"Outside a dog a book is man's best friend, inside a dog it is too dark to read!" -Groucho Marx========="The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid." -Jane Austen========="I don’t believe in the kind of magic in my books. But I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book."-JK Rowling========"I spend a lot of time reading." -Bill Gates=========“Ahhh. Bed, book, kitten, sandwich. All one needed in life, really.” -Jacqueline Kelly=========

Monday, July 30, 2018

TTT: Books that have lived up to the hype

Top Ten Tuesday: Books That Have Lived Up to the Initial Hype About Them

I don't often pay attention to unpublished books so I decided to consult a few lists about highly anticipated books to see if I read any of them. Here are those lists: Book Riot 2018; Entertainment Weekly 2018; Time 2017; EW 2017; Vulture 2017. BuzzFeed 2017. Ha-ha. It took me five lists of highly anticipated books for the past two years to find ten books I actually read.

Children of Blood and Bone (2018)
Even the cover got some love. This folktale/fantasy/adventure novel is everything it was hyped to be.
The Astonishing Color of After (2018)
I was pretty excited about this book when I read initial reviews. It is very good, if not a little long.
The Hazel Wood (2018)
I know there are two camps on this one. I am in the LIKE camp. I thought it was very well done. Dark and creepy, too.
Lincoln in the Bardo (2017)
This book got lots of love before it was published and I am so glad I read it...or rather, listened to the audiobook. It was AMAZING.
You Don't Have to Say You Love Me (2017)
My husband and I listened together to this essay, poetry collection by Sherman Alexie. We laughed and cried. If you haven't tried Alexie, you really should.
Strange the Dreamer (2017)
This fantasy novel, the first in a series, one a Printz Honor. The world building and unique characters set this book above others.
The Hate You Give (2017)
Everyone is STILL talking about this book and everyone should read it.
Sing, Unburied, Sing (2017)
This is a tough read but so thought-provoking.
Killers of the Flower Moon (2017)
Narrative nonfiction about murders in the Osage Tribe in the 1920s. The FBI helped solve the murders.
Pachinko (2017)
Set in Korea and Japan. I learned a lot about the cultures from this epic tale.
The Leavers (2017)
A timely topic: illegal immigration. This one is well-done and thought provoking.

I can honestly recommend all of these books. They definitely lived up to their hype.

Review: Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

When I started reading the much-talked about book, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, I thought I was reading an unfunny version of the Rosie Project where a person on the autism scale bumbles around work and is made fun of by coworkers. It didn't take me long to realize how wrong I was.
I simply didn't know how to make things better. I could not solve the puzzle of me.”
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is the story of a girl who in living in survival mode. She was so traumatized by events from her childhood and so lonely for human connections that she has no way to judge her actions against societal norms. Coworkers may make fun of her but Eleanor is so busy trying to hold herself together that their comments hardly register. Eleanor's whole life from the surface is all order and routine, but the below the surface, Eleanor has nothing. From Friday after work until Monday morning, Eleanor's only companions are two bottles of vodka. She wonders to herself if she dies, how long it will be before someone from work bothers to follow-up to see if she is alive. Her isolation is almost complete. But as the novel unfolds we discover why and it puts a new spin on rude comments from coworkers. Do we really know what sadness our friends and colleagues have to bear on their own? Then Eleanor meets Raymond, the new guy in the IT department. He is not interested in the workplace gossip and asks Eleanor to join him for lunch. Slowly, tremulously a friendship develops between the two and the closed world that Eleanor has been encased in starts to crack. But can she survive once she confronts the truth?
If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn't spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.” 
Though the topic is a very serious one, I should mention that there are some very funny moments in the book. Most of the funny parts relate to Eleanor's misunderstandings in social settings. At one point, I had a thought run through my head that Eleanor is a bit like Amelia Bedelia. Remember her from your childhood. She is the fictional character who took everything for its literal meaning.

