September Reading Wrap Up

It doesn’t seem it should have taken so long to post my September wrap up considering I only finished 6 titles. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I read so little. I did not crack the spine of a book for two weeks. But I’ve learned I need to ride out these slumps (and I was listening to a good audio, so there’s that.) I did complete a Dusting Off The Bookshelf challenge — see below.

By the numbers: 6 books, 5 reviews on Goodreads, 4 reviews on alenaslife, 1 oldie from my shelf – #dustingoffmybookshelf, 1 from my 2014 personal challenge (poetry, non-fiction, foreign locale), 1 audio, 0 set-aside

September ReadsFrom most to least favorite:

The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing, Mira Jacob ~ Already Reviewed

My Salinger Year, Joanna Rakoff ~ Already Reviewed

The Stone Diaries, Carol Shields ~ Already Reviewed #DustingOffMyBookshelf

The Free, Willy Vlautin ~ Already Reviewed

Landline, Rainbow Rowell

I just couldn’t ever really get past the gimmick that drives the plot of this book. Plus the fact that the protagonist’s name is Georgie McCool. It was all trying too hard for me.

“You don’t know when you’re twenty-three.
You don’t know what it really means to crawl into someone else’s life and stay there. You can’t see all the ways you’re going to get tangled, how you’re going to bond skin to skin. How the idea of separating will feel in five years, in ten – in fifteen. When Georgie thought about divorce now, she imagined lying side by side with Neal on two operating tables while a team of doctors tried to unthread their vascular systems.
She didn’t know at twenty-three.”

Beatrice & Virgil: A Novel, Yann Martel (audiobook)

Even though the writing is superb, I was uncomfortable the entire time I listened to this (thankfully) short book. In the beginning, I was concerned that it was taking far too long to get to the story. Then 1/3 of the way in, I was so disturbed by the often gruesome content. And then, the end. I don’t have the words to describe the insane, awful, gut-punching ending. I wanted to like it. I didn’t.

“Life and death live and die in exactly the same place, the body…to ignore death is to ignore life.”

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

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

Back with a new W…W…W…Wednesday. 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.

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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?

 

What are you currently reading?

The Sleepwalker's Guide to DancingLoving The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing. My mom read it recently and has been on a campaign to get people to read this book. Only 100 pages in but so far she’s right. Fractured family. India. Generation gap. All good stuff. I was reading To the Lighthouse, but it was not suiting my mood. I really do like Virginia Woolf, but I’m not in the right place for dense, cerebral prose right now.

 

My Salinger YearWhat did you recently finish reading?

Over the weekend I finished My Salinger Year (another tick in the non-fiction column). Rakoff just carried me away with her story of a literary agency stuck in time. Although I’m not personally a Salinger fan, I still got caught up in this year in her life because of the engaging writing and her vulnerability. (Review to post tomorrow.) I also finished my audio book, Beatrice and Virgil, by Yann Martel which was so creepy and disturbing and violent, that I’m still not quite sure what to make of it.

FangirlWhat do you think you’ll read next?   

I have a huge stack of library books which I picked up yesterday, all of which demand to be on the top of the pile. My books include new titles from great authors, like Ian McEwan and T.C. Boyle. I also have Rowell’s Fangirl, which I hope will restore my love of Rowell. I might try to zip through that first.

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.

 

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.

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.

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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.

 

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.

 

Brain on Fire: Emotionally Disturbing in All the Right Ways

Brain on Fire

“We are, in the end, a sum of our parts, and when the body fails, all the virtues we hold dear, go with it.”

I have been blessed throughout my life with reasonably good health. It’s not a blessing I take lightly or take for granted. I have seen, especially through my parents, how quickly health can be ripped away – it only takes one small disaster. Susannah Cahalan, a young journalist for the New York Post, met such a disaster as she unexpectedly faced an onslaught of health emergencies and lost her grip on reality. Her memoir, Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness, captures the terror and helplessness of that time, even while acknowledging that she is one of the lucky ones. I found this book emotionally disturbing in all the right ways. This could easily have been me or someone I love. Her crisis came on fast, with no explanation or diagnosis for seemingly endless weeks, with little hope of remedy. Susannah went from a capable, outgoing, ambitious woman to a victim of her own body almost overnight.

“The girl in the video is a reminder about how fragile our hold on sanity and health is and how much we are at the utter whim of our Brutus bodies, which will inevitable, on day, turn on us for good. I am a prisoner, as we all are. And with that realization comes an aching sense of vulnerability.”

