Monday, July 16, 2018

What I'm reading this week (7/16/18)

Well, I'm back from Readcation, and I have to say as far as reading went, it was kind of a bust. I have too many other projects going on right now to want to read as much as I'd planned. I gave myself grace and slackened the reading schedule a little. I'm also floundering with book choices this month. I guess I'm a restless reader this summer, but I know it will pick back up when my projects are done and the fall book releases hit.

Last week I finished:

I so enjoyed My Lady Jane earlier this year that when I found out a second book in the Janies series was coming out in the summer, I was very excited. My Plain Jane has the same premise: a famous  historical Jane, this time Jane Eyre, has her story retold with the insertion of otherworldly elements. In the first book, it was shape-shifting humans; in this book, there are ghosts and possessions. But, you know, fun ghosts and possessions. True to form, the three authors add plenty of humor in their retelling, and my special favorite was Helen, Jane's beloved childhood friend who passed and is now her ghostly sidekick. There's romance, adventure, and an explanation as to why Rochester is so blasted "broody" and difficult. I don't read much of this kind of thing, not much YA, and no fantasy at all, but I have fallen in love with these books. They're long, but they read very quickly. Highly recommended. My rating: 4.5 stars.

I had such a hard time settling on a nighttime read this month. I finally tried The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning, which was a short, quick, quirky read. Think Marie Kondo but an older author with more sass. This is part-memoir and part-self help, I guess, and our author, Margareta Magnusson is "somewhere between 80 and 100 years old." In her little book, she tells one how to get rid of a lifetime of clutter so your descendants and friends won't have to. It's not as morbid as it sounds, but Magnusson is not very sentimental, making it all seem very easy for her. I enjoyed this little book a great deal. I'm working on my own clean-out, and I'm finding it exhausting but so satisfying. I wouldn't say that this book alone, however, would be enough for most folks to undertake their own "death cleaning." The advice is, perhaps, too simple. It would work for the motivated or self-starter, though, who just needs a little boost of encouragement. If you're looking to undertake a clean-out, check this one out, but maybe don't stop here. My rating: 4 stars.

Every now and then I get a wild hair to read a celebrity memoir. Earlier this year I read Tina Fey's Bossypants, and I found Lauren Graham's Talking As Fast As I Can much the same, but not as good. I think you have to be a bigger fan of Graham's work and silly humor than I am to truly enjoy this one. I've seen several episodes of (the original) Gilmore Girls, but I've never seen Parenthood, which I think I have confused with Modern Family. I have a hard time getting into actors and comedians who are always "on." Tina Fey can on occasion turn off the funny-gal persona and be personable. It would seem Lauren Graham cannot. That disappointed me. I enjoyed the book on audio because it was narrated by Graham, but I'd only recommend it to folks who are big fans--in which case, you've probably already read it. My rating: 3 stars.

And speaking of television reboots... I was a big fan of Trading Spaces, back when HGTV was relatively new and TLC's Trading Spaces held the market on home shows. One of the better designers, in my humble opinion, on the show was Vern Yip. He seemed a little better than the others, perhaps more schooled or more in touch with his own design style. He made it serious business whereas the others may have had more fun. When his decorating book, Vern Yip's Design Wise, came out in 2016, I added it to my TBR where it languished until now. Reading it, I was reminded just how exacting he is. He is definitely of the opinion that there are design rules and they should be followed. With a strong foundation of those rules, one can design a beautiful space. The book is divided into two parts. The first 160 pages are Yip's rules, including how large an area rug should be, how deep a couch's seat should be, the proper size of a coffee table, the types of dining table legs, etc. and etc. If you're that kind of person, it's all there in an easy to take with you guide. The second part of the book is full-page photos of Yip's homes. While we don't really share the same style--he's more Asian modern and I'm more contemporary traditional--the spaces are truly beautiful and well curated. Oddly enough, with all the design rules and measurements provided, I didn't get the two pieces of information I was hoping to: the proper height of a bedside table lamp and options for lighting antique paintings. Guess I'll just wing it like I generally do! My rating: 3.5 stars.