Eleanor Oliphant is an amazing book. Why? Because it should give everyone a moment of pause.  We've all known Eleanors. Every workplace has an Eleanor, the oddball coworker who rarely says anything and just doesn't seem to fit in. Possibly a person who is teased without knowing much of anything about the person. We've all known people who were lonely. Maybe we didn't know how lonely, but loneliness is a condition we can do something about. When Raymond befriends Eleanor she starts to see the world through a different set of eyes and she didn't like everything she saw.

I was so touched by the book. Even as I am writing this blog, I feel like crying. It is, in a lot of ways, a book about hope, about platonic love, and about empathy. I want to be the Raymond in someone's life. A person who is willing to hold up a mirror for someone to see themselves more clearly, but also be willing to stick around when things get rough.
Sometimes you simply needed someone kind to sit with you while you dealt with things.” 
As a Beatles fan, I kept wondering if Honeyman chose the name, maybe subconsciously, because of the song Eleanor Rigby, who, "died in the church and was buried alone with her name."  The song and the book certainly have loneliness in common. Just a thought.  I sincerely hope that we choose this book for an upcoming book club. It will give us a lot to talk about and I'll have an excuse to read again soon.
Past Due Book Reviews

4 / 16 books. 25% done!

Catching up on past due book reviews... a plan

Last week I moaned here about how behind I am on writing reviews for books I've read in 2018. I know it is a self-imposed list but, by golly, I really DO want to review them, if for no other reason than the books themselves will quite screaming at me to be heard. Ha.

I've made a plan. For the next several weeks, until I am done, I will write two past-due reviews or mini-reviews and stay current on books as I finish them. I don't review every book I read, but I want to review all book club selections, all Printz-possible YA titles, and any SH/JH nonfiction books I read. I also have a few favorites I will throw in for good measure. As I finish reviewing books I will come back to this page and hyperlink them. Stay tuned and watch my progress.

1. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Read Feb 26, 2018
RHS Book Club

Read May 1, 2018
Personal choice

3. The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
Read May 2, 2018
YA-Printz possible

4. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Re-read May 6, 2018
SOTH Book Club

Read May 22, 2018
JH/SH Nonfiction

6. Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
Read May 25, 2018

7. Artemis by Andy Weir
Read May 31, 2018
Personal choice

8. Force of Nature by Jane Harper
Read June 4, 2018
RHS Book Club

9. Truth Like the Sun by Jim Lynch
Read June 14, 2018
SOTH Book Club

10. The Leavers by Lisa Ko
Read June 18, 2018
RHS Book Club

Read June 18, 2018
YA-Printz possible

Read July 02, 2018
Personal choice

13. The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides
Read July 5, 2018
Personal choice

Read July 18, 2018
Personal choice

15. Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman
Read July 19, 2018

16. The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden
Read July 26, 2018
Personal choice

I'll keep track of my progress on this counter
Last updated: September 12, 2018

Past Due Book Reviews

16 / 16 books. 100% done!


Saturday, July 28, 2018

Books that just don't work for book clubs

I've been in two books clubs, one for over 20 years, the other for around fifteen years. With so many club meetings under my belt you can imagine that I have experienced quite a few "clinkers" along the way. In this blog post I am highlighting several  recent book club selections that just didn't work. But before I do that, let me talk a bit about what makes a good book club selection.

Pierce County Library system (my library) is a wonderful resource for book clubs. Check out the link here. Here is what they say about what makes a book a good one for club discussions:
People often ask what qualities make a book a good candidate for book discussion. Probably the most important criteria are that the book be well written, have an interesting plot and three-dimensional characters. Good book-discussion books present the author's view of an important truth and sometimes send a message to the reader. A good book-discussion book often stays in the reader's mind long after the book is finished and the discussion is over. These books can be read more than once, and each time the reader learns something new.  During a book discussion, what you're really talking about is everything that the author hasn't said--all those white spaces on the printed page. For this reason, books that are plot driven (most mysteries, westerns, romances, and science fiction/fantasy) don't lend themselves to book discussions. In genre novels and some mainstream fiction, the author spells out everything for the reader, so that there is little to say except, "Gee, I never knew that" or "Isn't that interesting." Librarians, booksellers, and friends can often supply you with suggestions of good books to discuss.
"You're really talking about everything that the author hasn't said---all those white space on the printed page." Ah. That is it. Good books for club discussions give us something to talk about because everything isn't said already so we get to fill in the blanks. That gives us something to discuss.

