Sunday, April 22, 2018

Summer Reading: Make a List or Just Wing it?

Let's face it: every season is a good time to read. I must confess, I read lighter, "happy" reads during the summer. Fall brings out the darker, creepier reads for me, followed by Christmas, when I like to read holiday stories. Spring, so far, has been a catch-all. Three book groups have upped my must-read book list each month. 

 It's finally warming up in Iowa--65 today! and everyone is busy running around outside trying to get in the yard work we usually accomplish in late March. Now I've got to figure out just how I can work in the yard, run, and still have time to relax and read on the back deck. It's my first year with a lovely deck to sit and chill, and I can't wait to sit outside in the early summer mornings, read and relax. When the sun moves around, and it gets too hot, I'll move myself to my front porch. I'm pretty lucky to have both.  

As always, I'm faced with a pile of books that I've accumulated over the months, and haven't read, and I'm struggling with the idea of making a list for the summer, or just diving in and grabbing what sounds good at any given moment.  I'm leaning towards making a list, if only so I may tick them off as the summer progresses.  I've got a few ambitious titles to read:  Leonardo Da Vinci's biography by Walter Isaacson, a Kurt Vonnegut novel (I've never read anything of his), Prairie Fires (a 2018 Pulitzer Prize winner), and a few favorite authors that I've neglected: Kevin Hearne, Sandra Dallas, Paula Brackston, and many more.  It may be time to break out the Excel spreadsheet!

Do you read longer books during the summer, or lighter, quick reads?  What do you take on vacation? Do you have a book you absolutely must read this summer? 

I'll be posting my May reads list this week; I consider May the start of summer reading, so I'll be curious to see what books I've chosen from my bookshelves at home, library, and the bookstore. Lots to choose from, and three book group selections to include in that mix. 

Cheers and happy reading!


Tuesday, April 17, 2018

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

I first read Paulette Jiles years ago, when I stumbled on Enemy Women at my bookstore.  I was gobsmacked by that novel, and it remains one of my favorite Civil War novels. 

I've had an advanced reader's copy of this book for a few years.  I was excited to read it, but somehow lost my enthusiasm about 30 pages into it, put it down, and didn't pick it up again until last week. I deliberately picked it for my book group this month so I would finally read it.  It's only a few hundred pages; easy enough, right? Read it in one sitting.  

Yet it still took me the better part of a week to read, and my only thought about that is because I liked Captain Kidd and Johanna so much I didn't want anything to happen to them on their journey.  I just couldn't bear to read a passage that would endanger, injure, or tear Johanna away from the Captain.  So that very reason kept me from reading it a few years ago, and had me taking a week to read a book I could have read in a day. 

It's a simple enough story.  Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd is a man in his early 70's who travels the West reading newspapers to audiences. It is, indeed, news of the world. His eloquent, commanding voice, and his choices of which articles to read make him a popular man in his travels.  The Civil War is over, yet fallout remains.  Texas, where this novel is set, is torn apart by political factions, hideouts from the war, and Native Americans attacking pioneers, cowboys, and pretty much everyone. Kiowa Indians are in a fight for survival that sadly they won't win. Captain is asked to deliver ten year old Johanna to her Aunt and Uncle, after being rescued from the Kiowa tribe that killed her parents and sister four years earlier.  Johanna has completely lost any identity as a white child, and is scared, angry, and speaks only Kiowa. She wants to go back to the tribe, which she considers family.  

As Captain and Johanna travel from Wichita Falls through Texas on a 400 mile journey, they slowly get to know each other. Their developing relationship is the heart of the novel, and for me that was the best part, and the most surprising part.  I kept waiting for disaster to strike, and it did, but Captain and Johanna came together and saved themselves in a pretty ingenious way.  My fears of a journey plagued by fire, floods, and attacks were unrealized, and that made me very relieved.  Instead, this novel is about a child who is suffering from PTSD, an elderly gentlemen who has been around (and also suffers from PTSD), fought wars, lived, loved, raised children, and is now continuing to spread the "news of the world" to folks who have little contact with the world outside their towns.

A bigger conversation could be had about the effects of tragedy on small children, and what family means, especially when children are forcibly returned to family that neither cares nor wants them. It's stirred my interest in historical figures Cynthia Parker and Olive Oatman, two women who were returned to white society after living with Native Americans.  Their stories are available in books and films, and are fascinating.  

Rating: 4/6. I'm glad I had the chance to go back and finish News of the World. I love Paulette Jiles' writing style; she says a lot with few words, and her characters  become quite endearing very quickly. You'll not soon forget the Captain and Johanna. 

Available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audio. A National Book Award Finalist. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Sea Beast Takes a Lover: Stories by Michael Andreasen

Short stories are something I haven't read much of over the years, so when I had the opportunity to read this collection, I decided to explore the world of short stories again. I realized it is always much easier to stop and start in a collection of short stories than to do so in a larger work; being able to read 25 pages and finish a story makes it easier to reset the next day and start a new one. I've come to enjoy short story collections and hope to read more this year.

I'll say this is not a collection that will appeal to everyone. It is full of oddball characters, strange situations, and a hefty dose of imagination. In Our Fathers at Sea, the issue of taking care of our elderly parents is solved in a neat and utterly horrible way that is completely approved of by society. Heck, the children of elderly parents think about that day in the future when they, too, will step into that capsule, sit in a cushy chair, and be dropped into the sea (along with a few other people). I think my emotions went from mildly amused to dawning horror pretty quickly. It was a very powerful tale about how we treat the elderly in today's world--we literally drop them out of sight. 

The title tale The Sea Beast Takes a Lover is a quirky tale about a ship that is slowly being crushed and dragged into the depths of the sea by a lovesick sea beast.  The men on board are running out of food, slowly going crazy, and have no hope of survival. It's very odd!

Other tales involve a man who's one time cheating on his wife ends up as an alien abduction; a middle school boy who glows with a radioactive light; a group of kids taken on a tour of a time travel museum, and a bear and a young boy who can hear each other's thoughts as they travel with an odd bunch through closed down amusement parks.  Every tale is uniquely different, wildly imaginative and tinged with a bit of melancholy and sadness. They are all, at their core, about love, connections, and the desire of any creature-human or not, to be acknowledged and cared for by someone or something. It is a universal yearning not limited to humans. 

If you like quirky short stories, a bit of magical realism, or are, like me, just beginning to read short story collections, think about trying this one out.  It's definitely different, and would make some great discussions with friends. A big thanks to Penguin Random House for providing a copy for review.  Again, another book I wouldn't have read on my own, but enjoyed it very much. 

