Thursday, December 31, 2015

Carin's Best Book of 2015

Yes, part of the reason this book was my favorite was because of where my head-space was when I read it. In another year, it would have still been an excellent book, but not necessarily my favorite of the year. But 2015 was a rough year with a lot of challenges, and Leigh Ann Henion made me feel like I wasn't alone and there was a lot of hope and beauty in the world and I could hang in there and get through. She helped me stop thinking about my problems for a minute and take a moment to think about the future and where I want to travel one day, which is a glorious change of pace from worrying about bills and health issues and other personal problems. She was so easy to identify with, so filled with effervescent but not foolish optimism, and coming from a dark place herself, that this book hit home with me. Thank you Leigh Ann!

Reading Challenge 2015 Summaries

This year I actually didn't finish one of my challenges. I've never done that before. But I felt like a couple of the lines on My Friend Sarah's Reading Challenge (also known as the Popsugar Challenge) weren't fair. I was feeling a ton of pressure at the end of the year to finish and two of the categories--A book you were supposed to read in school but didn't and A play--were ones I just really didn't want to read. I read the vast majority of what I was supposed to in school and the ones I didn't read, I really have no intention of reading. And plays just aren't something I believe anyone sits around and reads for fun. I was dreading fulfilling these last categories, and finally I decided I just wasn't going to read them and it was okay. These challenges are supposed to be fun, not torture, after all. I actually didn't get to 4 books for that challenge. I did finish the other two that were year-long challenges (Chunkster and Books in Translation) and I made an excellent dent in the State by State challenge, setting myself up to finish that one in 2016 as planned.

Chunkster Reading Challenge 
Wondering what’s a chunkster? A chunkster is an adult or YA book, non-fiction or fiction, that’s 450 pages or more.

Here’s the rules for this year’s challenge:
Audio books and e-books are allowed. You want to listen to a chunkster on audio? Be my guest. Essay, short story, and poetry collections are allowed but they have to be read in their entirety to count. Books may crossover with other challenges.
Anyone can join. You don’t need a blog. Feel free to leave your progress on the monthly link-up posts.  You don’t have to list your books ahead of time. Graphic novels don’t count. Reading a chunkster graphic novel isn’t the same as reading a non-graphic chunkster.

Carin says:
I've decided to do the Chunkster every year. The one year I didn't, I really missed it. Plus, when all my other challenges are focusing on quantity, the Chunkster helps me to not just read short books. I'm going for 5 books this year, as you just set your own goal.
1. Hawaii by James A. Michener 1036 pages
2. Keeping the House by Ellen Baker 560 pages
3. The Children by David Halberstam 785 pages
4. Here Is Where: Discovering America's Great Forgotten History by Andrew Carroll 500 pages
5. Early Warning by Jane Smiley 476 pages
6. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr 530 pages
7. Capital Dames: the Civil War and the Women of Washington, 1848-1868 by Cokie Roberts 494
5/5 as of 5/16/2015 DONE!

The Southern Literature Reading Challenge
Read a book(s)--non-fiction or fiction of any genre, for any age group--written by an author from the South and set mostly in the South. Definitions of the South are flexible, so I've decided to define it the way I want. That's the fun of hosting your own challenge, right? :-)

The states:
South Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, West Virginia, Texas, Arkansas, Florida

Please keep in mind that this is a Southern literature challenge. It's possible to find books set in each of these states that are not Southern in nature or feeling. Use your best judgment when choosing your books.

Carin says:
I'm signing up for Level 3--Have a glass of sweet iced tea, honey. Read 5-6 books. I am missing 5 southern states for the State by State Challenge (below): Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas. And I am Southern, and I find that while I like Southern Lit, I don't read it often. Although I do have some issues with Southern Lit, particularly how broad a category that is and how a lot of the books within it don't lump together well. I discussed that here.
1. Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce (Texas)
2. The Children by David Halberstam (Tennessee)
3. The Promise by Ann Weisgarber (Texas)
4. Going Away Shoes by Jill McCorkle (North Carolina)
5. Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County: A Family, a Virginia Town, a Civil Rights Battle by Kristen Green (Virginia)
6. Three Story House by Courtney Miller Santo (Tennessee)
6/6 as of 10/21/2015 DONE! Although I did not succeed much in broadening the Southern books I read.

2015 Books in Translation Reading Challenge
The goal is obviously to read translations of books, from any language into the language(s) you're comfortable reading in; they don't have to be in English.

