"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=========

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

TTT: Favorite books of 2019

Top Ten Tuesday 2019 finale: This year's favorites

1. The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai---my favorite of the favorites. It is about the AIDS epidemic from the beginning to current time and about the caretakers of the sick men.
2. Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens---beautiful prose and poetry; a mystery and a love story. This book has it all.
3. Becoming by Michelle Obama---I saw her in person on her book tour. It made the book even more special.
4. Circe by Madeline Miller---Greek mythology comes to life. I recommend listening to the audiobook for this book.
5. The Overstory by Richard Powers---seven or eight stories come together as the focus remains on the main characters, the trees. This one won the Pulitzer Prize for 2019.
6. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green---this book fed my desire to read something quirky and "out-there" yet spoke to a generation about our obsession with social media.
7. The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto by Mitch Albom---this is the best book you've probably never heard of. The narrator is music and I loved it from start to finish.
8. The Library Book by Susan Orleans---Who set the fire that consumed the Los Angeles Public Library and much more. Nonfiction.
9. The Dutch House by Ann Patchett---A recent completition. Listen to this one on audiobooks. It is narrated by Tom Hanks.
10. With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo---the only YA book on my list. I loved the character development which didn't take the typical trope of a teen mother's life falling apart.
(Click on hyperlinks for my reviews.)

Now I turn the page on 2019 books.
What were your favorites of the year?

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Sunday Salon---Post Christmas 2019

The birth of Christ must have been a confusing time.
Weather: It was sunny today after an overcast morning. When we got up my grandson declared that the sun was out and I told him it wasn't. But it was, just behind clouds. (For the record, I corrected myself.)

Two Christmases: Our youngest daughter couldn't make it home for the actual day of Christmas so we planned a celebration for the whole family on Saturday the 27th. That freed up Don and I to spend Christmas eve and day with Mom in Eugene. Both celebrations, the one in Eugene, and a few days later, here, were meaningful and family-full.

Christmas eve services: The church where my mom and sister attend, First United Methodist Church in Eugene, has two worship services on Christmas eve. The first, at 4 PM, is a children's service, where the children of the church parade around dressed as angels, shepherds, sheep, pigs, and, oddly as butterflies. The majority of service was directed at the children with stories, music, and the lighting of the advent candles. At one point a soloist came up and sang a beautiful song but it was hard to pay attention to her since the cute kids were placing ornaments on the trees while she sang. The soloist finished before the decorating was complete, so the pastor said, "The kids shall continue ornamenting while we move on with the service." I liked how he made a noun into a verb. The photo shows controlled chaos of the kids singing "Silent Night" while holding battery-operated candles. //The second service, at 10 PM, was the opposite: polished and majestic. It was filled with music from the choir, pipe organ, bell choir, and special soloists and instruments. We sang carols and held dripping candles. It set my heart to rights. Finally, my heart was ready to celebrate the birth of my Lord, Jesus Christ.

Christmas Day: was spent at my sister's house where she and her husband hosted a small dinner for six. The meal was delicious and the day was calm and comfortable. At the end of the day we watched the old classic film: Home Alone. We all laughed again at the antics of Kevin McAllister and the dumb, would-be burglars.

Three days later: with our daughter safely home from San Francisco, we celebrated Christmas again. It was like the old days for our family with the Hallelujah Chorus announcing the time to come downstairs to start the day, the opening of presents, and eating crepes for breakfast. Our grandson, age two, made the day special and fun. His excitement and enthusiasm was palpable. He clearly liked  each of his gifts and played with each before moving on to the next gift. We gave him a green toy made from recycled plastic, a recycling dump truck. One of his favorite things to do is to watch the garbage collectors come through the neighborhood with the truck picking up the bins and dumping them into the truck. He seemed delighted with the toy. We also played card games, watched football on the TV, and ate another yummy meal.

Cats: The very first Broadway musical our girls ever saw was Andrew Lloyd Weber's musical CATS. They have been obsessed with it since that time. When we saw that the play was being made into a movie starring Dame Judi Dench, Taylor Swift, Jennifer Hudson, to name a few, we knew we had to see it. Today after church we went straight to the theater for the movie. All the bad reviews be damned. We loved it. It was the music and the story-line we knew and loved from the play with very creative computer imagery (CGI.) If you liked the musical, or like cats (the animals) let me recommend it to you.

