Monday, August 21, 2017

What I'm reading this week (8/21/17)

I'm taking Monday through Wednesday off this week for my annual August "readcation." It looks like stormy weather--perfect for curling up on the couch and reading to my heart's content. I even bought a new shirt to celebrate!

Last week I finished:

Years and years ago--in fact, last century--I watched the movie October Sky. (In the late 1990s, it was considered a date movie.) And at that time I knew it was based on a memoir called Rocket Boys. So I guess this book has been on my TBR list for 20 years. I found a copy in a used book store a few months ago, and I finally fit it into the rotation, and I'm so glad I did. It's a wonderful book about another time and place, specifically, the late 1950s in Coalwood, West Virginia. Homer Hickam, Jr., known to all as Sonny, is growing up in a mining town as the son of the man who runs the coalmine. All of the houses, churches, and everything else in the town are owned by the mine. It's a boom time for coalmining, but changes are coming. On the world stage, too, there are changes. The Soviets have launched the first satellite, Sputnik, and American pride is wounded. With this as the backdrop, Sonny decides to start building rockets. He knows absolutely nothing about rockets, can't weld or cut metal, doesn't know the math needed (he has trouble even with algebra), and can't put his hands on a single book about rockets, but he teems up with five friends to design, build, and launch rockets anyway. Many in the town stand behind the boys; some don't. Sonny's father is set on him becoming a company man, someone to follow in his footsteps. Of course, Sonny has decided that after high school, he wants nothing more of Coalwood; he's on his way to Cape Canaveral if he has anything to say about it. This is a book I love for so many reasons. First, I love books with a strong sense of place, and if there's one thing this book gives you, it's a look at what a coalmining town looks and feels like. Second, it's about nationalism and pride, and boy do we all need a boost of that at this point in our American history. Lastly, it's about someone doing something spectacular from the ground up. While there's a fair amount of grimness in this book, there's still great hope. It's the American story in a microcosm. And I absolutely love it. But the best part is, there are two more memoirs in the series! My rating: 4.5 stars.
One note: I think this would be a great book for families and especially teenage boys, but there is a bit of swearing and crudity amongst the boys. Because, you know, boys will be boys. I really wouldn't let that stop you from reading it, but I wanted to put it out there.

The Perfect Horse has been on my TBR since it came out last year at this time. I kept reading great reviews, and I'm a sucker for war stories with good endings. I started it once months back, but I just couldn't get into it at the time, and I finally decided to try it on audio. I don't normally like my nonfiction on audio because it's much harder for me to follow the "plot" and keeps names and places straight, and I did have a lot of trouble with that with this one. Still, had I waited to read the book, I think I would have ended up waiting a long time. Something had to give. The (true) story, roughly, is the rescue of the royal Lipizzaner stallions of Austria during World War II. The horses, bred for fine skill and show for centuries, fall into Nazi hands during the war and are rescued by American troops (with the permission and blessing of General Patton) and brought to America. I'm of two minds with this book. While it's a good adventure story, I felt that the first half, pre-American intervention, is much too long and slow. I think the whole book could have been cut by a third. But mostly, I have a problem with the dramatic, moralistic tone of the book. I enjoy animals. I find horses regal and honorable creatures. I value them for the joy they bring and the work they've done to build America. There would be no Midwest, especially, without the horse. But in a war that claimed 60,000,000 soldier and civilian lives (2.5% of the world population), and aimed to exterminate the Jewish race, I feel too much emphasis was put on the importance of saving the animals. So many civilians were malnourished and homeless, many had no security whatsoever, many ended up refugees, but people gave their lives to save the horses. I'm glad they did it, and I'm glad over 150 of the horses made it safely to America, but I don't know that it was worth the lives risked to save these animals. It reminds me of folks who fight for animal rights but also fight for abortion rights. The book made me uncomfortable in that regard, because I just cannot reconcile those priorities. But then, I'm writing this after white supremacist attacks in Charlottesville, Islamic terrorist attacks in Spain, and a report that Iceland is proud of its 100% elimination of Down Syndrome through abortion--all in one week. Maybe my tired mind can't care so very much for horses. My rating: 3 stars.

Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates. I did not do this book justice. I listened to it--on only 4 CDs--while doing other projects, and I'm not sure I got much out of it. I really enjoyed Brian Kilmeade's first book, George Washington's Secret Six, about General Washington's spy ring during the Revolutionary War. If you're looking for a refresher on that war, that is your book. I put this, Kilmeade's second book, on my TBR as soon as I knew about it, but I knew I wasn't very interested in the subject. I'm a huge American history buff, but I do prefer modern history. But, in order to clean off my TBR as much as possible by the end of the year, I decided to listen to this one. The title pretty much tells you what the book is about. Thomas Jefferson took office in 1801, and one of his tasks was to try to free merchant sailors held captive by pirates in Tunis, Algiers, and Morocco. America had been trying to negotiate their release for 15 years. So there was a little war, things happened, eventual happy ending, and America is a world power. Like I said, I listened to this one, but I didn't necessarily hear it all. I kept getting confused with the names of sailors and admirals, and which mission was being launched, etc. If you like old war stories, I think you'll enjoy this short book. It wasn't bad on any level, but it just didn't hold my attention. My rating: 3 stars.

This week I'll be reading:

I saved the two lightest reads on my August book list for this week. I plan to be reading both of them on my days off and see how far I get. One is the fourth Flavia de Luce book, I Am Half-Sick of Shadows. The other is the brand new Jen Hatmaker book, Of Mess and Moxie, who writes a lot about being a grown-up girl of faith.

And I hope to finish one or two of these:

I'm thoroughly enjoying Billy Collins' Ballistics. In fact, I'm enjoying it more than I have the last several of Collins' collections.

I'm almost to the halfway point of Man's Search for Meaning, where it will switch from Frankl's memories of the concentration camp to the examination of suffering and one's reaction to it.

I'm up to the desserts chapter in 101 Asian Dishes You Need to Cook before You Die. Asian desserts ain't my thing, and I realize after starting this section, it's because most Asian cultures don't incorporate dairy into their diet. Therefore, no milk, cream, butter, or chocolate. What a revelation.

My new audiobook:

I need an easier audiobook after the last three that were rather heavy (lots of war and strife). I chose Louise Penny's A Fatal Grace, the second in her Chief Inspector Gamache series. While it is a murder mystery (not exactly light), fiction allows my brain to rest a bit.

Whew, and that's it for this week. What are you reading?

Monday, August 14, 2017

What I'm reading this week (8/14/17)

We had a busy weekend with my brother's wedding on Saturday. It was a short and sweet outdoor wedding at a park (lake, gazebo, mosquitos, the works) with all five of their teenagers in the wedding. I'm excited to have a "sister" again--and to finally have nieces! On Sunday, we caught up around the house and I ended up taking a two-hour nap, meaning I didn't read a single page of anything this weekend. Maybe the week will be less busy!

Last week I finished:

I'm not sure where to even start with The Poisonwood Bible. There is so much here. Briefly, the story: the Price family (Nathan and Orleana, teenagers Rachel, Leah, and Adah, and young Ruth May), Baptist missionaries, arrive in the Belgian Congo in 1959. In their less than two years there, all manner of tragedy will befall not only the family but the Congo itself when its push for independence is short-lived. The book also follows the surviving members of the family--half of whom stay in Africa, the other half returning to the United States--in the thirty years after their mission trip. This is a huge story, and a writer less talented than Kingsolver would have made a terrible mess of it. At times, especially toward the end of the novel, I felt her hand was a bit heavy, but it's likely hard not to let personal views enter the narrative. This would be the perfect book for a book club; I'm not sure I've read a book I thought was more suited for discussion. Not only do you have the African history and clash of cultures, but you have the missionaries and certain (and uncertain) Biblical views. You also have difficult, even volatile, family dynamics--stemming from both culture and religion. You have racism, politics, medicine, escape, healing, forgiveness, and love. All big topics. To me, this was a book about freedom and independence, both spiritual and corporeal, and what it means and what it costs. You many know a bit about the Congo's troubled history, which will help some while reading. Knowledge of the Bible also helps. My only disappointment with the story is that the post-Congo portion of the book seemed long and didn't feel entirely necessary to me. We do get more of the recent history of the Congo (renamed Zaire, and currently Democratic Republic of Congo), but other than that it just proved to depress me further. I listened to the audio of this one, and it was superb. The narrator, Dean Robertson, does a fantastic job with the different personalities of the story. I looked her up (yes, Dean is a woman), and she said this was her first audio narration and that she did not read the book before recording. This is astounding considering how many French and Congolese words are used throughout, as well as the girls' misuse of words and just the complexity of the story. I do recommend the audio version highly. This is a masterful book. I just don't read many like it. My rating: 4.5 stars.

