- City of Ember – DuPrau (January) *
It took awhile for me to read City of Ember out loud to the kiddo, but she loved it. I loved it. Both of us were enthralled with the city under the ground. The most beautiful aha moments when the story peeled it’s way back and made itself known were written all over my five year old’s face, and I loved watching her discover the patterns of storytelling. I highly recommend this book for children, but I especially recommend it as a family read a-loud.
- Last Child in the Woods – Louv (February)
This book is my motto and mantra for parenting and has been long before I read it or knew about it. It’s truly the only parenting book I’ve read so far that I think is worth a darn. And it’s not just worth a darn, it’s amazing, and should be read by every citizen of the planet Earth, or at least America where we’ve succumbed to too many silly rules. I read this back in February, but now in May I still find myself thinking about it as we now live on a golf course ironically named Walden, where the rolling hills and ponds are not for playing in or experiencing first hand, but for driving by in a cart (walkers are looked at funny).
- One Day in the Woods – Jean Craighead George (February) *
Charlotte Mason curriculum followers look for Jean Craighead George in the bookstore often. Specifically these One Day titles that I rarely see. I snatched this one up the second I came across it and it was a joy to read it with my little girl. We love the woods. We love discovering the woods. And although I don’t follow Charlotte Mason thoroughly, this is definitely a wise educational choice for someone wanting to raise their kid as close to the natural world as they can.
- Pym – Mat Johnson (February) #
Bizarre, and I loved it. Mat Johnson is snarky and clever, and thoroughly well educated. I found myself riveted by the idea of Edgar Allen Poe’s little known novella having a basis of truth. I found the not-so-mythical Pym amusing and the creatures encountered in the depths of the snow a fascinating take on social commentary and dealing with racism. Not everyone’s cup of tea, but worth the time of every student of social customs, genetics, and race relations.
- Power of a Praying Wife & Power of a Praying Parent- Omartian (February)
I was encouraged to read this by a marriage counselor in our area. In some ways it’s great, pray for your spouse, constantly. That’s a good message. Some of the how to’s, however, were a little bit out of not just my comfort zone but my belief system as well. About 3/4 into the book, if I remember currently, Omartian just seems to begin to embrace a lot of fluff Christian mysticism, putting power in anointments and rituals as much as in the prayers themselves. And that is not where power lies. Power lies with God alone, not oils being sprinkled on your family’s belongings.
- The Sterile Cuckoo – John Nichols (February)
I cried pretty early in the book. I still have not seen the movie starring Liza Minelli, but it is on my list of things to watch eventually. Sometimes I feel so much like Pookie in my soul, it’s scary.
- The Gardener’s Year – Karel Capek (February)
I find gardening memoirs exceptionally soothing. This one was no exception.
- The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Gaiman (February) #
This book was a joint read in a book club with my co-workers at Half Price Book (as was Pym). I had posted a review written by someone else on my blog that Neil Gaiman himself read. I adore this book, and will probably read it again and again for years to come. But I cannot write a review that does it justice, nor one that competes with the review already posted here. Hers was heartfelt and lovely, and mine could not capture that level of personal involvement no matter how hard I try. It would take me years to write something half as eloquent (and I’m speaking of both the book itself and the review).
The nonfiction book we are reading along with this one is The Ocean of Life. Topically, some mythology criticism would be more appropriate, but I was moved by the word ocean and therefore thought I’d read about bodies of water in general.
- The Last Kingdom – Bernard Cornwell (February)
- The Pale Horseman – Bernard Cornwell (March)
- Lords of the North – Bernard Cornwell (March)
- Sword Song – Bernard Cornwell (April)
- The Burning Land – Bernard Cornwell (April)
I am so in love with the Saxon Series by Bernard Cornwell that I have written a novelette as an ode to Uhtred. You’ll just have to download it when the ebook is released. Right now it’s in the hands of my publisher awaiting either a blessing or the axe.
