Monday, March 27, 2017

What I'm reading this week (3/27/17)

Due to my lovely three-day "readcation" last week, I finished five books (two start to finish), and began several more. I've learned the best way to have a readcation is to have several good books going, so when I've read enough of one, I can move on to another. And another. And another.
 
Last week I finished:


I LOVED The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It was especially good on audio. I'd mentioned that I had a bit of a problem at first wondering who was who and which letter by which character was being read to whom, but it worked itself out nicely when I got to know the different voices of each character. This is the story of a writer who begins corresponding with a literary society on Guernsey just after the second World War. You learn about how the folks of Guernsey survived during the war, what German occupation felt like, how they dealt with rationing, and other war-related topics. There are some dark moments, but the camaraderie between the islanders was a marvel. Despite its frank speak of war, it was still a rather gentle, at times light-hearted, book with wonderfully lifelike characters and even some romance. I highly recommend this book. My rating: 4.5 stars.

Back when I started my readcations a couple years ago, I found that reading an Agatha Christie mystery cover to cover over a couple days was a nice adventure. I believe the first year I read Murder on the Orient Express; another time I read Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I don't like to read these mysteries over too many days or I miss the narrative flow and forget key clues. I believe this is the fifth Christie mystery I've tried, and it might be my favorite. I tend to like mysteries that I can guess at along with the detective, but Christie's aren't exactly like that. You kind of have to wait for the detective (in this case, Miss Marple) to lay it out for you. Mysteries are hard to review because I don't want to give much away, but the plot here is this: The Colonel, whom no one, including his family, much cared for, is found murdered in the vicar's study. Was it his wife, who was having a dalliance with an artist? The artist himself? The daughter who stood to inherit? Or any one of the locals who had access and motive, including the poachers the Colonel recently ran off? Added to the possibilities is that several people confess. I didn't solve the case, but I had fun guessing. Christie is a master, of course, at mysteries, and this was a good one. My rating: 4 stars.

I finally finished Peter Walsh's Let It Go. If you've read anything by Walsh (It's All Too Much, Enough Already, or others), this one isn't really anything new. The focus is on downsizing, either your own home at the major lifestyle change (retirement, divorce, etc.) or your parents' after their move to a long-term care facility or death. Not much of it was relevant for me, except for the fact that my mother is starting to have thoughts of downsizing and asking, what will you kids do with all this when I'm gone? Having lost my father a couple years ago, and all of my grandparents before that, it's not new territory for us. Walsh focuses on determining which items in your (or your parents' home) are treasures, which are useful, and which need to go. And he's characteristically ruthless. All of the treasures in your home should fit on your dining room table. Yikes. I don't pass that test no matter how I cheat, although I am finding since my father's passing that my possessions don't hold the same pull as they once did. Having no biological children of my own, stepchildren who will be facing the other side at the same time I will, and grandchildren who will be grandparents by the time I leave them, making plans for my stuff is a weird dilemma. So, the book brought up lots of thoughts, both good and bad, but it didn't inspire me to go through things and get rid of some the way his books usually do. It felt sort of old hat. But I do prefer his work to the ever popular The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up by a long ways. He gets to the heart of why we think we need to hold on to things, and helps you break the mesmerism yours things hold. My rating: 3 stars. 

 

The Shadows, the first book from The Books of Elsewhere series, was a fun listen. I highly, highly recommend the audio version for kids and families who like to listen to books. The narrator is just fantastic. Her voice is high-pitched and childlike, and it gave the story a wonderful spirit. The plot, however, wasn't necessarily something I enjoyed. I'm not big on fantasy and otherworldly fiction. I do think, though, that lots of kids would love this book. My grandson loved the whole series, even though he's not a Harry Potter fan. In this book, 11-year-old Olive and her parents have moved into a new house that's spooky and weird. Olive makes friends with talking cats, then finds a pair of spectacles that allows her to enter the paintings hung throughout the house. Soon, Olive is caught in a battle to save the house from the shadows that want to take over the manse for good and banish Olive to a painting forever. So. Yeah. If you're looking for a good audiobook for your fantasy-loving kid, try this one. My rating: 3 stars (though I'd rate the audio production higher).

