Tag Archives: Goodreads

What I’m Reading for #BlackHistoryMonth

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Here’s the deal, folks. It’s hard to be excited about being an American right now. Our country is in turmoil. Step into the world of Facebook for a minute and you’ll feel it. Our people are torn. We’re hungry for change, but it’s clear that these changes aren’t in the best interest of us all. Instead of breaking barriers, we’re building walls, literally and figuratively.

It’s heartbreaking.

But you know what does make me feel good about being an American? (Besides our freedom of speech, right to protest, freedom of press, local and national chapters of SURJ, the ACLU, and feminists everywhere…)

Reading.

I’m serious. It is a gift to live in a country where access to books from places like libraries, schools, independent book stores, chain bookstores with coffeeshops inside them, second hand stores, little free libraries, and websites with 2 day shipping are all willing to put BOOKS in your HANDS!

Have I mentioned I love reading? Because I DO.

It is a gift to have a book in your hand. Books make us think. Books make us learn. Books teach us empathy. Books allow us to walk in the shoes of a character who is different than us. Stories – whether told in person, on paper, with numbers, on TV, over the radio, by a child, or by an adult – help us make sense of our world. It is how we learn to care about one another. How we relate to the people around us.

Here is something I learned and can’t remember where. I probably read it somewhere. 😉

It takes several generations of a family to unlearn a prejudice.

Think about that. That’s multiple LIFETIMES to actively unlearn bias.

So if we don’t have a lot of interaction with folks who are different than us, we maintain the same biased views about them – their race, their culture, their religion, their way of dress, their sexual orientation, their gender identity, etc.

If we want to, we can change that. And one easy way is to pick up a book.

READ about characters who are different than you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a book and had it CHANGE MY MIND about a topic.

The Cider House Rules changed my mind about abortion.

Bamboo Among the Oaks made me cry learning about Hmoob history.

The Mayflower taught me about my own ancestors’ struggles and prejudices coming to a new world while trying to pave THEIR OWN WAY.

Perhaps I’m rambling. My point is, books have power. Books teach us. And February is Black History Month, so it’s a great time to read books about Black people and by Black people. And you know, learn a thing or two.

Here’s What I’ve Been Reading: 

51avppq060lCurrently, I’m working on this audiobook I picked up from my local library. It’s called The Firebrand and the First Lady by Patricia Bell-Scott. It’s a new in-depth look at the relationship between writer, activist, and priest, Pauli Murray, and First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. The author, Bell-Scott, diligently researched archives of Murray’s and Roosevelt’s, including letters they sent back and forth for years. She studies how this unique friendship shaped many of the political projects the First Lady advocated for.

You might recall the name Pauli Murray on this blog before when I featured her in 9 Women Who Made History You Probably Didn’t Know About.

>>>

a_lesson_before_dying_novelI recently finished reading A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines as part of a Big City Read initiative my town hosted (and still is) after a City Hall presentation regarding La Crosse, WI’s history as a “Sundown Town.”

A Lesson Before Dying is the fictional story of a 1940s court case where a Black man is convicted of a crime he did not commit and sentenced to death by an all white jury. While on death row, he is visited by a Black school teacher who has been asked by the man’s family to educate him so he can “die like a man.”

There are still several community book discussions on this title for my local friends, as well as several guest speakers talking about racism, the justice system, and inequality. View all the events at La Crosse Reads.

<<<

luvvie-ajayi-book-1-copy-768x975A book I read in 2 days time last year was I’m Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi. A “Do Better Manual” for the masses, phenomenal blogger, Awesomely Luvvie, shared stories on everything from feminism, racism, social media etiquette, dating, and more. It’s your all in one, be a better person guide, as told to you by a sassy, pop culture loving, side-eye queen.

This book is a compilation of essays, making it easy for anyone to pick it up and read a few pages at a time. You don’t have to read it chronologically if you don’t want to. Every chapter has a healthy dose of love and petty judgment.

If you want a teaser, I shared an excerpt from a hilarious chapter called When Baehood Goes Bad in a challenge Luvvie gave to bloggers to share their favorite parts.

just_mercy_stevenson_bryan_002What’s next on my to read list? Part of my 2017 Reading Challenge is one book per month from A Year of Reading and March’s pick (the theme is justice) is Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. “Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system.”

I’m a fan of nonfiction books, so my recommendations tend to lean that way. But there are plenty of other great book lists for Black History Month. Just google suggestions. Or see what’s shelved on Goodreads.

I hope you pick up one of these titles. Or find another interesting book about Black America that catches your eye. Maybe you already have a few you love. Tell me what they are in the comments! I’m always looking for new books to read.

Happy reading everyone!

