Wednesday, May 31, 2017

May 2017 wrap-up

I finished 10 books in May with several days left over at the end of the month to start on my June reading list (I'll post that tomorrow). This was a pretty good month reading-wise. I enjoyed most everything I read, though I did abandon a couple of books. Ratings and one-word reviews below with links to the full review.








Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday (2017 2nd half releases)

This week the ladies at The Broke and the Bookish are asking for our top ten most anticipated books for the second half of 2017. Here are the books I'm most excited about right now, but who knows what will be released later!

Link your post up here.

I love Jen Hatmaker's work. Her new one, Of Mess and Moxie, is due out August 8.

The third in the Kopp Sisters series, Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions, is due out September 5.

Gretchen Rubin's newest, The Four Tendencies, detailing her personality framework, is due out September 12.

Michael Perry has two books releasing this fall. The first, Danger: Man Working, about writing, is due out September 12.

Bill O'Reilly & Martin Dugard's newest in their Killing series, Killing England, is due out September 19. (No cover yet.)

The next in the Calpurnia Tate series about a girl scientist at the turn of the 20th century is due out October 3. It's titled Who Gives a Hoot?

Another Pioneer Woman cookbook is set to release October 24. It's titled Come and Get It!: Simple, Scrumptious Recipes for Crazy Busy Lives. (No cover yet.)

The second in the Waylon! series by Sara Pennypacker (known for her Clementine series and Pax) titled Waylon! Even More Awesome is due to be released October 31.

The second Michael Perry book of the fall is Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles through Philosophy, due out November 7.

And last but not least, a long-awaited book by A. J. Jacobs, It's All Relative, due out November 14.

What I'm reading this week (5/29/17)

Well, it's the end of the month, and one reading list is coming to a close while another begins. I finished five books over the last week (the three-day weekend certainly helped). Here's what I finished last week:

While I was reading Nabokov's Favorite Word Is Mauve earlier this month, the chapter on clichés in modern literature really resonated with me. It struck me that they might be one of the biggest problems I have with contemporary fiction. Being so tuned into clichés in writing by that book, though, nearly ruined my listening experience with the fourth in Jan Karon's Mitford series, Out to Canaan. I don't know that it is worse than any of the other books in the series, but it seemed like nearly every paragraph or conversation between characters contained at least one cliché. It was driving me nuts. I felt bad that I was reading something so riddled with formula and platitudes. Until. One morning while listening I realized that clichés are one of the things I like about the Mitford books. I grew up in a very small town (pop. 419) like Mitford, and I'm here to tell you, folks in small town talk in clichés. Not necessarily because they're uneducated, but often because that's part of the shared culture of a small place. I've noticed that in a small town, people often see big ideas different and distill them to their essences. They ignore nuance and skip directly to a logical conclusion. That's what happened in Mitford, and that's what happened in my hometown. I was able to enjoy Out to Canaan quite a bit after I stopped listening for the clichés and looking for the wisdom behind them. In this novel, Father Tim announces his retirement 18 months hence, his wife Cynthia is working on another Violet the cat book for children, and the town is looking at a lot of possible change including a nasty mayoral election. I liked this one, and I recommend the series to anyone looking for fiction without sex, drugs, infidelity, and drama, and with a heavy dose of faith and old-fashioned values. My rating: 4 stars.