Rating:  4/6 for a very unique collection of stories that will spin you around, make you smile, and think about what drives us all to survive. You will be amazed at the imagination of Michael Andreasen. 

Available in hardcover and ebook. 

Sunday, April 8, 2018

I've Been Thinking...Reflections, Prayers, and Meditations for a Meaningful Life by Maria Shriver

I've always admired Maria Shriver; always felt she was a smart, sharp woman, on top of her game, fearless, and always able to speak with kindness and compassion. This little gem of a book, chock full of wisdom from Maria, is just what I needed at this time in my life. I can't wait to gift it to my sisters. 

The chapters are short, and each focuses on so many topics we as women have overlooked or felt guilty about dwelling on for years. The power of being a woman; the power of forgiveness, and how it can heal us when we let go. The power of letting go of old beliefs and embracing new ones. The power to be okay with taking a break; to rest and recharge. Most importantly, the power of loving ourselves even in those times when we are less than we know we can be. 

At the end of each chapter Maria offers a simple prayer for each topic. I found myself pausing over each prayer, and thinking about each chapter. It's a small book; easy to tuck into a bag and carry around. Even though this book is short, it took me a few weeks of reading a few chapters, putting it down, ruminating on it, and then picking it up. It was, for me, a bit of a meditation. I sometimes feel less than, because I'm not a wife, or a mother. I have a great job, but I feel less than, trying to learn everything to be my best, and wondering if I've just left it too late to begin again. Maria's book gave me some peace, and let me know I'm not alone feeling these things. Perfectionism is overrated, and no one is perfect. Being cheerful and encouraging to others is a good thing, but if we're not loving to ourselves, and encouraging to ourselves, we're missing the big picture. 

Most of all, what I felt after reading this book was hope for myself; to keep trying everyday, and to have courage, but also to love myself when I don't feel particularly lovable. Meditation in any way we can get it, and in any way that feels good to ourselves is important. Whether it's listening to music, or going for a walk; running and listening to podcasts, or puttering around the kitchen. Reading a book in a quiet space, or driving in silence. They all count, and help us refocus. Prayer to whomever you pray to is also important. Just a simple ask for a good day helps set a positive tone and a positive frame of mind.

So I have to say thank you to Maria Shriver, and to Pamela Dorman/Viking Books for the opportunity to read and review this wonderful little book. It's something I would have skipped over in my hurriedness to read other books, exercise, and get through the week of work and obligations. And I can't wait to share it with my sisters. 

Rating:  5/6 for a book full of a woman's wisdom about life and how to live it. Maria points out that everyday is a new beginning, and paying attention and living in the here and now, loving ourselves and helping others is the way to living our best lives. 

Available in hardcover, large print paperback, and ebook--this would make a great birthday, Mother's Day, graduation gift! Or just a great "Hey I was thinking of you" gift.  

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James

I've been waiting for the latest Simone St. James to be released for MONTHS.  I've read all of her books, and in my opinion, this is her best book.  One of the main reasons I love Simone's novels so much is because they're ghost stories. I have been a fan of ghosty stories since I was a little kid.  These are like Mary Downing Hahn books for adults.  

What makes Broken Girls different than her previous novels is the modern setting. Set in the small town of Barrons, Vermont, the narrative moves between 1950 and 2014. In 2014, 37 year old Fiona Sheridan still struggles to move past her older sister's brutal murder in 1994.  Found on the playing fields near Idlewild Hall, a boarding school for girls, her sister Deb's boyfriend was convicted and has spent the last 20 years in jail. Fiona saw the destruction of her parent's marriage, and the unraveling of her famous journalist father's career as a result of that dark November night.  She herself, a journalist writing "fluff" pieces for a local magazine, is dating a police officer, and is wary of pretty much everyone and everything. Something about her sister's death has never settled with Fiona.  

In 1950, we learn the story of Idlewild Hall, a boarding school for troublesome girls.  These days, these girls would be perfectly normal teens, but in the conservative 1950's they were seen as embarrassments and shipped off and out of sight.  Katie, CeCe, Roberta, and Sonia all room together and form a deep friendship in a place that is so creepy even the teachers hate being there.  Yes, there is something very unsettling about Idlewild Hall, and generations of girls have written notes to each other in textbooks about Mary Hand, the ghostly presence that scares the hell out of everyone.  She is a substantial part of the plot, and so eerie that even I, sitting on my couch, was a little bit creeped out. 
 No one knows who she is, but she roams the school buildings and land.  Students even have a little rhyme about Mary:

"Mary Hand, Mary Hand, dead and buried under the land...
Faster, faster. Don't let her catch you. 
She'll say she wants to be your friend...
Do not let her in again!"

The ghost of Mary Hand makes you look at the worst part of your life.  She writes on windows, stands next to you and sends chills down your spine.  One of the best ghostly characters I've come across in a long time.

The plot revolves around something terrible that happens to the four girls in the 1950's, and Fiona's journalistic curiosity in 2014 as Idlewild is purchased and is being prepared for renovation, to become a boarding school for girls again. Will this renovation stir up old spirits? Does Mary Hand still roam Idlewild?

I have to say, the plot was on point. The stories of the four friends: Katie, CeCe, Roberta, and Sonia continue into 2014, and wow, the twist is pretty clever.  This plot went where I never would have expected it to go. Fiona's story is also interesting, as her digging into the history of Idlewild raises more questions that must be answered, and help her find out just what really happened to her sister in 1994. I'm not going to tell you anymore, because I don't want to give anything away. I say, just read the book!  It really is a page turner. I couldn't wait to read at night, read at lunch, and read early in the morning. I was frustrated I couldn't devote hours at a time to read it. Yes, for me, it was that good. 

Rating:  6/6.  Yes, perhaps I am biased because I love Simone St. James' novels so much, and a good chilling ghost story is hard to find.  But darn it all, this was a really great read.  One of my favorites for 2018.

Available in hardcover and ebook.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Still Life by Louise Penny

I've had a few disappointing reads lately, but thankfully Louise Penny put a stop to that.  My library has started a new book group, called Another Round Book Group, which meets in a local lovely bar once a month, and we pick books to read based on a monthly theme.  For our first inaugural "read" we had to pick a debut fiction book from an author.  Aha!  I thought. This is my chance to read one of the many new books I've got at home.   Instead, I jumped at the chance to read Still Life.

 I did a little investigating and found that Still Life is Louise Penny's first book. Yahoo!  I've had countless people tell me to read this series, and for years I've nodded, said yes, and then just not read it. Now I had a legitimate reason to start the series. I am so glad I did. 