One of my mini reading challenges for 2017 was to read some "curveballs," books I'm not apt to pick up but intrigue me in some way. Sci fi books aren't generally on my reading list. I thought The Martian was good, but I certainly didn't love it. I thought the writing was amateurish at best. But I do watch an inordinate number of sci fi movies, and I'm working my way through all the episodes of The X-Files (the original series, not the new). So it's not that I don't like sci fi, because I really do. All this by way of saying, I decided to begin Dark Matter on readcation and give it one chapter. Well, that chapter completely hooked me, and I added it to my March reading list. The plot here is the physics principle of multiverses, the fact that the observer affects the observation, and a little Schrodinger's Cat thrown in, too. Jason Dessen is caught not in other dimensions, but in other universes, all of which have a version of himself, his wife, and his son. He must find the universe that he knows as home. I can't give you more than that--and I hope that's not too much. I quite enjoyed this book, because I just never knew where I'd end up next, and because the physics ideas are continuations of ideas central to my religion. It's a good book if you're looking to mix things up. A caution: there is swearing, violence, and death, though nothing beyond what your average X-Files episode would offer. My rating: 4 stars.


Last week I began:


I've mentioned before that I'm always on the search for Christian books, but I seldom find any that give me what I need. I don't need to be preached the gospel, my church does that. I don't need to be shamed, the devil does that. I don't need a list of "shoulds" and "musts," I've heard enough of those for a lifetime. What I need is inspiration. Why do so many Christian preachers, theologians, and faith workers think inspiration is not enough? Why do they always go beyond inspiration to condemning other Christians or telling us there is only one way to meet the world's needs? Well, I'm here to tell you Samuel Rodriguez's Be Light is not one of those books. If you're looking for an inspiring book to read during Lent (if you celebrate that, I don't) or leading up to Easter week, this is a book that can cut across religions and church dogma and inspire you to be the light God knows you are. A full review next week.
 

This week I'll finish:


I finally hit my reading stride with Short last week, and I'm absolutely adoring the main character. Can't wait to tell you about it.
 

My current audiobook:


I'm not sure The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper is a particularly well-written book, but it has been fun to listen to. They can't all be Middlemarch, I guess.


 

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What I've added to my TBR lately

My TBR is fuller than ever with all the new spring offerings. It's almost overwhelming, but I'm up to the task. Here is what I'm most excited about reading:

FICTION


Jane Steele came out last year, but something about it has been gnawing at me since. I like the cover, but I also am interested in an alternate reality in which Jane Eyre is a serial killer. I did my homework on this, and it seems like a well done reimagining, and the deaths aren't gruesome. Has anyone read it? What did you think?

I made a mini-challenge this year to read a reading curveball, and I think Dark Matter might be it. I've read so many bloggers who just loved it, even though they're not sci-fi readers. I think I'll give it a whirl and see how it goes.

I'm seeing some buzz for Exit West, and what I'm hearing mostly is that this one isn't about the plot (an immigration love story), but about the beautiful writing.  


The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series made an Alexander McCall Smith fan of me, so I'm interested to try another of his series. I settled on The Sunday Philosophy Club from the Isabel Dalhousie series.

Amy Stewart is releasing book three in the Kopp Sisters series, Miss Kopp's Midnight Confessions. I plan to read book two soon so I'm caught up before this is released in the fall.

And then there's Mr. Rochester, a novel filling out the other half of the Jane Eyre story by giving us the tale of Mr. Rochester's life. Can I just tell you how much I love that cover?


I was intrigued by My Mrs. Brown when it came out, then it fell off my radar, and now I've rediscovered it (and bought a copy). It's about an unassuming women who needs a very special dress for a very special occasion, and the reader knows no more than that. I'm a sucker for a quiet novel.

I've bought a copy of We Were the Lucky Ones though I've had enough hefty WWII novels for a bit.

Speaking of WWII novels, I recently bought a copy of The Chilbury Ladies' Choir, about a women's church choir during the war. I hope it will be something like The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which I'm absolutely adoring right now.


NONFICTION


I have a very romantic view of baseball. If I have to watch a spot, it will be baseball. And I love baseball movies and books about baseball. Also, I love road trip books. I Don't Care If We Never Get Back combines baseball and road trips, and it sounds like the perfect summer read.

The Preacher and the Presidents is written by the team who wrote The Presidents Club. I've always been a little fascinated by Billy Graham and the fact that he had a personal relationship with most every recent president. This book examines those relationships.