We all love a good mystery but by-in-large they make terrible club choices. By the end of the book the mystery is resolved so there is nothing to talk about. We forgot that when we selected next month's book, A Force of Nature by Jane Harper. This mystery is set in Australia. A group of employees are sent to the outback for a bonding weekend. The women are teamed up against the men and each group has to accomplish a set of tasks before they return on Sunday. The men return on time, the women don't. When they finally stagger into base camp, there are only four women with them. One has gone missing. What has happened to her. Is she out in the bush somewhere wounded and needs help? Is she dead? Is she alive, coming out of the bush somewhere else? No one knows, or does someone know?

On its face, the mystery is a solid one. We get a lot of back story of the women, their relationships with one another and how they feel about themselves. We meet the detectives, who also have their own back stories, which relate to this case. Solid stuff. Just not good for discussion, I expect. The detectives figure out what happened and everyone is changed by the experience. Period.

One other note about this book, which no one noticed when we selected it. The book is part of a series. It is the second book in the Aaron Falk series. I am going to go out on a limb here and suggest that books in a series, especially subsequent books, are also not good book club choice. Two strikes against A Force of Nature.

Every one wants to read books they like, but we need to be reminded that there "is a difference between a good read and a good book for a discussion" (PCL). Some of the most popular, well-liked books make for terrible discussions. Case in point was The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson. The book is hilarious. HILARIOUS, actually bordering on silly. It is a fast read, too. Everyone liked it but what could you say, except "what did you think when this or that happened?" Everyone would chuckle and we'd move on to the next question which was met with a similar chuckle.

In the Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared readers meet Allan Karlsson who is turning 100. His care facility is hosting a party for him. The mayor is coming to it. But Allan is not pleased. He wants the independence he is used to. He wants to drink vodka when he wants. So he crawls out the window and jumps on a bus, destination unknown. He is still wearing his bedroom slippers. Along the way he meets up with several criminals, somehow ends up with a suitcase full of cash, and murder happens. As all these preposterous things occur we also learn about his early life when he helped develop the atom bomb, made friends with American Presidents, Russian tyrants, and an important person from China. He actually participated in several critical events of the twentieth century.

Every one loved the book but our discussion was a disaster. Read the book on your time. Choose something else for your club meeting.

"Probably the most important criteria are that the book be well written, have an interesting plot and three-dimensional characters" (PCL). It is hard to judge this by a cover. Hence, we often select books which have rather flat character development or ones which aren't particularly well written. It happens. But with a little research ahead of time, it shouldn't happen that often. And as folks in the club read more and more well-written books they will become pickier and picker and demand it. I think that is what happened with our last month selection. The book, Truth Like the Sun by Jim Lynch, should have been one we all enjoyed because it was set in Seattle and the story centered around the Seattle World's Fair in 1962. It is a local story for us. Many of the gals in the club remember going to the fair and what Seattle was like in the 1960s. Some even remembered the political climate at the time and the shady dealings that went along with it. But none of the mattered because the book just wasn't that well written. No one could quite put their finger on it. Something was off. I thought it was because the readers were not allowed to get too close to the characters, as if they were being held at arms length from us. Others thought it was because the story jumped back and forth from 1962 to 2001. If was confusing to figure out what was happening when.

In the book, Roger Morgan is the mastermind of the fair. (He is a completely fictitious character but probably based on a amalgam of several actual people.) In a lot of ways if not for his efforts the fair would have been a flop. But he makes it work on the strength of his determination and will. But he also seems to be involved in some gambling and some shady deals involving the police, once again based on but not actual events. Fast forward almost forty years and Roger Morgan is running for Seattle mayor because he doesn't like the direction the city is going and he is sure he can get things back on track. Along comes a new investigative reporter working for the Post-Intelligencer. She is sure she can dig up some dirt on Roger. She does, but at what cost?