Also known as the Inspector Gamache series, this novel takes place in the small village of Three Pines, located over the border of the U.S. near Montreal. I have to tell you, I want to live in Three Pines.  Full of small, quaint houses, a B&B run by two partners who know how to cook and entertain, and full of talented artists, it's a hidden gem in the Canadian countryside. It also is home to a murderer.  

Jane Neal, a beloved retired school teacher and secret artist living in Three Pines is found murdered in the woods early one morning. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, an elegant, thoughtful, and intelligent middle-aged man, is called in to investigate, along with his team of investigators. What at first looks like it might be an accident quickly becomes a murder investigation. Jane Neal was killed by someone with a bow and arrow. While the woods are full of hunters during this Thanksgiving weekend, the clues lead to a few dead ends and everyone in the village starts getting worried--who would have wanted to kill Jane?  

As Gamache and his team dig deep, you get to know the residents of Three Pines, and they are all interesting, fully developed characters. As Gamache discovers, the residents of Three Pines aren't to be dismissed as country bumpkins. Intelligent and yes, worldly, those who have settled in Three Pines all have backgrounds that I suspect will be examined more closely in the continuing series. Gamache falls under the spell of this village, and I did, too.  As I've stated before, I'm not a huge mystery reader, but I'm slowly becoming one.  I think for me it's just a matter of finding the type of mystery I enjoy.  I can say without a doubt Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache series is already a favorite after just reading one! I've already bought the next in the series, A Fatal Grace; I'm happy to say there are over ten books in this series.  I'll have plenty of delightful reading time this summer to make my way through each mystery that visits Three Pines. 

All I can say is, why isn't this a TV series on Acorn?! I also have to say thank you to everyone over the years who has told me to read Louise Penny. Friends, customers, library patrons have all said how good her mysteries are, and they hit the bullseye.  Now I'll have to tell others to read them, too. I'd say anyone who is looking to try mysteries, this is a good place to start.  Also, if you're looking for something to get Mom or Grandma, this is a great introduction to mysteries or even just the entertaining writing of Louise Penny. Anyone who loves art will also like Still Life.

Ah...thank you April!  This is no April Fool's joke.  I seriously loved Still Life.  I'm so happy I finally "discovered" Louise Penny. 

Rating:  5/6 for a delightful murder mystery.  Yes, that sounds odd, I know. But Louise Penny masterfully brings a small village to life  with three dimensional characters, a puzzling murder, and a pretty clever whodunit. When I read the passage that gave this mystery its title, well, I was just blown away. I can't wait to return to Three Pines, and get to know Chief Inspector Armand Gamache.  

Available in paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

April Reads: Debut Novels Abound!

A fresh, clean slate begins April reading--which I've started at the end of March.  After March's lackluster struggle to read, I'm pumped for April.  I start thinking about the next month's reads a few weeks in advance, and by the time I write my post, usually my choices have changed.  That was the case here.  I've got three titles that are debuts for the authors.  One, Louise Penny's Still Life, is her debut mystery novel in the Armand Ganache series.  Published in 2005, it's been around awhile, but it's new to me.  I've had so many people tell me to read this series, that I'm finally starting.  Just goes to show that any read is a new read if you haven't read it before.  I've got an ambitious list, but I honestly don't think I can wait any longer to read a few of these titles:

Reading for a book group where we have to read the debut novel of an author.  Gives me the excuse to finally read Louise Penny.

Another book group read.  I started it a long time ago, put it down, and didn't pick it back up.  This time, I'll finish it, and come at it with a fresh attitude. 

 This book has been so highly anticipated by so many people!  YA fantasy--a debut novel by Tomi Adeyemi.  Something completely different this month. 

Followers of my blog know I love Simone St. James.  This is her latest-in hardcover.  I bought it.  I expect to love this. Fingers crossed!

Short stories--and yes, Michael Andreasen's debut.  I've started this, and am captivated by his imagination.  I need to read more short story collections.  Publisher review.

I've always admired Maria Shriver.  A chance to review this for the publisher had me saying "yes".  A book about life and living it with an open heart and optimism.  I absolutely adore the cover.  

So I'm all over the place with my reads this month.  That's what makes it fun.  I may toss in a light novel to break up the month.  Spring has me wanting to read lighter novels to honor the time change and to celebrate (or mourn?) my release from self-induced hibernation.  Making plans to set up my front porch and back deck for optimal reading experiences as soon as warmer weather hits.  

Happy April!  What books are you reading this month?

Sunday, March 25, 2018

March is the Month of Reading Struggles-and a Review of The Philosopher's Flight by Tom Miller

Ever have one of those months where you can't wait to read books, and it turns into a complete drag?  March has been that month for me. This post is me tossing in the towel, admitting defeat, and moving on to other books. 😕

I was so excited to read this book.  I made it about 80 pages in, and just gave up.  A little too much philosophizing and not enough concrete story for me.  I am so bummed.  I read the end, and decided I still didn't want to wade through the rest of the story.  

The Philosopher's Flight by Tom Miller was another book I couldn't wait to read, and 50 pages in I was fully engaged and really enjoying the story of Robert Weekes, male philosopher in a world where women have all the power to fly--yes, fly using sigils to control their flights, and a history of rescuing injured soldiers during war and becoming famous around the world.  There is a group called the Trenchers, who think the philosophers are nothing but evil witches, and they routinely hunt down and murder philosophers, and fight to have them banned for good. 

 Robert wants to join the Rescue and Evacuation Department of the U.S. Sigilry Corps, but is up against tradition--only women are allowed entry into this prestigious, yet extremely dangerous Corps.  It's World War I, and the United States is just entering the war.  Young men and women still believe in the romanticism of war, and have no idea of the horrors war actually brings. Robert gains admittance to Radcliffe, one of a handful of men in the philosophy program.   The barriers he runs into are exactly what women have had to deal with over the centuries, and that is probably the best part of this novel.  It's a world where women have the power, and men don't. I did enjoy the characters--they were well formed, interesting people, all with backgrounds that would lend themselves to further exploration if this became a series. 

While I was enthralled with this novel, it only lasted about 100 pages.  Then I struggled mightily to keep going.  I skimmed the last 100 pages because I just didn't want to quit, but I had completely lost the drive to continue.  Why?!  There was a whole lot of inaction in the middle that bogged down the story.  I got a bit lost in the descriptions of certain actions Robert had to complete in his training, and the sigilry descriptions got a bit too much for me.  There is certainly a possibility that there is more to come, and I would be interested in reading more about Robert's life after Radcliffe.  Maybe by then I'd be able to enjoy his fantastic tale.  But as of now, ugh. Just couldn't say this was much fun for me.  