Currently, I’m reading Death of Kings. Also, if anyone knows of a great biography on Alfred the Great or any of his children, I’d love to check it out, especially come this fall as our homeschooling ventures move into the Middle Ages.
- The Castle in the Attic – Elizabeth Winthrop (March) *
The Castle in the Attic was a childhood favorite of mine, I was so excited to read it to the kiddo. We enjoyed our time fighting evil magicians and venturing on a quest together, and I look forward to reading her the sequel.
- The Opposite of Loneliness – Marina Keegan (March)
Marina Keegan was a writer of significant merit before she died far too young. I find her series of essays, published by her teachers and family after her death, inspiring. She was diligent. She had a goal to develop her craft and be a better writer every day than the day before. I admire that and if there is any stamp she left on the world, it is absolutely that diligence is something to respect and aspire to. She was also, apparently, Harold Bloom’s research assistant. I officially want to be someone’s research assistant, I hope at the age of 32 it’s not too late for me to add that to my bucket list. Anyone willing to show me the ropes?
- Corruption – Camille Norton (March)
When I was in my twenties, I found most poetry pretentious. It annoyed me to read a lot of it. Sure, there’s beauty in it, but I did not have the true respect for it that I have now. The older I get, the more I enjoy the concise manner of poetry. How someone can have the fortitude to dwindle their words down to only the most beautiful elements and retain meaning. Maybe it is social media and the realization on twitter that saying something truly profound and lovely in few words is indeed hard. So, the older I get, the more often I find myself plucking up poetry books. Edna St. Vincent Millay and Housman are my favorites, but Camille Norton has great talent and is worth keeping an eye on. I look forward to discovering more of her work. (Currently, I’m falling in love with Pablo Neruda, I know, I’m so very late to this party.)
- Warm Bodies – Isaac Marion (April)
Still my favorite zombie movie, so fun! But it was an even better book. Marion is funny and brilliant. The Gray’s Anatomy excerpts at the beginning of each chapter were an especially nice touch. I read this on my lunch breaks at work, and it was just the thing I needed to enjoy a rest between a lot of hard work. People think bookstore jobs are leisurely, and they can be, but I work my tail off. Seriously, I used to have a sizable ass, now I can’t find it anymore…
- Endurance – Lansing (March) #
I like to read nonfiction books alongside my fiction books. I alternate and pair up topics and bounce around genres like a rabid animal hungry for words, words, more words. Nonfiction always, naturally, takes me longer to read than the fiction counterparts. This was paired with Pym, for its arctic scenery and lost on a journey scenario. It’s fascinating, until its not. I tore through a good chunk of the book and then couldn’t force myself to finish to save my life, until I did one day. Like the members of the crew, I found myself in a state of listless drudgery. Being lost isn’t fun. The play by play was accurate and thorough, and a little bit painful. Glad I read it though. Wouldn’t necessarily encourage anyone else to.
- Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore – Robin Sloan (April)
A bookstore, a secret society, and data. My heart went pitter patter. And the cover glows in the dark. Seriously, how could a book be any more awesome?
- His Majesty’s Dragon – Novik (May) #
Napoleonic Wars with DRAGONS. THAT TALK. This pleased me to no end. Also, it’s a series, so expect to hear more from me on the subject. It’s also one of the co-worker read a-alongs with a nonfiction pairing book club picks, so later this year expect me to happily share a (hopefully) good history title.
- The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern (May) #
This book started out good, and slowly became AMAZING. So lovely and beautiful. Despite the present tense that I hate, Morgenster’s writing voice is wonderful. It’s unique, but grounded. She gives you all the detail without overselling any of it, just a taste so that your imagination may run wild. There’s a teaser toward the end regarding a museum… I’m curious if she’ll ever elaborate on that. In the meantime, I think I’ll be picking up The Museum of Extraordinary Things by Alice Hoffman. It seems like an appropriate book to follow the mood… Also, I’ll be reading Under the Big Top by Bruce Feiler, as this is another pairing selection that I’m reading along with others. I’m also eyeing Topsy by Michael Daly and a biography of Barnum. I might just run away with a circus this year…
I cannot believe it has been two months since I have posted a single thing. In my defense, I have read quite a bit, moved into a new house, built a kitchen garden from scratch, been working the bookstore full time, homeschooling the kiddo, working on my third novel, wrote a novelette, and…
I’ve been incredibly busy.