Having just read Bret Baier's book about Eisenhower, I've added his memoir about his little son, Paul, to my list of things to read someday.


PERSONAL GROWTH

Yeah, I've included Astrophysics for People in a Hurry in my "personal growth" section. I feel I need to fill some knowledge gaps, and Seven Brief Lessons on Physics didn't do it for me.

In February, I read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's We Should All Be Feminists, and I was less than impressed with its simplicity. Perhaps her follow-up, Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions will go into more depth.

There is a strong pull within me toward minimalism, but at the same time, I like the cozy feeling of being surrounding by things with strong memories and deep beauty. The two desires war with each other, and I live pretty successfully somewhere in the middle of minimalism and hoarding. But Fumio Sasaki's Goodbye, Things is likely a book I'll read to satisfy my Japanese-minimalism self.


I ran across 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do lately, and judging by the table to contents, I have trouble with at least six of the thirteen, so I picked up a copy for my personal growth mini reading challenge.

I'm a fan of Jen Hatmaker, and I adored her last book, For the Love. Of Mess and Moxie comes out this August, and I can't wait. She writes about being a bold Christian woman, a wife, a mom who makes hilarious mistakes, and a church worker, and she does it with such candidness and humor you can't help but say "Amen."

Gretchen Rubin is coming out with a new book detailing her personality framework, The Four Tendencies. I'm not really into personality frameworks, and I prefer her happiness books to her recent one on habits, but Rubin is one of my auto-buy authors, so I'll be buying a copy as soon as it's released.


BOOKS ABOUT WORDS


It's been awhile since I've found a book about words to gobble up. I'm ready for these. Naboko's Favorite Word Is Mauve is a book that statistically examines authors' most-used words, and tells us what that says about them. It sounds much more fascinating than that. I'm a sucker for books that try to quantify things like this.

And then there's Hemingway Didn't Say That where Garson O'Toole corrects misconceptions about who said what and why others often get attributed.


ART


President George W. Bush turned to painting after leaving office, and Portraits of Courage is a short-ish book of his paintings of soldiers with accompanying stories.

And for a touch of whimsy: Peanut Butter Dogs, a book of photographs of dogs trying to eat peanut butter. It doesn't take much to satisfy some folks. And by some folks, I mean me.
POETRY

I've added four books of poetry to my to be read list to help me reach my reading goal of reading 1,000 poems again this year. I've added: Hafiz's The Gift, The Essential Emily Dickinson (selected by Joyce Carol Oates), Robert Hass's The Apples of Olema, and Garrison Keillor's O, What a Luxury.


GARDENING

I am not a gardener. I'm ready to admit that now. I want to be one, but I am not one. I resent weeds too much to be a gardener. But I love books about gardening. I think The Thoughtful Gardener looks gorgeous (check out the pics on Amazon), and I've long wanted to read The Wild Braid, conversations with poet and lifelong gardener, Stanley Kunitz.


CHILDREN'S



And last but not least, some exciting children's books. See You in the Cosmos is being compared to the best in contemporary children's literature, including Wonder. It sounds wonderful. 

Juana & Lucas is the winner of an ALA award, and it looks charming.

I've wanted to read the first in the Ruby Redfort series, Look into My Eyes, for awhile now.

And a third Calpurnia Tate Girl Vet book will be out in the fall: Who Gives a Hoot?




Whew. That was a long list. Who knows how long it will take me to get to some of these, but, as I like to remind my husband: books keep.


What have you added to your TBR lately?




Monday, March 20, 2017

What I'm reading this week (3/20/17)

Well, I'm on my annual spring break read-cation through Wednesday. Three glorious days of reading and not much else. I hope to get my study cleaned up a bit. There are piles of books everywhere. We'll see how that goes.

Last week I finished:


I really enjoyed Poems That Make Grown Men Cry. There isn't a whole lot more to say about it than that. It was addictively readable, because each introduction as short, and when one poem ended, there was another poem offered up by another famous-to-the-English Englishman. I can't wait to begin Poems That Make Grown Women Cry. My rating: 4 stars.