Rating:  3/6 for a novel with a lot of potential and a clever plot.  Too much down time in the middle made me lose interest that I just couldn't get back.  Available in hardcover and e-book. 

Not sure why March has been such a difficult book month for me.  I've got quite a few new books to read for April, and I hope to read a few that help me reset my reading groove.  I feel a big weight off my shoulders admitting defeat and admitting that yes, sometimes a book starts out so good, and sputters to a halt soon after, and there's nothing that will bring it around.  

I'll be posting my April reads this week, before Easter weekend.  I've got a few that I'm reading for book groups, and who knows what else I'll pick?

Happy reading everyone!  

Saturday, March 17, 2018

I Finally Read The Kitchen House by Kathleen Grissom

Oh, Kitchen House.  You've been on my TBR list for years and years.  You've been sitting on my bookshelf for so long your pages are yellowed.  Why it took me so long to finally read you, I don't know.  Maybe I was afraid you wouldn't live up to my expectations.  Maybe it finally took reading Kitchen House for a book group that did it.  So now, I've finally read you, and I am feeling very torn in my feelings about the book. What?!

Told in alternating chapters between Lavinia, a young Irish indentured servant, and Belle, the slave (and secret daughter) of the Captain, owner of Tall Oaks Plantation, The Kitchen House takes place in late 1790's Virginia.  Miss Martha, wife of the Captain, is a delicate creature, who is convinced that Belle is the captain's lover; her two children Marshall and Sally are spoiled plantation kids.  Things start to go sour when a tutor is hired to teach Marshall.  Poor Marshall.  It's obvious he's being sexually abused by the tutor, but as the story is told through the eyes of a slave and a young, naive girl, there are plenty of hints, but he's never caught.  That tutor destroys Marshall, and Marshall ends up becoming a horrible adult.  When Marshall takes his anger out on his sister Sally, the tragic consequence sends Miss Martha into labor with her third child, and sends her mentally over the edge.  She's never the same again.  That's just one of the many tragedies that visit the slaves and owners of Tall Oaks.  No one is safe from the hardships and sadness that seem to arrive like clockwork.  

At the heart of this novel is the treatment of slaves, and the fact that there are slaves.  Knowing there were decades to go before emancipation made this a bit harder for me to read.  Lavinia was a bit of a frustration for me, as well.  She's just a young child when she arrives at Tall Oaks, rescued from a ship after her parents, Irish immigrants both die onboard.  With no other family (her brother Cardigan is taken away by someone else), the Captain brings Lavinia home, to be an indentured house servant.  After recovering from her ordeal, she ends up staying most of the time in the kitchen house, which is where all the meals were prepared, and situated away from the main house for safety's sake.  There, she is drawn into the loving family of Mama and Papa, Uncle Jacob, Ben, and Belle.  It doesn't matter to her that they are slaves; they are the family she needs, and they love her and take care of her.  It takes Lavinia years to understand that she is treated differently because she's white and they are black, and considered property.  As the years pass, Lavinia doesn't ever seem to really understand the complex relations that swirl around the plantation.  I found her naiveté to be annoying, and I wanted her to be a strong, capable woman.  I never felt like she achieved that at all.  

Yes, there is so much that happens in this novel.  People finding happiness, even if only for a brief time; tragedy upon tragedy; folks giving up on life; children neglected in their youth growing into unpleasant adults.  There's even the sadistic overseer who always appears at the worst times.  It's a definite soap opera.  

So, I did like the story, but I felt there was so much crammed into it, that there was never a peaceful time for anyone.  Will, as a neighbor who helps run Tall Oaks at certain times, was the most decent man in the whole bunch.  Lavinia I found to be annoying the most as an adult, trapped in a terrible marriage, and also trapped by the few options she had--but instead of fighting hard, she caved.  I was hoping for a heroine who really met life head on.  Lavinia wasn't that person.  Belle, poor Belle.  She never got a break, and was never acknowledged publicly as the daughter of the Captain.  

I'll be discussing this novel next week with my book group, and I'm interested in what they will say about it.  I felt it was a little too soap opera-ish, with a weak main character in Lavinia.  There weren't any surprises at all in the plot; I felt like I had read this storyline before.  

Rating:  2/6 for a solid story that shows a lot of research; but I felt Lavinia's naiveté held her back, and the novel suffered for it.  Too much drama, and just outright crazy happenings. Every plantation life trope was in this novel. 

Available in paperback, large print, audio, and ebook. The paperback also has book group questions to help guide discussion, if you need them. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Flat Broke with Two Goats by Jennifer McGaha

I always enjoy reading memoirs about men and women who leave the city for the country and learn a lot about themselves in the mud, muck and hard work that living in the country can bring. I saw this memoir at Barnes and Noble and realized it had been awhile since I'd read a back to the farm memoir.  I just couldn't resist. 

Maybe it's because at this stage in my life I'm also rediscovering the joy of nature; walking in the woods, up and down hills, getting my clothes caught on thorny bushes, stepping in deer poop. All because of my love for my man. As I sit here at home, I can see my camouflage boots near the front door, in a plastic bag to keep all the gunk off the floor until I need them again. Definitely not boots to put on to go the the grocery store. 

What makes this memoir different from others I've read are the circumstances that bring Jennifer and David McGaha to a little cabin in the Appalachian Mountains of North Carolina.  After years of living in suburbia, enjoying their home, spending money on private school for their three children, David confesses to Jennifer that he hasn't paid taxes for years.  As an accountant with his own business, David knew better.  But the economic collapse of the late 2000's saw his client base drop dramatically, which directly impacted his income.  Not willing to let Jennifer know just how bad it was, he kept it to himself.  Jennifer, for her part, did nothing to be aware of the finances they shared as a married couple.  She worked part time, and enjoyed life without too many responsibilities.  She found out too late, and after David's confession, they lost their house and pretty much everything they had-including friendships.  Their marriage strained, David finds a cabin to rent, for a few hundred dollars a month.  It needs a lot of work, but it's a place to start over.  Reluctantly, Jennifer agrees to move to the cabin.  Angry with David, she's having a really hard time transitioning from suburbia to country life.  David, however, is thriving  with the manual labor it takes to keep the wood burning boiler running, continue to make improvements to the cabin, and working from home to rebuild his business.  