As are most of you, I am sure.
Oh yes, I’ve fallen in love with Bernard Cornwell. That has happened. If you ever enjoy historical fiction, dive into the Saxon Tales. They are well worth your while, beginning with The Last Kingdom.
…More eloquent and engaging updates to come, hopefully… maybe… I’ll be picking up my reviewing habits come May and have some news as to whether this novelette shall see the world.
Title: Running in Heels
Author: Mary A. Perez
This book was hard for me to read, mainly because – post motherhood – I have discovered that reading about terrible childhoods pulls at all the wrong heartstrings. Getting through the beginning and wanting to scoop little Mary away from all the mess, while simultaneously wanting to save her mother from herself, was stressful. The things I loved about The Glass Castle are the same things that, after having a daughter, held me back from finishing The Liar’s Club. Things I have the stomach to deal with in real life, because it needs done, is not something I have the stomach for in past tense memoirs, because what is done is over with now.
Mary’s memoir remains hopeful and hope filled. After all the trials and tears, she comes out the other side, not just ok, but happy. For this reason, I plan to donate my copy (that was given to me by the author in exchange for an honest review) to the women’s ministry down the street. There are so many people who could be blessed by her story.
She’s a quick paced writer, a little repetitive at times, but that is the way it is with memory: certain things stick out and you rehash them trying to make a bit of sense from them. A mother who doesn’t like to cook is one thing, one who won’t cook is quite another. As an adult, a mother, a grandmother, I imagine much of this repetition is bafflement and she articulates the differences at different ages through her life. A child will say “mama doesn’t like cooking” whereas a woman would look back and think, “Why didn’t my mother cook for me?”
Through much of the book, Perez tells you the facts, and leaves you to infer your own conclusions as a nurtured adult. Through obviously more emotional periods she tells you what she was feeling and leaves you to infer the facts. It’s a riveting tactic.
Title: What Was It Like, Mr. Emperor?
Author: Chiu Kwong-chiu & Eileen Ng
Illustrations: Design and Cultural Studies Workshop
Translation: Ben Wang
We received this awhile back in exchange for an honest review and it took us awhile to get through it – not because it isn’t brilliant, but because it is long, especially for a kids’ picture book.
The information is fantastic, the pictures fun. But What Was It Like, Mr. Emperor? should have been serialized.
It wouldn’t be hard to do as there are already mini chapter-like breaks. Kids like my own five year old would respond better to it being shorter titles that they could collect like a series as opposed to reading bits of the same book each night. Ultimately, it’s the same amount of reading for the same amount of time, but kids see it differently for some reason, and they tend to like to collect things anyway.
We loved all the tidbits about Life in China’s Forbidden City, but as a customer, reader, mother, author, bookseller, reviewer, and someone who possesses a BBA in Marketing, I think there could be a lot more money into turning this title into a series of smaller books.
Title: The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry
Author: Gabrielle Zevin
Books about books and bookstores… it’s my achilles heel. It’s the thing I cannot live without. It’s absurd how these things find me.
A.J. Fikry soothed my soul when I was too tired to appreciate much in the world of anything involving humans or words or life… yet, the book is all about humans living with words. It’s lovely. After a depressive hiatus that resulted in me binge watching The Flash, A.J. Fiery got me reading again.
The romance of reading is simply one of my all time favorite topics. I suppose because it’s the only romance I truly trust. The books will not abandon you. Books are sturdy. And more than anything, they are one sided and require little from you to continue to exist and offer you their best. A book does not cease giving you all it has to offer just because you are in a bad mood – or emotionally unavailable. A book loves you back no matter what. A book won’t surprise you when it ends, you can feel it coming as it becomes more weighted in your left than your right. You know on the last page that it will not speak to you again unless you start over. And you always have the option to start over.
