Friday, January 29, 2016

Book Review: Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth

I caught up on the PBS TV show this past fall and I fell in love! The 1950s in England was very different from the 1950s in America: they are in a recession, even ten years after the war there are bomb sites everywhere, and even the fashion looks like the 1940s, mostly due to no one having money.

Jenny became a nurse and then a midwife and as a midwife she lived and worked in Nonnatus House, a nunnery, in a working-class neighborhood of London. There she encountered a real variety of issues and problems, and also a lot of dear people and friendly folks. I wish the book had had more of a through-thread of narrative but instead it reads like a series of memories or essays. In the end, there's no great revelation or transformation, as Jenny doesn't seem to have changed much over the course of the book. But then, she's also not so much the main character as she is just the narrator. Some of the stories, such as the longest one about the young prostitute Mary, she's really not in at all. Others where she is involved, such as the two stories about Conchita, she's still only an ancillary character. We really learn nearly nothing about Jenny. But it's okay as she works well as a vessel for telling these others' tales. I just wish they'd been more organized and more of an arc. Perhaps the arc really is through the course of all three memoirs, and more of her personality is revealed in the subsequent books. But this book was lovely. She has a straightforward and pleasant storytelling style, and you really get to know the people of Poplar and the docks. Even though there are bomb craters and young girls roped into prostitution and physical abuse, the book is infused with an optimism and hope that bleeds through in every scene. Even the most bleak situations are never bleak. It's a pleasant and diverting read that thrusts you back in time and gives a realistic view of what life was like for a midwife in this era.

I bought this book at Park Road Books, my local independent bookstore.

Book Beginnings: Call the Midwife

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.
Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times by Jennifer Worth

"Nonnatus House was situated in the heart of the London Docklands."

This is more important than the simple, straightforward structure implies: the location for Nonnatus House pervades every aspect of Jennifer's life as this neighborhood is more than just a setting, it's almost another character in the book.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Photographer's Wife

“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 Photographer's Wife by Suzanne Joinson

Synopsis from Goodreads:
The hotly anticipated new novel by the author of A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar, hailed for her “crisp, uncluttered storytelling” and her “graceful prose” (The Boston Globe). In 1920s Jerusalem, civic advisor and architect Charles Ashton has an ambitious (and crazy) project to redesign the Holy City by importing English parks to the desert and knocking down Ottoman minarets. He employs William Harrington, a British pilot, to take aerial photographs of the city and surrounding desert. At this time, Palestine, under British administration, is a surprisingly peaceful mix of British colonials, exiled Armenians, and Greek, Arab, and Jewish officials rubbing elbows, but there are simmers of trouble ahead. Eleanora, the young English wife of a famous Jerusalem photographer, meets and falls for Harrington, threatening her marriage, particularly when William discovers that Eleanora’s husband is part of an underground nationalist group intent on removing the British.

Years later, in 1937, Ashton’s daughter Prue, an artist who has escaped the pressures of the London art world and a damaging marriage to live a reclusive life in Sussex by the Sea, is paid a visit by Harrington. What he reveals unravels her world, and she must follow the threads that lead her back to secrets long-ago buried in Jerusalem.

With its evocative, atmospheric landscape and its historical backdrop with profound resonance for world-stage events today, The Photographer’s Wife is a powerful story of betrayal: between father and daughter; between husband and wife; and by officials during the complex period between the two world wars.

Publishing February 2, 2016 by Bloomsbury USA

Friday, January 22, 2016

Book Beginnings: Hammer Head

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.

Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter by Nina MacLaughlin

"How do we decide what's right for our own lives?"

This is a rather profound way to start off a book about a woman learning to be a carpenter, but our careers are very important in our lives and partially define us.

Book review: Hammer Head: The Making of a Carpenter by Nina MacLaughlin

What do you want to do with your life? I have interns and I am a mentor to a college student and they hear this question constantly. I think most people who ask are well-intentioned  but it's very stressful for them. Are any of us ever really sure we're in the right career? The right job? I've been in one field for all of my adult life (book publishing) but I've changed department drastically several times (buying-editing-sales-editing). My husband is in the process of major career change right now (from teacher to social worker).