I've enjoyed several of Kevin Young's books, both of his own poetry and of his edited anthologies. The Hungry Ear, an anthology of poems about food, is one of my favorite poetry books. And a couple of years ago I read his Dear Darkness which I really enjoyed. Brown, his newest book of poems, came out this April, and it's more of what Dear Darkness had to offer. Young writes about the African American experience, blues, and sports. He's one of the finest poets writing today, and likely my favorite African American poet. He's a master at arrangement of poems in a collection so that they flow together as several long pieces, and you really feel like you're having an experience rather than just reading a bunch of poems. A fine collection. My rating: 3 stars.

Next up:

I. Cant. Wait.

Last week I abandoned:

I just couldn't get into this last week. I might pick it up again.

And I began:

This should be a nice, comfortable read. Kooser's poetry is very accessible and calm.

And I continue with:

Didn't read much of this last week, but I'm at about the halfway point.

My audiobook:

I started this late last week, and I'm really enjoying the adventure.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

What I'm reading this week (7/9/18)

I'm on Readcation Monday through Wednesday of this week. I hope to do a lot of reading, but I'm in the process of a huge decluttering project, and that has kind of taken over my life lately. Even when I set aside time to read, I find myself gravitating toward a closet or bookshelf that needs going through instead. I'm also doing a bit of online shopping for pieces to replace what needs replacing around the house (lamps, etc.) and a fair bit of daydreaming. Getting rid of so much really refreshes one's mind.

Last week I finished:

Months before it was released, I ran unto Fatima Farheen Mirza's A Place for Us on Amazon, and I put it on my TBR. Since then, chatter about it got louder and louder, and none of it has been bad. Every now and then an author's first novel just hits it out of the park, and this one did. It blew me away. It's one of those quiet, contemplative novels where there isn't much plot but the plot is so expertly true to real life that your toes curl. Telling you too much about the plot would be to spoil the experience, I think, so I'll simply say that it's the story of a Muslim Indian-American family in present-day America (though I don't think the words "Muslim" or "Islam" were used even once). The parents are traditional Muslims who adhere to the commands of their religion. Their children, first generation Americans, find themselves navigating their parents' and religion's traditions and also secular American society. The daughters, Hadia and Huda, adhere pretty closely to their faith while making meaningful choices about what to keep and what to disregard, but their brother Amar finds himself adrift. There is an honesty and tenderness to the story that is remarkable, and the author does a beautiful job of presenting the family's story from all sides. Events are told throughout the book by different characters, giving us various perspectives and voices. It was expertly written. There were, though, two things that bothered me just a little. I was puzzled as to why Huda was not as central to the story as the other members of the family. She appeared seldom and generally little more than anecdotally. Also, I was a little disappointed when Muslim terms weren't explained in the story. Context was not always enough to tell me what was being discussed, so I often felt like an outsider. It never felt like a big deal, and I have read enough books about Muslim religion and culture to remember some of them, but it did bother me that the author nor editor thought this was important. At the same time, knowing this must be an intentional choice, I felt that the book/author was making a point that you cannot know everything about another's life. You will always feel a little bit like an outsider no matter how close you are or how much you know. At any rate, it was an interesting decision that I continue to ponder. Any quibbles I have with the book are dwarfed by the magnitude of my appreciation for it. It was a wonderful read, sure to be in my top ten this year. My rating: 5 stars.