End-of-year-reading survey: I have completed my reading survey of 2019.  You can find it here, if you are interested in finding out my favorites of the year.

100th book: I just finished my Goodreads goal to read 100 books this year and I doubt I will finish anymore before the new year. Currently I am reading five different books, all of them long and only partway done:
  • Blowout: Corrupted Democracy, Rogue State Russia, and the Richest, Most Destructive Industry on Earth by Rachel Maddow---Audiobook, 45% complete.
  • East of Eden by John Steinbeck---print and audiobook. I made a bit of progress on this book after a LONG hiatus. 32% complete.
  • Great Poems for Grandchildren---print, 49% complete.
  • Love Letters: a novel by Madeleine L'Engle---e-book, 20% complete.
  • On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong---print, 8% complete.
The President Sang Amazing Grace: one of the gifts we gave Mom was a children's book edition of the Zoe Mulford song sung by Joan Baez. If you aren't familiar with the song, here it is. I warn you it make make you cry for two reasons: 1. We used to have a President who would sing to those who needed his song and 2. The reason he needed to sing.

Happy New Year: I'll "talk" to you again in 2020.


Friday, December 27, 2019

Review and quotes: INLAND

Title: Inland by Téa Obreht

Book Beginnings quote: 
When those men rode down to the fording place last night, I thought us done for.
Friday56 quote:
Josie, for all her intermediary powers, had turned out to be devoid of the only gift that might have been of use: divination.
Summary: The year is 1893. The setting is a waterless farm in Arizona Territory where lawlessness reigns. It is here that two character's stories converge. First there is Nora, who is a frontier woman and is trying to keep everything and everyone together despite the lack of water. Her husband left a few days before in search of water, and her eldest sons have also left home after a terrific fight. Nora and her youngest son remain behind with her mother-in-law, and Josie, the hired help who can speak to dead people, and is full of other superstitions. Josie is the one that put the idea into Nora's youngest son's head that a mysterious beast is stalking their land.

Secondly, there is Lurie. His story has a much larger arc than Nora's, starting years before when he and his father immigrated to America from Armenia. Through a series of mishaps Lurie is on the run from the law, but he always seems to stay one step ahead of being captured. When he links up with an Army troop that is using camels as part of its mission, he finds the animals to good companions. Eventually he finds himself wandering all over the west with one camel in particular. In 1893 he and the camel end up in Arizona Territory about to meet up with Nora and her family.

Reviewing the book for the New York Times, Channelle Benz thinks there is a third main character:  the West.
As it should be, the landscape of the West itself is a character, thrillingly rendered throughout in phrases such as “red boil of twilight” and “a stillness so vast the small music of the grasses could not rise to fill it.” Here, Obreht’s simple but rich prose captures and luxuriates in the West’s beauty and sudden menace...Inland has the stoic heroic characters and the requisite brutal violence of the Western genre, but the decision to place an immigrant and a middle-aged mother at its center is a welcome deviation.
Review: The beginning of this book is completely confusing. As the story shifts back and forth from Nora to Lurie and back again, the reader is not only experiencing a perspective shift but also a jump back and forth in time. It is disorienting. Lurie's story is a long one, lasting almost a lifetime from the point he enters the country until fifty or sixty years later in Arizona. Nora's story takes place over the course of one day. While reading I not only had to figure out who was speaking but when and where the action was taking place.

About a third of the way through the book I thought I wouldn't be able to do it, that I would need to just set the book aside and not finish it. Then I went to Goodreads and read a few reviews. Everyone who loved it had finished the book, everyone who hated it hadn't finished it. There had to be something that draws the two stories together making it worth the effort to read on. There was. The ending of the book is so spectacular and surprising it took my breath away. It was both sweet and creepy at the same time. I remember clutching my chest thinking I needed to get a hold of the print edition so I could read it over and over again. (I was listening to the audiobook.) The writing was simply brilliant and three narrators did such a spectacular job I simply had to keep going.

Based on a little known historical fact that our Army did indeed use camels for a while during the wars in the West, Obreht has created a masterpiece. If you are a patient reader, not prone to throwing books away if they don't captivate you from the start, I highly recommend this one.

Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from current book.
e Friday56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56 to share.


Saturday, December 21, 2019

End-of-the-Year Book Survey 2019

2019 End-of-the-year
book survey
  • Number of Books Read: 100
  • Number of Re-Reads: 3
  • Genre You Read the Most: Literary fiction
Reading Survey:
(Click on book title if you want to read my review of it.