Nina is a writer at a local website/newspaper in Boston. Mostly she just clicks on things all day long. At first she likes it, but then she doesn't. And she might want to change. Or might not. She's just not sure. But then she quits her job. And she doesn't have anything else lined up. While she's trying to figure out her next career move, she's looking for small freelance gigs on the side to keep the rent paid, and she runs across an ad looking for a carpenters assistant, women preferred. She applies. It's a rather longish process where she needs to write long essays a few times, but she eventually gets the job, working with Mary, a journeyman carpenter, across the city on various and sundry projects, ranging from tiling a bathroom to a complete kitchen makeover to building a new porch. Nina knows next to nothing about carpentry at first (seriously, I know more than she does, and I've only ever built a birdhouse when I was eight, unless you count putting together unassembled furniture, which I am quite good at and enjoy.) Mary is a terrific mentor, never making Nina feel badly, encouraging Nina to figure things out for herself, and you can see her pride when Nina finally gets how to do a certain thing. There are some rough patches of course, but in the end, Nina find carpentry work to be fulfilling in a way that website writing never does. Obviously, she doesn't give up writing altogether (or there'd be no book to read!) but it seems like Nina will probably stick with it and continue working with wood for the foreseeable future.

The memoir is well-written with great descriptions and brilliant comparisons. She doesn't over-analyze things, she stays on topic (to the point where you find out nothing about her boyfriend), and she finds her center which is gratifying to this reader. She makes me want to go to Lowe's and do a few repairs around my own home!

I checked this book out of the library.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

“Waiting On”: The Swans of Fifth Avenue

“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 Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin

Synopsis from Goodreads:
From the New York Times bestselling author of The Aviator’s Wife comes an enthralling new novel about Truman Capote’s scandalous, headline-making, and heart-wrenching friendship with Babe Paley and New York’s society “swans” of the 1950s.

Centered on two dynamic, complicated, and compelling protagonists—Truman Capote and Babe Paley—this book is steeped in the glamour and perfumed and smoky atmosphere of New York’s high society. Babe Paley—known for her high-profile marriage to CBS founder William Paley and her ranking in the International Best-Dressed Hall of Fame—was one of the reigning monarchs of New York’s high society in the 1950s. Replete with gossip, scandal, betrayal, and a vibrant cast of real-life supporting characters, readers will be seduced by this startling new look at the infamous society swans.

Publishing January 26, 2016 by Delacorte Press.

Monday, January 18, 2016

My 100 Favorite Books

As sad as we all were when David Bowie died last week, I was thrilled to see his list of his 100 Favorite Books, and I thought I'd do one of my own. These aren't in any particular order, but they are all awesome. You should read them. Right now.