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 Books I Really Love But Feel Like I Haven’t Talked About Enough

Hello Lords and Ladies,

I’ve been happily audiobooking like a fiend lately – even managing to finish 14 books so far on my Goodreads ChallengeMy goal is 55. 

A big motivator has been the #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks Challenge hosted by Estella’s Revenge. And the #2016readmybooks challenge hosted by The Worn Bookmark.

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Both reading programs challenge the reader to crack the bindings of the books they already own on their shelves. And I have a very long list.

(At this point I won’t say whether any new books have or have not been purchased in the process of this competition. But if my husband or parents are reading this, I could use another bookshelf please. Thanks.) 

Another favorite book blog I enjoy is The Broke and the Bookish who host Top Ten Tuesdays, a weekly series of top ten lists around a variety of book themes. This week we’re sharing…

Top 10 Books I Really Love But Feel Like I Haven’t Talked About Enough

1. Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

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I’d been meaning to read this one for awhile. It was in my TBR pile. After watching Steve Martin hang out with Jerry Seinfeld on the show Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee, it made its way higher up in the stacks. And I must say it was really nice to get back into humor books and memoirs. I really enjoyed this book and how vulnerable and honest Martin was with sharing family stories and the career path he took. Biggest takeaway: Keep working. Keep following your dream.

2. The Dog Says How by Kevin Kling

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Technically, this one wasn’t part of my existing bookshelf. I heard about it through an adult storytelling class I’m taking and after watching numerous videos of Kevin Kling on youtube, I knew I wanted to read his book. It did not disappoint. Equal parts humor and heart. I highly recommend it. If you don’t have time to read it, check out his storytelling on youtube and you’ll probably find you do have the time to read his book. 😉

3. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

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I don’t normally read a lot of romance books, but after watching the movie trailer for Me Before You, I went out and bought the last copy in my city. No, I’m not joking. I had to go to 3 different places. And once I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down. Me Before You is more than a love story, though. It’s the story of a man dealing with quadriplegia. I really appreciated the amount of research Moyes had to have done to write so thoroughly about living with quadriplegia and what options you have in life. You will cry, but this is worth a read in my opinion.

4. Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

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Ketchup Clouds is a little bit of a coming of age story. The protagonist Zoe talks about the boy she likes, going to parties, all the normal things a teenage girl would share. Except that Zoe shares these moments with a death row inmate. Told through a mix of narration and letters, Zoe reveals the worst possible secret she ever could to the only person she thinks will understand.

5. Rosemary: The Hidden Kennedy Daughter by Kate Clifford Larson

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I’m a big fan of memoirs and biographies and this may have been my favorite one read last year. I didn’t grow up during the Kennedy era, but I visited the Kennedy Museum and library in Boston a few years ago with my parents and heard several stories from their memories as we toured the exhibits and highlights of John F. Kennedy’s presidency. Rosemary was his sister, but the public rarely heard about her. Due to preventable complications during labor, Rosemary was born with some cognitive disabilities. In a poor attempt to “fix” his daughter, Joe Kennedy consented to have Rosemary undergo a lobotomy which went horribly wrong and left Rosemary in a worse state, losing a vast amount of her speech and mobility. My parents remember Rosemary because the care facility the Kennedy’s sent her to happened to be in Jefferson, WI, the town where my family owned a restaurant. And Rosemary use to eat at our family’s restaurant with the nuns who looked after her. This book is a heartbreaking history lesson of how laws around the disabled changed and how all families have their secrets.

6. Shotgun Lovesongs by Nickolas Butler

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I loooooved Shotgun Lovesongs. And I met the author, Nickolas Butler, and interviewed him. He’s pretty spectacular and you should check him out. The book is about five high school friends who reunite at a wedding and how their relationships change. What I loved about this book so much is how poetic the writing is. One of the first characters Butler started writing about was the character who is a musician, and the book’s title is the album title of this character. It makes sense to me that the whole book is written in different points of view and done so lyrically, just like a great playlist on an album.

7. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

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I love watching the Olympics whenever its on, but I’d never looked into its history. The Boys in the Boat is the story of the 1936 U.S. men’s Olympic rowing team. First off, I had no idea how strenuous rowing actually is. They make it look so graceful, yet they’re using so many muscles, rowing is the equivalent of playing four back to back basketball games. Second, and more importantly, historically this was a time of so much perseverance on every team member’s part. Surviving the depression and the war, as well as going to school and starting families. These men bonded in a unique and focused effort to give America something to be hopeful for, to be proud of. A gold medal.

8. Texts From Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg

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Do yourself a favor and get the audiobook for this one! Written as though famous literary characters – and pop culture ones too – are texting one another, the audiobook includes more variety with voices and you get to hear the tone of voice used. It is laugh out loud hysterical. My favorites: Jane Eyre, Hamlet, Katniss and Peeta.