I've been meaning to try an Anne Tyler book for awhile now, but I've always been afraid they were too "fluffy" for me, and while I don't detest fluffy books, I tend to avoid them because most of them annoy me. But I was taken by the description of Back When We Were Grownups, so I decided to begin there. This is the story of Rebecca Davitch, the widowed stepmother of three daughters and mother of one, grandmother to six. She's a party planner and lives with her quirky, 99-year-old uncle through marriage. Rebecca begins to wonder if she is living the life she was meant to live. Did she marry the right man? Why did she give up her intellectual curiosity? What can she do about how taken for granted she is? So she sets about making small experiments to determine what needs to change to become who she always intended to be. I listened to this on audio, and I recommend it. I'm not sure I would have liked it as quite as much in paper form. It may have fallen a bit flat. It's a light book (I think that's a Tyler trait?) with some quirky characters and family dynamics, but there was something endearing about Rebecca and her position in the family. I think she's having thoughts we all do at some point, and I liked how she grew just a little. There was something kind of refreshing about the book, and I'm glad I read it. I think I'll try other Anne Tyler novels, too. My rating: 3.5 stars.

What I'll be reading this week:

I saved My Plain Jane specifically for Readcation, and I'm so excited to start! It's the reimagining of Jane Eyre.

Last week I abandoned:

I thought I've Been Thinking... would be a good "advice" book, but it's very simple and impersonal. Very little depth. There's a hold list for this at the library, so I decided to give it up for someone else's enjoyment.

My Kindle mix-up:

I don't know what happened, but while I thought I was re-reading Happier at Home on Kindle, I was actually re-reading The Happiness Project for the third time. Now I'm a third of the way in, so there's no point in switching. I must have opened one on my computer and the other on my Kindle and gotten the two confused? I still hope to re-read Happier at Home someday...

Last week I began:

My poetry read right now is Kevin Young's Brown. Very good so far.

I began Vern Yip's Design Wise, too, and I'm reminded of how rigidly he adheres to design rules.

And when I put down the Maria Shriver book, I picked up Jonathan and Drew Scott's It Takes Two. They have several design shows on HGTV.
My audiobook:

I've heard Lauren Graham's Talking As Fast As I Can was fun on audio, so I'm listening to it, even though I've only recently seen a few episodes of Gilmore Girls and I've never watched Parenthood.

Friday, July 6, 2018

July 2018 reading list

Ah, the halfway point of the reading year! I feel like I'm getting to the point where my TBR is down to things I still want to read but I'm not particularly excited to read. Do you all have that, too? If I could download the book into my brain, I would, but to actually sit down for a week to read it, no thanks. So, I guess I need a reading list revamp. Or maybe I need to be reading less. I can't even believe I wrote that, but lately I've been feeling like I need to open up space in my life for other things, and that would have to come from reading. I'll keep you posted on that evolution.

This month, I'll be reading a lot of newly released books, three of which are about presidents, politics, and the White House. I cannot wait! I'm most excited for My Plain Jane (second in the Lady Janies series) and First in Line, the third book by Kate Andersen Brower, author of The Residence.

As always, things are subject to change. I'm getting really good this year at putting down books that aren't for me!





Tuesday, July 3, 2018

June 2018 wrap-up

Well, we've reached the halfway point in the reading year, and I'm sitting at 91 books read. Last year at this time I was at 67. This was another eclectic month of reading, with everything from politics to decluttering advice, from child abduction and espionage to presidential biography, from marriage essays to ice hockey. One-word reviews below link to full reviews. And look for my July reading list tomorrow.

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Monday, July 2, 2018

What I'm reading this week (7/2/18)

Last week I finished:

