Monday, March 31, 2014

March 2014 Recap - March (Reading) Madness

It’s been a good month, reading-wise. (Can’t say the same for the weather, although the unrelenting lion of a winter seems to be mellowing into a lamb, at least somewhat. It’s supposed to be in the high 50s today. Then freezing again tonight. So, maybe a ferocious lamb.)

During the university’s spring break, I took three days off to read. There’s no better way to use all that vacation than reading days!

I finished 12 books this month. And I’ll likely never do it again!
I'll recap each with a one-word review (until the full-length reviews are posted).



Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand

Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott

Manage Your Day-to-Day, Jocelyn K. Glei (Ed.)

Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand

Growing Up Duggar, Jana, Jill, Jessa, & Jinger Duggar

Daring Greatly, Brene Brown



Sunny’s Kitchen, Sunny Anderson

Cooking Comically, Tyler Capps



Persuasion, Jane Austen



The Year of Billy Miller, Kevin Henkes

Clementine, Sara Pennypacker, Marla Frazee (Ill.)



Underwater Dogs, Seth Casteel



My two favorites were both of Laura Hillenbrand books: Seabiscuit and Unbroken. I finished Unbroken before someone told me it was being made into a movie. But I would have expected as much. It’s phenomenal. Although I might have preferred Seabiscuit just because it was more palatable.


I started and didn’t finish two books: My Life in Middlemarch and Johnny Carson. My Life in Middlemarch wasn’t a bad book, it just didn’t grab me. It was much too academic to be very interesting. Scholars and George Eliot devotees would enjoy the book, I think. I only read 20 pages or so of Johnny Carson before calling it quits. I grew up with Carson, and he was well-respected. I read enough in the first few pages to know he wasn’t such a great guy (I believe the biographer’s words were something to the effect of “he was the meanest SOB I ever met”—and they were friends), so I bailed. I didn’t need examples of the meanness or SOB-ity.

I’m also reading my way through a HUGE stack of picture books from the library. Some great stuff and some really bad award winners.

So, a good month for me.


Currently reading: Chaser about a Border Collie who knows over 1,000 words, which, up until this point in history, scientists thought impossible. Loving this one. Also reading Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman. I bought my grandson a copy for Christmas and thought I’d read it, too. Also working my way through Barbra Streisand’s My Passion for Design. My goodness is she confidently controlling. It’s not the kind of personality most folks own up to. So I’m as taken by her prose as by the beauty of her home.


Look for reviews of these soon. Gotta catch up!

Friday, March 28, 2014

Journey, Aaron Becker



Aaron Becker 

Category: Children’s Picture Book

Synopsis: A wordless book about a lonely girl opening up new worlds with her imagination.

Rating: * (3-star scale)

Award: 2014 Caldecott Honor

I’ve been known to appreciate a wordless picture book here and there, and this one may work well for the intended audience*, but I just didn’t like this book. For me, the artwork was just too foreboding to be enjoyable.

Maybe the book is just too much fantasy and not enough reality for me. I like imaginative stories up to the point of fantasy, but then my interest flags. So, maybe it’s a me thing. (As a child, I was very imaginative, but I was always imaginative with things that could only happen in reality. I’m still that way. It’s why I seldom enjoy fiction.)

On a side note, I have a nephew named Aaron Becker, so there is that!

*Amazon says ages 4-8, but I don’t know if anyone younger than six would be able to create the narrative thread to make this make sense. I could be wrong.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
The right kind of kid would enjoy this one all day long, I think.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Seabiscuit, Laura Hillenbrand

Seabiscuit: An American Legend  


Laura Hillenbrand

Category: Biography

Synopsis: Hillenbrand presents a biography of one of the greatest racehorses of all time.

Date finished: 3 March 2014

Rating: *****


Oh. My. Goodness.

I have never gotten to the end of a book before and cried that it was over. I’ve felt sad, yes. I’ve missed characters and settings, sure. But to feel emotionally annihilated? Nope. Disconsolately bereft? Not until now.

How will I ever do this book justice?