9. I Know I Am, But What Are You? by Samantha Bee

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Now that Samantha Bee has her own television show, I’m incredibly sad we canceled our cable. I wouldn’t watch anything else, but I’d want to watch her show. Her memoir was surprisingly even funnier than I thought it would be. I loved her journey to finding success, it even included playing Sailor Moon for shows that took place in a mall. It all just made me so so happy.

10. Wildalone by Krassi Zourkova

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Wildalone is a haunting and breathtakingly beautiful story that weaves Bulgarian legend and Greek mythology together. It tells the story of the samodivi, or “wildalones,” also known as forest witches. As a kid I was a Greek mythology nerd and of course my husband and I were married in Greece, so I love the infusion of familiar greek myths and new to me Bulgarian legends in this tale. And Zourkova’s writing is very fantastical.

***

That’s my top ten.
What books have you recently read and loved and wished you’d talked more about?

 

 

 

Happy National Book Lovers Day!

Book LoversAugust 9th is National Book Lovers Day! So grab a friend off your bookshelf and spend some time reading today!

I plan on grabbing one of my books and cozying up in a chair to spend some time with my favorite characters. And I’ll be hopping around the blogosphere hanging out with my fave book bloggers.

I’ve got a few more titles on my To Be Read Pile Challenge completed, but need to do my reviews. So here’s what I’ve recently been reading!

The Picture of Dorian Gray
By Oscar Wilde

Read this one for my book club and we had a great discussion with it. It’s about a young man with the world before him who befriends a rather poor influence. By making just a few despicable choices, he alters the path of his life forever.

If you’re familiar with the paranormal aspect of the book, you know that Dorian never ages. He remains a beautiful and suave gentleman, while a portrait of him takes on every crooked and cruel act he does, displaying his true nature.

I thought this was a great eerie read and a classic I would recommend. When Wilde describes the portrait, hidden away in the attic, it left me cold!

I would also recommend the 1940’s film version of this story. The special effects of the times for the final view of his portrait are seriously terrifying! It’s one of the American Film Institutes Top 100 Thrillers.

Fans of Wilde’s work will be surprised by the artsy, dramatic voice in Dorian Gray as its very different from his other works like The Importance of Being Earnest. And I would recommend it for book clubs as we did have a rich discussion about Wilde and his book.

Persuasion
By Jane Austen

The last book I had to read in order to complete Austen’s six main novels. I hope to start in on her novellas this year and read Sanditon.

Persuasion is the story of Anne Elliot, a woman who abides by duty and what others desire of her before her own heart. As such, she refused the hand of the only man she has ever loved. But when chance propels them into each other’s lives again, will she have the gumption to share her true feelings? And will he have the heart to forgive her all these years later?

I am always delighted by the works of Jane Austen. Each one is a treat to read bringing lovable and not-so-lovable *cough* (Anne’s sister, Mary Musgrove) *cough* to life! Persuasion is one of her best. It has overbearing family members, silly schoolgirl crushes, a family feud, a mysterious cousin, hidden affairs and agreements, and oh yes – a romantic sea captain, Frederick Wentworth!

Persuasion is a tale about second chances and trusting one’s own mind. True to many of Austen’s works, the reader must know that not everyone can be trusted based on their first impression. Cold and stoic personages can be caring and charming, gentlemanly characters may be downright scoundrels. But that’s why you have to keep reading!

Death Comes to Pemberley
By P.D. James

Even if you watched the BBC miniseries, you really ought to read the book. There’s much more to the story and you learn a lot of details about what became of each of the Bennett sisters. For example, it is Kitty who remains at Longbourn taking care of their mother, not Mary!

The book picks up a few years after Darcy and Elizabeth are married. The household is preparing for a ball when suddenly Lydia, Elizabeth’s ill-mannered, flirtatious sister shows up announced and screaming that her husband is dead!

Fans of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice know that Lydia marries the scoundrel, George Wickham, and he is no less changed in this fan mystery. It is not Wickham who is found dead in the woods behind Pemberley, but his best friend Captain Denny. Wickham is however, the prime murder suspect!

The author, P.D. James is one of Britain’s foremost mystery writers and she captures Austen’s voice meticulously. The last thing Darcy wants to do is save Wickham yet again, but save him he must if he wants to keep scandal away from his home and family.

I listened to this book on audio and it was a delightful mystery to get swept up in. And of course be reunited with all the best characters in Pride and Prejudice. Even Mr. Collins!

*****

That leaves just five more titles to complete for the TBR Pile Challenge. How are the rest of you doing? 

What are you currently reading right now? 

Any fun plans to celebrate Book Lovers Day?

Summertime Madness Book Lovers Tag

Scooch in close you guys. I’ve got a secret widely known fact to share.

I love books. 