The above quote is as about as melodramatic as Cahalan gets as a writer. Although deemed a memoir, she definitely takes a journalist’s approach to writing, laying out the facts in a fairly bare-bones manner. Partially, this is because she has few internal memories of the events in this book. She relies on interviews and research she did later, but still tells the story as a first-person narrative. It’s a tricky balance but she does an outstanding job. Most of the book is taken up with her mysterious symptoms and quest for a diagnosis, which she feels lucky to have finally received. After diagnosis and treatment, it’s more of a reflection of how lucky she feels that she had her family to advocate on her behalf, the random interest of a top doctor, and insurance and money enough to afford treatment. (Again, these are not blessings to be taken lightly.) All together captivating and terrifying. Highly recommend. Read-alikes: The Madness of George III (the play upon which the film The Madness of King George is based) Still Alice Unless We Need to Talk About Kevin (just in the “in could be me” sense of terror)

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

Hooray, it’s Wednesday — one of my favorite blogging days of the week as I get to share what everyone’s reading. I’m pretty pleased with my list this 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?

 

Brain on FireWhat are you currently reading?  I’m almost finished with my book club title, Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness. This is an incredibly disturbing and captivating read. I haven’t wanted to set the book down for the past couple days, even though I’m alternatingly fascinated and terrified by this young woman’s true story. Highly recommend. On audio, I’m starting The Rise & Fall of Great Powers by Tom Rachman. I was a big fan of The Imperfectionists and I’m already finding some of that same dark humor in disk 1; however, I’m not a huge fan of the narrator’s voice and I’m wondering if I need to switch to the print edition.

The Dead in their Vaulted ArchesWhat did you recently finish reading? I am very sad to have completed the audio version of The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, as it is the last in Bradley’s 6-book Flavia de Luce series. Rumor (aka the internet) has it that he’s writing a new Flavia series, but it won’t necessarily contain all the places and characters I’ve come to love from Buckshaw and Bishop’s Lacey. I have adored each  installment in the series. 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. Also finished Shotgun Lovesongs (reviewed here) and We Were Liars, which definitely deserves a review that I have not yet written.

Fourth of July CreekWhat do you think you’ll read next?  I was surprised and thrilled to find a copy of Fourth of July Creek on the New Release shelf at the library. I’ve heard such great things about it. Even though it’s almost 500 pages, I’m going to sneak it in before my next non-fiction, A Curious Man, and my classic, 1984 (which my 13 year-old is HATING by the way). No shortage of books to read this month.

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.

 

BINGO!

My Lita loved BINGO. I have fond memories of accompanying her to the church hall, where’d she set up her cards, red plastic discs and lucky elephants while she sent me to the concession stand for potato chips and pop. It was a weekly date and I loved her focus as she quickly scanned dozens of cards. I remember her excitement when she’d yell BINGO and raise her tiny hand in the air. I eagerly awaited the last game of the night when Lita would bring out her BINGO stampers and let me choose the color I wanted. (Of course I wasn’t technically allowed to play as a minor, but she always let me watch a card or two.) We never won the big jackpot, but I won something much more important those nights.

Reading-Bingo-smallSo when I saw a Reading BINGO card pop up on Facebook in January, I knew I had to play along. (The game was posted courtesy of Random House Canada and can be found here.)

I started strong, getting multiple BINGO lines in the first couple months of the year without having to try too hard — female author, different continent, short stories, non-fiction– this was a cinch. But, around April, I realized which squares would provide the challenge: B1 (more than 500 pages); I2 (non-human characters); I5 (scares you); N2 (funny book); G5 (second book in a series) and O3 (bottom of the TBR). I had to consciously go looking for those.

But I’m proud to raise my tiny hand in the air and yell BINGO!!! Tell the man with the microphone to get ready, I hit the big jackpot. I know my Lita’s smiling down on me.

Here are my BINGO titles. I’ve included links to those titles I reviewed on this blog and my 1-5 star ratings.

1) more than 500 pages – What is the What *****
B2) written by someone under 30 – How To Be a Good Wife ****
B3) one-word title – Cartwheel **
B4) 1st book by a favorite author – Songdogs (Column McCann) ****
B5) your friend loves – The Enchanted *****

I1) forgotten classic – BUtterfield 8****
I2) non-human characters – Hollow City****
I3) short stories – The Color Master: Stories ****
I4) heard about online – Black Swan Green ****
I5) scares you – 101 Great American Poems **** (and, yes, reading poetry scares the hell out of me)

N1) became a movie – This Boy’s Life ****
N2) funny book – Same Difference **
N3) FREE- Quiet Dell***
N4) best-selling – Eleanor & Park ****
N5) more than 10 years old – The Daughter of Time **

G1) published this year – Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir ****
G2) female author – The Book of Unknown Americans ****
G3) set on a different continent – Sister of My Heart ***
G4) based on a true story – When I Was Puerto Rican***
G5) 2nd book in a series – You Suck ***

O1) number in the title – Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore ****
O2) a mystery – Speaking from Among the Bones ****
O3) non-fiction – Orange Is the New Black **
O4) bottom of your to be read pile – The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes ***
O5) blue cover – All the Light We Cannot See*****

 

Anyone else playing along? What were your hardest spots to fill?

It’s not too late to climb aboard to Reading BINGO train.

Quoting the Quill: Why Read?

