Wednesday, November 29, 2017

What I've added to my TBR lately

It's been awhile since I've offered up one of these posts. My list of titles is so long, that I'll have to use just the top 25.


I'll read anything Fredrick Backman writes, so I snapped up The Deal of a Lifetime, his latest novella, ASAP (as soon as published).

I read a review of Alice McDermott's The Ninth Hour recently that made me want to try it. Long ago I really enjoyed her Charming Billy. This is historical fiction about a husband's suicide and a bunch of nuns, and I don't remember what else. I anticipate it being a quiet book, and I could use one of those right now.

And after reading Ann Hood's Morningstar, I decided to give her fiction a chance. I think The Obituary Writer sounds good.

If the cover doesn't make me want to read Their Eyes Were Watching God, nothing will. Many agree that this is a seminal work in African American literature, so I thought I'd give it a try.

Dana Perino recently recommended the Maggie Hope series, so I thought I'd give the first one, Mr. Churchill's Secretary, a shot.


I've added books two through five of James Herriot's All Creatures Great and Small series to my TBR after the first book (of the same name). Book two is All Things Bright and Beautiful.

I love travel memoirs, and Around the World in 50 Years sounds like a good one. Its author, Albert Podell, made it his mission to visit all of the countries of the world--and it only took him 50 years.

I'm always looking for books to listen to on CD, because I've been hitting audiobooks hard this year. Born on a Blue Day is something I thought I'd like to listen to. Its author, Daniel Tammet, is an autistic savant.

Before the biography Bunny Mellon hit bookstores recently, I'd heard of Bunny Mellon but knew nothing about her. I'll soon remedy that.

I've meant to read a book by Melanie Shankle for awhile now, so I've added her latest, Church of the Small Things to my list. I'll probably try it on audio.

You know I love books about books, so I just had to buy Dear Fahrenheit 451 when it came out. It's a collection of letters the author has written to books she loves and loathes.

I'm excited to read Scott Kelly's Endurance soon. Kelly spent a record-breaking year on the International Space Station.

I love Jen Lancaster's nonfiction, and her latest, Stories I'd Tell in Bars, is high on my list of books to read soon.

I've read all of Kelly Corrigan's nonfiction, and I see she's coming out with a new book next year called Tell Me More: Stories about the 12 Hardest Things I'm Learning to Say. Sounds interesting.

I've also added Alia Malek's The Home That Was Our Country: A Memoir of Syria to my reading list.

I've meant to read The 5 Love Languages for a few years now, and I think 2018 will be the year.

I've been circling the chair on The Curated Closet for months and months now. With capsule wardrobes being all the rage, I want to know if it's something I could handle (my guess is "no").

Ever since The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, every culture is offering its take on how to declutter. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning is Sweden's contribution. I have an addiction to these books.

Last, but perhaps most importantly, I'm excited to read Everything You Need to Know about Social Media (without Having to Call a Kid) to my reading list because I know nothing. I wouldn't peg Greta Van Susteren as a social media guru, which makes me a little less nervous about the topic.


I remember being interested in Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat when a copy came into the library several months ago. I think I'll buy my own copy to go through slowly.

Also, Joanna Gaines is coming out with The Magnolia Table in April. Yippee!

Since reading Jill Bialosky's poetry memoir Poetry Will Save Your Life a couple months ago, I've wanted to read a book of her poems. I chose The Players.

Pablo Neruda's Love Poems was a recent Kindle deal, so I snagged it. I love his poetry.


The fourth in the Calpurnia Tate Girl Vet series, A Prickly Problem, is due out in April.

And 50 Cities of the U.S.A., the follow-up to the fabulous The 50 States, came out this fall. I'll be working my way through this one in 2018.

Monday, November 27, 2017

What I'm reading this week (11/27/17)

I've taken off a few days for another readcation following hosting Thanksgiving and decorating for Christmas (Friday). I'm down to just a couple books left to finish this month, so I may throw another title into the mix if I get a little bored.

Last week I finished:

I was telling my husband about Thanksgiving: How to Cook It Well last week, reading passages to him like "Let us speak plainly: you are going to need a lot of butter....Figure at least two pounds for the day. There may well be lots left over, to be sure, depending on what you cook. But two pounds sends a message." I've complained in the past about cookbooks that are too heavy-handed and rigid, because I'm someone who HATES being told what to do (esp. in something like cooking which I consider to be a creative endeavor), but that's the absolute charm of this book. Did I finish this book and still put my turkey in a cooking bag? Yes, I did. Did I still make Stove Top stuffing because my big brother and husband would boycott all future Thanksgivings if I didn't? Yes, I did. Were my cranberries the kind that come out of the can with groovy can-ridges on them? Yes, they were. As Whitman wrote: "Very well then I contradict myself; (I am large, I contain multitudes.)." I enjoy every cantankerous, pretentious word of this book, even though I ignore it all. My rating: 4 stars.