  1. Making History by Stephen Fry
  2. Emma by Jane Austen
  3. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
  4. I'm a Stranger Here Myself: Notes on Returning to America after Twenty Years Away by Bill Bryson
  5. These Happy Golden Years by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  6. The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
  7. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
  8. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
  9. Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
  10. The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan
  11. Midwives by Chris Bohjalian
  12. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
  13. Blindness by José Saramago
  14. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
  15. Straight Man by Richard Russo
  16. Making Half Whole by Terry Wolfe Phelan
  17. We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
  18. Wanda Hickey's Night of Golden Memories: And Other Disasters by Jean Shepherd
  19. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  20. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
  21. Scientific Progress Goes "Boink" by Bill Watterson
  22. High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
  23. Dirty Work by Larry Brown
  24. Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing by Ted Conover
  25. Good in Bed by Jennifer Weiner
  26. The Inn at Lake Devine by Elinor Lipman
  27. Tiger Eyes by Judy Blume 
  28. The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist
  29. Jim the Boy by Tony Earley
  30. The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton
  31. Persuasion by Jane Austen
  32. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark
  33. Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn
  34. Phenomenal: A Hesitant Adventurer's Search for Wonder in the Natural World by Leigh Ann Henion
  35. Atonement by Ian McEwan
  36. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
  37. The Alienist by Caleb Carr
  38. Dead Man Walking: The Eyewitness Account of the Death Penalty That Sparked a National Debate by Helen Prejean
  39. All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
  40. Bridge To Terabithia by Katherine Paterson
  41. True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey
  42. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg
  43. Naked by David Sedaris
  44. The Plague by Albert Camus
  45. The Rapture of Canaan by Sheri Reynolds
  46. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
  47. A Perfect Union: Dolley Madison and the Creation of the American Nation by Catherine Allgor
  48. The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White
  49. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
  50. The Floatplane Notebooks by Clyde Edgerton
  51. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
  52. Ellen Tebbits by Beverly Cleary
  53. Ferris Beach by Jill McCorkle
  54. Watership Down by Richard Adams
  55. A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  56. A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
  57. Jason and Marceline by Jerry Spinelli
  58. Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach
  59. Poachers: Stories by Tom Franklin
  60. It's OK If You Don't Love Me by Norma Klein
  61. Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation by Olivia Judson
  62. The Man Who Ate Everything by Jeffrey Steingarten
  63. Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by T.S. Eliot
  64. The Accidental Tourist by Anne Tyler
  65. The Cheer Leader by Jill McCorkle
  66. The Thin Red Line by James Jones
  67. Love Warps the Mind a Little by John Dufresne 
  68. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
  69. The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy
  70. Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed
  71. The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris
  72. Youngblood Hawke by Herman Wouk
  73. Jubilee by Margaret Walker
  74. The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin
  75. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien
  76. Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend: A Novel by Matthew Dicks
  77. When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
  78. Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder, Pamela Smith Hill (Editor)
  79. Red-Tails in Love: PALE MALE'S STORY--A True Wildlife Drama in Central Park by Marie Winn
  80. And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic by Randy Shilts
  81. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
  82. The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elisabeth Tova Bailey
  83. A House Like a Lotus by Madeleine L'Engle
  84. Karen Kepplewhite is the World's Best Kisser by Eve Bunting
  85. Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  86. Holes by Louis Sachar
  87. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
  88. Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross
  89. The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary by Simon Winchester
  90. The Natural History of a Yard by Leonard Dubkin
  91. The Twenty-One Balloons by William Pène du Bois
  92. An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness by Kay Redfield Jamison
  93. Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster by Jon Krakauer
  94. Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx
  95. The Girl with the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts
  96. Al(exandra) the Great! by Constance C. Greene
  97. Tough-Luck Karen by Johanna Hurwitz 
  98. Complications: A Surgeon's Notes on an Imperfect Science by Atul Gawande
  99. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  100. Angela's Ashes: A Memoir by Frank McCourt

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Book review: Domestic Arrangements by Norma Klein

It's so interesting as an adult to reread Norma Klein's YA novels. I picked this one up because it was the first Norma Klein book to be republished by Lizzie Skurnick's imprint at Ig Books. It wasn't my favorite when I was a teen. I think it was one of the later ones I read and I might have been a little too old. I tended to read up with Ms. Klein's books, so when I was 14, I loved the books where the characters were 17. But this book's main character, Rusty, is 14, and that's not as interesting for a 17-year-old who is only reading these books in order to identify with the main character and get some advice for how to deal with potentially tricky situations in the future. I also didn't identify with Rusty's situation--she was in a movie with a semi-nude scene and the publicity and reputation that goes with that isn't what she expected. Not super-relatable.

But, what I missed the first time around was how that wasn't really the story. Ms. Klein is not someone who normally writes about fame, and the title of the book should have clued me in. It's about Rusty's family. Her kind of prickly older sister who is less experienced than Rusty and is resentful, her mother who is an actress who never achieved the fame she wanted and is considered past her prime at 39, and her father who didn't want Rusty to do this in the first place, is worried Rusty is doing this in order to live out her mother's fantasies, not really her own. Not to mention Rusty's own relationship with her on-again-off-again boyfriend Josh. Over the course of the book's many months, we find out that both of Rusty's parents are having affairs. Rusty and Josh's relationship is pretty volatile, with serious trust and jealousy issues, and his lack of respect for her choices. (Ah, only 16-year-olds can truly have the earnestness to dis any movies other than Ingmar Bergman's as trash.) I'm particularly impressed with the subtle way Ms. Klein writes every character's dialogue in their own voice. You never have to wonder who is talking. When Rusty's mother is talking, her lines are filled with italics and exclamation points. Her father's language is formal with bigger words and it's more thoughtful. I also loved that while Rusty says "ironical" a couple of times, her mother uses the word "ironic" correctly, as I, and I'm sure many other teens, did pick up some SAT words in her books' sophisticated language. But that specificity of character is really skillful, even more so when it's done with such a light hand that it's unnoticeable to an average reader.