On the same day I finished my audio of The Poisonwood Bible, I finished Bellevue: Three Centuries of Medicine and Mayhem at America's Most Storied Hospital. A couple of years ago I read Sheri Fink's Five Days at Memorial about Memorial Hospital in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit. I found that book so well done, I've been stalking Fink for another wonderful book like it, but in the meantime, I found Bellevue. In hopes that it would be similar, I bought it when it came out. I'm happy to report that Bellevue is presented at the same caliber as Five Days at Memorial. Oshinsky chooses the right moments in the hospital's history to present, gives you just want you need to know of the medical terminology and history, and sets a quick pace while being thorough and remaining impartial. It's a well-written account. But it's also just plain fascinating. I'm not one to be fascinated by the medical, but I do love a good history lesson, and the hospital served as a backdrop of American history. From the early epidemics (cholera, tuberculosis, etc.) to modern epidemics (influenza and AIDS), from the Civil War to World War II, from the rise of modern medicine and medical education to the appearance of women nurses and doctors, from 9/11 to Hurricane Sandy, everything is covered. Bellevue began in 1738 as an almshouse and has always given care to anyone who came in the door. And it continues to serve as a public hospital to this day. This really was just a wonderful book. I recommend it. My rating: 4 stars.

I've long enjoyed Pablo Neruda's poems, especially the odes he's so well known for. Odes to Common Things is a book of 25 of his odes (he wrote over 200 in his poetry career). Each is printed as English on one side and the original Spanish opposite. There are also fantastic pencil drawings of the object he's celebrating. Some of my favorites include "Ode to My Socks" and "Ode to a Dog". I loved this collection, and I plan to buy All the Odes, his definitive collection, which was just released in paperback. This was one of my favorite poetry collections this year. My rating: 4 stars.

And then there's this. A friend at work lent me her copy of I Could Pee on This knowing I like cats and poetry, and I read it in a few minutes. It's a collection of 60 amusing poems about cats, most (all?) written in their voice. I tend to put more thought, huh hem, into my book reading, but every now and then you need to just read a book with a kitten on the cover and the word "pee" in the title. While not high literature, I was entertained by the poems, and I found two particularly amusing: "I Lick" about the obsessive way cats clean themselves, and "Most Amusing" about a cat laughing at a dog in a sweater. My rating: 3 stars.

Last week I began:

I've had a copy of Rocket Boys on my shelves for a long time, and in an effort to read through the long-timers, I finally picked it up. Earlier this year I read Homer Hickam's fictionalized account of his parents' early years together, Carrying Albert Home, and I was to taken with Hickam's storytelling that I knew I'd love Rocket Boys. And so far, I am.

I also started Billy Collin's Ballistics, which I can't not love.

This week I continue with:

I'm about a third of the way through both Man's Search for Meaning and 101 Asian Dishes You Need to Cook before You Die. I have issues with both as neither is quite what I was expecting.

My audiobooks:

I began two history audiobooks last week: The Perfect Horse (Nazis, WWII, and the Lipizzaner Stallions) and Thomas Jefferson and the Tripoli Pirates. Both are quite good.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

What I'm excited about for the rest of 2017

After the dearth of summer book releases, I'm gearing up for the late-summer and fall releases. There are some good things coming. I've written about some of these in past posts, but I'll include them again for a more comprehensive list.


I haven't read a lot of Jill Bialosky's poetry, but I'm excited to check out her memoir, Poetry Will Save Your Life. It will, you know.

And I've been craving a good decorating book lately, and I've stumbled upon A Place to Call Home. I think it might fit the bill. I love the stateliness of southern decorating.


The third book in the Kopp Sisters series, Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions, will be out in September. These are fun books.

Gretchen Rubin's newest book, The Four Tendencies, will be out soon. This is a book about her personality framework.

And the first of Michael Perry's two fall releases, Danger: Man Working, will be out in September, too. I love writers writing about writing.

I've long been interested in the unlikely presidency of Chester Arthur. (And if that wasn't about the nerdiest statement I've ever posted on this blog...) He assumed the presidency after James Garfield was assassinated in the late 1800s. Nothing more that a political figurehead, no one expected him to do well, but he surprised them all. The Unexpected President tells the story.

And Maddie is back! If you missed the first book of Maddie photos, Maddie on Things, you should look up a copy. Or, visit the photographer's Instagram for beautiful photos of the most pose-able dog. This second book is titled Maddie Lounging on Things.

Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard's Killing England will also be released next month.

As will Anne Bogel's Reading People, another personality framework book. Anne is the host of the brilliant podcast, What Should I Read Next?

The Last Castle is the story of the Biltmore House in North Carolina, which I've always wanted to tour.


October starts out with a couple of good children's books: Who Gives a Hoot? and The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street.