Carin says:
For the last two years in a row, I've read no books in translation. That's just not right. I don't know why I haven't read any translated books recently as I have really liked the ones I've read in the past. I need to rectify this. I'm going to make a list on Goodreads right now, so I know which translated books I have already on my TBR list. I don't want to go crazy so I'm just signing up for Beginner: Read 1-3 books in translation. 
1. Police by Jo Nesbø, translated by Don Bartlett 
2. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, translated by Cathy Hirano 
3. Siegfried's Murder by Anonymous, translated by A.T. Hatto
3/3 as of 10/13/2015 DONE!

My Friend Sarah's Reading Challenge
This is a long list of wide variety! My friend Sarah is trying to read more books in 2015 so she found this challenge and has created a closed FB group for discussion. I am thrilled to help her try to read more, and I like these random-type of challenges as I read very randomly and the one I did last year was fun and easy. This one is very long, so it won't be as easy, particularly with categories like a book with antonyms in the title, and a book that takes place in your hometown. Sarah found the challenge here.

A funny book: She Got Up Off the Couch: And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana by Haven Kimmel
A book by a female author: Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte by Carol Berkin
A mystery or thriller: The Way of All Fish: A Novel by Martha Grimes
A book with a one-word title: Hawaii by James A. Michener
A book of short stories: Going Away Shoes by Jill McCorkle
A book set in a different country: Not My Father's Son: A Memoir by Alan Cumming
A nonfiction book: All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid by Matt Bai
A popular author's first book: Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder
A book from an author you love that you haven't read yet: I Regret Nothing: A Memoir by Jen Lancaster 
A book a friend recommended: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
A Pulitzer-Prize winning book: March by Geraldine Brooks
A book based on a true story: The Promise by Ann Weisgarber 
A book at the bottom of your to-read list: The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
A book your mom loves: The Natural History of a Yard by Leonard Dubkin
A book that scares you: Spinster: Making a Life of One's Own by Kate Bolick
A book more than 100 years old: Siegfried's Murder by Anonymous, translated by A.T. Hatto
A book based entirely on its cover: Good Grief: Life in a Tiny Vermont Village by Ellen Stimson 
A book you were supposed to read in school but didn't: 
A memoir: The Job: True Tales from the Life of a New York City Cop by Steve Osborne
A book you can finish in a day: Here Is New York by E.B. White
A book with antonyms in the title: Here Is Where: Discovering America's Great Forgotten History by Andrew Carroll
A book set somewhere you've always wanted to visit: Phenomenal: A Hesitant Adventurer's Search for Wonder in the Natural World by Leigh Ann Henion
A book that came out the year you were born: 
A book with bad reviews: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
A trilogy: Some Luck, Early Warning, and Golden Age (Last Hundred Years: A Family Saga) by Jane Smiley
A book from your childhood: The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder
A book with a love triangle: The Race for Paris by Meg Waite Clayton 
A book set in the future: Armada by Ernest Cline
A book set in high school: Out of Nowhere by Maria Padian
A book with a color in the title: Letters from Yellowstone by Diane Smith
A book that made you cry: When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead
A book with magic: Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt
A graphic novel: Stitches: A Memoir by David Small
A book by an author you've never read before:  Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce
A book you own but have never read: Keeping the House by Ellen Baker
A book that takes place in your hometown: The Children by David Halberstam 
A book that was originally written in a different language: Police by Jo Nesbø, translated by Don Bartlett 
A book set during Christmas: Christmas Pudding and Pigeon Pie by Nancy Mitford
A book written by an author with your same initials: Three Story House by Courtney Miller Santo
A play:
A banned book: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
A book based on or turned into a TV show: The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel 
A book you started but never finished: 
39/43 as of 12/30/2015 DNF!

State by State in 2014-2016
Ever thought you would like to read your way across America?
The USA Fiction Challenge asks you to do just that.
Read just one book from each state - you choose whether the link is the setting or the author.
You choose whether you confine yourself to a particular genre or not.

Carin says:
I am extending this challenge over multiple years. I am picking setting (I think often where an author's from is wildly irrelevant to a book) and I am not confining myself to a genre. I had hoped to have 35 books done by the end of my first year but I only had 22. I am not confidant I can finish this next year, but I'm going to try. Finishing 2016 is the plan. 2015 is the middle year. I am marking in blue the books read in 2014.

