Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February 2017 wrap-up

And as suddenly as it started, February is over. For the most part I enjoyed my reading this month, though it was all over the place. My favorite book this month was Eleanor & Park, but there were a number of very average reads this month that I more endured to finish than loved. Full reviews can be found on my "What I'm reading this week" posts on the sidebar. One-word reviews follow.








Monday, February 27, 2017

What I'm reading this week (2/27/17)

Last week I finished:

Okay, here you go: a review of Eleanor & Park by the last person on earth to read it. I don't feel bad saying that I adored this book. There were things I didn't love about it (more on that in a minute), but I loved it overall. First, I found the writing oddly deep in its simplicity. Rowell doesn't hammer things in, which I sort of expected from YA lit. The writing was witty and charming and frank. Second, the characters were well-written. All of them, from Eleanor and Park to their parents and classmates, were fleshed-out and real. I didn't really expect that in YA lit either. Lastly, Rowell really nails what it feels like to be young and in love for the first time. It really took me back. What I didn't like: the language the kids used. There was swearing, which, while not always necessarily gratuitous, could have been toned down without changing the plot. What I really don't like is to hear/read God's name (and Christ's) taken in vain. That is gratuitous, and I cringed every time. Because of this, I was tempted to put the book down early on. I'm glad I didn't, but I do feel guilty for having continued when my conscience told me to examine what I was taking in. (Why don't they release books in a cleaned-up version like they do music?) Also, Eleanor's difficult family situation is written about very frankly. It makes one flinch. I knew families like that growing up, and know some now. I liked how the author just tells the story, not taking sides or sermonizing. Still, it was tough to read. Lastly, Eleanor and Park rounded a few pre-marital bases that I'd hope my 14-year-old doesn't read about in a novel for kids her age. But all that aside, I was so surprised by this book. I was surprised at how skilled it was and also by how much I liked it (nasty language aside). I was worried all the way through that it wouldn't end right, and it almost didn't, but the last page brought resolution and a smile to my face. My rating: 5 stars.

Driving Mr. Albert has been on my TBR shelf for a long, long time. The book came out in 2000, and it's pretty much been on my radar since then. I decided to finally knock it off the list this month. I was expecting a fun, rollicking road trip with the author and the man who stole Einstein's brain after performing his autopsy. It was not fun nor rollicking, though. There was a depressed atmosphere, a dark cloud that hung over the whole story, and I don't know why. I suppose it was the author's personality imposing itself. He doesn't seem like a happy guy. The book began and ended with the same questions left unanswered: Did Dr. Harvey steal the brain? If so, why? Did he do any study on it? If so, why hadn't he released any scientific papers? What did the study of the brain tell us about Einstein's brain and how it might differ from the "average" brain? I just didn't enjoy this book. The writing was at times lovely and lyrical, but that just wasn't enough to save it. My rating: 3 stars.

I left House Beautiful Pink too long, and I had to kind of rush through it. Luckily, there was very little to read, but that wasn't necessarily a boon. I'm conflicted about this one. On the one hand, I enjoyed the photos of lovely decorated rooms. House Beautiful has long been one of my favorite magazines, and this book was a compilation of "pink" rooms from various issues. But the lack of any writing to bring cohesion was a bad oversight. There was a short introduction, and the only other words in the book were short quotes from designers. While I generally find verbiage in decorating books insipid, I could have used some here. I would have enjoyed seeing some research on the color pink or reading about the history of the color pink. The second thing that is striking about this book is that there is, indeed, very little pink in the book. If I were given the pictures in the book and asked to determine their common element, I think it would have taken me a long time to realize they all had some pink to them. Some of the rooms had nothing more than hot pink pillows. Now, pink isn't necessarily a color you go whole hog with, but where was the discussion of that? And, how about a few rooms that went half hog? Lastly, I would have loved seeing a pink nursery to show how pink can be done in a very clichéd space in a non-clichéd way. But overall, I loved looking at the beautiful rooms, so while the lack of discussion was a missed opportunity for HB, I still had a good time. My rating: 4 stars.
I'm currently reading:

The Presidents Club came out a couple of years ago, and it took me awhile to finally buy a copy, then even longer to pick it up. It's a big book, full of facts about the relationships between presidents from Truman onward. I'm learning so much, and I've banned myself from taking notes on this book. A good decision, but so hard to do.

Last week I began:

With all of my February reading done early, I began on some March books: Short by Holly Goldberg Sloan (author of Counting by 7s and Appleblossom the Possum) and Peter Walsh's Let It Go. Walsh is an expert on decluttering and organization. He, more than all the other clutter experts, gets to the heart of the matter and forces one to examine the emotional ties we have to our stuff--and deciding if they're healthy or not. He's my hands-down favorite when it comes to reading about getting rid of things and the benefits he brings. (Anyone remember the television show Clean Sweep featuring Peter Walsh? I loved that show.) 

I'm continuing with:

Still enjoying Poems That Make Grown Men Cry and looking forward to the paperback release of Poems That Make Grown Women Cry March 7.