Book Swag LovinSome have gone so far as to call me a bibliomaniac! And to that I say, “Thanks for putting ‘biblio’ in front of that!”

I just really like to read. All genres. All authors. I love memoirs, historical fiction, humor books, creepy thrillers, erotica novels, creative nonfiction, and YA books too.

I am, however, none too crazy about dinosaur erotica. But I researched it once.

I’ve made it through four books on my Top 10 Books to Read This Summer. I would likely be further along except for…Outlander. ‘Nuff said.

My pal, Maren, from The Worn Bookmark just posted her Summertime Madness Tag with lots of great titles you should definitely read! And she invited others to play along. So, I’m joining in! And so can you! Share your summertime madness picks in the comments or in a post of your own! Link back so I can see what’s on your must-read list!

summertime madness

1. Show a book with a summery cover. 

I just finished reading this book about Bill Bryson’s road trip across America and it’s made me antsy to begin our own soon.

2. Pick one fictional place that would be the perfect destination for your summer vacation. 

It said fictional, so of course, I choose Pemberley!

3. You’re about to go on a flight to your Summer Vacation. But you want to read a book that lasts for the whole flight, so what novella do you choose?

It’s not really a novella, but it is a collection of essays which are easily read. Laurie Notaro is one of my favorite humor authors and this is one of her best books. I would gladly chuckle through the plane ride reading this book.

4. You have a case of Summertime Sadness. What happy book do you pick up to shine a smile on your face?

Samantha Bee’s book is hilarious! I loved her no holds barred, honest writing and her description of her family. This book would definitely put a smile on my face. I mean, just look at the cover.

5. You’re sitting at the beach all alone…which fictional character would be your beach babe?

So Maren and I have the same answer here. Jamie Fraser! This Highland hottie can double as my beach blanket babe anytime!

6. To match your ice cream you want an icy cool sidekick! Which fictional sidekick do you pick?

What better sidekick than the costar of all costars? I think Judy Greer and I could be great friends and get into all kinds of shenanigans over the summer.

*****

Your turn! What books on your summer madness list?

Top Ten Tuesday: Top 10 Books I’m Excited to Read This Summer

17171077834_09debe83c4_zI’ve been a total bibliophile lately, or what some might call a bibliomaniac. Thanks to The Amusing Muse for crowning me with that literary title! Ever since, I’ve been singing “I’m a maniac, maaaaniac on the floor! And I’m reading books like never before!” 

Today is another round of Top Ten Tuesday, the weekly themed book list hosted by the peeps over at The Broke and the Bookish. Today’s theme is a freebie, so I’m creating my list of must reads for the summer.

I’ve read 7 out of 10 books on my spring ‘to be read’ list which isn’t bad in less than 3 months time. My favorite thus far has to be Wildalone by Krassi Zourkova. Fans of magical realism and mythology will love this one. I’m also super excited to let you all know that Krassi will be joining us on The Happiness Project in the near future, so stay tuned! She’s amazing! And I saw her doppelganger the other day outside a coffee shop and almost chased her down. (I didn’t. But only because a friend stopped me.) I’m very pleased to welcome the real Krassi Zourkova here soon.

I’m halfway through my To Be Read Pile Challenge hosted by Adam at Roof Beam Reader. I need to write two updates yet though. Oops. How are you all doing on your must read lists?

Time to get reading!

Top 10 Books I’m Excited to Read This Summer

1. Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress: Tales of Growing Up Groovy and Clueless by Susan Jane Gilman

I’m back on my humorous memoir kick. I’m devouring any women writers I can find and I picked this one up recently at an indie bookstore. Can’t beat “a funny and poignant collection of true stories about women coming of age that for once isn’t about finding a date.”

2. Dietland by Sarai Walker

The feminist in me can’t wait to pick up a copy of Dietland. The premise is a young woman dealing with body shame who gets entwined with a radical female group called the “Jennifers” that terrorizes mainstream society and its social constructs for women. Yes please, I need to know more.

3. Listen to Your Mother by Ann Imig

A collection of essays based off the critically acclaimed stage performances, Listen to Your Mother encompasses tales of all aspects of motherhood. I can’t wait to read the ups and downs and learning lessons inside as well as support several friends who have participated on stage!

4. I Don’t Care About Your Band: Lessons Learned from Indie Rockers, Trust Funders, Pornographers, Felons, Faux-Sensitive Hipsters, and Other Guys I’ve Dated by Julie Klausner

I can’t help it. I married a musician. This title makes me laugh.

(Note* I DO in fact care about my husband’s band, but I don’t get to as many shows as he’d like, so no doubt he thinks this is true.) 

