August Reading Wrap Up

August started strong, but then I stumbled for a couple weeks in terms of reading. I just wasn’t motivated to dive into (or finish) anything.  Distressingly, I set two titles aside for later — not quite giving up, but waiting for a better time. In better news, I did complete by Dusting Off The Bookshelf challenge — more to come on that this week.

By the numbers: 8 books, 8 reviews on Goodreads, 3 reviews on alenaslife, 1 oldie from my shelf – #dustingoffmybookshelf, 1 from my 2014 personal challenge (non-fiction), 2 audio, 2 set-aside

August 2014 books

From most to least favorite: (Overall, I really ended up liking everything I read this month)
Shotgun Lovesongs, Nikolas Butler, already reviewed

Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, Susannah Cahalan, already reviewed

The Flying Troutmans, Miriam Toews #DustingofftheBookshelf

So wonderful and quirky and unexpected. Black comedy at its best. I am ashamed that I have not gotten around to writing the review this book deserves.

“It’s impossible to move through the stages of grief when a person is both dead and alive, the way Min is. It’s like she’s living permanently in an airport terminal, moving from one departure lounge to another but never getting on a plane. Sometimes I tell myself that I’d do anything for Min. That I’d do whatever was necessary for her to be happy. Except that I’m not entirely sure what that would be.”

The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches: A Flavia de Luce Novel, Alan Bradley (audio book)

I am very sad to have completed this book, as it is the last in Bradley’s 6-book Flavia de Luce series. I have truly adored each and every installment in the series and The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches is no exception. This is the only one, however, that I don’t think would stand alone without reading the preceeding novels. This finale ties together many outstanding questions left from the 5 murders Flavia has “solved” in her 11th year. I listed the audio versions of all these books except the first. Jayne Entwistle does a magnificent job bringing these books to life.

“Why is it that the facts closest to our noses are the ones that are hardest to see?”

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened, Allie Brosch 

Not my typical read at all — a collection of comedic illustrated essays — but I had heard really great reviews from readers I trust. And I’m glad I snapped my mini-reading funk with this book. I read this in one sitting with no problem. Fast-paced, acerbic humor (as in I was laughing out loud at the pool) balanced with heartbreaking honesty. I recognized myself several times throughout. It’s really good read.

“But trying to use willpower to overcome the apathetic sort of sadness that accompanies depression is like a person with no arms trying to punch themselves until their hands grow back.”

Fourth of July Creek, Smith Henderson, already reviewed

We Were Liars, E. Lockhart

Despite my “advanced age,” I love that the YA fiction genre really coming into its own, filled with great characters, sharp writing and high emotion. We Were Liars has all of these qualities, plus some additional twists and turns. It just didn’t quite reach the level of an overall great read for me. Wounded and vulnerable and misunderstood teenagers make for great books. I just never quite fell in love with this set the way I think I was supposed to. The other problem here is that I predicted the central plot twist very early on in this novel.

“Silence is a protective coating over pain.”

Still Life with Bread Crumbs, Anna Quindlen (audio book)

Perfectly pleasant, very readable, likable characters, good story, interesting setting. Nothing earth shattering here but I can never go wrong reading Anna Quindlen.

“Then when she really thought about it she realized she’d been becoming different people for as long as she could remember but had never really noticed, or had put it down to moods, or marriage, or motherhood. The problem was that she’d thought that at a certain point she would be a finished product.”

What I set aside this month…

The Rise & Fall of Great Powers: Good book, bad narrator. Set aside the audio 25% in. Must get print version.

A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert “Believe It or Not!” Ripley. Lost momentum 2/3 the way through. Will finish this month (?)

 

My August Photo Collage is comprised of book covers uploaded from Goodreads.

Dusting off the Bookshelf – September edition

I did it! I followed through with my August challenge and read one of the many titles lingering on my To-Read shelf.

Loved, loved, loved The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews! So now I’m ready to tackle another title for September. Each month I will choose a few from the middle or bottom of the list (meaning they’ve been sitting and waiting patiently for over a year), determined to read at least one per month. If I can read even more than one, all the better. Any advice or guidance you can offer would be much appreciated.