Alabama: Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
California: The Longest Date: Life as a Wife by Cindy Chupack
Columbine by Dave Cullen 
Connecticut: The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic by John Putnam Demos
DC: All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid by Matt Bai 
Florida: The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton DiSclafani 
Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind: A Bestseller's Odyssey from Atlanta to Hollywood by Ellen F. Brown and John Wiley Jr.
Hawaii: Hawaii by James A. Michener
Illinois: Pioneer Girl by Bich Minh Nguyen
Indiana: She Got Up Off the Couch: And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana by Haven Kimmel
Iowa: Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn 
Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink
Maine: The Burgess Boys by Elizabeth Strout
Wondrous Beauty: The Life and Adventures of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte by Carol Berkin
Massachusetts: Defending Jacob by William Landay
Michigan: You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know by Heather Sellers
Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
Laura Ingalls Wilder: A Writer's Life by Pamela Smith Hill
Montana: Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer
New Hampshire
New Jersey: 
Let Me Explain You by Annie Liontas 
New Mexico
New York: The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro
North Carolina: 
My Accidental Jihad by Krista Bremer
North Dakota: Nothing to Do But Stay by Carrie Young
Ohio: The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok
Oregon: Astoria: John Jacob Astor and Thomas Jefferson's Lost Pacific Empire: A Story of Wealth, Ambition, and Survival by Peter Stark
Pennsylvania: The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan
Rhode Island: 
In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me about Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love by Joseph Luzzi 
South Carolina
South Dakota
The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan
Texas: Love Me Back by Merritt Tierce
Utah: The World's Strongest Librarian: A Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength, and the Power of Family by Josh Hanagarne
Vermont: Good Grief: Life in a Tiny Vermont Village by Ellen Stimson
The House Girl by Tara Conklin
Washington: The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
West Virginia: Close to Famous by Joan Bauer
Wisconsin: Keeping the House by Ellen Baker
Letters from Yellowstone by Diane Smith
22/51 in 2014
15/29 as of 9/15/2015
Leaving 14 for 2016!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Book Review: Exploring Calvin and Hobbes: An Exhibition Catalogue by Bill Watterson

I wanted this book to be a thousand pages long. Or longer. It just wasn't enough. But I loved it so much. I am very mad that I didn't hear about this exhibit until after it was over. I definitely would have made a road trip to Columbus, OH to check it out.

The best thing about this book is the very long interview with Bill Watterson about his background, his inspiration, his career path, and how he came up with Calvin & Hobbes. A couple of his early political cartoons are reproduced. And also several like Pogo and Charlie Brown that were his childhood inspiration for cartooning. They discuss how he fought to change the strict layout for the Sunday strips, and how sad it is that the demise of newspapers means few people will discover new strips.

If you are a big-time Calvin & Hobbes fan like I am, this book is indispensable. A must-have. And it's a comfort and a hearkening back to earlier times when worrying about when the next C&H book would come out was a big concern of mine (I wish.) I loved loved loved this book.

I received this book as a gift for Christmas.

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Good Goodbye

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

The Good Goodbye by Carla Buckley

Synopsis from Goodreads:
The author of The Deepest Secret returns with another spellbinding domestic thriller about an estranged family forced together in an ER as disturbing truths come to light. Crackling with moral ambiguity and alive with family tension, this is a poignant and unforgettable novel of the lies we tell, the secrets we keep, and the truths we hide even from ourselves.

Two cousins, Rory and Arden, lie unconscious in a hospital burn unit. The fire, which broke out in their shared college dorm room, killed another student, and the police want answers. Tension between Rory and Arden’s parents was already at an all-time high before the fire, owing to a recent financial crisis and the decline of the family business. As the parents huddle anxiously in the waiting room, carefully avoiding the subject of their own unraveling relationships, disturbing truths come to light.

This is the deeply moving story of a family’s struggle to hold together while their secrets threaten to tear them apart.

Publishing January 19, 2016 by Bantam.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Book review: Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom by Deborah Yaffe

Ms. Yaffe is a Janeite herself, so in this book, she knows whereof she speaks. She is not one of the Johnny-come-latelys who got into the movies in the 1990s and early 2000s. Instead, she is a longtime fan since her childhood, and she attended a JASNA AGM (Annual General Meeting) when she was in college, before the Janeite boom. But she appreciates the boom and doesn't wish we were back in earlier times when only academics and Anglophiles were big Austen fans.

