Sunday, May 3, 2015

For the Record: April 2015

April has been a very strange month.  We moved out of the rental we'd been living in for the last two years, moved the majority of our belongings into storage, and have been living in a vacation rental all month...trying desperately to get our house finished and signed off so that we can move in before we are actually homeless.  It has been an odd combination of stressful and relaxing. We are living out of suitcases. We are driving farther to work and school every day. We don't have our cat with us (not allowed in the rental).  And yet, we are right by the beach (wonderful regardless of my general feelings about the ocean) which makes for a terrific excuse to relax and read.  We should be able to move back home before the end of May, and regardless of how nice the beach is, home will be infinitely nicer.

6 Books Read in April: [30 books year-to-date]

3 Nonfiction:
  - Organizing From the Inside Out, Julie Morgenstern (3.5) This was an enjoyable, yet fairly standard, approach to organizing.  I'm a pretty organized person but have trouble keeping everything picked up, so the suggestion I appreciated most was to work with your habits rather than trying to change your habits.
  - The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson (5) What an incredible book. I feel like this filled in so many holes in my knowledge of American History, and expanded my understanding of race relations. Growing up in an area and family where race wasn't an issue, I have some catching up to do.
  - The Almost Nearly Perfect People, Michael Booth (4) Half travel memoir and half social history, this was a fantastic way to get an overview of the different Nordic cultures. I was disappointed that it was light on Norway, which is where my dad's family is from, but otherwise loved the book.

1 Classic:
  - The Sound and the Fury, William Faulkner (3) Read this for book club, which is a good thing because I wouldn't have finished it otherwise. I paused after 100 pages to read the SparkNotes, which made the rest of the book much more enjoyable.  I can see why it was innovative, but didn't enjoy it.

2 Adult Fiction:
  - Funny Girl, Nick Hornby (4) So different from other Nick Hornby books I've read, and yet I still enjoyed it so much. I can't say I liked the characters, but I liked that Hornby let them be who they were, and enjoyed how he told a story that could have been so two-dimensional.
  - The New and Improved Romie Futch, Julia Elliott (4) Review copy from Powell's Books/Tin House, this was like nothing I've read before. Irreverent, Southern, modern, and so entertaining.


2 Current Reads:

  - Our Endless Numbered Days, Claire Fuller. Powell's Indiespensable selection...trying to be responsible and get them read instead of letting them pile up like last year. 100+ pages in and it is just beginning to grab my attention.
  - Mary Barton, Elizabeth Gaskell. Still working on this one...about 2/3 through. Enjoyable so far, very Gaskell. :)


On My Nightstand:
I'm still wanting to read Wolf Winter, and have added even another Nordic-centric book to my nightstand: My Struggle (Book One)...can't get enough of Scandinavia right now for some strange reason.  I seem to be on a nonfiction swell also, and have Between You & Me on my shortlist.


Thursday, April 30, 2015

Inbox: New Books in March/April

I didn't buy/receive a single book in March.  It was the month of major packing and moving, so I just couldn't justify it. After getting installed into our next rental house, though, life slowed down a bit and in came some books! Typically it's the times that leave me little time to read that I end up splurging on books...I feel like I ended up doing pretty good this time around considering the size of my splurge urge!

These three are books that have been calling my name. Funny Girl I read immediately and enjoyed thoroughly. Ragtime was the first book my book club read (a year or two before I joined them back in '98/'99) and I thought it would be a good place to begin filling in some holes. The Knausgaard books seem to keep popping up, and I've got Nordic countries on the brain, so let's see what the fuss is about.

Our Endless Numbered Days and The New and Improved Romie Futch were both part of the latest Indiespensable shipment from Powell's Books. I got sucked into Romie's crazy life, and am now venturing into a much different world in Claire Fuller's book. The Dream Lover was sent to me from the publisher through LibraryThing, and will most likely be next in the queue.

These three all have special circumstances. The Warriors book is for my 10yo. The Sound and the Fury was my book club book, and The Eyre Affair I purchased as a potential book club selection since it was my turn to pick next.  Not only did I end up not picking it (I picked Caleb's Crossing instead) but I'm starting to think I may already have a copy in storage.  Oops.

Continuing with my nonfiction cravings, I read the very interesting travel memoir/social history of the major Nordic countries: The Almost Nearly Perfect People. I heard about that on NPR I think? The other three here I realized I have an almost Guilty Pleasure attitude about. Spending time or money on them feels indulgent for some reason (like I should be doing it, not reading about it)...which kind of only makes me want to do it more often. I was totally going to resist the Kondo book because I feel like I've read the entire contents in summary, but then I added it to my most recent order at my local book shop anyhow (and to be honest I'm excited to get it!) Organizing and language: strange subjects for guilty pleasures perhaps, but there you have it.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

That Cover, Though

I've been known to be guilty of judging a book by its cover. It has been a while, especially since I don't impulse buy as much as I used to, but while browsing the Barnes & Noble stacks for a good option to pick for my book club, this old habit reared its head in a major way.