I'm so glad I reread this book as it exceeded my expectations this time around! With rereads, you've always got to worry about being disappointed, but instead I was pleasantly surprised. Not everyone will identify with Rusty or with the superficial problems she has regarding sex and fame, but they will understand navigating difficult relationships and how sometimes things don't work out.

This review is a part of Kid Konnection, hosted by Booking Mama, a collection of children's book-related posts over the weekend.

I have owned this book since the 1980s.

Friday, January 15, 2016

Book review: Pedestrianism: When Watching People Walk Was America's Favorite Spectator Sport by Matthew Algeo

Anyone who knows me knows I am a big walker. It's not a big deal for me to walk anywhere from 8-15 miles on a Saturday. I could walk a half marathon at any time, and I have walked a full marathon (7 hours, 23 minutes). These days that's considered a lot. I've had coworkers say to me on a Monday, "Did I see you out walking yesterday... all the way across town?" And I'll say yes, I was out that way. I listen to podcasts and audiobooks.

So last year when this book first came out, about how at one point in our history, competitive endurance walking was America's favorite spectator sport, of course I had to read it. It's got everything I love: American history, random trivia, and walking. And the best thing is that, while the author is a thorough researcher and he understands that at the time this was utterly serious, he does have a sense of humor about how it comes across now. (But if you don't like your history with a dose of funny, just skip the parentheticals and footnotes.) Back in the 1860s, you had to walk pretty much everywhere, unless you were wealthy. But regular people walked. And it wasn't at all unusual. I remember in the Little House series of books that at one point Pa walked about two states away to work on the railroad after the grasshoppers ate everything, and no one was shocked by that. And this is before there were left and right shoes!

Two men made a bet on the outcome of the presidential election. If Lincoln won, one guy would walk from Boston to the inauguration in D.C. If the other guy won, the other guy would walk to the inauguration. While the loser did not make it in time, his feat was nonetheless impressive and newspapers took note. Somehow, this spiraled into him doing walking demonstrations and he would hire a venue and spectators would pay to come in and watch him (and others) walk for hours and hours, hundreds of miles. I must say I was impressed with the distances and how easily they could just toss off a marathon or two. They often walked two, three, even five hundred miles or more on these competitions. Eventually a British guy had a prize belt made and put up some prize money, and this became a heated rivalry between America and Britain. At this time there weren't many organized sports at all, and the few there were involved a great deal of land which is always pricey, especially in a city. This was the first time, thanks to the industrial revolution, that people had spare time. And because it was the first time ever, no one had yet invented hobbies or sports or other ways to spend that excess time. Walking was cheap and easy and people could relate to it. Although yes, it's also silly, looking back.

The book is well-researched and smoothly written. It was easy to read and amusing to boot. If you find this description remotely appealing, I predict you'll thoroughly enjoy this diverting distraction about the first international spectator sport.

I checked this book out of the library.

Book Beginnings: Pedestrianism

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.

Pedestrianism: When Watching People Walk Was America's Favorite Spectator Sport by Matthew Algeo

"Dan O'Leary staggered around the dusty track on the floor of Madison Square Garden like a drunken man."

Yes, people used to compete in walking at Madison Square Garden. And people would pay to watch this. It's insane!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

“Waiting On” Wednesday: Up to This Pointe

“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:

Up to This Pointe by Jennifer Longo

Synopsis from Goodreads:
A refreshingly original contemporary YA, unlike anything readers have seen before. Perfect for fans of Jandy Nelson, John Corey Whaley, and Libba Bray.

She had a plan. It went south.

Harper is a dancer. She and her best friend, Kate, have one goal: becoming professional ballerinas. And Harper won’t let anything—or anyone—get in the way of The Plan, not even the boy she and Kate are both drawn to.

Harper is a Scott. She’s related to Robert Falcon Scott, the explorer who died racing to the South Pole. So when Harper’s life takes an unexpected turn, she finagles (read: lies) her way to the icy dark of McMurdo Station . . . in Antarctica. Extreme, but somehow fitting—apparently she has always been in the dark, dancing on ice this whole time. And no one warned her. Not her family, not her best friend, not even the boy who has somehow found a way into her heart.

Publishing January 19, 2016 by Random House Books for Young Readers.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Book Beginnings: Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League

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.

Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell

"It was up to Vida to save her boy."

Loss is a big theme in this book, and saving, although people aren't necessarily saved from loss as they go through loss and then save themselves.