Each chapter has a different focus and usually two primary people she focuses on. She treats them with the utmost respect, whether they are professors, or women who make regency costumes. She never disparages fan fiction or even the movie versions that I feel ought to be disparaged. Yet she also understands the joy and happiness that Jane Austen brings to these mega-fans, and doesn't treat her look at them as a purely academic pursuit. For me, the most interesting chapter was about Sandy Lerner. We readers are introduced to her as a successful author of Austen-inspired novels, but soon we find out her intriguing and impressive background: she co-founded Cisco Systems with her then-husband (when it went public she bought a Jaguar and a set of Jane Austen first editions), and after she was ousted by the board (her then-ex-husband resigned in protest) she went on to found the makeup company Urban Decay. Meanwhile, she bought Chawton House, where Jane Austen's brother Edward Knight had lived. Chawton Cottage had been bought decades earlier was was a well-restored profitable Austen museum, but the House which overlooked the Cottage had been involved in multiple financial boondoggles and was in disrepair and a money pit. Luckily, Ms. Lerner had the money to fix even a centuries-old money pit like this.

We also meet people who run Jane Austen websites, some people with rather wacky Jane-Austen theories, a woman whose successful Austen fan fiction inspired her to leave her abusive husband, and a woman who runs a bibliotherapy group, using Austen's novels to help people heal their psychological condition. This book is much fun if you too are a Janeite. If you're not, you might be somewhat baffled by the devotion of her fans, but this is still a well-told collection of fascinating people who adore books (and one particular author) more than just about anything.

I don't know where or how I acquired this book but I do own it. I think I bought it but I'm not sure.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Book Beginnings: Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham

"He was the kind of man people noticed."

This is in reference to Thomas's father, Peter. He was strong with great endurance and owned a lot of land and slaves. The author notes it was a good time to be white and wealthy and male in America. (Of course, when was it ever not great to be those things?)

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Longest Night

 “Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

The Longest Night by Andria Williams

Synopsis from Goodreads:
In this absorbing and suspenseful debut novel—reminiscent of Revolutionary Road and inspired by a little-known piece of history—a young couple must fight to save both their marriage and the town they live in. In 1959, Nat Collier moves with her husband, Paul, and their two young daughters to Idaho Falls, a remote military town. An Army Specialist, Paul is stationed there to help oversee one of the country’s first nuclear reactors—an assignment that seems full of opportunity.

Then, on his rounds, Paul discovers that the reactor is compromised, placing his family and the entire community in danger. Worse, his superiors set out to cover up the problem rather than fix it. Paul can’t bring himself to tell Nat the truth, but his lies only widen a growing gulf between them.

Lonely and restless, Nat is having trouble adjusting to their new life. She struggles to fit into her role as a housewife and longs for a real friend. When she meets a rancher, Esrom, she finds herself drawn to him, comforted by his kindness and company. But as rumors spread, the secrets between Nat and Paul build and threaten to reach a breaking point.

Based on a true story of the only fatal nuclear accident to occur in America, The Longest Night is a deeply moving novel that explores the intricate makeup of a marriage, the shifting nature of trust, and the ways we try to protect the ones we love.

Publishing January 12, 2016 by Random House.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Book Beginnings: Among the Janeites

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom by Deborah Yaffe

"The bottom drawers of Baronda Bradley's dresser are filled to overflowing with kid gloves, ballet slippers, stockings, feathers, lace collars, nineteenth-century coins, smelling salts, period playing cards, drawstring reticules, a vintage sewing kit--all the accessories with which she augments the breathtaking Regency outfits she wears to each year's Annual General Meeting of the Jane Austen Society of North America."

Obviously, this inspires some googling. Here are a couple of Ms. Bradley's outfits:

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Expatriates

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

The Expatriates: A Novel by Janice Y.K. Lee

Synopsis from Goodreads:
From the author of the New York Times bestseller The Piano Teacher, a beautiful, transporting novel about motherhood, marriage, and friendship.

Janice Y. K. Lee’s blockbuster hit debut novel The Piano Teacher was called “immensely satisfying” by People, “intensely readable” by O, The Oprah Magazine, and “a rare and exquisite story” by Elizabeth Gilbert. And now, in her long-awaited follow-up, Lee explores with devastating poignancy the emotions, identities, and relationships of three very different American women living in the same small expat community in Hong Kong.

Mercy is adrift. A recent Columbia graduate without a safety net, she can’t hold down a job—or a man. Hilary, a wealthy housewife, is haunted by her inability to conceive a child she believes could save her floundering marriage. Meanwhile, Margaret, ostensibly a happily married mother of three, questions her maternal identity in the wake of a shattering loss. As each woman struggles with her own demons, their lives crash into one another in ways that could have devastating consequences for them all. Moving, atmospheric, and utterly compelling, The Expatriates confirms Lee as an exceptional talent and one of our keenest observers of women’s inner lives.