I come from a long line of flower-obsessed women--on both sides of the family. My mother's mother grew African violets with blooms the size of silver dollars. She could coax most anything to grow in her red, sandy soil. My great-grandmother was known for her gladiolas (her name as Gladys, Glady for short, so that makes sense). Her daughter, my grandmother, would rather spend her time mucking in her garden than anywhere else on earth. My mother has the bug, too. From these women, I inherited a great deal of plant knowledge which includes identifying a plant I've never seen before. It's a spooky blessing. I guess some things are just born into you and locked away until you're walking through a plant nursery. But while I enjoy flowers, I don't really enjoy gardening. Keeping flowerbeds weeded is the bane of my existence. I love looking at flowers and learning about gardening, but I don't want the work that comes with them. Enter Floret Farm's Cut Flower Garden. This fabulous book breaks down how to grown dozens of common varieties of flowers (e.g. irises, chrysanthemums, dahlias, etc. etc.). The author takes you through her huge cutting gardens season by season, telling you what to plant when, how to get more blooms, when to cut flowers for arranging, and lots more. Each season chapter is broken down into chapters on the flowers flourishing during that season, and there are loads of photos of different varieties of each flower. The information is comprehensive but not overwhelming. The tone is friendly and helpful. And the photos are to die for. I loved this book. And I'm going to order a copy for my mother, who I know will love it too. My rating: 5 stars.

I love memoirs. And I especially love travel memoirs. I'll read about anyone's trip anywhere. Armchair traveling is one of my favorite bonuses of reading. So in early April, when I kept seeing At Home in the World pop up on other author's blogs and in their Instagram photos, I decided to pick up a copy. I'm so glad I did. This a wonderful book. The author and her husband, Americas who met in Kosovo, decide to take their three young children (ages 9, 7, and 4, I believe) on a nearly yearlong journey around the world. They stop in China, Australia, several African countries, Turkey, Italy, Germany, France, England, just to name a few destinations. They carry everything they need in a backpack each, stay in real homes, visit with expat friends, and see some of the great wonders of the world. The book isn't exactly what I've come to expect from travel memoirs. They often focus heavily on where they went and what they saw, but this book focuses more on how the places felt. Throughout the book, the author talks about the equal longing in her for both adventure and for home. When she's traveling, she wants to be home; when she's home, she imagines herself halfway around the world. It was an interesting frame for the story of their year abroad. I noticed time and again that wherever they were, they tried to make it a home. Not to say they resisted the culture they found themselves in, they did, after all, choose to be there. But the family did look for the stability of home in places like Beijing and Nairobi. This made the book much more real than other travel books I've read. At first I was disillusioned because it focused so much less on the cities and sites than I'm used to from these books, but I finally got over this preconceived notion and was able to enjoy floating along with them. I recommend this book highly. My rating: 4 stars.

Encyclopedia Of an Ordinary Life is one of my favorite books on the planet. There, how's that for an opening line of a nonbiased review? I read it for the first time in 2005, shortly after it came out, and returning to it now was so familiar and, just, wonderful. I love the way Amy Krouse Rosenthal's mind works. I love that her books have such unconventional narrative styles. I love how she collects coincidences and everyday experiences and displays the baubles of her mind in such a fresh, openhanded way. Her books have a very generous spirit, fun, self-aware, and superficial yet deep. They're just so wonderful. And this is the one that started it all for me. It's Amy's memoir written as encyclopedia entries. It's a fun book to dip into and out of. It's so witty, and I defy you to read it and be unable to do two things: (1) share at least one quote or anecdote from it, and (2) want to write your own encyclopedia memoir. My all-time favorite moment: when she describes how her brother, who grew up with three sisters, was a grownup before he realized he didn't need to wrap the bath towel around his chest. If you haven't read this book, pick up a copy. You're in for a treat. My rating: 5 stars.

I also finished Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. Very much like her previous little book on feminism, We Should All Be Feminists, this was a long essay explaining how to raise a feminist daughter in Africa. I'm a little confused by the popularity of these books. There's nothing here I didn't encounter in my high school sociology class in the early 1990s. (And that was in a tiny Wisconsin town.) Her suggestions are so pat and simple, things like reject the notion that pink is for girls and blue is for boys, be a role model of what you want her to learn, etc. Some suggestions are just plain questionable: teach her that sex is good and never immoral. Never does spirituality enter the picture; how does a woman live a whole life without taking care of her spiritual needs? Perhaps this book and its predecessor are intended for the African audience, as the examples of gross patriarchal overreach are all African, and apparently Africa has not progressed past 19th century American culture when it comes to issues of gender and equality between them. I just find these books much to simple and uninteresting for the American woman. My rating: 2.5 stars.