Book review: Miss Hazel and the Rosa Parks League by Jonathan Odell

This book has a very unusual backstory as it was previously published under a different title back in 2004 and then revised and republished by a different publisher. But the author and agent really believed in the book, and especially after the success of The Help and other books and movies about the Civil Rights movements, it seemed the time might be better for the book now. And it does seem to be (although also the book might have been greatly improved in the revision, we don't know.)

Hazel grew up brutally poor in the backwoods of Mississippi but she was determined to have a different life. She knew she could be pretty and get out, if she tried hard enough. She succeeded. She married a handsome and inspiring man, Floyd, and they moved to Delphi in the Mississippi Delta for Floyd to sell farm equipment. Hazel had two sons and they hired a maid, Vida. Vida and her group of maid friends eventually become the "Rosa Parks League."

I don't want to give away too much of the story so I'll leave that for plot description. It's an easy read and fast, especially given its length (440). While the author knows whereof he speaks (Hazel and Vida are based on his mother and a household maid he had growing up), it didn't feel especially Southern to me, aside from talk of the Klan, and the politics (this county is where Emmett Till was killed.) I didn't get the feel for it in the cadence of the language, I didn't feel the brutal heat of the summers, or the bugs and the humidity. These are mentioned, but they didn't come alive for me. I also felt the book could have been much shorter and not lost anything. (At one point my husband asked me about the book. I said it's about these two women, Hazel and Vida. He said, who are they to each other. I said, I don't know. I was 100 pages in but they hadn't met yet.) It's told in a strictly sequential style that actually worked great for where my headspace has been lately, but it is unusual to start when the main characters are children , instead of presenting their backstory later, in flashbacks, when it's pertinent. That said, there are a lot of great characters in the book. Many of them come alive with details and nuance that make them unique. And I really liked how the author pointed out in his afterward how much of the civil rights movement was begun by and supported by the women of the South who almost never get credit (except for Rosa Parks) and who were actively not allowed in leadership positions in the various civil rights organizations. This book is partly his tribute to those unsung women who were the true backbone of the movement. The book was inspiring and ultimately uplifting, if it did have some moments that were quite dark. If you like a rollercoaster of a story set in the 1950s and 60s and especially if you liked The Help, you should give this book a try.

I checked this book out of the library.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Book Review: Living and Dying in Brick City by Sampson Davis

First off, I have to say that I hate people who damage an audio book from the library and then don't admit to it when they turn it in. That's super rude. The library isn't going to yell at you or likely even make you pay for it if you're apologetic and kind. But you will ruin it for the next person! As you can surmise, I did miss chunks of this audiobook due to skipping, but I pushed through as it was only 2 out of 7 discs that were damaged.

Dr. Davis and two friend previously wrote The Pact (which I have not read). These three young men grew up in inner-city Newark and made a pact to support each other and not only go to college, but go to med school (one of them ended up going to dental school instead.) This is Dr. Davis's second book, in which he does two things. It is in a lot of ways still a memoir (although it doesn't discuss much of his path to medical school as that's presumably covered in the first book and would be repetitive) but he also tackles many health concerns that are particular to or much more prevalent among African-Americans. He approaches each of these through a patient or a family member or friend who has the ailment, and then he ends the chapter with discussing why this health issue is a bigger concern for African-Americans than for other races, and he gives advice and resources for help. One down side to audiobooks is that it can be hard/impossible to skim material like this that I would normally skim in a print book but eventually we did start skipping when we got to the resources part of the chapter (although it is useful if you need it. For the chapter that deals with addiction, my husband, a social worker, took notes and rewound the resources section multiple times to be sure he'd written down all the websites and organizations.) We both preferred the more personal, more memoir-y parts of the book. I especially liked at the end when he talked about some of the hurdles he faced. You'd think that once he got to college, everything would have been smooth sailing but instead he failed his medical boards the first time, and then after dozens of interviews he was matched with no hospitals for his residency. Both of these problems were times other people would have given up, but he persevered (and with the second problem, he lucked out as a late spot opened up in his field in his hometown.)

I really did like the narrator. Because I mostly listen to nonfiction on audio, I haven't had much chance to hear narrators do different voices, and this narrator did a great job. He does have a quirk about being so careful to pronounce every word fully that if two subsequent words end/begin with the same sound (like "I'd do") he would take a pronounced pause between them. But I appreciate his attention to clarity and it didn't bother me.