My September is actually off to a good oldie start, as I’m deep in The Stone Diaries, which I’ve wanted to read ever since discovering Carol Shields through Unless.

Many thanks to Chels & a BookIt’s All About Books and  Books & Cleverness for their never-ending inspiration.

For September 2014, my choices are:

How the Garcia GirlsHow the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez. Added to my shelf June, 2011 (published in 1991). Alvarez is one of those authors I know I should have read but haven’t. Not sure why…it’s just never come to pass. I’m also not sure if I should start with this one or with In the Time of the Butterflies (also on my bookshelf).

Goodreads describes it: Uprooted from their family home in the Dominican Republic, the four Garcia sisters – Carla, Sandra, Yolanda, and Sofia – arrive in New York City in 1960 to find a life far different from the genteel existence of maids, manicures, and extended family they left behind. What they have lost – and what they find – is revealed in the fifteen interconnected stories that make up this exquisite novel from one of the premier novelists of our time.

The God of Small ThingsThe God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. Added to my shelf August, 2011 (published in 1997). Everyone, and I mean everyone, assumes I have already read this modern classic, but I have not. I need to.

Goodreads describes it: The year is 1969. In the state of Kerala, on the southernmost tip of India, fraternal twins Esthappen and Rahel fashion a childhood for themselves in the shade of the wreck that is their family. Their lonely, lovely mother, Ammu, (who loves by night the man her children love by day), fled an abusive marriage to live with their blind grandmother, Mammachi (who plays Handel on her violin), their beloved uncle Chacko (Rhodes scholar, pickle baron, radical Marxist, bottom-pincher), and their enemy, Baby Kochamma (ex-nun and incumbent grandaunt). When Chacko’s English ex-wife brings their daughter for a Christmas visit, the twins learn that Things Can Change in a Day. That lives can twist into new, ugly shapes, even cease forever, beside their river….

The Art of FieldingThe Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach. Added to my shelf in September, 2011 (published in 2011). I love baseball. I love good writing. This seems like a natural.

Goodreads describes it: At Westish College, a small school on the shore of Lake Michigan, baseball star Henry Skrimshander seems destined for big league stardom. But when a routine throw goes disastrously off course, the fates of five people are upended…Written with boundless intelligence and filled with the tenderness of youth, The Art of Fielding is an expansive, warmhearted novel about ambition and its limits, about family and friendship and love, and about commitment—to oneself and to others.

Any advice about what I should choose for September?

 

*All cover images uploaded from Goodreads

#100HappyDays: Days 41-50

Feeling proud and slightly amazed that I’m still going strong in my personal challenge to capture a moment of happiness each day! It’s definitely getting harder with our school/work/sports schedules but I am determined.

#100happydays began as an Instagram exercise in gratitude, a challenge to take a moment to be purposefully thankful for the many happy moments that make up my days.

Because this is an Instagram project, I am limiting myself to something I can photograph. Likewise, I use very few words to describe these images. I read that many people who started this project gave up somewhere in the 20s, so I’m feeling pretty happy that I’m still going strong.

41Day 41: Lunch date with Matthew.  We walked to the burrito stand around the corner and then decided to stay and eat there. I am a lucky mom.

42Day 42: Brothers at rest. Must be a break in the soccer/baseball/basketball game. This is my view from my kitchen window right now.

43Day 43: Because on a crazy, chaotic day I can still count on finding random selfies in my photo stream. What a goofball.

 

44Day 44: Very happy to join my Nazareth Academy colleagues in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. My ice bucket is, of course, dedicated to my father. Video on Facebook.

45Day 45: These two closed the pool last night! They’re finishing summer off in style.

46Day 46: Former co-workers, forever friends. Happy to spend time with my favorite Johnstons, Andy and Graham at their annual garden party. #wjinc 

47Day 47: It’s been a long, hard week, but I get to go home to these gorgeous men.

48Day 48: #Selfie happiness while hanging out @ Oakbrook Mall with my guys on a rainy day. So lucky they’ll still take part in my pics.

49Day 49: Ending the summer the same way we started. Swimming at Berwyn Rec followed by Tastee-Freez swirl cones with my boys.

50Day 50: it came too fast, but reality has officially set in. First day of school – 8th, 7th & 4th.