My audiobook:

I feel kind of like I'm listening to an 1840s soap opera with Julian Fellowes' Belgravia, but I'm finding that I'm enjoying the story. Not great literature, a lot of drama and bad behavior by the moneyed class, but fun.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

What I've added to my TBR lately

I think the last of these posts I did was in November. Wow! That would explain why my folder of new book images is so large. So, here are the books I'm most excited about digging into these days.

First up, some books about America, because she's been through the wringer lately:

I recently chose All the Gallant Men as a memorial book for my father for my university library. He was in the U.S. Navy during peacetime, but the thought of him on a ship protecting a grand battleship always brings to mind those brave men of Pearl Harbor. This is the first account of a USS Arizona survivor, only five of which are still alive.

Renowned historian David McCullough has put together a book of his speeches on America and the American spirit, called The American Spirit, that I'm excited to read. (Out in April.)

I've long wondered about the U.S. territories, what their status is, if their rights and governance is any different from the 50 states, and why they aren't states. There's finally a book to answer my questions: The Not-Quite States of America. So excited for this.

Presidents and First Ladies

I've long been interested in President Wilson, so I've bought a copy of A. Scott Berg's (he wrote a bio about Lindbergh years back) biography, Wilson.

I've been looking for a copy of Margaret Truman's biography of her mother for years. Bess W. Truman is long out of print, but I snapped up a copy at a used bookstore a couple of weeks ago. Margaret Truman has written many books about first ladies, the White House, and Washington.

And I finally (why did this take so long?) bought Jon Meacham's biography of President George H. W. Bush, Destiny and Power. Bush fascinates me, and his long career and short presidency was full of adventure and varied national service.

While I was at it, I bought Meacham's Franklin and Winston, because one just can't read enough books about FDR, can one?

I've been dithering over Louisa, the biography of first lady Louisa Adams since it came out. I finally took the plunge and bought a copy.

And another FDR book, The Gatekeeper, is the story of Missy LeHand, President Roosevelt's "de facto chief of staff." If you've ever read an FDR bio, you know her name.


Atlas Obscura is an interesting encyclopedia-like book about weird places and things in the world. I'm all in.

Hoping to re-capture my feelings for Five Days at Memorial, I've bought a copy of David Oshinsky's Bellevue, a biography of the famed hospital.

And for some reason, I've added Bruce Springsteen's memoir, Born to Run, to my TBR. Well-written celebrity memoirs are few and far between, and I've heard nothing but good about this one. I'm not particularly a Springsteen fan, but I love a good story.

I can't wait to read The Book of Joy, reflections on joy by Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.

If you know me, you know I hoard books about food and have a hard time getting around to reading them. I think Eight Flavors is one of those, but books, unlike most foods, keep.

In 2015, I read Tom Ryan's Following Atticus and was blown away. Ryan is back with another dog memoir, Will's Red Coat, and I can't wait. (Out in April.)

John Hildebrand was one of my college professors, though I regret that I never got into his extremely popular nonfiction writing course back in the day. He writes quiet, contemplative nonfiction that evokes a strong sense of place. The Heart of Things: A Midwestern Almanac is a collection of seasonal essays that came out in 2014.


I've been looking for some more good Christian reading ever since finishing Jen Hatmaker's For the Love last summer. Her husband, Brandon Hatmaker, has a book out called A Mile Wide that I think I might try.

Also, I became familiar with Samuel Rodriguez after his inaugural prayer (and subsequent interviews), and his newest book, Be Light, is now out in paperback. I plan to pick up a copy soon.


The minute I finished A Gentleman in Moscow, I bought Amor Towles' earlier book, Rules of Civility.

I'm challenging myself to read a few books that are way outside of my wheelhouse, so I've added Lincoln in the Bardo to my TBR. It's definitely not my usual fiction reading.

And I picked up a copy of The Last Painting of Sara de Vos, not just for the cover, but that was part of it.

You know that I love historical fiction (everything in this section is historical), but I get nervous about historical fiction based on fact. The Last Days of Night mixes the two, so I plan to read it and see if I can get over my black or white dilemma.

And because I now own a Kindle (thanks to my husband), I bought a copy of Alan Bradley's Kindle short, The Curious Case of the Copper Corpse (a Flavia de Luce story).

Sara Pennypacker will be back with another Waylon! book, Waylon! Even More Awesome, due out in October.

After enjoying Eleanor & Park, I added Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl to my TBR.

And if I read the Ramona books when I was little, I don't remember (though I think I did...), so I've added Beezus and Ramona to my reading list.

And lastly, a book my grandson recommended. Actually, he recommended the whole The Books of Elsewhere series (five books), but I'll start with the first, The Shadows, and see how it goes.

Have you read any of these? Are you looking forward to any? Let me know in the comments!

Monday, February 20, 2017

18 presidential books on my to be read list

Happy Presidents Day! In honor of the great men who have shared this office, I've put together a sampling of my to be read books that feature presidents, first ladies, and first families. The more I read about the presidents, the more I want to know. While I doubt if I'll get to all of these by the end of the year, I hope to get to a good chunk of them.

The Kennedys

Franklin Roosevelt

The Trumans

Huge Biographies