5. Looking for Alaska by John Green

I’ve started reading this one and fans of Catcher in the Rye and Rule of the Bone will like it. Miles “Pudge” Halter is off to boarding school. He meets the illusive and mesmerizing Alaska Young and becomes entranced. His life is about to change.

6. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

This title is on everyone’s ‘to read’ list, and I’m joining the bandwagon. Set in the Great Lakes region, Station Eleven is the tale of a misfit troupe of actors traveling the countryside and performing in ramshackle towns. Disease has wiped out much of the population, and many are living a nomadic life. How does art survive here?

7. Listen to the Squawking Chicken: When Mother Knows Best, What’s a Daughter To Do? A Memoir (Sort Of) by Elaine Lui

You gotta love a mother who starts the conversation with “Where’s my money?” Based on parts of her blog, Elaine Lui elaborates on her mother-daughter relationship with her mom, known as “The Squawking Chicken.”

8. Don’t Lick the Minivan: And Other Things I Never Thought I’d Say to My Kids by Leanne Shirtliffe

Author and blogger of Ironic Mom, I’ve had Leanne’s book on my to read pile for awhile. I also purchased her children’s book, The Change Your Name Store, for my niece this year. It is delightful and I can’t wait to dive into her memoir about her time raising twins as an expat and more!

9. Yes Please by Amy Poehler

As a fan of Bossypants by Tina Fey, I needed to pick up her partner in crime’s equally hilarious book. From her early school days of playing Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz to how she upped her improv game, Amy dishes it out and talks about her new motto, “Yes, please!”

10. Is My Crazy Showing? by Leigh Baker

Surviving a mental breakdown and stint in a hospital, Leigh Baker shares the tumultuous journey of finding one’s way and creating your own family. Shout out to Beth Teliho for recommending this one to me!

What’s on your summer must read list? I’m always willing to make it a Top Twenty! 😉

Top Ten Books On My Spring To Be Read List

What books are on your to read list right now?

The recent signs of spring have me extra energized to tackle my To Be Read Pile. I’m a pretty avid reader, and I recently discovered the blog, The Broke and the Bookish, who hosts a Top Ten list every Tuesday focused on various book themes. Today we’re talking about the Top Ten Books On Our Spring To Be Read List. I don’t know about you, but I have the hardest time whittling down what book to read next because I want to read All. The. Books!!^$?!

worlds largest latteIf I drink All. The. Coffee. I will never have to sleep again!
I can just read and read and read and read…

Hmm, maybe not.

But here are the Top Ten Books on my Spring To Be Read List: 

1. Persuasion by Jane Austen

The last of Jane Austen’s six novels I have yet to read. Once I finish the story of Anne Eliot I will have completed her most well known works and can move on to some of her novellas like Sandition and Lady Susan. Judging from the film versions I’ve seen (many times), Captain Wentworth is indeed worth waiting for.

2. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Claimed as the new Eleanor & Park meets The Fault in our Stars, I’ve been hungry to read this book for awhile but busy finishing up some other titles. I even bought this one in hardcover. I don’t even really like hardcover. I’m a paperback girl. I just wanted to read this one that badly. It’s the story of two teens – one a total loner who contemplates death and looks to the future with a strict eye, the other a free spirit who lives in the moment and sees life as an adventure. Their worlds are about to collide. I want to find out what happens!

3. Cress by Marissa Meyer

The third book in The Lunar Chronicles; I’m committed now. I absolutely loved the first book, Cinder. I thought the second book, Scarlet, was ok. But friends assure me that Cress is worth the read. A futuristic spinoff of classic fairytales, this is the continuing adventure of a cyborg named Cinder who is on the run after the evil Lunar Queen, Levana, has a call out for her head and plans to marry the good-intentioned Emperor Kai. With the help of some fellow misfits, will Cinder overtake Levana before the Queen takes over their world?

4. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

It’s been too long since I’ve read any Neil Gaiman and I must remedy that. What’s more intriguing than a pond that becomes an ocean? As a middle-aged man returns home for a funeral, he is reminded of the people he grew up with and the stories they each told.

5. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Bestseller in the early 2000’s, all my friends read this one, but I didn’t. I was afraid I couldn’t handle the subject matter. But this winter I happened upon the book in a Little Free Library near my house and decided it was time I checked it out. Despite its serious subject matter, I’m really looking forward to reading this one.

6. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Long before there was Christian Grey, the leading man with the wealth and power was Dorian Gray. A favorite old film of mine, the black and white version of course, I’m excited to read the novel for the first time. This title was selected by my book club as our classic this year and I’m really looking forward to our discussion.

7. The Wild Truth by Carine McCandless

Another book I had to get in hardcover because I couldn’t wait. I’m a huge fan of author Jon Krakauer, who wrote Into the Wild, the story of Chris McCandless. Now, Chris’s sister, Carine, has written her own telling of her family’s history and the days leading up to her brother’s nomadic life.

8. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

A few years ago I had a year of comedy, where half of the books I read were humorous memoirs. I think this year may be my year of YA. I’ve got so many young adult books on my list. And one of them is Eleanor & Park. Even the colored pencil sketch cover looks like spring to me. How could I possibly say no to a love story between two misfit teens when the leading lady has red hair?

9. Wildalone by Krassi Zourkova

I’m not shy about admitting the fact that I disliked Jane Eyre. I know, I know, such sacrilege from an English major! What can I say? I’m more of a Heathcliffe/Wuthering Heights kinda girl. However, I really enjoyed This House is Haunted which is an adaptation of Jane Eyre, and Wildalone has some notes of Eyre as well. I do enjoy a good paranormal read and this one seems intriguing!

10. The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry 

I’m embarrassed to admit how long this beautiful book has sat on my TBR shelf. It’s been an alternate in the TBR Challenge for 2 years and since I never had to use my alternates I didn’t get to it. This year I made it part of my challenge, determined to finally read it. I love the idea that the lead character can see ghosts by cooking up recipes from them. And this is what sets her off on a journey of family secrets.

*****

That’s my Top 10 books to read this spring.
What titles are on your spring list? 

What’s the Best Book You Read in 2014?

With December here, the 2014 To Be Read Pile Challenge is coming to a close. This is my favorite reading challenge as it stresses reading books you already own. Like so many writers, I have a book buying problem. I love bookstores and even when I’m shopping in a place like Target, I have to peruse the book aisles. I just love books!

What that leads to is multiple shelves of books that I haven’t read yet because I’m always buying more or renting some from the library or listening to ones on audiobook.

Unread books

The To Be Read Pile Challenge focuses on reading 12 books that have been sitting on your shelf for more than a year in one year’s time. You’re also allowed to pick 2 alternates in case one of the books you choose is impossible to get through.

This year I read all my 12 and one alternate! (And I just looked at my Goodreads shelves – I read 40 books total this year! Hoping to finish the two in my sidebar before 2015 as well.)

What were the final 2 books I completed for the TBR Pile?

*****

Bitter is the New Black by Jen Lancaster

I hate to admit I did not really like this one. But here’s the honest scoop. I think Jen Lancaster is a great writer! She is funny and witty and has a great writer’s voice.

I think the problem for me was that I could not identify with her in this book. Bitter is the New Black is Jen’s memoir about having it all – six figure salary, name brand clothes, posh apartment, all the witty comebacks and snide comments one can muster. Then she loses everything, and has to learn how to budget, shop less, and live less extravagantly.

I didn’t grow up or ever achieve a six figure lifestyle, so I’ll be honest and say the most bitter person in this book, was ME, the reader. I had a poor attitude reading Jen’s story because I couldn’t handle her complaining about loss when it seemed she didn’t appreciate what she had for so long.

Bitter party of one! I admit I wasn’t in a mindset to appreciate this book like I could. Sorry Jen!

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Bookworms will love this paranormal read by Deborah Harkness! Diana Bishop is a researcher at Oxford, who haphazardly uncovers a book that is filled with all the secrets of the magic world – vampires, demons, and witches. Now, all those creatures are showing up in the library and everywhere else Diana roams.

With the help of a tall, dark and handsome vampire named Matthew, Diana must discover the secrets of the book before the others do.

I liked this one. It’s an interesting spin on how the worlds of paranormal creatures intertwine. And there’s a historical element to it because Diana is descendant from Elizabeth Bishop of the Salem Witch Trials.

Anyone read the next one in this series?

*****

I want to know what your favorite book(s) you read this year was!

When I look back at my list, I had books that I hated (One Thousand White Women), I had a few classics I completed (Anne of Green Gables, Mansfield Park, Rebecca), and I had books I loved (The Night Circus, Official Book Club Selection, Love With a Chance of Drowning).

But my favorite book I read this year was The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie.

A young adult novel by genre, this book is phenomenal for any audience. It won the National Book Award – and BONUS* it’s one of the most banned books of all time! (Shhh – it talks about masturbation. hehehehe)

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is the story of Junior, an American Indian growing up on a reservation who takes a risk and attends the all white school in the next town.

I learned so much from this book. I think it should be required reading for students. It talks about race – yes – but it does it from the voice of a high school student – with honesty about both sides.

It talks about poverty and the downward spirals that poverty fosters – alcoholism, abuse, depression. Still, Junior is able to show us these things with some sense of humor and humility.

Get the book if you can. I read this one via audiobook which I loved, because the author reads it and I so appreciate hearing any story about a different culture in the voice of a native speaker, but if you get the book there are really fun cartoon drawings in it because that’s how Junior makes sense of his world, through drawing.