 

 

 

How about you? How do you practice gratitude?

All the images in this post are my own. Please don’t use them as yours.

W…W…W…Wednesday: Books read, reading and to read

How can it be Wednesday. Very little reading progress this week as work has kicked into high gear, but I’m trying to at least remain consistent in posting weekly, even if I can’t get to much more than that.

Thanks to Miz B at Should Be Reading for inspiring so many of us to get involved in WWW Wednesdays. It’s always a great way to connect.

www_wednesdays44

I’d love to know what everyone is reading.  To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…(or post a link to your blog.)

• What are you currently reading? • What did you recently finish reading? • What do you think you’ll read next?

 

A Curious ManWhat are you currently reading?

Feeling plateaued 300 pages into A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert “Believe It or Not!” Ripley. The man and the time period are so interesting but the writing is not as engaging as the book wears on. I haven’t opened it in quite a few days.  I set aside the audio version of The Rise & Fall of Great Powers. I like it too much to suffer through bad narration, so I’ll look for a print copy. Instead, listening to the perfectly pleasant Still Life with Bread Crumbs, by the always reliable Anna Quindlen. About half-way through.

Hyperbole and a HalfWhat did you recently finish reading?

Yesterday I read Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosch in one sitting. Not my typical read at all — a collection of comedic illustrated essays — but I had heard really great reviews from readers I trust. And I’m glad I snapped my mini-reading funk with this book. Fast-paced, acerbic humor (as in I was laughing out loud at the pool) balanced with heartbreaking honesty. I recognized myself several times throughout. It’s  really good read.

The Flying TroutmansWhat do you think you’ll read next?   

I finally settled on my Dusting Off the Bookshelf August choice (aided by what was on-shelf at the library this week). I’m going to read The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews, partly because I also really want to read All My Puny Sorrows so I want to get to know this author’s writing. Looking for me next great audio…

Happy reading everyone!

 

*All book covers are images saved from Goodreads

How about you?

What are your W…W…W… titles? Please feel free to share a link to your own W…W…W…Wednesday posts or share your reading plans in the comments.

 

#100HappyDays: Days 31-40

#100happydays began as an Instagram exercise in gratitude, a challenge to take a moment to be purposefully thankful for the many happy moments that make up my days.

Because this is an Instagram project, I am limiting myself to something I can photograph. Likewise, I use very few words to describe these images. I read that many people who started this project gave up somewhere in the 20s, so I’m feeling pretty happy that I’m still going strong.

As summer winds down and the school year begins, I know this challenge will get even more difficult. Busy schedules, less down time will mean I have to dig deep, but I am determined.

31Day 31: Time to play! #hangman Nothing beats game time on the deck.

32Day 32: I really do love #backtoschool shopping. The boys were great sports @target

33Day 33: Despite a gas main break ruining our zoo plans, we’re making the most of my last Friday off. — at La Cabanita.

34Day 34: Hanging out @brookfieldzoo with these guys on a beautiful Saturday morning. Nothing better. — at Brookfield Zoo.

35Day 35: Mini golf yesterday at Navy Pier. Still laughing at the ridiculous fun.

36Day 36: The day almost got away from me, but luckily I have these two smiling faces on my phone. I’m so lucky to be sandwiched between two generations whom I love & who love me. — with Karen Skinner.

37Day 37: Oh happy day that brought my beautiful cousin Lauren to Chicago and to my house for a long overdue visit. Love this young woman! — with Lauren Arnieri.

38Day 38: Because it makes me happy that while I read the biography, my son reads one of the many books inspired by Ripley.

39Day 39: I was too busy enjoying these lovely cocktails with friends to post my happy moment last night, but I was aware of the moment — good friends together to celebrate good news.

 40Day 40: Nothing says happiness like ice cream. TGIF — at Brown Cow Ice Cream Parlor.

 

 

 

How about you? How do you practice gratitude?

All the images in this post are my own. Please don’t use them as yours.

The deep, dark and ugly of Fourth of July Creek

Fourth of July CreekThe Montana Visitors Bureau will not be hiring Smith Henderson any time soon. The Montana of Henederson’s gripping debut novel is bleak and desolate, filled with alcoholics, addicts, guns, separatists and loneliness. Even his brilliant depictions of the state’s wilderness seem hard-edged and dangerous. Henderson’s characters are beyond broken; they are fractured into tiny pieces and spinning out of control.