A.J. Fikry’s island bookstore is just what the emotional doctor ordered, I plan to repeat the experience often.
Piggy-backing off of A World of Randomness who apparently piggy-backed off me, which I’m sure I ripped off someone else at some point… It seems we book bloggers love revisiting this bit of fun every year.
Using only books you have read this last year (2015), answer these questions. Try not to repeat a book title.
Describe yourself: A Scattered Life (Karen McQuestion)
How do you feel: Screw-jack (Thompson)
Describe where you currently live: Paper Towns (John Green)
If you could go anywhere, where would you go: The Haunted Bookshop (Morley)
Your favorite form of transportation: Bombardier Beetles and Fever Trees (Agosta)
Your best friend is: Wild (Strayed) [Not really, it’s just the only thing that seemed to fit.]
You and your friends are: Looking for Me (Hoffman)
What is the best advice you have to give: How to Build an Android (Duffy)
What’s the weather like: Rain (Kirsty Gunn) / Storm Front (Jim Butcher)
You fear: Everything I Never Told You (Ng)
Thought for the day: It’s About Time (Evers)
How I would like to die: Peace Like a River (Enger)
My soul’s present condition: A Grief Observed (C.S. Lewis)
My Complete 2015 Reading List is as follows (kid /young adult chapter books were read aloud to the kiddo):
1. The Beekeeper’s Apprentice – Laurie R. King
2. Serendipities: Language & Lunacy – Umberto Eco
3. The Haunted Bookshop – Christopher Morley
4. The Death of Woman Wang – Jonathan Spence
5. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe – C. S. Lewis
6. Magic Tree House #20 – Mary Pope Osborn
7. One Hundred & One Dalmatians – Dodie Smith
8. Guide to Wild Foods & Useful Plants – Nyerges
9. A Game of Thrones – George R.R. Martin
10. The Excellent Wife – Martha Peace
11. Garden Crafts for Kids – Diane Rhoads
12. The Homeschool Life – Andrea Schwartz
13. The Gardener’s Bed Book – Wright
14. Wild – Cheryl Strayed
15. One Woman Farm – Woginrich
16. The Quarter Acre Farm- Spring Warren
17. Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes
18. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch – Philip K. Dick
19. Here’s Your Hat, What’s Your Hurry – Elizabeth McCracken
20. Dirty Pretty Things – Michael Faudet
21. How Reading Changed My Life – Anna Quindlen
22. The Penultimate Truth – Philip K. Dick
23. Observations on the River Wye – Gilpin
24. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – Philip K. Dick
25. Bombardier Beetles and Fever Trees – William Agosta
26. How to Build an Android – Duffy
27. The Pythagorean Theorem: The Story of Its Power and Beauty – Alfred S. Posamentier
28. Clans of the Alphane Moon – Philip K. Dick
29. Minority Report – Philip K. Dick
30. A Grief Observed – C.S. Lewis
31. The Man of Numbers – Keith Devlin
32. Pheromones and Animal Behavior: Communication by Smell & Taste – Tristram D. Wyatt
33. Ape and Essence – Aldous Huxley
34. Solar Lottery – Philip K. Dick
35. Deadly Ruse – E. Michael Helms
36. The Almagest – Ptolemy
37. The Clover House – Henriette Lazaridis Power
38. The Thief Lord – Cornelia Funke
39. The Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
40. Looking for Me – Beth Hoffman
41. The House of Paper – Carlos Maria Dominguez
42. The Colossus and Other Poems – Sylvia Plath
43. High Moon – E.J. Bosley
44. Nerve – Bethany Macmanus
45. A Scattered Life – Karen McQuestion
46. Liber Abaci – Fibonacci
47. Vanity Fare – Megan Caldwell
48. The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fist Fight in Heaven – Sherman Alexie
49. The Martian – Andy Weir
50. Critical Lessons – Nel Noddings
51. Echo – Lorena Glass
52. Jewel of the Seven Stars – Bram Stoker
53. The Secret Life of Bees – Sue Monk Kidd
54. Haunting Jasmine – Anjali Banerjee