What strikes me is that anyone could have written this book, but it took Hillenbrand to write it this well. She seemed to really love and understand her subjects. She gave them room to be themselves. She didn’t make caricatures of them, and she didn’t anthropomorphize Seabiscuit. But what subjects they were! You’ve got Charles Howard, Seabiscuit’s gregarious, kind-hearted, press-loving owner. You’ve got Tom Smith, Seabiscuit’s taciturn trainer. And there’s Red Pollard, the Ralph Waldo Emerson-loving alcoholic with supremely bad luck and big heart. Lastly, there’s Seabiscuit himself. A horse that knew racing was a game and knew he could win. He’d taunt his rivals, and he won the match race against War Admiral by breaking him down. War Admiral retired two races later.

I know next to nothing about horses and absolutely zero about horse racing. The only horse races I’ve ever seen have been in movies. The only time I was ever on a horse was when I was little more than a toddler. But this book wasn’t just about horses or racing or even a Depression-era America that needed something to believe in. It is about spirit—human and animal. Do some folks—or some horses—possess it in greater measure, or is it nurtured? What is the measure of greatness? How much of excellence is confidence, and is it the same for equine athletes as for human athletes? Is passion a personality trait or learned behavior? Also, how many people are as good at any one thing as Seabiscuit was at running? All questions I’m still asking myself days later.

Hillenbrand’s writing is informative, vivid, colorful, and playful. Her research is exhaustive (don’t skip the Acknowledgements). She took time with her story and let it unfold naturally. Her descriptions of the race scenes were so exciting my heart was pounding and my adrenalin was flowing. Now, I’ve read a lot of books in my life, but I’ve never been so engrossed that my blood-pressure elevated!

I bought my first copy of this book when the movie came out. I never got around to reading it, so I donated it. I picked it up again after reading customer reviews. Proof that if you’re meant to read something, the book will reappear. Would I have appreciated the book ten years ago? I doubt it. Not like this.
Would you recommend this to a friend?
Not highly enough. This is a beautiful, flawless book.

You might also enjoy:
Truly, nothing compares.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday (Bookish Bucket List)

This Week’s Topic: Top Ten Things on My Bookish Bucket List

1. Read 100 books in a year.
My personal best is 72.

2. Re-read all of my favorite books.
This would likely only happen if publishing ceased for a year or two.

3. Get to the point where I only keep my favorite books.
I have to own my favorite books, but I keep a lot more than that. My shelves are a scrapbook of my life, and they should be a “best of.”

4. Write a book.
I have no idea what it would be about, but I think I’ll write one someday.

5. Finish all the Jane Austen novels.
I have only Emma and Mansfield Park left.

6. Read some classic literature.
I majored in English but got away with reading very few classics.

7. Read (or re-read) the “great” poems.
I’m not terribly motivated to do this, but I feel I should.

8. Finish reading the Bible.
I read the New Testament, then started on the Old Testament. I’m stalled in II Samuel.

9. Read some children’s literature that I’ve never had a chance to.
Anne of Green Gables, Mary Poppins, Charlotte’s Web.

10. Start a book club.
Anyone want to become part of a nonfiction book club?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Sunny's Kitchen, Sunny Anderson

Sunny’s Kitchen: Easy Food for Real Life 


Sunny Anderson

Category: Cookbook

Synopsis: Food Network star Sunny Anderson shares her favorite recipes.

Date finished: 1 March 2014

Rating: ****

It’s been awhile since I’ve spent much time in front of the Food Network. I enjoy the Pioneer Woman and Trisha Yearwood’s cooking show, but most of the rest I am pretty out of touch with. Something about this cookbook intrigued me, though, so I ordered it for the library and put my personal notification in it.

Well, I ended up ordering my own copy about halfway through.

I enjoy Sunny Anderson’s spunk. She seems a little bit fearless and thoroughly enjoys what she’s doing. So many of the Food Networks folks get too analytical. And I’m not talking good ole Alton Brown-analytical, either. Some Foodie folks just don’t seem to enjoy food. They don’t make it fun. They make it science. And I know science is involved, but so is heart. And Sunny’s got heart.