A lot of this memoir is about the strained relationship between Jennifer and David, and how they got to their present situation.  Jennifer tells a lot of stories about their early years, and also about her grandparents, who were Appalachian through and through.  As they decide to invest in chickens for eggs, and then take the big step to buy goats for making goat cheese and soap, Jennifer and David start to find peace in the shared work of cabin life.  Often times completely broke, with no money in the bank and a few dollars in their wallets, they make do with what they have, and find satisfaction in their surroundings and peace of the waterfall that faces their cabin.  Slowly, they begin to build their life again.  

I loved this memoir for a few things: this was about a couple who had it all, and lost it all.  They had to start over in their late 40's.  It was about a marriage that  was damaged, and required a lot of work to repair.  It didn't happen overnight.  It was about two people who realized having physical things wasn't important, and often times those "things" were just crutches to get them through the days.  Sitting on the porch at sunset, sipping a beer, with soup on the stove--that was happiness.  Being surrounded by nature, and appreciating the power and beauty of it; that was peaceful.  This stripping away of the noise of modern life gave Jennifer and David the opportunity to figure out what they wanted out of life, not what others expected or wanted them to do.  Pretty powerful.  

Rating:  4/6 for a memoir about starting over, accepting blame and being honest with yourself; and in doing so, finding your purpose.  Recipes included in each chapter all sounded really delicious, and if you're so inclined, you too can make your own goat milk soap in a crockpot.  

Available in paperback, audio, and ebook.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

Another novel that has been on my to-be-read list for a very long time.  So much so that now it's out in paperback, and I fully expected to read it while it was in hardcover. Thankfully, Penguin/Random House reached out and asked me to review it as it came out in paperback with new cover art.  

What to say about this novel.  It's so much packed into one epic adventure, and would appeal to anyone with a science background, someone with a love for alternate worlds, or anyone who just wants to read about a man who reinvents himself into a better human being.  That ever elusive time travel question--if we could ever do it, should we?

I've got to admit, it took me a few weeks to read this novel. I had a hard time getting into the first part, where Tom Barren talks about life in a 2016 that is vastly different in terms of technology, but people are pretty much the same.  Tom is a bit of a loser, and not because he didn't ever have chances to make something of his life.  He blames his father, a brilliant scientist, on most of his feelings of worthlessness, and the death of his mother in a crazy accident sets in motion changes that will literally change Tom's world.  Our world.  The future. 

Basically, Tom's father Victor creates a time machine, and Tom is a back up to the number one chrononaut, Penelope.  She's being trained to go back to July 11, 1965, to the exact moment Lionel Goettreider creates a source of energy that ends up changing the world.  A world that Tom lives in, where energy is clean and plentiful, there is no war, everyone has plenty of everything, and everything revolves around being entertained. It's a world where Kurt Vonnegut is embraced as a beloved philosopher. A world where clothing trends are minutes long, not months long. It's a world where books don't exist, because stories are created with your desires, fears, and the outcomes you want--they become personal to each person.  Ugh.  I can't imagine how horrible that would be!  

Tom being Tom, he mucks up the unveiling of the time travel machine big time, and finds himself in 2016, but our 2016.  It's more of a parallel time than going back in time.  He has the same parents, but this time his father is a professor of physics who takes a back seat to Tom's mother, a professor of literature who has become well known in academia.  And he has a sister, Greta, that didn't exist in his 2016.  And Penelope, the woman he fell for, is actually Penny, who owns a bookstore and is kind of like his Penelope, but in all the best ways nothing like Penelope. Follow me?  All of this hinges on what happens the moment Lionel flips the switch on his engine in a laboratory in San Francisco in 1965.  

There's a lot of complex science "stuff" in this novel, and I valiantly tried to follow, but without success.  Enough to understand, and enough to know my brother Dan the scientist would get a kick out of this story. Tom's evolution from a ne'er-do-well to a man who has to make the right choices and save the world is an entertaining one, and I enjoyed reading his journey, and I really loved the supporting characters:  Penny, Victor, Greta, Lionel.  And I'm happy to say I loved the ending, because after all that adventure, Tom deserved a happy conclusion. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.  It's not something I would normally read, and I think if I hadn't had the chance to read the paperback, it would have remained on my TBR list for a long time.  I owe a big thanks to Penguin/Random House for sending me a review copy, and changing the trajectory of my reading this year.  I'm fascinated by time travel, and all the ripple effects that could happen if it ever does (or maybe it does?) exist and become something we can actually do. If we could change the past, should we? 

Rating:  4/6 for a delightfully complex novel about time travel, love, family, choices, and finding yourself. Anyone with a science background or a love of science would enjoy this, and I imagine a group of time travel fans having an endless discussion about the possibility of time travel after reading this novel. 

Available in hardcover, paperback, ebook, and audio. 

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

March Reads and the Sad Tale of My Check-Outs from the Library

I have to confess I didn't have a library card until about 6 years ago.  Never in my life did I have a library card, and I didn't go to public libraries.  Most of that reason lies in where I grew up, out in the country in Iowa.  We lived just over the county line, and that meant I couldn't have a library card for the city where my parents worked (plus it was 15 miles away).  My parents had a lot of kids, so random trips into town didn't happen very often. We were also about 20 miles away from the next biggest town, in the county where I lived.  We never went there, so that wasn't an option. I never asked to go to the library, and my parents never offered to take me.  None of my siblings seemed interested, either. 

I did live for library day at my elementary school, and when I went to high school, we had a decent library, but I don't remember checking too much out.  Mostly we sat there and giggled until the librarian told us to be quiet. So while I somehow developed a love for books that pretty much has eclipsed any other potential hobby or interest, I just didn't do libraries.  I spent most of my adult life working at a bookstore, and heck, I bought all my books. So the fact that I'm a librarian is not because of ever going to a library as a kid. I think it naturally developed from not only my love of reading and talking about books, but my retail years where I helped people find what they needed, and felt pretty good when I did and they returned for more recommendations.  I know the power books have to change lives, because they changed my life.  

All this long story is just to tell you that I'm a bit overzealous in my library checkouts.  I like to think I've got plenty of time to read them all--after all, I have them for three weeks. But no.  I've got Sing, Unburied, Sing sitting on my coffee table, and it's due in two days.  I've read approximately 45 pages, and darn it all, someone else is waiting for it.  Now I've got to return it and put myself back on the list. While I was shelving new fiction yesterday, I stumbled across a book and ohmygodIhavetocheckthisouttoday.  I've done that approximately 4 times in the past two weeks.  I'm in a bit of a pickle! I'm sure we all have this problem with library books, right?  I don't know how people function reading just one book at a time.  What discipline!