All-in-all the book isn't bad. It just lacked something that made it special. All was not lost, however, as the book was set aside and we just had a fun discussion about the World's Fair, called Century Twenty One. Several of our older members had some very memorable stories of their own to share. That discussion led to discussions about another book highlighting a world's fair, The Devil in the White City, about the Chicago World's Fair and an activity that one of the gals participated in related to that book. See, we can digress and still have fun.

Narrative nonfiction works well for discussion books but beware of straight nonfiction. The Devil in the White City, is an example of an excellent discussion nonfiction book because it written in a style that makes it almost seem like fiction. The facts are told in a story-like fashion. By in large we have figured this out and don't select books which are just a bunch of facts, so I can't even think of a good bad example. Often some of our best discussions are over narrative nonfiction books because the readers actually learn something and a world of knowledge opens itself up.

Good luck with your book club selections. If you have some more good examples of bad book club books, please list them in the comments below. Thanks.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Station Eleven..."Survival is insufficient."

In Emily St. John Mandel's masterful novel, Station Eleven, a virulent strain of the flu wipes out over 99% of the world's population. But unlike similar books on this trope, Station Eleven does not focus on the immediacy of the apocalypse that follows in the immediate aftermath of the disease. It skips back and forth between pre-flu days and 20-years post-apocalypse, when most survivors have joined into small groups or towns. As the plot advances connections between the two time periods are made especially among a few of the characters. All of these characters, whether they lived or died, have one person in common---Arthur Leander. He is an actor who dies on stage from a heart attack during his performance of King Lear. One character, Kristen, is a child actor on stage with him the night he dies; another, Jeevan, performs CPR in an effort to save his life; another, Miranda was his x-wife and the creator of the comic book "Station Eleven" which plays a prominent role in the story; and the last is his child with an other wife. Though Arthur dies early in the book, his story is at the center of all the stories which evolve from that evening.

Kristen joins the Traveling Symphony several years after the apocalypse. The troop travels from town to town performing Shakespeare plays for small audiences. They settled on Shakespeare because people wanted to be reminded of what was best about society before the epidemic. Though the lifestyle was rough living on the road and scrounging for food and resources all the members of the troop felt compelled to stick with it because "survival in insufficient." Art and music are just as  important as other necessities of life, so they traveled on. One day they made their way into a village which was governed by "the prophet" and things didn't go well for the troop who decided to leave town as quickly as possible. They decide on a course which will take them to an airport where they have learned there are about 200 survivors living and one of them has started a museum of past useful items.

Because the author has skipped the intervening twenty years between the epidemic and where the characters are now, the reader is not subjected to the horrors of survival that certainly happened. Instead one comes to understand that the story is less about the apocalypse and more about loss, memory, nostalgia, and connections to other people. The story is full of hope and art and reaching beyond mere survival.

I listened to the audiobook of Station Eleven for the first time in 2015, reading it for one of my two book clubs. That club always starts with members going around the circle explaining if they like the book or not. I recall not being very pleased with the book at that point. It seemed to me that some obvious points were missed and other inaccuracies dogged and clouded my thinking. But after the discussion on the book, I changed my mind. Others in the group were able to explain away my misgivings and talked about what they liked.

After that club meeting Station Eleven has become one of those books I can't seem to shake. I think about it ALL the time.  My mind races to thoughts like "what if this or that happened, like in Station Eleven?" So when my second book club selected it for the June book this year, I decided to reread it. Three years is a long time to remember details important to group discussions. Once again I chose the audiobook format. But the reading experience was totally different than the first time. For one thing I became very aware of the author's brilliance in pulling threads of connection all the way through the book. A seemingly small comment or event early in the book would come back in a meaningful way later. Often that thread related to Arthur Leander. This time I knew to pay attention.