I cannot speak highly enough about this book. I didn’t want it to end. It was so good. And I learned so much.

*****

What was the best book(s) you read in 2014?
What titles will you be putting on your 2015 To Read Pile list?

Exciting news! Adam from Roof Beam Reader has kicked off the sign up for the 6th annual To Be Read Pile Challenge this 2015, so be sure to create your must read list and sign up!

The Night Circus: An Example Where World Building Works

The circus arrives without warning.

So begins Erin Morgenstern’s book The Night CircusIt’s a short, simple line, but I was intrigued.

Well that, and we know I have a soft spot (read: scar) for circuses.  😉

The Night Circus is the story of two illusionists who must compete to the death inside an arena of circus tents. But neither of them knows that. All they know is that they’ve been raised to perfect their skills for a competition they know nothing about, and that they’re falling madly in love with each other.

The book can be classified as magical realism, which is a growing genre trend that involves magic, but in a way where it is unmentionable. To clarify, for example with this story, both of the main characters have the ability to create things and distort reality with their illusions, but it’s never said outright that they are magic. The setting is considered normal world. And it’s believable.

I did an exercise at the writers conference I just attended for a class on setting. We took the idea of ‘home’ and wrote a scene that was detailed both in the senses and feelings. The activity was captivating. Everyone who attended the class was talking about it the whole weekend, because as we shared examples the scenes were so varied yet we each created a picture of a place and an emotion that emanated there. Where Morgenstern succeeds in this novel is that the world of the circus is very astutely described.

I have a confession. Place has never drawn me into a book. When I read Wuthering Heights, I skimmed over the moors. When I read The Thorn Birds, I flipped the pages right past Drogheda. But the Night Circus?

I wanted to know more.

Amazing fan art created by deviantART’s viveie, featured in the Huffington Post’s Book Club discussion

My Favorite Setting Stand Outs in The Night Circus:

  • Colors – Everything in the circus is decorated in black and white. The tents, the walls, the costumes. They are only ever black and white. So, when you have a scene where a character very deliberately changes her gown from emerald green to black to green again – the visual becomes more intense. The color stands out a little brighter. The “Revers” (meaning ‘dreamers’, AKA: circus folk) all wear red scarves so they know one another. In a crowd of black and white, the red pops.
  • Clocks – A fascinating side character is a clock maker who works closely with Celia, the female illusionist. The main clock over the circus tent is described as transforming from day to night as the hours pass with dancing scenes floating by like the most elaborately created cuckoo clock your imagination could describe.
  • Circus Tents – Of course the circus itself is described in great detail. There are rooms of mirrors in which you only see yourself, but when glancing over your shoulder, there is a crowd behind you. Another room is all white – floors, walls, and ceiling – and it snows there, but there is a great bonfire inside.

If you haven’t read The Night Circus, I highly recommend it.
Its world and its stor
y are rich. A very good read indeed.

Have you read it? What did you think?
What’s your favorite book that highlights a place – fictional or not?

 

The To Be Read Pile’s Final Review: Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

Did you participate in a book challenge this year?  There are so many fun ones it’s hard to choose, but I completed my first year with the To Be Read Pile Challenge.  It’s a contest to complete 12 books that have been sitting on your shelf for over a year.  The prize for all those who complete their 12 books is a chance for a $50 gift card to Amazon or Book Depository.  Pretty awesome, right?

To learn more about the To Be Read Pile Challenge click the 2013 link above and sign up for next year’s contest!

Part of the qualifier for the contest is to write up a review of each of the 12 books you read.  It can be as elaborate or simple as you like.  Check out my 2012 book list and past reviews at any of these links:

My TBR Pile Challenge Books: 

  1. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  2. Little Bee by Chris Cleave
  3. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
  4. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
  5. Blessings by Anna Quindlen
  6. The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  7. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
  8. The Lace Reader by Bromonia Barry
  9. The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee
  10. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
  11. The Preacher’s Bride by Jody Hedlund
  12. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H. Winters, Jane Austen

I have yet to do my final review of the last book, so I present…

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn

(goodreads.com)

Geek Love is the story of the Binewski family, a bunch of circus freaks taking their act on the road.

That, and they actually create their act.  Al and Lil Binewski willingly subject themselves to various mixtures of drugs in hopes of birthing the most wonderful freaks and geeks for their family show!  There’s Arturo, the aqua boy.  Iphy and Elly the siamese twins.  Oly, the dwarf hunchback.  And their newest member, Chick, who’s the most special of all.

The story actually jumps around a bit between the family’s early years on the road and where they ended up down the line.

The shining glory of the story is in its bizarre, twisted writing.  It’s strange phrasing of words reminds me of my first encounter with A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.