55. Casey of Cranberry Cove – Susan Koch
56. The Christie Curse – Victoria Abbott
57. City of Dark Magic – Magnus Flyte
58. Screw-jack – Hunter S. Thompson
59. CATastrophic Connections – Joyce Ann Brown
60. Where I Was From – Joan Didion
61. Getting the Girl – Zusak
62. The Secrets of Droon #1 – Tony Abbot (read this aloud to kiddo)
63. Storm Front – Jim Butcher
64. The Pharaoh’s Cat – Maria Luisa Lang
65. Paper Towns – John Green
66. The Quick and the Dead – Louis L’amour
67. Early Bird – Rothman
68. It’s About Time – Liz Evers
69. The Secrets of Droon #3 – Abbott (read this aloud to kiddo)
70. Better With You Here – Gwendolyn Zipped
71. Rain – Kirsty Gunn
72. Sackett – Louis L’amour
73. Transcendental Wild Oats – Louisa May Alcott
74. Fern Verdant and the Silver Rose – Diana Leszczynski (read this aloud to kiddo)
75. Secrets of Droon #7 – Abbott (read aloud to kiddo)
76. 16 Lighthouse Road – Debbie Macomber
77. The Emotionally Destructive Relationship – Vernick
78. Peace Like a River – Leif Enger
79. Keeper – S. Smith
80. The Year of Learning Dangerously – Quinn Cummings
81. Anemogram – Rebecca Gransden
82. The Summer We Read Gatsby – Danielle Ganek
83. Wren – Regina O’Connell
84. The Writing Circle – Corinne Demas
85. The Good Neighbor – A.J. Banner
86. Spelling V – Meb Bryant
87. Ross Poldark – Winston Graham
88. Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng
Title: Everything I Never Told You
Author: Celeste Ng
Length: 297 pages
Leave it to me to take an 80 degree Christmas day to snuggle under the softest blanket to ever touch my skin and read the most beautifully depressing book. The blanket, a gift I received this morning, is the same color scheme as the Penguin trade paperback edition cover of Ng’s work. And as I sank into a cloud of a blanket, I also became lost within the pages of a story that begins: “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know that yet.”
Ng’s book is a beautiful representation of a family trying to come to terms with their differences and contradictions – within society, among themselves, and in the depths of their own souls. A mixed marriage in a time when it was not only uncommon, but in some states still illegal, James and Marilyn are more different than their skin tone. James, desperately trying to blend in and fade into the crowd, while Marilyn is ever the opposite – wanting to be unique and important in a generation of women who are still encouraged only to please their husbands.
“[…] her mother promised to teach them everything a young lady needed to keep a house. As if, Marilyn thought, it might run away when you weren’t looking.”
Nath is the oldest of James and Marilyn’s children, the big brother who does his best to be his little sister’s only emotional support in a family dynamic that is oppressive, codependent, and full of too much subtlety and things left unspoken. Lydia, the people pleaser, is dead; and Hannah, the youngest of the children, is unnoticed.
Despite being a celebrated bestseller, I was surprised to find a number of poor reviews. People unhappy with the layers of the storytelling, of being spoon-fed too many sides of a story. People annoyed by how over the top and unrealistic the characters are, calling them allegorical or fairytale-like in their melancholy and their lack of cohesive expression. I find myself at odds with these reviews. I disagree completely, having loved the way Ng tells the story like a tide coming in… in three different tenses, the tale splashing over your toes, receding so you could see it from a distance, then rushing toward you to engulf not just your toes but the tops of your feet as well. Again. Again. And again. Until your whole body is submerged. Until the entire story has saturated you, body, mind, and soul.