However, some things still bugged me about the details. Like why did the troop sleep outside in tents instead of bunking in one of what would have been millions of empty, abandoned houses? Gasoline no longer worked but why didn't the members ride bikes or horses? Admittedly these are not important to the story line so I will drop them and accept the the book as it is.

At my second book club the opening question was two fold: What would you miss the most if this happened to the world and what frivolous thing would have trouble giving up. Most people identified electricity or transportation for their first answer and then some funny things like pedicures and tater tots made it onto the second list. As I think about it now, with more time to reflect, I think I might miss knowing what was going on in the world the most. I would know that there were others surviving as I was, but I wouldn't have any idea what they were doing and inventing. Can you imagine how frustrating that would be?

In the book Kristen is interviewed by a reporter who is attempting to get some news of the world. She says that the new reality is hardest for those who remember the way things were before. "The more you remember,the more you have lost." Think about that the next time an oldster opines about the good ol' days!

St. John Mandel, Emily. Station Eleven. Random House Audio. 2014. Read by Kirsten Potter. Audio.

Friday Quotes: Paris for One and Other Stories

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from the book.
e Friday 56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56.

Check out the links for the rules and for the posts of the participants each week. Participants don't select their favorite, coolest, or most intellectual books, they just use the one they are currently reading. This is the book I'm reading right now---

Title: Paris for One and Other Stories by Jojo Moyes

Book Beginnings (first sentence of first story "Paris for One":
"Nell shifts her bag along the plastic seating in the station and checks the clock on the wall for the eighty-ninth time."
Friday 56 (fifth story, 6th page "Crocodile Shoes":
"She hesitates, then curses, rummages around in the bag, and pulls out the shoes. Without saying anything, she whips off her sneakers in the foyer and puts on the red Louboutins instead."
Comments: I am participating in the Paris in July challenge, but got started late so I wanted to pick up something I could read quickly. A collection of short stories seemed to fit the bill. The first story, "Paris for One", is the only one set in France. All the others are set in the U.K. Nell is waiting for her boyfriend at the train station, the first leg of the journey to Paris. He stands her up. So she goes to Paris by herself. //In the fifth story, "Crocodile Shoes", a woman has her bag with her sensible shoes taken at the gym. In the bag that remains behind is a pair of expensive pumps. She is forced to wear them to her meetings in lieu of her sneakers. The shoes seem to change everything about her day and the way she feels about herself.

I like reading short stories because the author is forced to economize on words and get right to the point. "Paris for One" is really a novella at almost 200 pages but the others were short at ten to fifteen pages. They are long enough to get the story, short enough that one didn't have time to get bored.

The only other book by Moyes which I've read, You Before Me, became a movie and got a lot of media attention. She is easy to read and knows how to write a good love story.

What do you think of reading short stories?

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Bookish (and not so bookish) thoughts

1. I have been wondering why I am so resistant to writing book reviews lately. Every New Year's resolution I make has something to do with writing book reviews for the books I've read. This year I started off with a bang---writing a review for the first six books I read in the new year and then I fell off from there. I've only written on 33 reviews for the 70 books read. I keep making lists of books I want to review, then I read another book and the original list starts to become overwhelming so I don't write anything. Sigh.

2. Along the lines of #1, I attended a bookish workshop this past February and three of the presenters were authors whose books I had read for book club. I was psyched to meet them and enjoyed their presentations. When I got home, I ran to my blog to see what I written in my reviews about the books. I hadn't written reviews for any of them. I resolved at that moment I would at least write reviews for my book club books, and attempt to do so before the club meeting to help me crystallize my thoughts. Well...I haven't done so well on that score.  I've only reviewed half of the club books read so far this year. (Which is actually more than I thought when I started writing.)