Publishing January 12, 2016 by Viking

Friday, December 11, 2015

Book Beginnings: Golden Age

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

Golden Age: A Novel by Jane Smiley

"I was Friday. Everyone was somewhere else, doing last-minute chores."

Therefore when Charlie showed up for the family reunion, only Minnie was there. I did find it odd that the book starts off with Minnie, who is not technically a part of the Langon family (her brother-in-law is Joe Langdon.)

Book review: Golden Age: A Novel by Jane Smiley

My reading of this book was dragged out extra-long because I accidentally left it at my mother's house after Thanksgiving, which did not help my reading of it. I did enjoy it, but it was a little slow.

I knew going into this book, the third in the series, that the number of characters and the story line was getting complicated. For once I was grateful for the family tree at the beginning instead of that being a red flag (although it can give away spoilers as each book covers 33 years so someone who is a child at the beginning of one book can be married with a child of their own by the end.) What started off as the story of an Iowa farm family stretched to cover all of America, from California to D.C. and New York. One branch did stay in Iowa on the farm, but the others have gone into finance, politics, and ranching. The characters, considering the number of them, are relatively easy to keep track of. I sometimes needed to pause half a second for the major characters (yes, some of the minor ones, the children now grown up, I needed to consult the family tree for.) But they were perfectly drawn and distinct.

There were a couple of shockers as the book moved into the twenty-first century. Some were in retrospect not shocking (which is the best kind: the well-set-up but not obvious ones). All were in keeping with the characters' personalities. I do with the book hadn't skewed so heavily political at the end. And it's a little complicated since the book spills over a few years past where we are now, into 2019. I wonder about people reading this book in the early 2020s who don't think to consult the publication date, and wonder why a book that was so historically accurate for 95 years suddenly went askew in the last 5, but that's really Ms. Smiley's problem to worry about. But I read it for the characters and how family changes over time, not for political harangues (even ones I might partly agree with.) Still, that's a rather small part of the book and overall, it's excellent. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I'd waited until all three books were out and read them one after the other, as if it were one giant 1200 page family saga. The gaps between books are what caused it to drag a bit and me to have to fumble occasionally for who a character was precisely. By the last third of each book, I was skipping along merrily, having found both the pacing and the character lists caught up in my brain at last. (And of course I didn't have that problem at all in the first book.)

It is a large tome, the series is enormous, but it is a worthy book (and series of books) to read. Ms. Smiley really gives perspective on the last hundred years in America and on the American dream and the facade versus reality. It's beautifully written, with indelible characters who participate in most every aspect of this country's last century (but not in a celebrity-bumping-into Forrest Gump kind of way.) I wouldn't be surprised if, in 10 years, this series were considered a modern American classic.

I checked this book out of the library.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

“Waiting On” Wednesday: My Name is Lucy Barton

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

Synopsis from Goodreads:
A new book by Pulitzer Prize winner Elizabeth Strout is cause for celebration. Her bestselling novels, including Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys, have illuminated our most tender relationships. Now, in My Name Is Lucy Barton, this extraordinary writer shows how a simple hospital visit becomes a portal to the most tender relationship of all—the one between mother and daughter.

Lucy Barton is recovering slowly from what should have been a simple operation. Her mother, to whom she hasn’t spoken for many years, comes to see her. Gentle gossip about people from Lucy’s childhood in Amgash, Illinois, seems to reconnect them, but just below the surface lie the tension and longing that have informed every aspect of Lucy’s life: her escape from her troubled family, her desire to become a writer, her marriage, her love for her two daughters. Knitting this powerful narrative together is the brilliant storytelling voice of Lucy herself: keenly observant, deeply human, and truly unforgettable.

Publishing January 5, 2016 by Random House

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Book Review: Bill Bryson's African Diary by Bill Bryson

Okay, now I have officially read ALL of Bill Bryson's books (since his latest isn't out in the U.S.) Yes, I even have read his book of difficult words. This book is slight and cute and doesn't contain his trademark snark. But I couldn't just skip it.

In 2002 CARE asked Bryson to go to Kenya for 8 days to see their facilities and write this charity book. He visits some horrible slums in Nairobi, meets women with small businesses assisted by CARE, sees the water spigots CARE has installed, and visits Karen Blixen's house. Along the way he is terrified in a tiny propeller plane and is worried about some of the scare tactics he has heard rumor of from begging children, but he doesn't encounter anyone who isn't pleasant and warm, he finds nothing to tease and poke fun at, and instead for once (or maybe twice as I also found that to be the case in his Australia book), we are treated to a more earnest Bill Bryson, which to be honest, isn't my favorite Bill Bryson.