This week I'm reading:

My audiobook:


Monday, May 22, 2017

What I'm reading this week (5/22/17)

Last week I finished:

I was excited to read Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant's new book, Option B. It's the memoir of Sandberg's first couple of years after her husband passed on unexpectedly. More than memoir, though, it's about how to deal with grief (your own or others') and how to foster resiliency. It's a short, quick read, told in straightforward, honest prose. I was interested in the book even though I'm not dealing with grief, and my recent experiences with grief have been much different from Sandberg's. I did gain some tips on what to say and what not to say to someone in the throes of grief, what's helpful and what's not. I didn't feel that the adversity, resilience, and joy parts of the book were nearly as interesting or helpful as Sandberg's narration of her experience, but then I'm a memoir junkie. In all, I liked the book, and I'd recommend it to someone who is dealing with grief, but it may not appeal a lot to folks who aren't presently dealing with great loss. I didn't feel that the resiliency information was all that transferrable to non-grief situations. My rating: 3 stars.

I also finished Beezus and Ramona last week. I'm sure I read at least a couple of the Ramona Quimby books when I was little, as I sort of remember the Ramona-like antics. Although the book is dated, the overall themes of sibling rivalry and irritating younger sisters still resonate. Cleary has a good grasp on the spunky child, her imagination, and the irritation she causes others. I liked the reunion with the girls, found Ramona's antics amusing, and I'd probably read another book in the series for kicks. And by the way, as a child I was so completely a rule-following, tightly-wound, don't-draw-attention-to-oneself Beezus, it's not even funny! My rating: 3 stars.
Since I abandoned My Italian Bulldozer on my lunch break at work, I had to find another book from my TBR that my library owned to read on afternoon break (oh the perks of working at a library!), so I chose Michael Perry's Roughneck Grace, and I loved it. It's a collection of short essays originally written for a newspaper, and they're fabulous. Hilarious as always. My favorites were about ground moles and how folks of a certain age can use selfie sticks to put enough distance between their eyes and smartphones to actually read their darn text messages. Brilliant! Perry does an amazing job of balancing self-deprecating humor, oddball antics, and truly touching moments of fatherhood. I highly recommend all of his nonfiction work (my favorite being Coop), and this one is no exception. My rating: 4 stars.

I spent a lot of time on the couch reading this weekend. I needed that. In addition to finishing Roughneck Grace, I finished Poems That Make Grown Women Cry. I felt like I'd spent too much time with it, and I'm glad to have it done. I didn't necessarily dislike it, but it really didn't have the same punch that Poems That Make Grown Men Cry did. Oddly enough, I found the Men poems were much more emotional than the Women poems. The Women tended to cry over social injustice, whereas the Men tended to cry over children growing up, parents dying, and things of an interpersonal nature. I have a short list of poems that have ever made me cry (maybe I'll share that someday), but my list tends to match up well with the Men's list of poems. I'm not big on books about social justice as I don't enjoy the preachy-ness of them, and this book often bored me. It felt lackluster and somewhat robotic. Although a highlight was Sharon Olds' introduction of Robert Hayden's "Those Winter Sundays," a poem that is on my short list of poems that actually have made me cry. My rating: 3 stars.

Last week I abandoned:

I'd been looking forward to Alexander McCall Smith's My Italian Bulldozer for months, but when I finally sat down with it, I was bored and disappointed. As you know, I have trouble with contemporary fiction, and this one felt like all the others. I could have pushed myself to continue, but I decided to jump ship and move on. Oh well, I still have his No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series.