I adored Britt-Marie Was Here. I was heartened as well as a little disappointed that it was so much like A Man Called Ove. I hope I don't find that Backman only writes one character, but even if he does, it's a great character. Britt-Marie is a very particular person. She has a deep fondness for the properly organized cutlery drawer (folks, knives, spoons), is fiercely loyal to certain products, knows only what comes in handy when it comes to solving a crossword puzzle, is obsessively clean, and doesn't judge people (except kind of all the time). She's extremely rigid and has trouble with social interaction. I loved this character as much as I loved Ove who has much the same personality. But Britt-Marie finds her community and learns to blossom at last. It's a nice story, and it's told with Backman's signature wit. The only thing that disturbed me is that I found myself so often in Britt-Marie. A rigidity often bordering on obsessive-compulsive, a tendency to assume I'm being made fun of, a penchant for brand loyalty, a manic to do list keeper, and I even look like her from behind. Is this me in 20 or 30 years? Chills. My rating: 4.5 stars.


This week I continue with:

Whenever I force myself to pick up Short, I love what I read, but I'm having trouble wanting to read it with all the other book options I have going.

And I'm still enjoying Let It Go, but I don't think it's Peter Walsh's best book. And it might be too long. I should finish it this week.


I'm listening to:

I'll be finished The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society this week. (Insert big sad face here.) I've really come to love the characters, the post-war story, and Guernsey itself.

The Shadows continues to enchant me while I'm listening, but I do have to force myself to listen. Maybe I'm just not digging children's lit right now.


This week I'll be reading:

I don't know if I'll be reading one or both of these. And if I don't like Be Light, I'll have no problem moving on to something else. Christian lifestyle books can be hit and miss with me.



Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Top Ten Tuesday (spring 2017 reading)



This week the ladies at The Broke and the Bookish are asking for our top ten books on my spring TBR . Well, I have a long list of books I want to read this spring, but I'll list ten that are going to be published in March and April.

Link your post up here.

Sheryl Sandberg, author of Lean In, and Adam Grant, author of Originals, have teamed up to write Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy, inspired, I think by Sandberg's recent loss of her husband. I plan to read it for my "Read a book about personal growth" mini-challenge.

Years ago I enjoyed Amy Dickinson's The Mighty Queens of Freeville. She's back with another book this spring called Strangers Tend to Tell Me Things. I've never read her "Ask Amy" advice column or heard her on NPR, but I plan to pick up her newest memoir when it's released.

By now you know I love the Calpurnia Tate books, set at the turn of the last century, about a girl who is interested in the natural sciences. There are two longer books (Newbery Honor winner The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate and The Curious World of Calpurnia Tate) and then there are chapter books, Skunked!, and this one, Counting Sheep, with another, Who Gives a Hoot?, due out in October. While I probably prefer the longer novels, I plan to read them all.

I'm woefully behind in reading my Fredrik Backman books. I plan to read Britt-Marie Was Here this month, and I still have his earlier My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry to read. But his newest, out in April, is one I'm especially looking forward to. Though I loathe playing or watching sports, I love movies and books about sports, and Beartown is about a small town hockey team. I'm all in. (Backman is the author of A Man Called Ove.)

I am looking forward to Eat This Poem very much. I love poetry, as you know, and I love books about food, and this one blends the two. It's a poetry anthology with recipes. I wish I'd thought of that.

Anne Lamott is about to release another book this spring. In recent years, she's released a number of slim volumes of essays that deal with life and faith: Help, Thanks, Wow; Stitches; Small Victories. Her newest, Hallelujah Anyway, looks to be another in that unofficial series. She's been a favorite of mine for decades, ever since I introduced her at a reading she gave in Eau Claire in the mid 1990s. Her humor alone is enough to make her books delightful, but I do find her unbearable to read when there's a republican in office. We'll see how this one goes.

This year I've discovered the wonderful No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. He has a stand-alone book coming out this spring that sounds wonderful called My Italian Bulldozer about a man at loose ends whose car rental reservation leaves him stranded in Italy until an alternative comes up: a bulldozer.

And because I'll read anything by Bill O'Reilly, I hope to be reading his newest, Old School, this spring. I'm not even exactly sure what it's about.

A couple years back I read Sally Bedell Smith's biography of the Queen, Elizabeth the Queen, and I ADORED it. This spring she's releasing a hefty follow-up volume, Prince Charles.

Around the time my father passed on, I happened to be listening to Tom Ryan's fabulous story of his little dog, Following Atticus. In a weird way, it helped me through the mourning process. Ryan is back with another dog memoir, Will's Red Coat, about an old dog who finds a new lease on life.


What's on your spring reading list?