I'm kind of a celebrity cookbook junkie. And I've always thought Valerie Bertinelli was cute as a button, and now that she has a cooking show, we know that she can cook. Valerie's Home Cooking is out in October.

Mary Oliver has a new collection of poetry coming out titled Devotions. This is selected works and clocks in at 480 pages.

And because I can't get enough of dogs and photography, Canines of New York! Put a doxie on the cover, and I'm sure to buy it.

Favorite poet, my former professor, and former Wisconsin state laureate, Max Garland, will be releasing another book of poetry this fall, The Word We Used for It.

Amy Tan is back with a writer's memoir, Where the Past Begins. I cannot tell you how excited I am for this one!

And the one and only Chip Gaines has a book coming out called Capital Gaines. Who likes his new rough-hewn look?

I occasionally watch Oprah's Super Soul Sunday (in spite of the name) when my favorite authors appear on it. Oprah's releasing The Wisdom of Sundays, compiling what she's learned from these programs into a book. Depending on how touchy-feely this one is, I'll pick up a copy.

And my all-time favorite cookbook writer, Ree Drummond (aka Pioneer Woman), is coming out with another yummy cooking this fall titled Come and Get It!

And because it's proven that I'll read any book put out by a member of the Bush family, I'll be reading Sisters First, but George W. Bush's twins, Jenna and Barbara.

I'll be enjoying even more presidential history this fall with Inside Camp David.

And lastly for October, the second Waylon book, Waylon! Even More Awesome, by the author of the wonderful Clementine books.


The second Mike Perry book, Montaigne in Barn Books, comes out this November.

One of my all-time favorite authors, A. J. Jacobs, will be releasing It's All Relative, showing, I think, how we're all more related than we thought. November can't come soon enough!

And because I have a thing for fundamentalist Mormon (FLDS) escape stories, I'll likely be checking out Breaking Free (aren't they all titled Breaking Free?) the story of one of Warren Jeff's daughters escaping from the cult.

And that's all I know about right now.

What would you add to the list?


Monday, August 7, 2017

What I'm reading this week (8/7/17)

Last week I finished:

Wow, am I ever glad I picked up this book! As you know, I'm drawn to books about history, and this is one of those classic history books that was hugely popular in its day (1953), and it won the Pulitzer Prize in 1954. I also love books with lots of factoids, and this one satisfies that nerdy itch. This is the story of Charles Lindbergh's transatlantic flight in the Spirit of St. Louis, covering the 3,600 miles between New York and Paris in May of 1927. It is a remarkable book about a remarkable time. Imagine for a moment the world before airplanes; think of how flight opened up the nations of the world to each other, revolutionized trade, changed economies forever. It makes me wear a big dopey grin just thinking about it. In the book, Lindbergh spends time detailing the process of securing financial backing, overseeing the building of his plane, and hourly updates on his 36-hour flight. During the flight, he recounts stories of his childhood in Minnesota, his early days of flying (which were really only a couple years of experience before this historic flight), and other remarkable stories of frontier days and remarkable flights. He also details his battle with sleepiness throughout the flight. He was a barnstormer, wing-walker, a parachute jumper, and a military-trained pilot. He left university to take up flying. He seemed to know "something within him was superior to circumstance," and although he seems quite humble (almost humorless), he seems to have full confidence in his ability not only to make the flight, but to revolutionize the world with his flight. Lindbergh was not without a clearheaded idea of the risks involved in the attempt (many others had failed, some lost their lives trying), but he belonged to a long line of frontiersmen and -women who knew the advancement of the nation and society as a whole required risks. All along, he looked out for possible dangers, calculated the outcomes of errors should he make any, and constantly accessed his surroundings for safe places to land should the need arise. I loved everything about the book, its construction, and its modest narration. What a remarkable journey. And what a remarkable man--if you can ignore some of the heartbreaking events (the kidnapping of baby Lindbergh) and questionable things yet to come (his opposition to fighting Hitler, his multiple families on separate continents, etc.) in his life. Needless to say, I highly recommend this book. Though it is long (500 pages), it reads very quickly. My rating: 5 stars

Last week I began:

I'm also reading:

I have three books going in the evening: Viktor Frankl's Man's Search for Meaning; a collection of Pablo Neruda's odes, Odes to Common Things; and Jet Tila's 101 Asian Dishes You Need to Cook before You Die. I'm enjoying Neruda's odes, especially.

My audiobook:

I am absolutely loving my audiobook, The Poisonwood Bible. I have no idea how it will end, but the plot is really ramping up, and I can tell something tragic is about to happen. This is a phenomenal book.