As I said, I liked the more personal sections more, including his discussion of his sister, who had addiction issues and eventually developed AIDS. Also a couple of times friends from his childhood came in, shot. Those led to very visceral and emotional flashbacks to his growing up and were very effective. Dr. Davis is an impressive man and hopefully his book and his life are a great positive example to other inner-city minority kids who want to get out and then give back to their communities.

I checked this book out of the library.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

“Waiting On” Wednesday: The Arrangement

“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 Arrangement by Ashley Warlick

Synopsis from Goodreads:
An irresistible novel about food, desire, and the real-life love triangle between M.F.K. Fisher, her husband, and the man she left him for, the true love of her life.

Los Angeles, 1934. Mary Frances is on the cusp of becoming M.F.K. Fisher—the writer whose artful personal essays about food created a genre. Young, restlessly married, and returning from her first sojourn in France, she is hungry, and not just for food: She begins writing to impress friend and neighbor Tim, who seems to understand her better than anyone. Mary Frances and her husband, Al, no longer share the things that once bound them together—a good glass of wine, a fine meal, their creative and passionate energy. After a night’s transgression, it’s only a matter of time before Mary Frances claims what she truly wants, plunging all three of them into a tangled triangle of affection that will have far-reaching effects on their families, their careers, and their lives. Set in California, France, and the Swiss Alps, The Arrangement is a sparkling, sensual, and completely enveloping story of love, passion, and a woman well ahead of her time, who had the courage to be—and to take—exactly who she wanted.

Publishing February 9, 2016 by Viking

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Book review: Christmas Pudding and Pigeon Pie by Nancy Mitford

This book contains two funny British novellas from one of the Mitford sisters, who I should have read long ago. The first story, Christmas Pudding, is about Paul, a writer who wants to be taken seriously (his first novel was a wildly hilarious success except... he didn't mean for it to be funny) and who wants to write a biography of a female poet. In order to gain access to her journals, he agrees to sign up to be the holiday tutor to a Eton boy (under the agreement he will spend all his time with the journals and not make the boy do any of the studying or exercise his mother wishes). Meanwhile, he falls for Philadelphia, the older sister, and they all spend a lot of time at a nearby cottage, rented out by Paul's friend, a wealthy widow with her eye on a neighborhood farmer. It is amusing and all ends well despite some minor hurdles and a plethora of characters.

Pigeon Pie is even funnier. It's 1940, 8 years after the first story, and war with Germany has begun. Sophia wants to be a spy, like her frenemy Olga is bragging about (and which Sophia suspects is a lie) and instead ends up answering phones and counting laundry at a local first aid station. However, there are spies all around her and she unwittingly get wrapped up in their escapades and hijinks.

Both of these stories are just screaming for Julian Fellows to make them into movies. I worry that I missed several of the jokes, particularly ones that rely on old-fashioned British terminology, and he always makes everything clear even to American audiences. It was particularly fascinating to read about England and Germany just a short time into the war, when the outcome is far from apparent, and without the benefit of hindsight.

Amusing stories, they were perfect for this time of year. If you're an Anglophile and appreciate British humor, these are excellent examples of the fare.

My mother loaned me this book.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

2016 Reading Challenges

This year is the year that I will finish my State-by-State challenge! Therefore, I am keeping other challenges to a minimum. Naturally, after two years, only the difficult states are left. I am struggling looking for books set in Delaware or Nevada, (and I'd rather not read Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas). Anyone have other suggestions?

Reading the Books That I Want Challenge
Last year I got frustrated with my reading challenges and my book clubs and other reading obligations. And while looking at my end of year post from last year, I was annoyed that I didn't get to read a couple of books from the rather short list of books I was really looking forward to. And then I had an idea. This year I am creating my own reading challenge, just for me. And it is to list the top 20 books on my TBR list and be sure I actually read them. I am very much looking forward to this! The list does not include any books currently assigned for my book clubs or that I plan to read for my State by State challenge. 