There were a number of recipes in the cookbook that I’d like to try. And I’d taste just about every one of them if offered. The recipes have a number of influences due to Sunny’s travels as a child and as an adult in the Armed Forces. I love cookbooks that read like a scrapbook of someone’s life.

A few things that bothered me:
  • The layout of the recipes was awkward. (And “awkward” might be charitable.) The list of ingredients ran on the left column of the left-hand page and the right column of the right-hand page meaning it was quite possible that you’d not realize the ingredients continued on the next page. Time and again this would trip me up.
  • Sunny is obsessed with letting meat rest on the counter for two hours before cooking it. She assures her readers that the USDA says this is fine. Still. Shivers.
  • She gets a little bossy. I don’t like bossy cookbooks.  I don’t like being told what salt to use. I don’t like being told what spoon to use. It makes me defiant.
  • My number one pet peeve with cookbooks is when they don’t have a photo for. Each. Dish. Because, as Food Network star Rachael Ray, says, “You eat with your eyes first.” This book did okay overall, but there were still several recipes that did not have photos. A cookbook without a photo of each recipe is just plain wrong.
I know that sounds like a lot of gripes, but the important part—the food—is varied and interesting. Just what one needs to get out of  that winter rut.

Would you recommend this to a friend?

You might also enjoy:
The Pioneer Woman Cooks: A Year of Holidays, Ree Drummond

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday (Spring 2014 TBR list)

This Week’s Topic: Top Ten Books on My Spring 2014 TBR List (To Be Read list)
1. The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown

2. Quiet, Susan Cain

3. Growing Up Duggar, Jana, Jill, Jessa, & Jinger Duggar

4. Beatrix Potter’s Gardening Life, Marta McDowell

5. Five Days at Memorial, Sheri Fink

6. My Passion for Design, Barbra Streisand

7. Belles on Their Toes, Frank B. Gilbreth & Ernestine Gilbreth Carey

8. My Life in Middlemarch, Rebecca Mead
9. My Fair Lazy, Jen Lancaster

10. Daring Greatly, Brene Brown

Not including, of course, the books on my TBB (To Be Bought) pile!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

I Am Malala, Malala Yousafzai

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban


Malala Yousafzai, Christina Lamb (Contrib.)

Category: Memoir

Synopsis: Yousafzai recounts her life, the events leading up to her assassination attempt, and leaving Pakistan for medical care and asylum.

Date finished: 21 February 2014   

Rating: ****

I’ve read scores of books about Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, etc. They all blur together at this point. They are all heartbreaking and they all leave you feeling lucky for what you have and sorrowful for what others don’t.

There isn’t much to say for this book that I haven’t said for other books from this area of the world. This is by no means the best, nor my favorite, of the books of this genre, but it was worth the read. Unfortunately, it won’t be the last of these books published, either. It would seem that until things change in the hearts of the men in this area of the world, the women and girls will suffer.

This is one of the few books of its ilk that seemed to distrust the United States. Yousafzai seems to posit that the unfortunate drone killings of innocents were not accidents at all. How can Pakistanis trust that leader after leader will deliver them from the Taliban but have no trust in the United States? With no help from the western world, it will be up to them to fight for change, and when one half of your population is not allowed to leave the house, what kind of change will you bring about, at what cost, and how long will it take?

While this book has an extra tug at your heartstrings because it was authored by a girl who suffered a Talib bullet, it didn’t quite measure up to others. Or perhaps I’m getting inured to the whole genre.

I do think it would do well to be required reading in high schools, to present our apathetic youth with a global perspective.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
Yes, if it is their first book on the subject of women in this part of the world.

You might also enjoy:
The Favored Daughter: One Woman’s Fight to Lead Afghanistan into the Future by Fawzia Koofi, Nadene Ghouri
Kabul Beauty School: An American Woman Goes Behind the Veil by Deborah Rodriguez and Kristin Ohlson
Zoya’s Story: An Afghan Woman’s Struggle for Freedom by John Follain and Rita Cristofari


Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday (Parenting Books)

This week’s topic: Top Ten All Time Favorite Books in X Genre (you pick the genre!)

