Tuesday, September 30, 2014

September 2014 Recap

My gosh, where did September go? What did I even do this month? Seems like the only thing I have to show for the month is nine books read. But there were some stellar reads (three five-star books), so I guess I won't feel too guilty. I read one novel, two cookbooks, one photojournalism book about what the world eats, a book of poetry, a book about the Revolutionary War, a Midwest foodie memoir, a book about a famous scientist, and a book about a 1880s voyage to discover the North Pole. In short, a little bit of everything.
I'm slowly catching up on reviews. As always, I'll leave you with one-word reviews.






Going into October, I'm reading:

So far, my only complaint about this book is that the font is so infinitesimal I'm going crazy trying to read it. I've tried my university and public libraries for a hardcover or large print edition to no avail. But my tired eyes aside, the book is very good. Larson is a master storyteller. And the story is creepy, creepy, creepy. A great October read.
In October I plan to clean up my TBR list by reading some of the books that have been on it the longest. Possible titles:

What September read was your favorite? 


Friday, September 26, 2014

Friday Finds (Sept. 26)

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Another week, another list of books to be excited about. How much better does life get, I ask you!

One of my student workers knows I love nonfiction, and she recommended Bonhoeffer to me. I remember when the book came out, and the cover just creeped me out. But now I think if I can get past the cover, I'll have quite a story.
Ran across info this week on the newest Erik Larson book, Dead Wake, about the Lusitania, to be released in March 2015.
Bookmammal has Some Luck on her Fall TBR, and when I read an excerpt, I got excited about it, too. The writing is excellent. While I thought I'd read Smiley, looking at her book list, I'm not sure I have. I do know I tried to read Moo several times, but finally gave up. Some Luck is the first in a trilogy about one farm family throughout a century. I'm from a long line of farmers on both sides of the house, so farm families have a very special place in my heart.

And then there are the dog books. You know I can't resist a good dog book.
Bespotted is written by Anne Sexton's daughter, Linda Gray Sexton. It's about the 38 Dalmatians she's opened her life to. I believe she is also a breeder of Dals.
Underwater Puppies is Seth Casteel's follow-up to Underwater Dogs. It's a book of photographs of puppies taken underwater.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Delicious Autumn!

Image design is mine. Please don't use without permission.

Spring was late, the summer was mild, and now autumn is at our door. The trees are turning, and our too many maple tress are starting to drop their leaves. The nights here in Wisconsin are getting pretty cold (mid 30s). The tomatoes are doing their best to ripen before the frost comes. 

Speaking of Wisconsin. My city has just been ranked America's 59th most livable city.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Open, Andre Agassi

Category: Nonfiction: Sports (Tennis); Celebrity

Synopsis: Agassi rehearses his tennis career, his relationships, and his inability to quit the thing he hates most.

Date finished: 1 August 2014

Rating: *****

Okay, here’s the thing: Andre Agassi hated tennis. He wanted to quit playing most of the years he played. From age 7 up, he wanted to be free of the thing that had made him who he was to everyone but himself. But the truth was, he didn’t know how to do anything else, to be anyone but what he was created to be. So he played. For 30 years, he played a sport he hated. And he was dang good at it. In his long career, he is one of only four male singles players to achieve a Career Grand Slam (all four Grand Slam championships: Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and US Open). He was number one in the world, and played more years than most men are physically able to. All the while wishing he would quit.

Now, if that kind of conflict doesn’t make for a kick-butt memoir, I don’t know what does.

I’ve read my share of celebrity memoirs. Everyone from Marie Osmond to Shirley MacLaine to Julie Andrews to Jay Leno. They’re usually pretty awful. You kind of expect that in a celebrity memoir. You forgive it, because they are not writers. But Open knocked my head back. It really did blow me away. Agassi is a deeply introspective guy who can really get to the heart of the matter without excuses or hang-ups. He’s gritty and honest and comes across as quite respectable.

If you followed Agassi’s career, you know the press portrayed him as an egomaniac with control issues. He dressed oddly on the court (remember the jean shorts?) and wore his hair in odd styles/colors (until he just shaved it). And he was angry. He smashed his rackets and got ejected from games for swearing at the court stewards. But really, he was an insecure man who hadn’t been allowed to figure out who he was before becoming a star. And the odd thing is, he seemed to know he was an insecure guy who’d never been allowed to figure out who he was. Which made the shackles of tennis even harder to break.

Agassi is unreservedly frank here. He doesn’t hold back, and he doesn’t seem to be writing to “air it all.” He seems to genuinely be writing for the sake of getting to the heart of the matter. He’s honest about his screw-ups and flaws and aspirations and gifts. He’s precise and searing but can also bring tears to your eyes. He talks about his abusive father, about his friendships, his rivals (esp. Pete Sampras. Always Pete.), his marriage to Stefani Graff. And, he dishes about his ill-fated first marriage to Brooke Shields whom he couldn’t respect because being an actress seemed wholly disingenuous to him. He talks about dropping out of high school—which pleased his father, if that’s any indication of his family dynamic. He discusses admitting to using meth but lying about it being an accident in such a way that I felt sorry for him and was inclined to cut him some slack.

In addition to learning about what makes Agassi tick, I learned a bit about tennis. Mostly, I learned this surprising fact: In tennis you can be the best player in the world and lose. A lot. Tennis players lose a lot of games.

And one last thing. This book could have absolutely stunk and I still would have given it one star for its great title. Brilliant pun.

Oh, also, I would have given it one star for its cover. Aside from being sexy, the extreme close-up is gutsy (just like Agassi) and reinforces the “Open” theme.