Back when The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman was released, I was on the fence about whether I'd enjoy it. From reviews it sounded like it would be a little too dramatic and I'd get bored. The topic didn't intrigue me. But the cover was interesting and it got a lot of attention, so I bought it.

It remained on my TBR shelf for the next couple years. I'd pull it out occasionally and flip through, ultimately setting it back on the shelf and choosing a different book instead. I've never read Hoffman before (argument for reading it already) but all the women and all the drama (argument for putting it back on the shelf) and so it goes. Until I saw a new cover at B&N. And now I'm thinking my hunch was right. I may just get rid of the book now. I don't know.  I realize now it's a tie-in, which explains even further why I don't like it, but it really caught me off guard. Have you read it? Have you seen this cover?

Thursday, April 2, 2015

For the Record: March 2015

March was a month for the record books. Not, unfortunately, for how much I read, but rather for how much I did.  It was a crazy one. Between birthday parties, goodbye parties, out-of-country business trips, packing and moving out of our rental into a hotel (first) and a vacation rental (next)...the focus has really been on trying to get our house project complete enough to move into. We are currently living out of suitcases (albeit in a beautiful place steps from the beach—which certainly helps make up for the chaos!) and have suspended home school in favor of getting our house done and picking back up with summer school. Whew. Still and all, a girl has to read. So here's the fun stuff:

7 Books Read in March: [24 books year-to-date]

3 Nonfiction:
  - The First Time We Saw Him, Matt Mikalatos (3.5) For a book that looked to describe stories from the gospels in a fresh, modern light, I expected a little more creativity. This book was half retellings and half commentary on life application.  It was better than other Christian Nonfiction I've read, but still pretty light reading.
  - The Lexicographer's Dilemma, Jack Lynch (4.5) I did this one on audio, but enjoyed it so much I'm buying a paper copy to reread in bits and pieces. It could be subtitled "A History of the Grammar Nazi" since it basically shows the history of English prescriptivists vs. descriptionists (or, should a dictionary indicate how we should use language, or how we do use language?) I loved the history of our crazy language, and seeing how far back this debate developed. Written in a lively, organized fashion without heavy bias.
  - That's Not English, Erin Moore (3.5) I must have been on a language kick! This was sent to me by the publisher through LibraryThing, and it was a lighthearted cultural look at how British English is different from American English. It was enjoyable, but I did have some issues.  The fact that I read it after The Lexicographer's Dilemma probably didn't help, as the details of history weren't Moore's strong suit. Neither was organization, though she certainly did try (her chapters were organized, but the text in each chapter was lacking a solid arc.) I found it difficult to not be irritated by her huge generalizations, and was a bit confused regarding the target audience. Still, her experiences on both sides of the pond were fun to read about. This was light and fun enough that it would make a good vacation read - not something that can often be said for nonfiction!

1 Junior/Teen Fiction:
  - The Birchbark House, Louise Erdrich (4) I read this aloud to my kiddos a few years back, and didn't like it so well as I did this time. I remember the kids liked it, but I had to do a lot of explanation about Native American culture—words and beliefs that were confusing—which makes me think now that it was more a matter of timing. For the child that is able to comprehend those more abstract concepts of religion etc., this book offers wonderful insight into daily life of the Native people. It was almost like Little House on the Prairie from the Ojibwe perspective.

3 Adult Fiction:
  - The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins (3.5) Not my usual fare, but I was in the mood for something light and entertaining and the audio was fun to listen to.
  - The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, Rachel Joyce (3) I loved The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry so much that I jumped on the chance to review this book (another ARC through LibraryThing). As with many sequels, (and the reason I don't often read a whole series,) this just wasn't as good. I enjoyed reading more about the characters, but it just didn't seem as if there was enough story to merit a whole other book. Many portions seemed drawn out, without enough at stake to actually hold the suspense.
  - The Light Between Oceans, M.L. Stedman (4) Read for my book club. This was a captivating story. I'm not really sure why I kept avoiding reading it. (??) I enjoyed the location and time period, and all the different looks at marriage and motherhood.


