very well written, and there's nothing so much wrong with it as it's just not my thing. This is a novel that deals with the turmoil in Burma in the mid-20th century. There's a fair amount of violence and lots of adultery, and I just decided to throw in the towel halfway through. I found it quite unpleasant, and the TBR is too long to settle for unpleasant.

Last week I began:

I'm already about halfway through Anne Bogel's Reading People, about personality testing, and I'm enjoying it way more than I thought I would.

I'm also reading The Essential Emily Dickinson, selected by Joyce Carol Oates. I've never been a Dickinson fan, and while reading this I'm realizing that may not change.

My audiobook:

I am absolutely adoring the first in the James Herriot All Creatures Great and Small series (named after the first book). If you love funny Englishmen (think Bill Bryson) and animals (Herriot is a vet in the 1930s in Yorkshire), you must try this book. The audio is wonderful.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Nonfiction November 2017 (week 1)

I love participating in Nonfiction November. Nonfiction readers are the hardcore bookworms I love best. And even though I love a good historical fiction novel, nonfiction is what I love reading most. The Nonfiction November series will run a new topic each week of November, and I'll try to post mine on Fridays. Check back for more fun all month!

Week 1: Your Year in Nonfiction


Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions:


What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?
So far this year, I've read 64 nonfiction books (plus 46 fiction and 13 poetry), and choosing one favorite is almost impossible. I did find myself reading a lot of books about flight, though, and I loved every one of them. The Spirit of St. Louis, West with the Night, Sully, Rocket Boys, and All the Gallant Men were all wonderful books.


What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

Gosh, that's a hard question. I really gushed over The Spirit of St. Louis and Sully. They make one proud to be an American.

What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet?

I can never read enough memoirs. Never.

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?

I just love seeing other folks' favorite kinds of nonfiction. It's such a broad genre with so many subjects to explore. And of course I love all the recommendations of other readers' favorite books of the year!

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

November 2017 reading list

November is another month of cleaning off the TBR list. But I've also snuck in a few new releases that couldn't wait (Amy Tan!, Anne Bogel!). But everything is subject to change as (a) I've been reading a lot more each month than I anticipate and (b) I've been swapping books in and out a lot these last few months.