This week I hope to finish:

I'm making good progress with all of my nighttime reads, and I hope to finish all or most this week. I'm loving my re-read of Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, and now I'm thinking like Amy Krouse Rosenthal again, coming up with odd tidbits that I "should" compile in a book.

I am absolutely adoring Floret Farm's Cut Flower Garden. I'm learning so much about growing flowers. I think I'll buy a copy for my mother. It would have been a great Mother's Day gift.

Up next:

My last books to begin this month include At Home in the World (which I subbed in for Worst. President. Ever., which I abandoned earlier this month) and Dear Ijeawele, of a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions (subbed in for a second audiobook I won't be able to finish).

My audiobook:

I'll be finishing Jan Karon's Out to Canaan this week. I find such comfort in these Mitford books.

Monday, May 15, 2017

What I'm reading this week (5/15/17)

Sorry about not posting a "What I'm reading this week" post last week. We arrived home late Sunday night, and to tell you the truth, I didn't read a single word while we were on vacation. I took all my books with me should the mood strike or the opportunity present itself, but neither happened. I hope to have a Chicago vacation post up soon, but it will be bookless.

Last week I finished:

I'm glad to finally be done with The Chilbury Ladies' Choir. I was just sure I'd love this book--the reviews have been very good--but I have to tell you, I was disappointed. I had no problems with the plot or characters. Briefly: this book takes place on the English home front during World War II. Most of the men of Chilbury have gone off to war, leaving the women to carry on. They change their church choir into an all-lady choir. But it really isn't about choirs or the power of music to heal or uplift. That is touched on superficially, but not in depth. This is really the soap opera of the home front. There are seductions and scoundrels and folks falling in love and love triangles and ambitions and abuse and death and all the rest. But here is my problem with the book: I didn't like the way it was told. Instead of a straightforward narration in either first or third person, it was told through journal entries and letters. This in and of itself doesn't bother me, but when you choose this narration method, you are obligated to give each character her own voice. This is where the writing falls miserably short. All of the journals and letters sound exactly the same, whether written by 13-year-old Kitty or middle-aged Mrs. Tilling. They use the same language and observe things in the same way. Additionally, the characters describe their actions as an omniscient narrator would, not as a person would describe their own actions. People reporting their actions are prejudiced in favor of their actions; they are not objective about them. It was pitifully distracting to me. I often wondered if it had been written as a conventional novel and then a hasty revision changed the book to a series of journal entries and letters without paying much attention to the details. Plus, although things ended well or rightly for all, there was one plot point that was not resolved that irritates me. Did the author forget? Long story short, I think I would have loved this book (or at least rated it higher) had it been better written. For a good soap opera-y book about the English home front during war, try Julian Fellowes' Belgravia. And for a really good book about post-WWII England written in letters, try The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It does a superb job of giving diverse characters their own voice. My rating: 2.5 stars.

Last week I abandoned:

I stalked Worst. President. Ever. to obtain a copy. I wanted to read it so badly. But about 40 pages in, I'd fallen asleep too many times, and the information gleaned just wasn't worth the slow-going. I might return to it some day, because I do want to know by James Buchanan is consistently judged to be the worst president ever.  

This week I'll be reading:

After abandoning Worst. President. Ever., I picked up Sheryl Sandberg (Lean In) and Adam Grant's Option B. So far, I'm liking it.

This week I continue with:

I diligently traded off between these four titles every night last week, and a bunch this weekend, to make headway in each. I am loving each, which makes for nights where I just don't want to go to bed.

My audiobook:

I'm enjoying my return to Mitford with Out to Canaan, but it's taking me so long to get through it that I won't be getting to the other audiobook I'd planned to finish in May. I'll have to juggle my reading list around a bit. 