Would you recommend this to a friend?

Top Ten Tuesday (Fall TBR)

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This week's topic: Top Ten[-ish] Books on My Fall TBR List

I have trouble with these seasonal TBR lists. And when I look back, I never seem to have read much off the list. I guess the books I generally want to read are the ones I've just bought, or am about to buy, or haven't been released yet. So my plan for October is to clean up some TBR titles that have been there a long time. We'll see how that goes. But there are some exciting books coming out this fall, so I'm sure they'll push others to the bottom of the list. You know how it is.

My list:

Bill O’Reilly, Martin Dugard
Killing Patton

Erik Larson
The Devil in the White City

Amity Shlaes

Robert Klara
FDR’s Funeral Train 
Mary Roach

Benedict Carey
How We Learn

And some that haven't been released yet:

James Steen
The Kitchen Magpie

A.N. Wilson


Sarah Richardson
Sarah Style

Ricahrd Zoglin

George W. Bush

Friday, September 19, 2014

Friday Finds (Sept. 19)

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Well, last week I was complaining about having such a LARGE Friday Finds list, and this week...three books. I think I'm going through that blogger malaise others seem to be suffering from. This week I started three books before sticking with oneand that one isn't very good. Of all the books on my TBR, you'd think I could find something that interests me, but no. Everything is blah, and I feel kind of down about it. Got any Blah Busters for me? Please share.
The list...

I've seen How We Learn all over, and the excerpt I read was interesting. Not that I really trust my book-choosing judgment right now.
I've also seen Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy all over. It's a nonfiction read about four women who go undercover during the Civil War. I believe two are Union and two are Confederate. I recently read a book about George Washington's Culper spy ring during the Revolutionary War, and I found that fascinating, so I might enjoy this. Plus, the cover is lovely, don't you think?

And then there's the Ken Burns documentary companion book, The Roosevelts: An Intimate History. This large coffee table-ish book is full of photos and has a scrapbook feel. While I didn't DVR the PBS series this week, I'm purchasing it for the library, so I might get to it someday. You know, when I have 14 hours to spare!

And that's all.

What's on your reading pile?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

From Bathing Suit to Ice Skates, Flora is Back!

One of the children's picture books that delighted me most last year was Flora and the Flamingo by Molly Idle. I'm not generally a fan of books with no words, but this one I loved. It's the story of little Flora who performs a ballet-of-sorts with a flamingo. It is a 2014 Caldecott Honor Book, and it has it all: interactive flaps, gorgeous and fun illustrations, expressive emotion.

And it is also pink, pink, PINK.

I loved it so much I actually bought a copy. And I don't have children.


Well, coming September 30, Flora takes to the ice with a penguin pal in Flora and the Penguin. And this one? Blue, blue, icy blue.

The book's not even out yet, and I'm already looking forward to more Flora books. How I hope Flora "Tangos with a Toucan" and "Sambas with a Stork" and "Congas with a Cockatoo."

I could go on all day. I hope Ms. Idle can.
So, if you're looking for a book for a sweet little girl in your life, keep Flora in mind. She's spirited, determined, and full of grace.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

All Four Stars, Tara Dairman

Category: Children’s fiction; Cooking & Food

Synopsis: Sixth-grader Gladys Gatsby becomes a restaurant critic.

Date finished: 6 August 2014

Rating: ****

Do you know a little girl who likes to cook? This is the book for her!

Gladys Gatsby likes to cook, bake, and try new recipes. The thing is, her parents think cooking is strange. They prefer to eat and serve fast food. So Gladys does her cooking on the sly. That is, until the day she nearly burns the kitchen down when using her father’s flow torch to finish off a crème brûlée. At which point she’s banned from the kitchen indefinitely.

Still, Gladys goes on to (inadvertently) land a job as a newspaper restaurant critic and has to find a way into the city to sample desserts at an up-and-coming restaurant and file her review. All without her parents suspecting a thing.

Needless to say, there’s a lot of deception going on—and not all of it gets found out. Although I dislike kids’ books that allow dishonesty to stand uncorrected, the book doesn’t flaunt disobedience either.

There are several plot points that are a little hard to take at face value, but I had to keep reminding myself this is children’s literature. Still, some of them bothered me. I’m not sure a twelve-year-old would swallow it whole. An eight-year-old might not have a problem, though.

This book likely won’t become a classic, but if you can suspend disbelief, it’s a fun read.

Would you recommend this to a friend?
For a little girl with an interest in cooking, this might be a slam dunk.

You might also enjoy:
The Year of Billy Miller

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday (who to read more of)

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This week's topic: Top Authors I've Only Read One Book From But NEED to Read More

I couldn't think of ten authors, so I've only got five today. I'm listing the book I read, and others by the author on my TBR.

1. Hampton Sides
I just finished In the Kingdom of Ice, and I loved it so much I immediately added Hellhound on His Trail to my TBR.
2. Bill Bryson
One of my favorite books this year was One Summer: American, 1927. I also own At Home and A Walk in the Woods
3. Bill O'Reilly & Martin Dugard
I enjoyed Killing Kennedy, and Killing Lincoln and Killing Patton (to be released next week) are on my list.

4. Anna Quindlen
I believe I've read nearly all of Anna Quindlen's nonfiction, but I've not enjoyed the fiction I've read. I'm going to give her another chance with Still Life with Bread Crumbs.
5. Malcolm Gladwell
I read Malcolm Gladwell's Blink when it came out years ago, and I've been meaning to pick up one of his other books. I own The Tipping Point, so I guess I'll start there. (Do you have a favorite Gladwell book?)