 

I’m back with my weekly round-up of great quotes. I’ve changed the name, inspired by the art and the brilliance of Blogs-Of-A-Bookaholic which I found this week. She’s invited people to participate so here I am, jumping on board in my own way.

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From Haruki Murakami

“Have books ‘happened’ to you? Unless your answer to that question is ‘yes’, I’m unsure how to talk to you.”

This is the first Quoting of the Quill I stumbled upon and what drew my attention. These words could form my life motto! It’s not as if I think everyone needs to read as voraciously as I do, but when I meet someone who doesn’t “get reading,” I know we can be friendly but never really friends. Sad but true.

From Jhumpa Lahiri, The Namesake

That’s the thing about books. They let you travel without moving your feet.

A follow-up to the first quote from one of my favorite writers, this is today’s Goodreads Quote of the Day. I’ve walked in so many other worlds and so many periods of history thanks to books. I can’t imagine living any other way. (If you haven’t yet read The Namesake, I highly recommend.)

From Robin Sloan, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore

“When you read a book, the story definitely happens inside your head. When you listen, it seems to happen in a little cloud all around it, like a fuzzy knit cap pulled down over your eyes.”

I adore this distinction between print and audio books (as I adored the entire book). I’m relatively late to the audio game and confine my listening to my daily commute. I still prefer the printed word because I like to do some of the creative work, but the image of the “fuzzy knit cap” is one I can’t shake. That’s exactly what it’s like to listen to a really good audio book.

From Penelope Lively, Dancing Fish and Ammonites: A Memoir

“Reading fiction, I see through the prism if another person’s understanding; reading everything else, I am traveling…The one entirely benign mind-altering drug.”

Do you sense a theme in this week’s quotes. Yes, I love reading writers who love books as much as I do. Lively is an author I can always count on for great writing, so it’s no surprise that her memoir relishes her life in objects that include lots and lots of books. I want to be her friend.

From Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem

“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.”

And a departure from the reading theme, but I couldn’t help including this great paragraph from the brilliant Joan Didion. When I first read this collection of essays a couple of years ago, it blew me away for its precise, straight-to-the-heart observations on living. So much of what she writes about in terms of politics, sexuality and self-knowledge is timeless.

Looking for more great quotes?  Check out: More Quoting the Quill at Blogs-Of-A-Bookaholic or Thursday Quotables at Bookshelf Fantasies.

I’d love to know what lines have caught your attention this week.

My Ann Patchett project: Truth and Beauty

Cover of "Truth and Beauty: A Friendship&...

Cover of Truth and Beauty: A Friendship

Having now read Ann Patchett’s honest look into her inspiring and unhealthy friendship with Lucy Grealy, I feel I have a greater understanding of the complex female relationships in her works of fiction. She delves deeply into what it means to be a friend, what it means to love unconditionally, and what it means to lose yourself in someone else’s pain. I felt like a fly on the wall of their 20 year relationship.

Patchett tackles this memoir unafraid to expose both herself and Grealy. From the very beginning, we understand that she is unapologetic about this relationship. She will present it honestly, warts and glories.

…after all, what novel or poem or play in an Introduction to Literature class couldn’t benefit from a truth-and-beauty discussion?”

Knowing nothing at all about Grealy, but feeling deeply familiar with Patchett, I tended to wonder how the two got entwined so deeply. It seems one of those inexplicable attractions when the solid, grounded anchor (Patchett) attached itself to a flighty, yet dynamic bluebird (Grealy).

I love that Patchett is willing to let Grealy look bad, really bad. Grealy is selfish and angry. She spends any money she has and continually “borrows” from her many friends.  She must, at all points, be the center of attention and, on the surface, does not seem to return Patchett’s loyalty and dedication. And yet…I too grow to love her, to understand her fierce talent and deep longing.

About Grealy’s desire for one true, all-consuming love, Patchett compares her need to the scale of Grand Central Station. She talks about first filling it with Grealy’s friends and lovers which might fill one restaurant. Next you could add her fans and those who have read her book and it might look like a smattering of bodies against that immense space. But, ultimately, Grealy could not find enough people/happiness/love to fill the space.

You could pack in thousands and thousands more people, and still it wouldn’t feel full, not full enough to take up every square inch of her loneliness.”

That image just about broke my heart and I immediately understood Patchett’s deep love and devotion. Not that she tries to portray herself as a saint. Just like with Grealy, she writes her own strengths and flaws with precision. It’s no fun to always be the anchor and she tries (unsuccessfully) to shed her own persona. But, as Grealy points out to her,

It’s your blessing and your curse. You’re always going to be fine.”

More than a memoir about two talented, engaging women, Truth and Beauty is an ode to friendship. Patchett celebrates the deep love these women share. Despite the tragic outcome, the reader comes away with the feeling that Patchett would not have done it differently.

Whenever I saw her, I felt like I had been living in another country, doing moderately well in another language, and then she showed up speaking English and suddenly I could speak with all the complexity and nuance that I hadn’t realized was gone. With Lucy I was a native speaker.”