But this small book Bryson does try to intrigue and delight, and I'm sure it was a worthy effort for the nonprofit needs of CARE, which does seem like a good charity to support, if one is looking for those opportunities.

I checked this book out of the library.

Friday, December 4, 2015

Book Review: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

I have read almost all of Bill Bryson's books. And he's written a lot. I was looking for a funny book to read, preferably a memoir, and it's been silly that I've had this book sitting on my shelf for almost 10 years. (Now, before his newest book comes out in January, I only have one left, his shortest. That will be read very, very soon.) And nicely, Bryson didn't let me down.

Bill Bryson grew up in Des Moines, Iowa in the 1950s. This book is mostly a memoir, but he's also done his research on Iowa and the 1950s. He tells stories about some of the quirky establishments in Des Moines including the restaurant with "atomic restrooms" (the toilet seats moved up into the wall and were supposedly  sanitized by a flash of bright light) and the grocery store with a pickup location some distance away with a long underground conveyor for the bags to arrive on (how did Bill and his friends never ride on that conveyor? Seems like a missed opportunity.) He talks about quintessential 1950s toys from the normal such as Slinkies and Silly Putty to the TV-show based toys and their own homemade "toys" (which I've put in quotation marks as I'm mostly now picturing his friend who wanted to plant a confetti bomb at their school just before graduation but who blew up his own bedroom instead.) He talks about Iowa, about farming and tornadoes and the flat landscape and the lack of prejudice (when he gave a friend the pseudonym Stephen Katz in two previous books, it didn't even occur to him that Katz is a Jewish name.) He talked about social and cultural aspects of the time like all the "atomic" everything everywhere (and he gives details about all the atom bomb tests, about polio scares (although his perpetually unperturbed parents never worried), and about just being a midwestern boy in one of the best times of all (1957 was technically the happiest year in America, according to Gallup.)

I do like the time period of the 1950s as viewed from a child's perspective. Then you get all the fun (comic books! Giant elegant movie theaters!) without the racism and Red scares and other terrifying things (Cuban missile crisis). Obviously Bryson knows of these things and the Cuban missile crisis isn't skipped over, nor the superiority of the Soviet space technology nor what we were doing to our country and the world by blowing up the Bikini Atoll and parts of Nevada. But the utter joy that era meant for a creative child with few limits, is evident on every page.

While I am a few years late to the game, Byson never goes out of style, and this is a perfect pick-me-up book that caused me to laugh out loud more than once, and is filled with fascinating facts that will have you annoying everyone nearby with, "Hey, can I read you something?" I could have done with a little less hyperbole, but overall, a great addition to the Bryson oeuvre.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher, but not for a review, as it was many years before I had a blog.

Book Beginnings: The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid

Book Beginnings on Friday is a meme hosted by Gilion at Rose City Reader. Anyone can participate; just share the opening sentence of your current read, making sure that you include the title and author so others know what you're reading.

The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

"In the late 1950s, the Royal Canadian Air Force produced a booklet on isometrics, a form of exercise that enjoyed a short but devoted vogue with my father."

Isometrics is a great example of one of the many, many oddball but harmless trends in the 1950s, most of which Bill's family participated in. Isometrics comes up a few times throughout the book.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Book Review: A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins

I love to walk. I've walked an entire marathon. I also like to read books about walks although most of them have been written by women. This book was recommended to me as a walking book by a man that was a modern classic, and I recommended it to my book club.

In 1973, Peter sets off from upstate New York heading south with his trusty Malmute Cooper. He first decided to walk to D.C. and meet up with family there, just to see if it was reasonable and if he could do it. He and Cooper did train some before they left (which is why the left in the late fall I presume. I'd have left in the spring, personally.) I found it hilarious that initially he's wearing Converse sneakers (he later does change to running shoes and boots, depending on the terrain.) He has a backpack with a tent etc. He does not have enough food or money to get him all the way, so he plans every once in a while to stop and settle somewhere for a bit, get a job, and save enough for the next leg of the trip. After the trauma of the Vietnam War, Peter, a young recent college grad, is disillusioned with America and he wants to regain his love for the country, and more specifically, the people. So along the way, he wants to meet people. Which he does. Some eccentric, some unusually nice, some unusually mean.