Sample the Writing:

Here’s a sample, one of my favorite descriptive paragraphs wherein the father is telling the children about his wife’s glory days in the ring as…the woman who bites heads off of chickens!

She fluttered around like a dainty bird, and when she caught those ugly squawking hens you couldn’t believe she’d actually do anything.  When she went right ahead and geeked ’em that whole larruping crowd went bonzo wild.  There never was such a snap and twist of the wrist, such a vampire flick of the jaws over a neck or such a champagne approach to the blood.  She’d shake her star-white hair and the bitten-off chicken head would skew off into the corner while she dug her rosy little fingernails in and lifted the flopping, jittering carcass like a golden goblet, and sipped!  Absolutely sipped at the wriggling guts!  She was magnificent, a princess, a Cleopatra, an elfin queen!  That was your mama in the geek pit.

It’s quite entrancing really.  I loved the writing.  But, the story did wane a bit for me.  I would’ve been perfectly content reading more stories about them on the road together as youngsters.  As the story unfolded to their later years, and the subsequent demise of the Binewski circle I began to hate many of these characters.

I do think this book would make for a fascinating movie.  And if I were a make up artist/creature creator I’d so want in on the production! Visually, I love the book.

I am a big Goodreads fan and check out other reader reviews on there often.  It seemed most readers were really divided.  Cumulatively, Geek Love holds a solid 4.0 rating out of 5 stars, which is pretty dang high.  But reader response was quite split between full on love and then other 2.0 ratings like myself where it was a lot of I really liked it, but… statements.

Don’t take my word for it, read it yourself!  It’s certainly an interesting premise!  

And 2013 is almost here!  Sign up for the To Be Read Pile Challenge at Roof Beam Reader.  See you there! 

What Do You Do When the Book Doesn’t Live Up to its Hype?

We’re in the final two months of the To Be Read Pile Challenge, a year long contest where many of us are trying to read through 12 months of books that have been lingering on our bookshelves too long.  Over the course of this year, I’ve already acquired the titles for 2013’s list!  Haven’t you? 

The rules of the contest allow us to have two alternatives, in case one of the titles doesn’t keep our interest, we can can “opt out” so to speak and pick a different book.  Here’s my list for 2012.

My TBR Pile Challenge Books: 

  1. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
  2. Little Bee by Chris Cleave
  3. Loving Frank by Nancy Horan
  4. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
  5. Blessings by Anna Quindlen
  6. The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  7. Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
  8. The Lace Reader by Bromonia Barry
  9. The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee
  10. Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer
  11. The Preacher’s Bride by Jody Hedlund
  12. Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H. Winters, Jane Austen

Recently, I finished reading Little Bee by Chris Cleave.  Little Bee is a book with a 3.63 rating out of 5 on Goodreads.  And yet this book received so much praise upon its release!  So many of my friends have read it and loved it!  I was left feeling a little underwhelmed.  Here’s the review I left on Goodreads:

Little Bee is an exceptionally well written book with great characters. I bought this book while on vacation after the sales clerk told me she couldn’t tell me what the book was about; I was just supposed to read it.

She said it all very excited. You read the book. You love it. And you tell your friends to read it. But…you tell them nothing of the story.

It wasn’t what I was expecting, but I think I get why this book is being marketed as such. To discuss the story, would dilute the story. The magic of this book is that it forces you to think about a wealth of issues that you weren’t expecting it to. And a really good reader will place themselves in the book either as a character or right alongside them. And so I asked myself, what would I do in this situation…?

I can’t say anything bad about the book, it is a good one. And yet, I don’t know if I’m haunted by the story or left wanting to know more. And that’s the sign of a good book isn’t it? I enjoyed Little Bee. I’m glad I read it. It didn’t make me as excited as that sales clerk though. *shrug*

I kept reading the reviews from everyone, and there were a lot of interesting theories.  Some believed the book was outstanding, and that the detriment to its rank came from the over-abundance of praise, spoiling the book for its readers and not letting its worth stand on its own.  I also learned that there had been a title change from the European release to its American one!

Which title grabs your attention more:  Little Bee or The Other Hand?

I did finish reading Little Bee, and I liked it.  But it’s not going on my “Titles of the Year” list.  And after completing Little Bee, I’m down to just one more title on my TBR Pile.  It’s looming there…

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn.  I began reading this one in the summer, was loving it immensely, and it sort of fizzled halfway through.

So, fellow readers, my dilemna:

Should I finish reading Geek Love and hope it picks back up?  Or, do I move on to one of my alternative titles?  

What do you do when a book doesn’t live up to its hype?

Oooh, and please suggest a title for my 2013 TBR Pile Challenge!  If you leave one for me, I’ll give you one back!  The only rule is it has to be at least a year old, so  published in 2011 or before.  Thanks, readers!

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