This is not a pretty novel.

“The children were like children from anywhere, maybe a little less so.”

Pete Snow, a Department of Children’s Services social worker, should be our hero, but he’s an alcoholic who abandoned his own child and shelters more than one criminal. The fact that I still have sympathy for this man is a testament to the strength and power of Henderson’s writing.

His adversary, Benjamin Pearl, is a wild near-animal zealot, raising his son and hiding from society. (Conspiracy theorists will love his philosophy and anti-system rants.) Again, he is the antithesis of everything I believe in and yet, my heart broke for him and I was unable to compartmentalize him in the role of “bad guy.”

Is it any accident that these men have the names Snow and Pearl which evoke images of innocence and purity? I’ve got to hand it to Henderson. Down to the characters’ names, he doesn’t leave any detail of this novel to chance.

Snow and Pearl almost dance around each other through the events of this novel, alternating between trust and betrayal. Their relationship illustrates all the themes and questions of freedom, relationships, loyalty and democracy.

Meanwhile, Snow’s daughter is missing. In some of the most emotionally powerful chapters of the novel, we hear directly from Rose.

“What was it like on the way to Texas? It was Wyoming, which means to drive forever through ugly subscrape the color of dirty pennies. It was just wyoming along.”

The way in which Rose continues to use “wyoming” as a verb, noun and adjective to describe the nothingness she feels is absolutely brilliant.

All of these journeys are incredibly sad. I never shy away from dark reading material. In fact, I couldn’t help but compare this book to The Painter, Once Upon a River and Girlchild. All of these are fiction about the darker underside of America. The difference is that Fourth of July Creek, I found no hope. I could not put this book down, but I didn’t want to read it.

“the world is a blade and dread is hope cut open and spread inside out.”

Read-alikes:

The Painter by Peter Heller

Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell

Girlchild by Tupelo Hassman

W…W…W…Wednesday: Books read, reading and to read

Hooray, it’s Wednesday — my favorite day of the blogging week.

Thanks to Miz B at Should Be Reading for inspiring so many of us to get involved in WWW Wednesdays. It’s always a great way to connect.

www_wednesdays44

I’d love to know what everyone is reading.  To play along, just answer the following three (3) questions…(or post a link to your blog.)

• What are you currently reading? • What did you recently finish reading? • What do you think you’ll read next?

 

A Curious ManWhat are you currently reading? Just about half-way through A Curious Man: The Strange and Brilliant Life of Robert “Believe It or Not!” Ripley. So far it’s a fascinating read and a surprise in that it’s the first thorough biography of Ripley ever written. I’m always fascinated by oddities so this is non-fiction right up my alley.  On audio, I’m still loving the content and writing in The Rise & Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman, but still not a fan of the narration. It’s all good until she starts “embodying” the characters’ voices. Then I want to run out of my car. I think I’ll have to order the print.

 

Fourth of July CreekWhat did you recently finish reading? Posted a rave review of Brain on Fire earlier this week. I also finished Fourth of July Creek, which I haven’t yet reviewed because I haven’t wanted to return to it’s deep darkness. That’s not to say it isn’t excellent — it is. Brutal, honest, ugly. This is a terrifying look at a part of the US I know nothing about — separatists, conspiracy zealots, farmers, drifters. Dark as it was, I couldn’t put it down. Hard to believe it’s a debut novel. Great writing.

 

Still Life with BreadcrumbsWhat do you think you’ll read next?  Still need to start 1984, which my 13 year-old has almost finished, but definitely didn’t love. I also want to read Virginia Woolf this month, although I haven’t settled on which book. Plus, I need to finally choose my Dusting Off the Bookshelf August choice. On audio, I ordered Still Life With Breadcrumbs by Anna Quindlen which I hope will be an improvement over the Rachman narrator.

Happy reading everyone!

 

*All book covers are images saved from Goodreads

How about you?

What are your W…W…W… titles? Please feel free to share a link to your own W…W…W…Wednesday posts or share your reading plans in the comments.