The book is dated. Mostly in a way that is funny, and occasionally baffling. Because he has a beard everyone assumes he's a hippie and therefore a drug pusher. I found that line of logic bizarre. In fact, he's run out of one town in Virginia due to this assumption (luckily on his first night in town he befriended a deputy which is probably why he wasn't killed.) Race relations were certainly eye-opening although it was the whites he usually had trouble with, even though he himself is white. The bit about the commune was somewhat amusing (The Farm in Tennessee which still exists) until you figured out that it's basically a cult. I was nearly as apprehensive about him going into Alabama as he was but that turned out okay. He ends up in New Orleans (going south was the main point in this book. Going west is his second book.) The end I didn't much like but it's nonfiction so that's what happened and I don't have to like it. Overall, I like the bulk of the book when he was walking. I didn't like the stationary parts nearly as much and those were close to half of the book. I found Peter naive and sweet, but also likely to get himself into potentially dangerous situations (even if none of them actually turned out dangerous yet.)

I felt the writing tone to be overly casual, the timeframe to be confusing, and the people he met to be off-kilter for the most part. But I still mostly liked the book. It was easy to read and gives a real snapshot of what the 1970s in America was like off the beaten path. DO NOT flip ahead and look at the photo insert as it reveals a major spoiler. (The trip was partly funded by National Geographic which gave Peter a camera.) Overall, I did enjoy it, but it wasn't great. I am still not sure why but I'm sticking to my earlier theory that women write about these long-distance walks better than men do.

I bought this original hardcover book from 1979 at the used bookstore Bookman Bookwoman in Nashville, TN.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Guest Room

“Waiting On” Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication “can't-wait-to-read” selection is:

The Guest Room: A Novel by Chris Bohjalian

Synopsis from Goodreads:
From the New York Times bestselling author of Midwives and The Sandcastle Girls comes the spellbinding tale of a party gone horribly wrong: two men lie dead in a suburban living room, two women are on the run from police, and a marriage is ripping apart at the seams.

When Kristin Chapman agrees to let her husband, Richard, host his brother’s bachelor party, she expects a certain amount of debauchery. She brings their young daughter to Manhattan for the evening, leaving her Westchester home to the men and their hired entertainment. What she does not expect is this: bacchanalian drunkenness, her husband sharing a dangerously intimate moment in the guest room, and two women stabbing and killing their Russian bodyguards before driving off into the night.

In the aftermath, Kristin and Richard’s life rapidly spirals into nightmare. The police throw them out of their home, now a crime scene, Richard’s investment banking firm puts him on indefinite leave, and Kristin is unsure if she can forgive her husband for the moment he shared with a dark-haired girl in the guest room. But the dark-haired girl, Alexandra, faces a much graver danger. In one breathless, violent night, she is free, running to escape the police who will arrest her and the gangsters who will kill her in a heartbeat. A captivating, chilling story about shame and scandal, The Guest Room is a riveting novel from one of our greatest storytellers.

Publishing January 5, 2016 by Random House.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Christmas Shopping at a Bookstore

I originally published this post in 2010 but last weekend I did all of my Christmas shopping at my local independent bookstore so I thought I'd repost this for 2015.

Four years ago, my mother had recently moved two hours away from me. There was a terrible ice storm in her city right before Christmas. It lasted a couple of weeks. She had no power (which in the South includes heat!) She had to move her elderly parents into a hotel for the duration (which was pricey!) The whole time of the storm, it was all she could do to keep things together. So when I showed up on 12/23, she made a wretched announcement: "I haven't gotten a single present yet so tomorrow we'll have to go to the mall." The mall. On Christmas Eve. No. Noooooooooooooooononononononono. I go to great lengths to avoid precisely that. I have a big family but I start my shopping early. I hate crowds. I won't shop at discount stores because I would rather pay more than fight over things.

As we were getting into the car, I had a brilliant idea. "Is there a bookstore around here?" I asked. "There's a B&N at the mall," she said. "No, I mean one not at the mall. Is there an independent bookstore in town?" Turns out there was one, and it was nearby. "You can get all your gifts here," I said confidently as I got out of the car. "How am I going to do that?" she asked. "Trust me."