March is rapidly approaching, and while it's 70 in Iowa today, we'll be back down in the 30's in a few days. The usual weather pattern here.  But it reminds me that Spring is getting closer, and I'll have to spend time outside taking care of my yard.  That means less time to read. I'm in the minority when I say that Winter flew by.  

Here's what I've got planned for March.  I've got a few other titles that I'll be reading, and they'll show up in my reviews.  But in the meantime...

Time travel by a well known British historian.  I'm itching to read this!

Publisher review of a book I've been wanting to read for awhile. Now out in paperback.  Alternate realities and time machines.  

A memoir about a couple that goes bankrupt and starts over in a cabin in the backwoods of North Carolina.

An intriguing tale set in 1910 America.  Not sure what to expect. 

Here's to March, warmer weather, birds singing in the morning, and driving home from work with the sun still up.  

Monday, February 26, 2018

Winter Sisters by Robin Oliveira

It feels like I haven't read a solid historical novel for a long time.  I'm pretty sure it's only been a few months, but as I was reading Winter Sisters I said out loud to myself "I am so happy reading this novel!".  I have no shame in admitting I talk to myself, especially when reading.  

I read My Name is Mary Sutter years ago, and loved it. Civil War novels always have a huge pull for me, and Mary Sutter is such a compelling character it's hard not to love her.  When I saw this was a sequel of sorts to Mary Sutter, I just had to read it.  

It's 1879, Albany, New York.  Mary, now Dr. Mary Stipp, lives and works with her husband Dr. William Stipp, along with her mother Amelia and niece Elizabeth.  They have a successful clinic run out of their spacious home, and have a good life in Albany.  The Civil War has not left them, however, and they are forever changed by what they witnessed as doctors treating soldiers.  But life is pretty good, and they are happy.  Close family friends the O'Donnell's have two lovely little girls, Emma and Claire. 

A bizarre, horrific blizzard descends upon the city, catching everyone unawares, and through terrible circumstances, Bonnie and David O'Donnell are killed during the blizzard.  The two girls, stuck at school, survive the blizzard with their schoolmates, but are left behind on the school steps once the blizzard ends and everyone goes home.  They disappear into thin air.  

The Stipps, frantic about the O'Donnell family, discover the sad news about Bonnie and David, and are very concerned when the girls don't turn up anywhere. Mary and family go to the police, and take it upon themselves to search everywhere they can think of to find the girls.  The police aren't very helpful, claiming the girls are probably dead.  Six long weeks go by, with no sign of the girls.  The melting snow and ice in the Hudson River causes a massive flood in Albany, and in a night of chaos, the girls are found and brought to the Stipps.  Where were they, and what happened to them?

What happened to Emma and Claire sets off a huge newspaper war in Albany; a magnifying glass is put to Mary's practice and her decision to give healthcare to prostitutes; and Elizabeth's new romance with the son of a prominent lumber baron is put into jeopardy.  Traumatized by their ordeal, both girls are in danger of never recovering, especially when some folks don't believe their tale.  

While it is a fact that women didn't have very many rights or privileges in 1879, it still got me pretty steamed to read about some of the nasty rumors and treatment of Mary, Emma, and Claire.  Albany-a city that looks shiny and bright, but has an underbelly that runs on corruption, bribes, and prostitution. Men have all the power, money, and, sadly the law on their side.  

I so enjoyed this book.  Robin Oliveira is a solid writer, and her attention to historical detail makes the book so interesting, but never bogged down.  Of course the medical aspect was a big draw for me, and I definitely had a hard time putting the book down in the last half.  As a matter of fact, I stayed up way past my bedtime last night to finish the last few pages, I was so anxious to find out what happened.  

A huge thank you to Viking/Penguin for a review copy.  

This novel will be on sale Tuesday, February 27th in the U.S. in hardcover, ebook, and audio. You do not have to read My Name is Mary Sutter to read this novel.  

Rating:  5/6 for a novel that addresses female sexuality, abuse, the power of men, money, and the strength of family at a time when women didn't have many options.  Mary is a great example of a brilliant, respectful woman who still is treated with distrust and ridicule even after proving herself over and over.  A powerful statement on the ability of rumor and false news to damage lives. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

The Great Halifax Explosion by John U. Bacon

One of my side interests is reading about disasters.  It's always fascinated me that such horrible destruction happened in fairly modern history, yet remains largely unknown in today's world. Oftentimes people are completely oblivious about something that was in all the newspapers and largely known by everyone at the time, and seemed utterly unforgettable. 

The Sultana, a river boat carrying Civil War soldiers back home after the war, exploded on the Mississippi River with 1,800 killed.  The Eastland, a passenger ship that capsized next to a dock in the Chicago River in 1915, killing 848 people.  The Great Molasses Flood of 1919 in Boston, where 21 people were killed by yes--a flood of maple syrup racing down the streets.  There are so many, sadly, and I think the only one I have yet to read about is the Lusitania.  

I had heard about the Halifax explosion, but this was the first book I read about it, and it was fascinating.  It reminded me of Erik Larson's book Isaac's Storm about the 1900 Galveston Hurricane, which wiped out the whole city, with thousands dead and nothing left standing.  John Bacon uses the same storytelling style of Erik Larson to create a history book that brings Halifax alive, and sets the stage for the explosion on December 6, 1917.  World War I was raging, and Halifax was an important harbor where ships loaded with supplies for soldiers came and went.  It was a hopping town, with a large population and many new industries.  The Mont-Blanc, a freighter pressed into service, had arrived from New York loaded with six million pounds of explosives, destined for Europe.  It was a risky undertaking, but the supplies were needed so badly by the forces fighting in Europe, it was deemed worth the risk.  The captain and crew were very aware they were sitting on a potential bomb, and any sudden movement would cause the ship to blow; not to mention the potential for u-boats to torpedo the ship once it was out to sea.  

On the morning of December 6, 1917, the Mont-Blanc was waiting to leave Halifax.  Another ship, The Imo, was also waiting impatiently to leave Halifax harbor.  Through miscommunication, grandstanding, and important people not knowing just what the Mont-Blanc carried, the inevitable happened: the two ships collided.  The Mont-Blanc crew, realizing the ship was going to blow, got off and rowed away, neglecting to warn the people of Halifax what was probably going to happen.  The Mont-Blanc drifted into a dock, where it burned, and drew curious citizens to see the flames and smoke. Yes, I know. I was horrified.  School kids, dock workers, Moms and Dads all drifted down to the dock to see what was going on.  People could see the burning ship for miles around, on the hills leading down to the harbor.  