I've spent time tweaking my list and I am pretty happy with it. I really want to read these twenty books this year and I hope that this challenge will get me to do it:
1. Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell
2. Drinking in America: Our Secret History by Susan Cheever
3. Margaret Fuller: A New American Life by Megan Marshall
4. Louisa May Alcott by Susan Cheever
5. Terrible Virtue: A Novel by Ellen Feldman
6. The Work: My Search for a Life That Matters by Wes Moore
7. Chocolate Wars: The 150-Year Rivalry Between the World's Greatest Chocolate Makers by Deborah Cadbury
8. The Last September by Nina de Gramont
9. The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs 
10. On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes by Alexandra Horowitz
11. Flight of Dreams by Ariel Lawhon 
12. The Arrangement by Ashley Warlick 
13. My Name Is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
14. The Summer of Beer and Whiskey: How Brewers, Barkeeps, Rowdies, Immigrants, and a Wild Pennant Fight Made Baseball America's Game by Edward Achorn
15. Pedestrianism: When Watching People Walk Was America's Favorite Spectator Sport by Matthew Algeo 
16. Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South by Andrew Maraniss 
17. Good Night, Mr. Wodehouse: A Novel by Faith Sullivan
18. The Road to Little Dribbling: More Notes From a Small Island by Bill Bryson
19. The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson
20. Call the Midwife: A True Story of the East End in the 1950s by Jennifer Worth

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 (from 2015):
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 always love my chunkster challenge. It's never been a challenge I've struggled to solve, luckily. I'm a little worried since the 2016 post isn't up yet. Nevertheless, I'll pick 6 for this year. 

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. Now I have 37 done, leaving 14 (I included Washington D.C.) I am confidant I can finish this year, and I'm going to try pretty hard. I own 6 of them, and two of those I know are on my book club's list for this year, so those are easy guarantees. Books marked in blue were read in 2014, black in 2015, with red for 2016.

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 in 2015
0/14 so far in 2016

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015: The Year in Review

2015: The Year in Review

In 2010 I got this meme, I think from Boston Bibliophile. It was a fun way to summarize the year, so I thought I'd do it again.

How many books read in 2015? 
My Goodreads goal was 100.

How many fiction and non fiction? 
46 fiction to 54 nonfiction. I'm surprised it's not more skewed. I've been reading what feels like nothing but nonfiction for the last three months, showing how much my two book clubs, which read almost exclusively fiction, influence my reading list.

Male/Female author ratio? 
Last year I made a concerted effort to read more women (about 2/3) and I was worried that this year my list would skew more male just because of books I'd skipped last year, so this was a pleasant surprise: 38 males, 62 females (1 anonymous, don't know). So without even trying, I not only didn't skew male, but I came in around the same as the year when I was trying very hard to read more women. Before last year's effort, my list almost always split exactly 50/50.

Favorite book of 2015? 
Phenomenal: A Hesitant Adventurer's Search for Wonder in the Natural World by Leigh Ann Henion

Least favorite? 
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondō

Any that you simply couldn't finish and why? 
The Botanist and the Vintner: How Wine Was Saved for the World by Christy Campbell. Just too dense. Too much botany, too much entomology. Maybe if I was in a different place mentally, but I just can't do it now (and I believe ever although I think that's also affected by my current mood.)

Oldest book read?  Either The Natural History of a Yard by Leonard Dubkin (1955) or Siegfried's Murder by Anonymous, translated by A.T. Hatto (this translation is 2006 but the original is 13th century)
Newest?  Golden Age by Jane Smiley (published Oct. 1, 2015)

Longest and shortest book titles? (not including subtitles)
Longest:  Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County
Shortest:  As If!

Longest and shortest books?
Longest: Hawaii by James A. Michener (1036 pages)
Shortest: Laura Ingalls Wilder: The Iowa Story by William Anderson (50 pages)

How many books from the library? 
38. Wow, that might be a record for me!

Any translated books? 
After two years of no translated books, I signed up for a reading challenge for translations, and this year I managed 3. (Japanese, Norwegian, and Middle German)

Most read author of the year, and how many books by that author? 
Jane Smiley, three books. I read her Hundred Years Trilogy.

Any re-reads? 
As usual, I reread a few Little House on the Prairie books (The Long Winter, Little Town on the Prairie), but again, I've done it so many times, I don't track those books any more. Also Domestic Arrangements by Norma Klein.