2 Current Reads:

  - The Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson. This was an impulse buy at the airport (why does that always happen?) but it had been on my radar for quite a long time. It is incredibly good reading; I'm adoring it.
  - Mary Barton, Elizabeth Gaskell. I've been having a hard time taking the time to focus on classics, so I thought I'd attempt the audio. The narrator (Juliet Stevenson) is perfect and the story is just as enjoyable as Gaskells others.


On My Nightstand:
My next book club pick is The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner, so I probably need to start on that one next. I'm still itching to read Wolf Winter too though, and some more nonfiction, so we'll see how it goes.


Thursday, March 5, 2015

For the Record: February 2015

I thought I was going to be able to squeeze one more book into February, but it didn't happen.  Still, it was a pretty rewarding reading month for me. Since I've been so busy with house design, I feel like more time is passing than really is—I keep thinking it's almost June.  SoCal weather is absolutely no help in this regard.  While the rest of the Continental US is suffering through another terrible winter, we're still sunny mid-70s. It could be any month of the year, honestly. That's definitely one of the factors urging me to read messed up conception of time.

Since I'm getting anxious to move back into our house, I thought I'd give you guys a little peak at what we've been working on for the last two years.

One of the [way too many] bathrooms - not complete yet
but I love how the tile and stone work together.

We have a lot of walnut in the house (floors, closets etc.)
This is a half flight of stairs leading to kitchen.

My laundry room is going to be so gorgeous! Alder cabinets and a mahogany
counter. Can't wait to see them after the wood is sealed.

This is a little private courtyard off the master suite where a lot of our
exterior materials converge: cedar, teak, andesite.

7 Books (1,858 pages) Read in February: 
[17 books (5,084 pages) year-to-date]

2 Nonfiction:
  - Lies My Teacher Told Me, James W. Loewen (3.5) I liked the topics (American History and how it is taught in public schools) but the tone was somewhat alarmist which isn't my jam. Most of the stuff I already knew, whether through my own reading or by virtue of homeschooling, (not via traditional textbooks,) so what was most interesting to me was his brief comments on how little continuing education most history teachers do. That, to me, seems to be a large part of the problem. It's always easier to learn a subject if your teacher is enthusiastic about the topic.
  - The Light and the Glory (for Young Readers), Peter Marshall & David Manuel (2.5) I was disappointed to find much less usable text in this book as compared with its sequel. Most frustrating was the coverage on Columbus, who was presented as very rose-colored two-dimensional character. Almost as irritating was the general lack of organization in the writing.  Maybe I was just in a bad mood when I read it!

2 Junior/Teen Fiction:
  - Brown Girl Dreaming, Jacqueline Woodson (4.5) Woodson did a beautiful job writing about her childhood, really giving a full picture of her family members and the locations they lived. Recommended! [counts towards the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: YA Novel]
  - When Mystical Creatures Attack, Kathleen Founds (3.5/4) This was fantastic to flip through, and I loved the first half or so, but as the story went on it got more and more depressing.  I kept hoping that there would be a sparkle of hope that would bubble up and infiltrate the various emotional problems and mental illnesses, but no such luck. [counts towards the Book Riot Read harder Challenge: Something Recommended to you]

2 Adult Fiction:
  - Still Alice, Lisa Genova (4) Read for my book club...actually listened to, since I did this one on audio.  It was read by the author, and I had a bit of a hard time deciding if it was just read poorly or if it was also written poorly.  I ended up forgiving the writing quality because I appreciate the author's goal of using the novel as a way to illuminate the intricacies of a disease.  This was about early onset Alzheimer's, and provided good discussion for our group. [counts towards the Book Riot Read Harder Challenge: Audiobook]
  - We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson (5) I thought this story was just about perfect. Well written, atmospheric, creepy, so wonderful.

1 Classic:
  - Cakes and Ale, W. Somerset Maugham (4) Almost more of a fictionalized essay than a proper novel...though there was indeed an interesting story to be had.  The main characters are authors, who are giving their thoughts about publishing and literature, so that's always fun.  And a commentary on society as well, done in a humorous manner. [counts towards the Book Riot Reader Harder Challenge: by an author of a different gender than yours]


1 Current Reads:
I'm kind of in between books today. I have a couple of books I'm reading aloud to my 10yo, but those will be on hold next week because I'll be out of town. I got sucked into the audio version of The Girl on the Train and didn't pick up any books in print in the meantime.

  - The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, Rachel Joyce. From LibraryThing's Early Reviewers. I loved Harold Fry and am hoping to love Miss Queenie also.

On My Nightstand:
I read all my new books from last month except The Magnificent Ambersons and Wolf Winter, so I'll be taking those on my trip next week...maybe I'll also take my new book club pick: The Light Between Oceans.


Pass it on!