1. Best Book You Read In 2019?
  • Literary fiction: The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai---I read a lot of wonderful books in 2019 but this one rises to the top of the pile because of the deep connection I developed with the characters and the way it drew the whole AIDS epidemic into a complete story from the start to current day.
  • Best YA: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo 
  • Best graphic novel: Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by
    Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Rosemary Valero-O'Connell
  • Nonfiction: The Library Book by Susan Orlean
2. Book You Were Excited About and Thought You Were Going To Love, But Didn’t?
  • Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys---I would go so far to say I hated this book and only finished it because it was a Classics Club spin book selection.
3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read? 
  • Beartown by Fredrik Backman---I didn't think I would like it since it was about hockey, but I thought it was really well-written and a good story.
4. Book You “Pushed” the Most People to Read (And They Did)?
5. Best series you started in 2019? Akata Witch ,a series by the same name, by Nnedi Okorafor ;

Best Only Sequel of 2019? The Girl in the Spider's Web, the fourth book in the Millennium series 

Best Series Ender of 2019? None

6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2019?

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?
  •  Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins---middle-grade fiction
 8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?
9. Favorite Book Club Selection Based On the Discussion?
10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2019?
11. Most memorable character of 2019?
12. Most beautifully written book read in 2019? (Tie)
13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2019?
14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2019 to finally read? 
  •  The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2019?
  • “His dad had told him many times that the definition of a real man is one who cries without shame, reads poetry with his heart, feels opera in his soul, and does what’s necessary to defend a woman.”
    Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing
16. Shortest and Longest Book You Read In 2018?
17. Book Which Shocked You The Most
  • Inland by Tea Obreht---the ending. I still want to talk to someone about the ending.
18. Best Audiobook I Listened To in 2019
  • On the Come Up by Angie Thomas---because of all the rapping
  • Circe by Madeline Miller---because of all the Greek names and characters
  • The Dutch House---Tom Hanks was the narrator.
19. Favorite JH and SH Nonfiction Books I Read In My Role as a Cybils Judge
  • I switched my role this year from first-round to second-round judge so I won't get to work on Cybils reading until January 1st.
20. Favorite Book You Read in 2019 from an Author You’ve Read Previously
  •  The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead---By the way, this book was the book which showed up on the most on the best-books-of-2019 lists.
21. Best Book You Read In 2019 Which Was Based SOLELY On a Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure:
  •  Ask Again,Yes by Mary Beth Keane---recommendation from the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon
22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2019?
23. Best 2019 debut you read?
24. Best World-building/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?
  • Burial Rites by Hannah Kent---Iceland in the 1800s
25. Book Which Put a Smile on Your Face/Was the Most FUN to Read?
26. Book Which Made You Cry or Nearly Cry in 2019?
27. Hidden Gem of the Year? There are several:
28. Anything odd about this year's reading list? 
  •  Many fewer YA titles than in years past, though I still am attempting to discern the book which will win the Printz Award in January.
  • I DNF (did not finish) 5 books in a row in the months of October and November.
29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2019?
  •  The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka---the narrators formed a chorus of "us", "we", "many of us". It was a story about the Japanese "picture" brides and what happened to them when they came to America before WWII.
30. Book Which Made You Angry (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates---a black father writes letters to his black son. The racism in this world is despicable.
31. Favorite poetry or short story collection: 
  • Devotions by Mary Oliver---my favorite poet died this year so it is proper to honor her by reading her poems.
31. One Book You Didn’t Read In 2019 but Will Be a Top Priority in 2020?
  • Fiction---Testaments by Margaret Atwood---the sequel to The Handmaid's Tale
  • Nonfiction---Blowout by Rachel Maddow 
  • Graphic novel---Watchmen by Alan Moore
  • Classic--- East of Eden by John Steinbeck

Blogging survey:

1. New favorite book blog you discovered in 2019?
This is embarrassing to admit, but I am terrible about remembering site names of blogs I visit.

2. Favorite review that you wrote in 2019?
3. Best discussion/non-review post you had on your blog?
4. Best event that you participated in (author signings, festivals, virtual events, memes, etc.)?
 My mom, one of my sisters, my daughter, a friend, and I went to see Michelle Obama in the Tacoma Dome talk about her book BECOMING. She was interviewed by Jimmy Kimmel. We had a wonderful and inspiring time.