Thursday, May 11, 2017

15 Years - 15 Things I'm thankful for

Today is my 15th wedding anniversary. Fifteen years. It seems like a long time, but it feels like no time at all. There are so many things I could say about marriage in general and about my marriage specifically. Advice I'd give or advice I wish I'd been given. There are so many funny stories I could tell. I could fill whole pages on resentment, forgiveness, what's important, what's not but seems it. I could tally up the hours spent working together, sleeping together, laughing together, and even fighting together. So many hours and minutes, and yet, I still feel newly married. I'm still learning what it means to be a wife, to be right and truly married. I'm learning what I can do better and what I need to let go of. And not a day goes by, honestly, that I don't feel grateful for this husband, this marriage, this life that I chose.

Last year I wrote a list of 14 things we do right in our marriage. This year, I've written my husband a list of 15 things I'm thankful for:

1. That you clean the bathroom and do most of the dishes. If it weren't for you, we'd have to hire someone. :)

2. That you're good at saying "thank you" and "I'm sorry."

3. That you're way better at sharing than I am. Thanks for always letting me have the last French fries in the sack.

4. That you do something almost every day to make that day special. Whether it's going out to eat, sharing a snack, watching a favorite black and white sci fi movie, you can make any old Tuesday into a small vacation.

5. That you get sad when we don't spend time together. Even though it makes me feel a teensy bit guilty, I like that you like to be with me that much.

6. That you miss me while we're at work. (Because I miss you, too.)

7. That you still think I'm pretty--and you say it.

8. That you respect my reading obsession and my need for time alone.

9. That you encourage me, pray for me, and take care of me.

10. That you'll drop everything to help me if I need it. I'm not as good at this, I know.

11. That you don't expect me to wait on you. You can do laundry, cook, clean, sew on buttons, and run errands without my help, though I like it when you let me do things for you.

12. That you push us to do special things even though they require a lot of time, energy, planning, and sometimes money. (Like going to Chicago.) I'm not always good at accepting your ideas right away, but I'm working on that. 

Photos taken outside Art Institute (museum) in Chicago. One of my favorite places.

13. That you genuinely want to know what I'm thinking. And that you know me so well.

14. That you let me poke fun at you and laugh along. Like your amp obsession or those lounge pants you hemmed too short.

15. That your smile still lights up not only your face but mine too.

Happy anniversary, sweetheart! Even though we've had some difficult times, I can still say I never expected marriage to bring me this much joy, be this much fun, or feel this easy. I love you, Bing.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

What I've added to my TBR lately

It's that time again. Time to compile a list of what I'm excited about adding to my reading list. This one is fiction-heavy as I've been reading more fiction this year than any year previous. In fact, my fiction to nonfiction ratio has been almost even. So, if you have any fiction recommendations for me, please leave a comment!


I ran across America's First Daughter the other day. It's apparently well-read, but I'd never heard of it. It seems like something I'd really enjoy. It's the story of Thomas Jefferson's eldest daughter, and a big chunkster of a novel. I might try this on audio.

I've been trying to read some books this year that are hugely popular but don't really appeal to me. It seems important to do this, though I'm not convinced it's the best way to read. At any rate, I've decided to read Yaa Gyazi's Homegoing since it was such a huge book last year.

And I've caved and added Lilac Girls to my TBR. Because I need another huge WWII novel on my shelves.

After hearing so many good things about Louise Penny's Chief Gamache novels, I've decided to give the first in the series, Still Life, a try. I'm told the fictional town in which the novels take place is idyllic, and I won't want to leave.

I'm interested in The Devil and Webster because I've spent the last 20-some years of my life in a university setting and am interested in the trends on American university campuses. In this novel, the students protest when a favorite professor doesn't get tenure.

I've been interested in Stephen King's 11/22/63 for awhile now, but I just don't think novels have any business being 850 pages long. Maybe I'll get to it someday. Perhaps I'll set aside a couple months of my life to listen to it on audio.

After listening to Julian Fellowes' Belgravia recently, I'm on the search for another novel by him for light reading. I've chose Snobs.