I really liked The Penguin Lessons. For awhile it seemed that I would have to make room for it while figuring my top ten of 2017, but then, it sort of fizzled out. Is there anything more disappointing? This is the memoir of Tom Michell, an Englishman who worked at an all-boys school in Argentina in the mid-1970s. While traveling in Uruguay, Michell came upon a beach littered with thousands of dead penguins covered in oil and tar, victims of an oil spill. In the crush of death and decay, Michell notices one live penguin and is determined to clean up the little guy and send him back to sea. The penguin fights the cleaning until he realizes Michell is a friend not a foe, and he decides to stay with Michell at the school, making friends with all the boys there. He names the bird Juan Salvador ("John Saved"). This was a cheering, heartwarming story, perfect for this time of year. I loved it. It was full of adventure (smuggling Juan Salvador through customs) as well as stories of day-to-day life with a penguin as a pet (feeding him fished by hand). Unfortunately, the book kind of ran aground toward the end. It just felt like it ended too quickly, and too sadly. Perhaps since Juan Salvador only lived at the school for eight months (and 40 years ago), Michell had run out of stories. I'm not sure what happened, but I felt cheated somehow--I wanted more of Juan Salvado's charm. Still, this one is worth the read. It was charming and humble and, I don't use this word lightly, magical. My rating: 4 stars.

This week I'll be reading:

I finally got to start Amy Tan's Where the Past Begins last week. It is not at all what I expected. It's much more cerebral and navel-gazey and slow than I'd anticipated. Were it not by Amy Tan, I may have ditched it by now. Has anyone else read this one? What did you think?

Still savoring The Word We Used for It, though. I don't want this one to end.

My audiobook:

I'm pleasantly surprised by the quality of writing in Paula McLain's Circling the Sun. That alone is enough to make me like the book.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Nonfiction November 2017 (week 4)

Week 4, Nonfiction Favorites: We’ve talked about how you pick nonfiction books in previous years, but this week I’m excited to talk about what makes a book you’ve read one of your favorites.  Let us know what qualities make you add a nonfiction book to your list of favorites.

Is the topic pretty much all that matters?
Topic is the main thing, but a book has to be well-written and engaging, or I'll bail. There's nothing worse than a dry 600-page biography. A good story can be told poorly, but a poor story can't be told charmingly. But perhaps most importantly, I must learn something new from my nonfiction. That's the number one reason why I read.

Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love?
I like my nonfiction approachable and engrossing. It needs to have a clear narrative thread (I suppose you'd call that narrative nonfiction) and be well-paced. I don't like gossipy tell-alls, and I won't abide with factual errors. Also, a book must have a new approach to a subject if it's a subject that's been covered a great deal (presidential biographies, for instance).

Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone?
I prefer seriousness in my nonfiction. I think factual information demands that, but I'm not opposed to an author having a sense of humor or a playful approach.

Monday, November 20, 2017

What I'm reading this week (11/20/17)

Last week I finished:

It's no secret that I love to read about the Kennedy family. (Check out my recent post here in conjunction with Nonfiction November.) As soon as it came out, I bought a copy of Jackie's Girl, but after reading After Camelot earlier this year, I was a little burned out on Kennedy books for awhile. Trying to clean up my TBR a bit before the end of the year, though, I decided it was time to read Jackie's Girl. To be honest, I didn't have high hopes for this one. I figured it would either be a tell-all or a tell-nothing, like most of the other I-knew-a-celebrity books. But this one surpassed all my expectations. I fell in love with it right away. Kathy McKeon was Jackie's personal assistant and sometimes nanny from 1964 to 1976. Having just arrived from Ireland, McKeon didn't expect her career in service would ever intersect with the likes of Jackie O. She tells of her years with Madam (as Jackie asked to be called by her staff) with respect, humor, and honesty. She doesn't paint Jackie as the perfect icon so many others did, nor does she deliver a nasty hit piece. She just presents Jackie as a person with positive and negative traits, personality quirks, insecurities, grace, and a charming, girlish sense of humor. McKeon also talks about Caroline and John Jr. (her stories of John are wonderful), Aristotle Onassis, and her catty Irish spats with the other mostly Irish staff. She also tells of the difficulty she had forging a life of her own while still being "Jackie's Girl" almost around the clock. It was a charming book that hit just the right note. I loved this one. My rating: 4.5 stars. 