People who do not recognize these characters have the blessing of never living in a dysfunctional family. People who cannot see how very real these portraits are, how they sting in their accuracy, have – perhaps – not lived long enough to see how someone’s childhood shapes them in a way that easily distorts the lives of their children in a slightly different way, and can keep going for generations until something tragic occurs to shed the tiniest bit of light on what has never been spoken aloud. People who don’t understand this novel, have never seen loss and grief played out… have never sat wondering how well they knew the person who has just left them forever. Have never sat and realized that when someone is gone, there are pieces of them no one will ever know, because no one can completely know another’s mind.
“The things that go unsaid are often the things that eat at you–whether because you didn’t get to have your say, or because the other person never got to hear you and really wanted to.”
This book is gorgeous, and a little bit awful. It will strike a chord and leave you questioning how your own actions will be perceived. I will keep my copy and I anticipate reading it again in the future.
“Before that she hadn’t realized how fragile happiness was, how if you were careless, you could knock it over and shatter it.”
Title: Ross Poldark (Poldark Series Book #1)
Author: Winston Graham
Genre: Historical Fiction
In 1945 Graham Winston released the novel Ross Poldark, the first of what would later become a twelve volume saga of regarding the Poldark family.
The series was infinitely popular during its time, and went on to become a classic, taken to the screen by many, including my favorite: Masterpiece Theatre.
Graham’s work outside the Poldark series is even more extensive – his career as a novelist resulted in over forty titles being published in his lifetime.
I’ve run the fiction department of a bookstore for years. On and off since 2007, to be exact. I know the fiction/literature department of most bookstores like the back of my hand. Yet, I’ve never read any of Graham’s work until now – and I vaguely recall only seeing one of his books grace my fingertips ever. His books have never made a sizable appearance on the shelves where I work. Had we seen more copies of his work over the years, I certainly would have read his work by now as he’s right up my alley.
Poldark is for the Jane Austen and Bernard Cornwell lovers, a historical fiction piece too wonderful to ignore. Set in the late 1700’s (just a few decades after Outlander), Ross Poldark chronicles the return of the title’s namesake from America, where he’s fought in the revolution and been rumored dead. He arrives to find the woman he loves has not waited so patiently after all and is engaged to his cousin.
I love the full cast of this novel, and I assume the rest of the series. Not only does it follow the eventful lives of Ross and his cousins, Francis and Verity, the ex-lover Elizabeth, servants including a scullery maid Demelza, and an entire town of miners living on Poldark land. Graham does a little bit of third person head hopping, but never leaves you confused and maintains a streamlined storyline.
I am eager to read the second installment, Demelza, and am equally eager for the second season of the PBS series, Poldark.
Title: Spelling V
Author: Meb Bryant
I finally found a cover for my kindle – one that fits, one that I like. It’s a little brown leather ditty with quotes embossed in ink-black cursive. Finally, it has the feel of a book rather than a device; something I can set down and not tuck away in the box it was shipped to me from Amazon.
I bought the cover at Half Price Books last night. First thing this morning I charged my kindle and chose what book to tackle first.
Then I remembered Meb Bryant.
“She had an orange belt in karate… he had a leather belt in the loops of his jeans.” I read that and snickered. Good one, Meb.
Bryant is clever and has a way of writing something shocking with prose that urges you to continue to read something horrific and not be shocked. Think Nabakov writing Lolita – except with stories Bentley Little would be proud of. The only way Spelling V could be more disturbing is if Bryant had lingered over the story for a few hundred pages.
Bryant artfully maps out the lifetime of a control freak, a codependent, and psychopath, and it’s pretty darn riveting. I especially love that one of the characters reads Bryant’s novel Harbinger of Evil. I’m a huge sucker for when authors do this. I like the idea of one interconnected world within an authors fantasies.
Give the best holiday gift this season: buy yourself a short story to read in between holiday meals and excitement and leave a review. You deserve a break and indie authors thrive on reviews.