And then, in an instant, the ship exploded, sending a mushroom cloud upwards, and obliterating the Mont-Blanc, the dock, and hundreds of people. They were vaporized. This was the largest man-made explosion until World War 2. The shockwave blew out windows for miles around, flattened buildings and homes, and created a tsunami in the harbor.  An estimated 2,000 people were killed, 9,000 injured, and 25,000 left homeless. Fires, flood, and a blizzard the next day (which dropped 16 inches of snow on Halifax) created even more barriers for help to arrive, and provide shelter for the injured and homeless.  

But what is most interesting about this book is the resilience of the people, and how so many came together so quickly to provide medical assistance, shelter, food, clothing, and anything else that was needed.  People didn't mess around.  They took action, freely gave money and supplies without thought of compensation, and opened their homes to so many who had lost everything.  It was amazing to read.  The word "hero" is so overused today that for me it's lost a lot of meaning and impact.  These everyday folks all were heroes, and expected nothing in return.  There was no social media; reporters came to town, and got out the stories; telephones were cut off or barely worked; yet the story got out, and the response was to send help, not profit off of it.  

Anyone who is a fan of World War I history, or just plain history would love this book.  There are some photos in the book, and I'm sure there are even more online.  If you visit Halifax, there is the Maritime Museum of the Atlantic, along with the mass grave at Fairview Lawn Cemetery, where unidentified victims were buried. 

Rating:  5/6 for a thorough look at the causes of the Great Halifax Explosion; the resilience and hard work of the citizens who worked tirelessly to recover, and the survivors who remained forever affected by that horrible December day.  

Available in hardcover, and ebook. 

Saturday, February 17, 2018

The Girls in the Picture by Melanie Benjamin

This novel took me a long time to read.  I was a bit disappointed in it, and reading reviews online has me in the minority.  

Of course I knew who Mary Pickford was going into this novel, and I was excited to read about early Hollywood.  It had to have been such an exciting place--when Los Angeles was still a small outpost, and silent films were all the rage. Bungalows, tiled fountains, and orange groves, along with the warm weather, made it a paradise and a place to start new.  Frances Marion, whom I knew nothing about, was just an amazing woman. This is the type of historical novel that will have you pausing to do internet research, look at photos, and read up.  Did you know Frances Marion was the first woman screenwriter to win an Oscar?  And that she won two in the 1930's?  With movie star good looks, she could have easily become famous onscreen; but her talents and heart were all about creating stories.  She successfully wrote for silent films, and easily transitioned over to "talkies" without any trouble.  She was a powerhouse in early Hollywood.  

But I'm getting too far ahead of myself. This novel is about the real life friendship and working relationship between Mary Pickford, darling of silent films and a genuine movie star of the early 1900's, and Frances Marion, a "scenarist" (a screenwriter before there was the term for screenwriter) who arrived in Los Angeles in 1914, 25 years old and going through her second divorce. They met, and quickly became friends, in a world where men called all the shots, and treated women like infants.  Mary's onscreen persona as the little girl with blond curls kept her trapped in the same role. Frances wrote roles for Mary that would help her capture a sense of childhood, since Mary had been working in movies since the age of five to support her family.  While the movies made Mary an international star and put money in the bank, they also kept her from growing into more mature roles.  She was an adult always playing a young girl.  

I know--it sounds like a really good novel.  For the most part, I enjoyed it, but I felt that it dragged a lot.  World War I is a big part of it, and the machinations of men with money and power.  Everything Frances got, she fought for.  She was a tough cookie who didn't take much from anyone.  Mary was not as tough, and she had to fight her own insecurities to make strides towards independence in her career.  Her relationship with Douglas Fairbanks Sr is a big part of the novel as well; they were the first Hollywood power couple--all the way back in 1920.  Charlie Chaplin also moves in and out of the story, as a friend of Frances, Mary, and Douglas.  

The novel moves between Frances and Mary, and the years 1914 to 1969.  It is a tale of women making strides in Hollywood, but also all the garbage they had to put up with--which sounds remarkably like a lot of what is happening today.  Then, as now, women had to decide between having a career and a family, fight for better pay, put up with sexual harassment, and cope with the pressure of society's expectations to be respectable women.  

I did enjoy reading about Frances and Mary. I really liked the inside look at the beginnings of Hollywood and movie making, and how amazing it all was at the time.  But I did feel the book was too long, and there were parts where I lost interest because it felt plodding. And Mary, geez. A perfect example of a person who is consumed by fame, and left with nothing. 

Available in hardcover, audio and ebook. 

Rating:  3/6 for a novel that sets the scene of early Hollywood and film making very well, and delves into the complexities of friendship between women.  I loved reading about Frances Marion and Mary Pickford, two powerhouses in Hollywood who helped create the film industry.  A refreshing historical novel set in Los Angeles as World War I begins and the world is on the brink of change. I felt the novel was too long, but enjoyed it because of Frances Marion.  She was fascinating.  

Sunday, February 11, 2018

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

This novel has been on my can't wait to read list for months.  I happily tucked into reading as soon as I bought the book, and now, after finishing it, I am not sure if I loved it, or if I just liked it a lot.  

Anticipating a read can exciting, but I think sometimes it can be dangerous--expectations may not be met.  And that is no fault of the author, but rather my fault.  In any case, I did enjoy this book very much, even going in with  high expectations, and not knowing a whole lot about it other than a basic plot outline. 

Tom Hazard is a man over 400 years old.  He looks like a forty year old man, but he carries a very large secret.  He's not immortal, but a man who ages incredibly slowly.  He will, eventually, grow old, lose some of his immunity to illnesses that kill normal people, and die, but not for centuries.  Time is what Tom has, and time is what is also driving him slowly mad. 

For centuries, Tom wandered the world on his own, after a tragic childhood where his mother was punished for Tom's seemingly eternal youth.  Growing normally until thirteen, he slowed way down, looking fourteen, but actually being eighteen.  People began to notice, and gossip turned to suspicion, which created a horrible accusation of witchcraft.  Fleeing his home, Tom ends up in London, where he meets the absolute love of his very long life, Rose. But as Tom finds out, loving someone with a normal life span, and dealing with the obvious issues of very slowly aging and staying in one place, have a price to pay. It is easier, Tom believes, to never love anyone. His grief over Rose is never ending. 