I'd been dancing around the edges of Fiona Davis's The Dollhouse since it came out a couple of years ago, but I was never really taken in by the plot. But I was interested in Davis's follow-up books, The Address and her forthcoming The Masterpiece (out in August), so I decided to read (well, listen to) the first one first. And I was right in the first place--this one just wasn't for me. I think I can see why others would like it, but I found it absolutely lacking in subtlety, and I consider a mastery of subtlety to be one of the signs of great writing. So, this might be good "chick lit," but that's just not my thing. The plot is made of two stories. In one, set in the early 1950s, Darby McLaughlin is transplanted from Ohio to New York City, enrolled in secretarial school, and living in an all-women's hotel, the Barbizon. In the other, modern-day floundering journalist Rose is finding herself caught up in the story of the Barbizon and its hanger-on residents from the 1950s. The book goes back and forth in time until the stories eventually catch up with each other. (By the way, is anyone else sick to death of this way of pattering a book?) There's romance, there's exciting immigrant and drug subplots, there's a cranky old woman and her cranky old dog, there's a young woman who thinks she's independent but has no idea how to take care of herself. It's so similar to so many other books, I didn't end up not caring very much about what happened. It's an entertaining book, I guess, something light to read in the summertime, but I wouldn't call it particularly well-done. But again, it's probably just me. My rating: 2.5 stars.

When Joe Biden's Promise Me, Dad came out last fall, I put it on my TBR, and I finally got around to it when the Kindle version went on sale on Father's Day. I didn't have particularly high expectations for the book, but I love a good personal story, and bonus points for one that centers around Washington, D. C. It pretty much delivered what I expected. This is Vice President Biden's account of his son Beau's last year or two. He died of brain cancer in 2016. It's also the story of what Biden and the Obama presidency was doing during this period. The writing isn't great ("Uncle Joe" has never been known for his communication skills), the political history is a big revisionist in my opinion, and Biden came off a little wooden and conceited which, frankly, surprised me. I felt that the book lacked a true focus, like Biden wanted it to be a book about his son but that he felt he had to restrain himself for whatever reason. Throughout that year, he's also trying to decide if he wants to run for the presidency in 2016. He's certain he can wrest the nomination away from Secretary Clinton, and he even has much of his campaign nearly in place when he decides it's not right for him or his family who are still grieving the loss of Beau. In all, it was an emotional, yet uneven, memoir. If you like Biden and want to know more about his son and his decision not to run in 2016, it's worth a read. My rating: 3 stars.

Earlier this year I read Melanie Shankle's newest book Church of the Small Things, and afterward I bought most of her earlier work. The Antelope in the Living Room is her second book, I believe, and it's a chronological collection of essays about her marriage. I find Shankle's writing charming and witty, a cross between Jen Hatmaker and Jen Lancaster. She can be irreverent or serious, depending, and she writes naturally about the hard stuff of life, including her Christian faith. In this book she brings us through her nearly 20-year marriage to Perry, a deer-hunting outdoorsy Texan who works (or worked?) in the ministry field. She shares things both funny and mundane about the difficulties and joys of sharing your life with someone who equally delights you and makes you scratch your head in wonderment. If you're married, you know that I mean. There's nothing particularly fascinating here, which is probably its charm. I left the book thinking I wish I had a friend like Melanie to share my marriage stories with, which I think is high praise. My rating: 3 stars.

You all know my adoration of Billy Collins and his wonderful poetry. I'm not sure there's a poet I like more. He makes writing good poetry look effortless, which I know from experience, it is not. Picnic, Lightning (the title is taken from a passage in Lolita) is one of his older books (published in 1998), and one of his best. I knew so many of the poems in this book; in fact, most of my favorites come from this book. Like Fishing in the Susquehanna in July and I Go back to the House for a Book. I highly recommend this collection if you're looking for a starting place for reading contemporary poetry. It's accessible, witty, and has emotional depth, all while entertaining the reader. My rating: 4.5 stars.

This week I continue with:

It is as wonderful as everyone's been saying. A very quiet, contemplative book.

Last week I began:

I floundered around last week trying to find a Kindle book that grabbed me. All those options and nothing to read! I finally decided (I think) to re-read Gretchen Rubin's Happier at Home.

I also began Maria Shriver's I've Been Thinking....

My audiobook:

I'm enjoying Anne Tyler's Back When We Were Grownups on audio. I believe it's my first Anne Tyler read.