3. Sticking with the review theme of #1 and #2, I wonder what the sticking point is? Do I resist writing reviews because I know that it will require some thought and perhaps a bit of research? Do I doubt my own thoughts and opinions? Of all my blog posts, it is my reviews that generate the least amount of traffic but are the posts for which I feel the most pride. Often I find that as I write a review, I end up liking the book more or less than when I was reflecting on it before I started the writing process. Oddly, that may be the biggest obstacle. When I write a review I have to hold an opinion and not be all wishy-washy about thoughts... writing the review forces me to decide how I feel about the book and to defend that decision.
Recipe: Gingerbread scones. Two notes. One from October 1997 in my handwriting, the other from 2017 in my daughter's script.
4. Enough on reviews. I was digging around in my cupboard a few months ago and found this tiny scone cookbook which I've had since the mid-1990s. At that time I would write notes to myself in the margins for future reference. Those notes and the small cookbook have been a joy this summer, as have the scones I've made. Yesterday's scones, mocha chip, were a little dry and the texture a little off, but very delicious.

Eating banana cake with two fists full
5. Ian, my 10-month grandson, has finally decided that eating is good. He really wasn't interested in food until about a month ago, which seemed really late to me. Yesterday, he and his mom were hanging out at my house around lunch time and his mom gave him a small piece of banana cake, which is like banana bread with frosting, and he crammed it all in his mouth at once. Such joy!

Bingley, five weeks old.
6. My sister is visiting my puppy right now and sending me photos. I chose him from a litter of pups from one of her friends. He can come home to us next month. We are all getting pretty excited for him to join our family. I've already named him after an Austen character, Bingley. Since he is a Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, he needed a British name.

7. This meme is hosted at Bookishly Boisterous. I'm feeling so much better about my reviews...since I got all my feelings off my chest, I think I will close this post down and go write up a review.  SHould I write one for the Bear and the Nightingale or Eleanor Oliphant first?  Bye!

PS...I just wrote myself a list of the books I've read this year that I still want to review.: 13. My plan is to write at least two reviews a week of past books and attempt to stay current as finish up books. It will take me into September, but I think that is a workable plan.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Classics Club Spin is back. Prepare your lists!

The Classics Club Spin is back.

What is the spin?
It’s easy. Before next Wednesday 1st August 2018, create a list of twenty classic books of your choice that remain “to be read”.
This is your Spin List.
You have to read one of these twenty books by the end of the month.
Try to challenge yourself. For example, you could list five classics books you have been putting off, five you can’t WAIT to read, five you are neutral about, and five free choice (favorite author, re-reads, ancients, non-fiction, books in translation — whatever you choose.)
On Wednesday 1st August, The Classics Club will post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by 31st August, 2018. We’ll check in here then to see who made it the whole way and finished their spin book!
What’s Next?
  • Pick twenty classic books that you’ve got left to read. Or you are welcome to read along with me. Check out my list below.
  • Post that list on Facebook, blog, or your refrigerator, numbered 1-20, before Wednesday 1st August.
  • We’ll announce a number from 1-20. You can check my blog or the Classics Club website for the number.
  • Read that book by 31st August.
  • Let me know how you did.
My List

My Hopes 
Bastard Out of Carolina
Allison, Dorothy
Top five
Agnes Grey
Bronte, Anne

Master and the Margarita, The
Bulgakov, Mikhail
Bottom five
If On a Winter's Night a Traveler
Calvino, Italo

Death Comes for the Archbishop
Cather, Willa

Moonstone, The
Collins, Wilkie

Tale of Two Cities, The
Dickens, Charles

Count of Monte Cristo, The
Dumas, Alexandre
Bottom Five
Name of the Rose, The
Eco, Umberto

Eliot, George
Bottom five
So Big
Ferber, Edna

Tess of the D'Urbervilles
Hardy, Thomas
Bottom five
Scarlet Letter, The
Hawthorne, Nathaniel

Talented Mr. Ripley, The
Highsmith, Patricia
Top Five
Suite Française
Nimerovsky, Irene
Top five
Wild Sargasso Sea
Rhys, Jean
Top Five
Shelley, Mary
Bottom Five
Grapes of Wrath, The
Steinbeck, John
Top five
East of Eden
Steinbeck, John

Picture of Dorian Grey
Wilde, Oscar

Join me!

AND THE SPIN # is....

Looks like I will be reading THE NAME OF THE ROSE.