Thursday, August 31, 2017

August 2017 wrap-up

August was a good reading month. I finished 14 books, everything from poetry about cats to Charles Lindbergh’s historic transatlantic flight, from Auschwitz to Asian cuisine, from Tripoli pirates to Viennese stallions. (One word reviews below link to full reviews.)

5 stars

4 stars

3 stars

4.5 stars 

4 stars

3 stars

3 stars

4.5 stars

3 stars

4 stars

4.5 stars
4 stars
2 stars

4.5 stars

Monday, August 28, 2017

What I'm reading this week (8/28/17)

Last week I finished:

I had a great three-day "readcation" last week, and I read the fourth Flavia de Luce mystery, I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, from start to finish. I like to read mysteries in as few sittings as possible, so this was a great time to do it. Plus, this one was super cozy, taking place at Christmastime (1950). The folks of Bishop's Lacey have come to the de Luce estate, Buckshaw, to see the famous movie star Phyllis Wyvern play Juliet as part of a village fundraiser. But when they become snowed in and Wyvern shows up murdered, eleven-year-old Flavia has a crime to solve. A subplot to this one is Flavia's attempt to trap Saint Nick using a sticky substance she cooked up in her chemistry lab. This is one of my favorite Flavia books so far (the first in the series was the other). Spunky Flavia is one of my very favorite characters in all of literature. I enjoyed everything about this, and I highly recommend it and the series as a whole. This would also be a great series for tweens, as it's very clean and Flavia is so likable (and her sisters so detestable). My rating: 4.5 stars.

I looked forward to Jen Hatmaker's Of Mess and Moxie for months, and I was so excited to finally sit down with it. It's hard to describe Hatmaker, but I think she's sort of a cross of several essayists who write about motherhood, faith, and being a woman. She has the humor and writing skills of Anne Lamott and the seriousness and emotional properties of Shauna Niequist. I've read two of her previous books (this is her twelfth): 7, about downsizing her family's consumption of things and habits, and For the Love, which is very much like Of Mess and Moxie. This is a series of essays that range from a love letter on Netflix bingeing to the importance of having friends who can serve as second mothers to her children to youth football in the south to deeper thoughts on faith, forgiveness, and marriage. This one felt a little lighter than For the Love, and there were several essays I was tempted to abandon halfway through because they just seemed too immature, but for the most part, it was a win. I might suggest For the Love as a place to start with Hatmaker, though, as it felt somehow more even and a bit deeper. My rating: 4 stars.

You all know by now that I'm a Billy Collins poetry fan. I love his humor and the easy grace with which he approaches topics. And he can put words in a dog's mouth like nobody else. I've read several poetry collections by Collins lately that were really good but that didn't blow me over as a whole. While I can't point to a single poem of his I really don't like, the last couple books (not read chronologically, mind you) haven't struck a deep chord. Ballistics did. Maybe it's a mood thing. Or maybe it's just a finer collection. I'm not sure. This one made me so happy, and I kept rationing out the pages at night so I wouldn't reach the end too soon. And that's the mark of a good poetry collection. My rating: 4 stars.
And lastly, I finished 101 Asian Dishes You Need to Cook before You Die by Jet Tila. You may know Tila from the Food Network, where he was a judge on Cutthroat Kitchen. I don't know him as I pretty much only watch The Pioneer Woman and Guy Fieri anymore. The cooking competition shows kind of leave me cold. But I've always wanted to learn to cook real Asian food, so who better than a Thai-Chinese American to teach me. First off, the cookbook loses one star in my rating for not having a photo of each dish. When will they learn? In a day when folks regularly post photos of their supper on Instagram, why are they still publishing cookbooks without photos of the food? Especially "foreign" food. Bad, bad, bad. Otherwise, I'd say that the book covers all the bases. I loved that there were dishes from a number of Asian cultures (Thai, Chinese, Japanese), and that he explained the different flavor profiles of each culture. While there weren't a lot of stir-fries, there are a number of staple dishes and a heaping helping of unique ones, too. There aren't a lot of strange things involving seafood you've never heard of or fruits or sauces you couldn't find in a large grocery store. The instructions are plain, and he doesn't even insist you own a wok. I will say, though, that this is the first cookbook I've ever read that included swearwords! It made me think of this article. I haven't cooked from the book yet, but I'd say it's a good solid Asian cookbook that isn't overwhelming in its scope. My rating: 3 stars.

Last week I began:

And because why have five books going when you can have six, I began the hefty After Camelot-- about life for the whole Kennedy clan after JFK and RFK were assassinated--which has been on my TBR for months and months and is my "chunkster" for September. It's a little gossipy and a little choppy, but it moves quickly.

This week I'll finish:

I am so ready for Man's Search for Meaning to be DONE. It's not at all what I thought it would be, but I'm too far in to abandon it without guilt.

I also began Clementine Friend of the Week last week on readcation. This is the fourth in the Clementine series, and it's as good as all the others. I reward myself with it when I've hit the wall in Man's Search for Meaning.

My audiobook:

My audiobook right now is Louise Penny's A Fatal Grace, the second in her Chief Inspector Gamache mystery series. I feel that Penny overwrites her characters, and that diminishes believability (plus, hello gratuitous swearing). Still, it's meant to be a palette-cleanser, and it's doing its job.


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?