5. Best moment of bookish/blogging life in 2019?
I really appreciate it when I hear from readers who say they enjoyed a book I recommended on my blog.  That is the best.

6. Most challenging thing about blogging or your reading life this year?
I got really bogged down with my reading this Fall and found myself setting aside book after book. I usually finish books but I just couldn't make myself read them. It was really tough to get out of the slump.

7. Most Popular Post This Year on Your Blog (whether it be by comments or views)?
8. Post You Wished Got A Little More Love?
9. Best bookish discovery (book related sites, book stores, etc.)?

This beautiful library in a monastery in Prague. Photo credit: D. Bennett
 10.  Did you complete any reading challenges or goals that you had set for yourself at the beginning of this year?
  •  I've read 100 of my reading goal of 100 books this year.
  • My Own Personal National Book Award Challenge---to read at least two of the winners for the past ten years.  Completed. Now I have to stay current with each upcoming year.
  • Read the Pulitzer Prize winner: The Overstory by Richard Powers. Done!
  • Read all the 2019 Printz winners, the award book and the honor books. Read 3 of 4.
    • The Poet X---read
    • Damsel---read
    • A Heart in a Body in the World---read
    • I, Claudia---not read
  • Classics Club Spins. I completed two or the three books I started:
    • The Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys
    • Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson.
    • East of Eden by John Steinbeck---not completed.
  • To read books from my own shelf: 29! I made a concerted effort to read and pass on my own books this year.
I tried my best to scrunch as many book onto this list as I could. It really was a great year full of wonderful books.

-Turning the page over on 2019.

    Friday, December 20, 2019

    Review and quotes: With the Fire on High

    Title: With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
    Book Beginnings quote: 
    Babygirl doesn't even cry when I suck my teeth and undo her braid for the fourth time. If anything, I'm on the verge of tears, since at this rate we're both going to be late.
    Friday 56 quote: 
    Ever Since Tyrone, I don't really talk to boys like that anymore. Boys at this age will say whatever they need to say to get what they want, and I've learned to trust pretty words even less than a pretty face.
    Summary: Emoni Santiago, an Afro-Puerto Rican teen, got pregnant her freshman year in high school. Since that time she has had to make a lot of tough decisions. But she always tries to do what is right for her daughter, herself, and for her abuela, her grandmother. Unlike many teen mothers, Emoni has remained in school, works part-time to help with the bills, and tries to keep up her grades by going to tutoring. She also loves to cook. In fact she has a real talent for selecting the perfect spices to make food dishes even more delicious. She dreams of being a chef someday but is also grounded in the practical reality. After graduation she will need to find a way to support her daughter and herself.

    Review: Emoni is a refreshing character---a teen who gets pregnant yet one who holds her head up high and refuses to be ashamed of her daughter, whom she loves dearly. She is practical and yet exotic. She can cook and create delicious food and is very driven to make something of herself without hanging onto a boy to do it. Tyrone, Emma's (Babygirl) father, does play a bit of a role in raising his daughter, but by and large, Emoni is responsible for her daughter's welfare, with help from her abuela. The story of With the Fire on High takes place over a whole year, Emoni's senior year of high school, where she really has to make a lot of decisions about the future. Is it practical to pursue a dream or should she just find a job so she can support her little family?

    I encourage you to watch this little one minute clip of an interview with the author (below) where she explains why she wanted to write a book about a teen mom. You'll get a good sense of how different her approach to the subject is. She wanted to challenge the conversation and the notions we have about teen pregnancy and motherhood. She wanted to move beyond the pregnancy part of the story to the "We're here. Keep going." That aspect is what makes this book really special. (Here is the link in case the video disappears again. Elizabeth Acevedo Speaks.)

    I also enjoyed the book's format with short chapters, which I think makes it very appealing to teen readers. The story moves along quickly never getting bogged down too long in a pity-party. And then there is the food, sometimes even recipes. Oh man, I wanted to taste everything.

    The audiobook is narrated by Elizabeth Acevedo, the author, and she did a brilliant job reading her own work. I enjoyed the listening experience very much.

    Can you tell that I am pretty high on this book? I highly recommend it to you and imagine that we will see this one earn an award or two when book award season rolls around in January.

    Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Rose City ReaderShare the opening quote from current book.
    e Friday56 is hosted at Freda's VoiceFind a quote from page 56 to share.