Every now and then I pick up a book to challenge my reading. Although I read widely across genres, there are several genres I just don't have a lot of interest in. Sci fi is one of them. Yet, I love sci fi movies, so I'm not unfamiliar with what sci fi is and why folks love it. I decided that reading a book that so many others read and loved (14,000 reviews on Amazon) would be kind of fun, so I picked up Ready Player One on audio last week. The story is this: In the year 2045, the earth is a grim place to live. Due to a global energy crisis caused by global warming (wow, that happened fast), people turn to either drugs or the virtual reality universe of the OASIS to escape. Most of a person's identity and interactions with others exist in the virtual world rather than in reality. A billionaire game developer dies and leaves all his fortune to the person who can complete a virtual reality quest full of video games, trivia, and movies from the 1980s. And one young man does. If you grew up in the 1980s like I did, and more importantly, if you were a part of the gaming culture of that decade, no doubt you've read and enjoyed this book. But I'm proof that you can enjoy the book even if you knew little or nothing of the 1980s gaming world. I did like this book. I'm probably glad I listened to it rather than read it, because it was narrated by Wil Wheaton and because what you're getting here isn't exactly literature-with-a-capital-L, which is best listened to than read, in my opinion. There's a great deal of swearing, though, when the teen characters get together and trash talk one another. I was bothered by one thing beyond the rather simplistic writing: If this is 2045, it's roughly 30 years in the future, but nothing much by the way of technology has changed. Other than having the OASIS, all the currently popular technologies are still in operation: eBay, YouTube, email, text messaging. Also, culture itself doesn't seem to have been imagined out of the mid-2010s. Meth labs are still a problem. There are still SNL skits. I expected a few futuristic trappings, but it oddly delivered none. Maybe we're supposed to think that society just stopped innovating once the OASIS was invented, I don't know. At any rate, if you haven't tried this one but like a good adventure, it's a fun book. My rating: 3.5 stars.

I read the first Waylon book when it came out last year, and I really liked it. I also adore Sara Pennypacker's series of Clementine books, of which this is a spin-off. But this book, Waylon! Even More Awesome, was superb. I think Pennypacker is at her best here. If the Clementine books are a hair silly for you, try the Waylon books. They're a little more sophisticated and serious, but they're missing none of the heart or good values of the Clementine series. In this book Waylon and his friend Baxter are hatching a scheme to adopt a dog that neither of them can take home (allergies in Waylon's family and a no-dogs lease in Baxter's), but they have a plan as to where they can keep him safe, warm, dry, and hopefully, in one place ("Dumpster Eddy" is a runner). But when they go to the police station to collect Eddy from lockup, he's already gone to a shelter in another city. Will Waylon ever see him again? Will he ever get to have a dog of his own? In addition to the main dog plot, there are other plots involving Waylon collaborating on writing a science comic, Waylon's dad's screenplay that doesn't seem to be selling, the amount of time Baxter spends at the police station (in trouble?) and whether Waylon should be friends with him. I loved this book. It's great for a child looking for chapter books that will uphold good values. My rating: 5 stars.  
Oh, Emily Dickinson, why do I have such a problem with you? I can read 2,000 poems a year, understand almost every one of them, but a slim volume of Dickinson's poetry can absolutely flummox me. I can read page after page and not understand a word. Why? I think part of the problem is the almost cryptic way Dickinson writes her poems. They all seem to be a series of thoughts connected only with dashes (oh those dreaded dashes!). I prefer a more prosaic poem. Also, these poems are pretty old, and I've always had trouble with older poetry. While Dickinson doesn't often reference other works (like mythology, for instance), I still don't have a clue what she's writing about half of the time. So, I didn't get much out of The Essential Emily Dickinson, selected by Joyce Carol Oates. I will take all of my poetry professors' words for it that Dickinson is a cornerstone of the poetry canon, but I will go on shaking my head over her poems nonetheless. My rating (based on my own ignorance and how I enjoyed the process of reading the book): 2 stars.