The novel follows Tom as he lands in London in present day, taking a job as a history teacher.  He is part of the Albatross Society, run by Hendrich, a man who is even older than Tom.  He keeps people like Tom safe, by requiring they change lives every eight years, and gives them money and new identities.  He's convinced Tom that his survival is dependent on the society to keep him safe from those who would study Tom and hurt him. The number one rule Tom must live by is to never fall in love with a human being. 

Tom walks the streets of London, remembering his time with Rose, his experience working with Shakespeare, his happiness.  Memories that give him horrible headaches, as they can be too much for Tom to bear.  The only thing keeping him going is the hope that one day he may find his daughter, Marion.  She too has the gift of long life, and the last time Tom saw her, she was a young child in 17th century England.  Hendrich has promised Tom he is searching for Marion, but decades have gone by, with no luck locating Marion.  

I found Tom's memories of his past, and his back story fascinating.  Matt Haig did a wonderful job sending me back into Tom's experiences through the centuries.  I did understand Tom's melancholy, but it got a little frustrating sometimes.  He was a man trapped by his fear.  Fear of love, fear of Hendrich's power; fear of never finding his daughter.  Fear of time.  How do we think of time?  Tom can only think of time in a negative way; it's not until the very end that he finds it in himself to be free.  And that is the biggest message of Tom's tale.  

We're all given a limited amount of time to live, love, and experience life. We're so busy being busy, we pay no attention to the here and now; the moments of happiness and those moments where everything slows down, and we feel like they last forever.  Those are the best moments, and recognizing them, and living in them, is what stops time.  

I did like this book very much.  Tom was a bit of a drag, and I wanted to shake him sometimes, hoping he would stop being so damn afraid. I loved the stories of Tom's life before, and the people and places that made him who he was in modern day London. I feel that there should be another follow up novel, with Marion's story.  I hope there is; I want to know more about her!

Rating:  4/6 for an entertaining novel full of fantastic history; a novel about the power of love, grief, living life without fear, and enjoying every precious moment of time. 

Available in hardcover and ebook. 

Monday, February 5, 2018

Sourdough by Robin Sloan

Sourdough is a strange little novel that could be looked at from a few different angles.  One angle is just an enjoyable, slightly odd tale about Lois, who moves to San Francisco to write code for a robotics company, and discovers a love of baking bread.  

Or, it could be about a young woman, Lois, who moves to San Francisco to write code for a robotics company, and discovers that life without creativity is pretty dull; creativity is what fuels our souls. Sourdough is her creative muse. 

Or, it could be a funky mix of magical realism with a twist of technology that can make your head spin, all the while wishing you had a freshly baked loaf of sourdough bread on hand, and wondering if gee, maybe you should try making bread this weekend?

Honestly, it was all three angles for me.  This sourdough starter, the stuff that changes Lois' life, is magical.  Gifted to her by a man who operates a small take-out restaurant specializing in  spicy soup and sourdough bread spicy sandwiches, it is the thing that saves Lois from a dull life working day and night for a tech company.  The pay is great, but it can cost you your soul.  Lois can't even eat regular food; she, along with her coworkers, instead drink liquid nutritious sludgie packets of food that keep them going without causing stomach problems.  Honestly, any job that requires you become so less human that you don't even chew food (or enjoy it), is not the job for anyone. 

Lois begins baking bread in her apartment, and soon the sourdough produces changes in her life that wake her up to possibilities outside of coding as a career.  Meanwhile, the sourdough sings to music, bubbles, shoots off colored sparks in the dark, and seems to have a personality all its own.  I told you this was an odd story!

I won't tell you anymore about Lois' journey with her sourdough starter.  You'll have to take the plunge and read this novel to find out more.  I actually think it would make a pretty interesting book club discussion.  Big themes about greed, appreciating nature, the machinations of the food industry, and the slow and steady cost of progress.  Appreciating the simple things in life, and finding the complexity in those simple things.  Yes, even sourdough bread can be complex.  

Go ahead.  Check this one out.  I certainly enjoyed it, and it wasn't anything that I expected. Sometimes those are the best book surprises.  

Rating:  4/6 for a truly odd-ball novel about sourdough bread and a few other things. I may very well order sourdough bread instead of wheat the next chance I get.   

Available in hardcover, audio, and ebook. 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

February Reads: So Much Good Stuff, It's Hard to Choose

February always trips me up.  I think I've got plenty of time, and before I know it, March is knocking at the door.  Who'd think a few missing days at the end of the month would create such havoc in my reading world?

I started 2018 off with a roar, spending plenty of weekends and nights unapologetically reading.  It was wonderful.  I'm going to try to do the same in February, but life has a way of taking my plans and turning them upside down.  

February may be a short month, but that doesn't stop me from trying to read as many books as I can before the end of the month. I'm currently reading two books that I won't list here, but they'll probably show up as reviews in the next week.  Here's what I've got planned to read in February:

I've read about the Halifax explosion before, but this new book looks to be fascinating!

A historical novel about Mary Pickford and her friendship with Francis Marion in early Hollywood.  

Ahhhh!!  This book!  I can't wait to read it!!  

A publisher review book from the author of My Name is Mary Sutter.  Cannot wait to dive in!

I had such a hard time deciding which books to show on this post.  I've got another 5 or 6 demanding to be read this month.  Clearly impossible (unless I take a nice, two week vacation) but nevertheless, they egg me on to at least try.  We'll see.  

On the book group front, I finally got together with a group I affectionately call the book nerds.  There are six of us, and we meet every month and talk about what we're reading.  We've been meeting for probably 6 years, and recently took a hiatus and finally regrouped last night.  We always have such a good time.  I had to write down a few more titles that appealed to me, and even took a book home.  We've made plans to meet again in early March, and we'll have even more books to talk about.  What I love about our group is that there's no pressure on what to read, but rather an exchange of books that we've each read over the previous month, and what we did or did not like about them.  Usually the rest of us end up reading the same books, and it's fun to discuss what we each thought of the books.  Such a great way to hear about a lot of books from friends who have different tastes.  

We have a member who loves to read mysteries and young adult, another who is the most well read person I know--she reads fiction that usually involves other countries, current issues, and important moments in 20th century history.  Another reads multi-cultural books that she also shares with her high school English students; another just buys ebooks on his Nook that are daily specials and reads them. He enjoys family dramas. Our final member reads a lot of young adult novels (and listens to them on audio with her son), mysteries, and non-fiction centered around the Catholic faith.  All of us are open to reading different genres, authors, and ideas.  And we all know I read just a bunch of stuff; whatever appeals to me.  

Happy February everyone, and let me know what you're reading.  I always love to hear from you!