Favorite character of the year? 
Flora 717 from The Bees by Laline Paull

Which countries did you go to through the page in your year of reading? 
England, France, Germany, Ireland, Greece, Australia, Kenya, Spain, Venezuela, Tanzania, Mexico, Norway, Japan, Iran, the North Pole, the Confederate States of America, the British colony of Massachusetts, the unclaimed Western territory of North America, the independent kingdom of Hawai'i, the moon.

Which book wouldn’t you have read without someone’s specific recommendation? 
A lot this year! Starting with the books that were gifts.
Siegfried's Murder was given to me by Brian of Toadstool Bookshop.
The Natural History of a Yard was forcibly loaned to me by my mother.
The Way of All Fish was a gift from my husband.
The Remains of the Day was a graduation gift from my favorite professors.
Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar was a gift from Ellen Urbani after a WNBA event.
All the Truth Is Out: The Week Politics Went Tabloid I read based on a review by Tina in the WNBA.
How to Start a Fire and Dietland I read based on the recommendation of Sally Brewster, the owner of Park Road Books.
In a Dark Wood: What Dante Taught Me About Grief, Healing, and the Mysteries of Love I read based on the recommendation of Penny in WNBA.
The Bees I read based on the ravings of Simon on the podcast The Readers.
Letters from Yellowstone I read based on my sister Laura's review.
Nothing to Do But Stay I read based on the recommendation of Susan in the WNBA.

Which author was new to you in 2015 that you now want to read the entire works of? 
Kazuo Ishiguro

Which books are you annoyed you didn’t read? 
Life Itself by Roger Ebert (saw the documentary!), and Pedestrianism: When Watching People Walk Was America's Favorite Spectator Sport by Matthew Algeo were both on this list last year and I still didn't manage to read them. Adding to these are: Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell; When Books Went to War: The Stories that Helped Us Win World War II by Molly Guptill Manning; Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward; In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume; The White Monkey by John Galsworthy; A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

Did you read any books you have always been meaning to read? 
These are all books I've owned since before 2010 and Remains I've owned since 1995. It was a college graduation gift:
Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett
Pobby and Dingan by Ben Rice
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro
Going Away Shoes by Jill McCorkle
She Got Up Off the Couch: And Other Heroic Acts from Mooreland, Indiana by Haven Kimmel

2015 TOP EIGHT Book Events in Carin’s Book Life - in no particular order:
8. Succeeded in taking a MOOC, my first one, on Laura Ingalls Wilder, yay! Last year I tried to take the MOOC on the first half of the Little House books and failed, but my schedule was lighter for this second class and it covered the later books which are my favorites anyway.
7. I was asked to be a speaker at a Nonfiction Authors Association meeting in Raleigh.
6. Lead the WNBA Annual National Meeting in New Orleans.
5. Attended Winter Institute and SIBA's fall trade show.
4. I did my very first index, for The Changing Face of Motherhood in Spain: The Social Construction of Maternity in the Works of Lucia Etxebarria by Catherine Bourland Ross.
3. I am three quarters of the way through my term as president of the Women's National Book Association!
2. My book, An Insider's Guide to a Career in Book Publishing, was picked up for coursebook adoption by a university (Belmont University) and is being considered by two others!
1. Four colleagues and I launched All About the Authors, a site with videos and blogs all about writing and publishing.

My December 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.

Books completed this month:
The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson
Golden Age by Jane Smiley
Bill Bryson's African Diary by Bill Bryson
Among the Janeites: A Journey Through the World of Jane Austen Fandom by Deborah Yaffe
Exploring Calvin and Hobbes: An Exhibition Catalogue by Bill Watterson
Christmas Pudding and Pigeon Pie by Nancy Mitford

Books I am currently reading/listening to:
I don't normally have this many in process, but in December I was having trouble staying on track and getting into books. I have been warding off a book slump for the last couple of months and anything too dense or non-linearly structured just isn't working for me right now.
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power by Jon Meacham -- not sure my brain is the right place for this book right now.
The Botanist and the Vintner: How Wine Was Saved for the World by Christy Campbell -- not sure this book is for me. Might be a DNF.
We That Are Left by Clare Clark -- Need a more linear book at the moment.
Living and Dying in Brick City by Sampson Davis (audio)

What I acquired this month:
Exploring Calvin and Hobbes: An Exhibition Catalogue by Bill Watterson (Christmas gift)
Little House Living: The Make-Your-Own Guide to a Frugal, Simple, and Self-Sufficient Life by Merissa Alink (Christmas gift)