You know by now how much I love a good book of cute photos. While I generally opt for photos of dogs, I recently discovered an Instagram account which has become the book Naptime with Joey. Joey is an absolutely adorable baby girl with huge cheeks who is a very sound sleeper. She sleeps so soundly, in fact, that her mother can dress her in costumes during her naps. And dress her she does! The photos are adorable and very well-imagined. Some are sent from folks in other countries as representations of their national dress. It's a happy little book, but if you pick it up without a background of the Instagram account, you'll have no idea what's going on. There is absolutely no introduction explaining who Joey or her mom are, that Joey is a girl, that this all happens while Joey naps, nothing. I don't understand that utter lack of information. A single paragraph would have been better than nothing. Also, you need a strong background in pop culture TV, movies, and music, or you'll miss a lot of the references. I sure did. The puns with each photo help sometimes, but not always. The whole thing kind of felt like a series of inside jokes that I just wasn't in on. It was frustrating to me. So I guess maybe I'm not the demographic Joey's folks are marketing toward. Still, cute book, but I prefer the Instagram photos. My rating: 3 stars.

Next up:

I have been waiting for this one for ages. I'm so excited to begin over Thanksgiving break.

Last week I began:

I'll finish The Penguin Lessons this week. I am loving this book. Too bad it took so long for me to get to it.

I also began Max Garland's newest book of poetry The Word We Used for It. It's amazing.

This week I'll finish:

Still loving this book. I hope to finish it before I have to cook my 15th Thanksgiving dinner for 9 to 12 later this week.

My audiobook:

I'm finally getting around to Circling the Sun. Since I finished Beryl Markham's West with the Night, I've wanted to read the novel based on her life (though it was on my TBR long before that).

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Nonfiction November 2017 (week 3)


Week 3, Be the Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share three or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

I guess you could call me a "Kennedy expert." I've read oodles of books about the Kennedy family, including biographies of JFK, Jackie, Rose Kennedy, Kit Kennedy, and Rosemary Kennedy; the Kennedy assassination; and the whole Kennedy family since the 1960s. I also have a bunch more to get to someday. Following are five of the most informative of the Kennedy books I've read. (Of course, I couldn't choose just three!)


Killing Kennedy is a scene-by-scene examination of the Kennedy assassination.

Mrs. Kennedy and Me is written by Jackie Kennedy's secret service detail, Clint Hill.

Jackie's Girl is the memoir of Kathy McKeon, Jackie's personal assistant and sometimes nanny, of her time with Jackie and her children in the years following the president's assassination.

Rose Kennedy is a biography of the Kennedy matriarch, Rose (JFK's mother).

After Camelot is a comprehensive look at the Kennedy family after the assassinations of President Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy. Lots of dirt in this one.

What are your favorite Kennedy family books?

Monday, November 13, 2017

What I'm reading this week (11/13/17)

Last week I finished:

I'm not a personality typing buff. In fact, I have very mixed feelings about the value of such a thing for society. My spiritual outlook is such that we are created in God's image, products of the one Mind, and therefore, the same. I deal with things on the material level only to the degree that they can be perfected and brought up to the spiritual standard I was created by. Therefore, if I see something in my personality that causes me (or others) discomfort, I treat it. Personality typing, however, divides society into groups of like-acting individuals. Some types focus on the positive traits or strengths of each group, some on the negative traits or shortcomings of the group, and some a mixture of both. Needless to say, this sort of thing makes me uncomfortable. While it can be helpful to know yourself in order to improve yourself, it can also be a trap of limitation. Enter personality typing aficionado Anne Bogel and her book, Reading People. In her book, Bogel goes into some depth explaining several of the most common typing systems: Enneagram, Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator, 5 Love Languages, and StrengthsFinder. She talks about the backgrounds, methods, and her results with each test. It's presented in a friendly manner that makes the book enormously readable. I really enjoyed my time with the book, and it gave me much food for thought. While I won't be taking any of the tests to identify my personality group, I was able to identify some things that I might want to address with spiritual work in order to become more Christlike. I recommend this book to anyone interested in this topic. It's certainly a good place to start with the exploration of personality. My rating: 4 stars.

Back in college a friend of mine introduced me to the James Herriot books, and I was intrigued. Growing up a farm kid, I though I might find them interesting. And...ahem...20 years later, I finally got around to the first in the series, All Creatures Great and Small. I listened to this on audio, and it was hugely enjoyable. The narrator is wonderful, his accents are great, and he nails the dry humor. This is memoir of a country veterinarian (James Herriot is a pen name), practicing in Yorkshire in the 1930s. Herriot works for ,and lives with, a more experienced vet, Siegfried, who has a holey memory. Also a part of the stories is Siegfried's brother, Tristan, who is going through vet school. Most chapters tell a single story about a farmer and his cows, horses, dog, what have you, and they're all funny and/or touching. Herriot is a natural storyteller who isn't afraid of a big of embellishment for the sake of the story, and listening to this book I missed my dad who had that same gift. If you haven't tried a Herriot book, I highly recommend this one. I'll definitely continue on with the other four books in the series, probably on audio as the experience was so good. My rating: 4 stars.