Until I can read an excerpt of Miss Burma, I'm not positive I'll buy a copy, but I'm interested in learning about Burma, and I like sweeping novels of identity and survival.

I couldn't bring myself to be interested in Fiona Davis's The Dollhouse, but The Address sounds more interesting. It's the story of a young English woman who comes to America to manage a fancy new apartment building New York. It's not out until August.

I was interested in Jane Hamilton's The Excellent Lombards when it came out, but I kept putting off making a decision about it until it came out in paper recently. It's about a girl who is in love with her family's apple orchards, but in growing up must decide to stay or go. I think. I've been looking for a novel with a strong sense of place, and this one might fit the bill.

The Madwoman Upstairs is a novel about a young woman related to the Bronte sisters who gets involved in a literary mystery involving family legacy. Sounds fun.

And I recently bought a copy of The Women in the Castle about the wives and children of the actors of the famed plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler before his rise to power. Fearing for their lives, they hole up in a castle.


The corner of the book world I inhabit has been abuzz about Tsh Oxenreider's At Home in the World. Within days of its release, the Kindle version went on sale, so I bought it. I love travel memoirs, so I'm excited to try it. I haven't read her previous work, but I believe faith plays a part in her books.

Speaking of travel memoirs, I've finally bought a copy of Anthony Doerr's Four Seasons in Rome which I've been intending to read since long before his All the Light We Cannot See made such a big splash.

And I'm excited that Mike Perry has another book coming out this year: Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles through Philosophy. I'd read Perry opine on any topic, frankly. 


I've been hungry for a good narrative nonfiction book I could sink my teeth into lately, but nothing has appealed until Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. It's the story of over two dozen murders of wealthy Osage Indians in Oklahoma in the 1920s--and the birth of the FBI.

In May I'll be reading Floret Farm's Cut Flower Garden to knock off a mini reading challenge to read a book about gardening. I can't wait for the pictures!

And the book I've been waiting for since A. J. Jacobs released his last book: It's All Relative. Jacobs is one of my all-time favorites. He's quirky and hilarious and is the master of "stunt journalism." In this book, he looks at what it means to be a "family of mankind." It's not out until November, so you have plenty of time to read his other books (esp. The Know-It-All and The Year of Living Biblical) and become familiar with the genius that is A. J. Jacobs.


It's funny, I've recently become quite interested in the presidential retreat Camp David--it comes up all the time in the president books I read--and then a book shows up about just that. Inside Camp David will be out this fall.

I have a lot of respect for Condoleezza Rice and have wondered what she's been doing since leaving politics nearly 10 years ago. One thing is writing a big book about America called Democracy. While I fear it might be a bit dry for my tastes, I still intend to read it...someday.

Speaking of reading it someday, I have yet to read Eric Metaxas's Bonhoeffer, the huge biography of the Lutheran pastor who resisted Hitler and was martyred. I've no doubt it's fabulous, but there are so many barriers to reading it. Metaxas is coming out with a biography of Martin Luther soon, which will stand in line just behind Bonhoeffer on my TBR. I have the patience for only so many mammoth biographies, I guess.

And if you know Anne Bogel's wonderful podcast What Should I Read Next, you'll know she has a book coming out this year called Reading People about personality types. I don't naturally go in for things that type people, so I'm not positive I'll read this as soon as it comes out, but I'll likely read it someday.

I've discovered two more books in the series of art books I've been working my way through: 50 Modern Artists You Should Know and 50 Art Movements You Should Know. This series is a relatively painless way to learn about art if that's a knowledge gap for you like it is for me.
And lastly, POETRY

I've run across many poems lately that I've enjoyed by Laura Kasischke, so when I discovered that she has a New and Selected Poems (Where Now) coming out in July, I quickly added it to my poetry TBR list.

I've also added a book of poems by Russian poet Vera Pavlova which looks wonderful: If There Is Something To Desire.

And I've purchased a copy of How Did This Happen?, an anthology of poems by women.