And we did. For my second cousin who doesn't read, a hyperactive teenager, we got a graphic novel. For my cousin's kids we got a drawing kit and a music kit. For my other cousin who's a bit of a romantic, Mom found the perfect book of poetry. For her political brother-in-law, she got a funny magnet. For my step-sister's little girls, she got stuffed animals. And for the rest: books, books, books. As a former bookseller, I know there's a book out there for everyone. There are books on every topic known to man. Have a muscle-head guy on your list? Fitness books. The stay-at-home mom who loves to bake? A cookbook. And bookstores these days have tons of sidelines. It's amazing how many non-books you can buy at a bookstore. I just got J. a simple notebook, which he really wanted. Bookstores sell DVDs and chocolate. This time of year they normally have ornaments. Mom didn't initially believe me. She had over 10 people on her list, almost none of whom would be described as big readers. But it only took about an hour and we had every single name crossed off her list. We didn't have to go to the mall or fight with crowds. It was glorious.

So as the days count down, in the last week rush for last-minute shopping, think of bookstores! They are not just for the readers in your life! If you love bookstores, we need to frequent them to keep them in business, and that means you should buy gifts there, not just books for yourself. Check out the sidelines options in The Flying Pig Bookstore in Charlotte, Vermont. Those duck, pig, and cow pens on the top shelf? I've seen those in a lot of stores and have been very tempted to buy them. One very unique and hilarious item I want for my very own though are the face plates at the bottom. You are encouraged to play with your food! You can give the lady a beard of peas. Make the man's hat out of mashed potatoes. Ah, hours of fun! (And cold food but you can't have everything.) Here are two things I bought at Northshire Bookstore in Manchester Center, VT. The first is an angry-looking weeble-wobble bottle opener. The second is an ice-cube tray. It makes 3 long, funny looking ice-cubes with a swizzle stick embedded in each! Brilliant. (I have also used it to make popsicles.) Then the three Christmas ornaments. The silver and purple are from Open Book in Schenectady, NY, and the pink one is a MOMA ornament that I bought at Davis-Kidd Booksellers in Nashville, TN.
So keep your eyes peeled while shopping! You may find brilliant gifts where you least expect it, and please give bookstores a few more of your holiday dollars!

My November in Review

My month in review. The It’s Monday What Are You Reading meme is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey. I’ve started compiling my lists monthly instead of weekly.

So at the beginning of the month I realized that if I only were to read the 9 books I had left on my book challenge of 100 books in 2016 (although at that time I was 7 books ahead so it would be easy for me to read more, but go with me), then I had 6 books left on my last reading challenge, two books for book club, and one book I committed to for a publisher. And that would be all. It was depressing. And then I was slammed with work. And as I work as an editor, that means I was slammed with a lot of reading, and work reading is rarely fun reading, even if I do like the book I'm working on (although that's not that common.) In particular I was doing a crash index, and while I did find the book I was working on quite interesting, it was exhausting me, I was working nights and weekends and putting in 4x my usual number of hours of actual editing work (it's so taxing that I can't do it for more than a few hours per day or my effectiveness drops precipitously). The last thing I wanted to do at the end of a day was read. Let alone read a book that felt like homework. I was worried about hitting another reading slump so I preemptively tried to work my way out before I hit bottom. Therefore I watched more TV and when I did read, I read a couple of memoirs (my crack), aiming for funny or schadenfreude in the subject matter. And most importantly, I decided that two of the books for the reading challenge just aren't going to be read. I was dreading having to read a play, and a book I was supposed to read in school but didn't. I don't want to end my year by reading two things I was dreading. So I decided I'm just not doing those. I hope to do the other 4 still missing from that challenge but if I don't, that's no big deal. I am not going to be compulsive about finishing this challenge. It's one a friend asked me to do, not one I picked myself, and she specifically did it so reading would be more fun and so she'd have interesting books to talk about. That does not involve forcing people to read books they'll dislike. So I'm going with the motivation behind the challenge instead of ending the year on a sour note.

Books completed this month:
The Tao of Martha: My Year of LIVING; Or, Why I'm Never Getting All That Glitter Off of the Dog by Jen Lancaster
Bootstrapper: From Broke to Badass on a Northern Michigan Farm by Mardi Jo Link
A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
Golden Age: A Novel by Jane Smiley (I should have finished this but I accidentally left it at my mother's on Thanksgiving)
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson
The Botanist and the Vintner: How Wine Was Saved for the World by Christy Campbell

What I acquired this month:
Call the Midwife: A True Story of the East End in the 1950s by Jennifer Worth
The Muralist by B.A. Shapiro
I am trying to rein in my book purchases but I am just addicted to the TV show Call the Midwife and I've watched all the episodes yet I want more. And I met B.A. Shapiro two weeks ago at a WNBA event (and is a member of the Boston chapter) and I loved her previous novel so this was a no-brainer.