And speaking of charming English books, I finished I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith last week, and it was wonderful. It's a cross between an updated Jane Austen romance and a Flavia de Luce book (without the humor or mystery...). I knew very little of the plot of this one going in, and I felt that was a good way to enjoy this book, so I'll try not to give you too much plot summary. It's the story of 17-year-old Cassandra, her sister Rose, brother Thomas, father and stepmother Topaz, and boarder/caretaker Stephen who is Cassandra's age. They live in a falling-down castle in England in bad straights since her father has been unable to follow up his first critically-acclaimed book with another. Two brothers, Simon raised in England, Neil raised in America, happen upon the castle one day, and folks fall in love with each other, chase each other to London, etc. Like I said, it's very much an updated Austen novel. The whole book is written as Cassandra's journal. It was a good read for this time of year. The family's gloomy prospects fits well with the chilly weather and short days of autumn. I would definitely encourage you to get ahold of this one if quiet English books are your thing. It was published in 1948, but it's enjoyed a bit of a revival, perhaps because of J.K. Rowling's endorsement printed on the front cover. Dodie Smith is the author of The Hundred and One Dalmatians of epic Disney fame. My rating: 4 stars.

I've long been curious about the additional selections in online State pull-down menus: Puerto Rico, U. S. Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam. I don't know about you, but I never learned a whit about them in school. Well, same for The Not-Quite States of America author Doug Mack. In fact, Mack, who studied American Studies in college, knew no more about them after his coursework than you or I. So, he set out to change that. He visited each of the territories (in addition to my list is Northern Mariana Islands), examines the culture, asks the natives questions, and presents his information to us. I looked forward to reading this book all year (it was released in February), and I finally picked it up when the recent hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico really brought the island to my consciousness again. Unfortunately, I didn't love the book. First, and it may just be me, but I felt Mack wasn't impartial in his portrayal of the facts. He was very much of the liberal mindset that colonialism was wholly bad and the folks of these islands should have the same rights and privileges as Americans in the states. This may or may not be true, but I resented his out-of-hand assumption that it was true--and that his readers would agree. I don't think it's racist to say, for instance, that American blacks--though descendants of slavery--are better off in present-day American than in most countries of present-day Africa. Mack takes issue with that stance. That aside, I don't feel that all of my questions were answered. I came to the book wondering: Are all of the people in the territories American citizens? Do they pay taxes to the American treasury and live under the laws of the American Constitution? How does America support the economy of the territories? What is mainland America's responsibility to the territories? among others. I didn't feel that I got any hard answers. The book was mostly the adventures of Mack in the different territories, and I could have done with less of that and more facts. Perhaps the problem is that it's different in each territory. They all seem to have different designations: organized vs. unorganized, incorporated vs. unincorporated, commonwealth. I got confused by the unclear information, and I came away with almost the same questions I went in with. It may very well be that I was dense and missed things. Regardless, I was expecting something a little different from what I got. If you like travel memoirs, this is pretty good, but if you're looking more for facts than entertainment, this one may frustrate you. It did me. Still, I will never hear one of these territory's names again without thinking about their tenuous status and varied cultures, and that is a credit to Doug Mack's book. My rating: 3 stars.

Next up:

This one has been on the TBR for well over a year, and with the recent dip in temperatures (5 degrees on my way into work on Friday), a book about a penguin might be just about right.

Last week I started:

This is a re-read for me. As the holder of the Becker family Thanksgiving since 2002 (my gosh, 15 years already?!), I know the drill, and I have the whole thing down. But I still adore Sam Sifton's book for its rigid you-must-do-it-this-way-or-the-day-is-ruined approach. God bless him.  

This week I'll continue with:

I'll be finishing this one soon. Dickinson is like Shakespeare to me, both are great, and I don't get either.

My audiobook:

File this under Getting Out of My Comfort Zone. Sci-fi! (It's actually my second this year! Link to the other.) As a child of the 80s, I thought I'd give Ready Player One a listen. As someone with zero gaming experience (except a game or two of Pong--is that even gaming?), we'll see how that goes.