My Topic: Parenting

Okay, so I don't have any children of my own, and my only parenting experience is of adult stepchildren my age, but I cut my nonfiction-reading-teeth on memoirs about mothering. I perhaps know more about parenting philosophies than most folks who actually HAVE children. Here are some of my favorites from over the years.

7 Stages of Motherhood, Ann Pleshette Murphy
A wonderful book that takes you from mothering infants to teens. Where, apparently, mothering ends. :)

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, Amy Chua
Mothering the Chinese Tiger Mother way.

Bloom, Kelle Hampton
Mothering a Down Syndrome baby. Beautiful photos.

Bringing Up Bébé, Pamela Druckerman
French parenting.

French Kids Eat Everything, Karen Le Billon
More French parenting--mostly where it comes to dining.

Fruitful, Anne Roiphe
The motherhood book that started it all for me. Were I to re-read it, I might find it way too liberal for my current tastes.

Honest Toddler, Bunmi Laditan
Seriously. Why have you not read this book? Parenting from the toddler's viewpoint. Hilarious.

Let the Baby Drive, Lu Hanessian
I'm not sure I'd still agree with the parenting philosophy in this one, but I loved it at the time.

Operating Instructions, Anne Lamott
Read it a long time ago, and she's a dang good writer. Funny, too.

The Spark, Kristine Barnett
Parenting an autistic boy.

Beautiful Boy, David Sheff
Father of a meth addict writes his story.

Coop, Michael Perry
Rural fatherhood. This was my childhood. Pretty much.

Dinner with Dad, Cameron Stracher
A father makes a commitment to be home every night for family dinner. You can imagine how that's going to go.

Duggars: 20 and Counting!, Michelle & Jim Bob Duggar
The Duggars talk about raising 19 (well, 18 at the time of publishing) children.

All Joy and No Fun, Jennifer Senior
How Eskimos Keep Their Babies Warm, Mei-Ling Hopgood

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Humans of New York, Brandon Stanton

Humans of New York


Brandon Stanton

Category: Photography

Synopsis: Stanton travels through New York City’s boroughs taking portraits of its people.

Date finished: 9 February 2014

Rating: *****

I knew nothing of Stanton’s Facebook or Tumblr projects until this book. I was asked to order the book for the library, and being a portrait aficionado, I put a hold on it so I could be first to peruse it. I found this to be very similar to Dancers among Us, though, of course, a bit less posed. There is a graciousness and humanity present in both books that appeals to me.

I thoroughly enjoyed this collection. I especially loved the quotes and stories that accompanied the photos. I’ve long loved faces and what photographers can capture in portraits. I own hundreds of antique portraits, each a treasure because of the personality that comes through.

But it struck me, in a place the size of New York City, there are no average people. Everyone shows their personality in their clothing or hair or makeup or tattoos. With so many people teeming around you every day, you have to show your inside self on your outside self, or you’ll be swallowed up in the crowd. You’ll be nobody. I find this simultaneously fascinating and tragic.

Would someone please do a book like this set in the Midwest? Please.

Would you recommend this to a friend?

You might also enjoy:
Dancers among Us
Maddie on Things

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday (10 Authors I've Never Read)

This Week's Topic: Top Ten Popular Authors I've Never Read
I don’t read much fiction at all, so it’s no surprise that my list will likely shock some folks. In all likelihood, you could put any fiction-writer on this list and I’d have to claim ignorance. But at least I know the names, right?

1. J. K. Rowling

2. J.R.R. Tolkien

3. Neil Gaiman

4. John Grisham

5. James Patterson

6. Patricia Cornwell

7. Dean Koontz

8. Dan Brown

9. Mary Higgins Clark

10. Khaled Hosseini

(You’ll notice that Stephen King is not on this list. This is only because I read his brilliant On Writing many years ago. The stuff he’s known for? Never read it.)

P.S. I took these names from a list of the bestselling authors between 2000 and 2009.