Saturday, January 06, 2018

2018 Reading List

So I only read 58 books last year. That's not bad, it's just annoying that I didn't make it to an even 60. I am halfway finished with the 59th book, but I was about 50 pages in at the beginning of December and just didn't pick up a book for an entire month. I also didn't get on an elliptical machine for an entire month either, and the elliptical is where I do a lot of reading. I did manage to do my weights workout twice a week for the whole month, so at least I did something for exercise, but I am ready to get back into regular cardio workouts (so is my waist!). I wouldn't call this last December a total fail, but I hope to do subsequent Decembers better.

As for 2018 and New Year's resolutions and all of that, I usually like to have a little bit of a book list for the year- one that I will certainly add to, but that gives me the beginnings of a plan. Sometimes I have books on my list that I'm not really looking that forward to, but this list is all good stuff.

1) The Ladies of Ivy Cottage by Julie Klassen- This was supposed to have been number 60 for last year, but my library didn't have it ready for me until this week anyway.

2) Surprise Me by Sophie Kinsella- This one comes out mid-February

3) I'll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos-  This one comes out in early March

4) Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Anne Burns- George has been telling me I should read this for years. I kept forgetting about it. He finally just gave it to me for Christmas.

5) Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell- This is another book George has been telling me to read for years. Why don't I listen to my husband better? He put it in my to be read stack this week himself.

6) The World of Jeeves: A Jeeves and Wooster Omnibus by P.G. Wodehouse- I love all of Wodehouse's Uncle Fred stories and novels, so George gave this to me for Christmas last year so I could read the Jeeves stories as well, but I didn't realize the stories came before any of the novels and I was just overwhelmed by entering into the world of Jeeves. Silly me. I'm ready now. Just reading the titles of the stories tonight had me laughing already.

7) The Opposite of Everyone by Joshilyn Jackson- I read Jackson's most recent novel last year and enjoyed it. She is a Southerner so that's nice. I decided to give her another try this year.

8) The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope- I have been meaning to read a Trollope novel for months. I read that this is considered his masterpiece, so this is where I begin.

9) Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy- I have been meaning to read a Hardy novel for years. In 2016, I had three Hardy novels on my list and I never got to any of them. This one was not on that list but it was his first novel and one I haven't read (I had actually read the three I put on my list in college). So this is where I begin again with Hardy.

10) Les Miserables by Victor Hugo- Here's another from my 2016 list. I read a couple hundred pages of this one and thoroughly enjoyed it. I quit because I had library holds come in and was under a time crunch to finish them and I wanted to up my total number of books for the year. Silly me again! I have learned over the past several years that I definitely prefer quality over quantity. And so I am stopping this year with a short list of ten books. 

Friday, December 01, 2017

November Retrospective

1) Belle Boyd Secret Agent by Jeannette C. Nolan - This is one my Uncle Ross sent me. Uncle Ross is quite the Southern historian. I asked him about some of the books I have read in recent years- whether they were more or less historically accurate and he wasn't familiar with several of them, but he followed up by sending this one which he said was historically accurate. The tone of the Civil War books I have read have all been the same and I don't really enjoy them. Obviously, it was war and a dark time for all involved, but it's hard to have all of that hovering around me. I don't really leave a book behind when I close it. So anyway, all that to say, I don't think I'll be reading anything else about the Civil War where I have to drag around the heaviness and hopelessness with me. It also didn't seem like Belle Boyd was really able to do that much- she was usually caught and most of her time was spent in jail. This book is so old, there's no readily available picture online. I could take a picture of my copy and upload it, but it's December - ain't nobody got time for that.

2) Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell - This one had so much awful language in the first chapter that I almost didn't stay with it. But most of the language was just in that first chapter and the kids using it were only peripheral characters. I still can't say I'd recommend this book. It had a lot of hard things in it. It's basically a really intense teen love story. But overall I liked it.

3) Christmas at Carnton by Tamera Alexander - This was my favorite Tamera Alexander book so far. Either it had the least amount of cheese in it, or I am just getting used to it, or it was more forgivable at Christmas with the many cheesy movies I've been watching. I read it just this last week after Thanksgiving and I really didn't want it to end! It's set at a plantation in my hometown of Franklin, Tennessee that I didn't even know existed. I missed second through seventh grade in Franklin, living in St. Petersburg, Florida and Macon, Georgia, and those are the field trip years, so maybe that's why. However, I had definitely heard of the family associated with the plantation. Anyway, this was another that I really liked!

4) The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger - These next two I read to see if they would be appropriate for my nephew for Christmas. I ended up passing them along to August and Elspeth to read as well. They are not very much about Star Wars, just about kids in middle school. There were a few bad reviews on Amazon about how mean some of the kids were. There is one kid who is really mean, but he is very clearly the mean kid. The follow up book makes this even more explicit. He's a jerk and there is a little bit of ambivalence on behalf of some of the other kids because they don't want to become a target too. There's also the really weird kid who makes himself even more of a target who ends up being a favorite with most of the kids. The follow up book makes that more explicit as well. So I got my nephew the first two because I felt like the second one really finished out the story well. Although, there are four more books in the series! I guess there's more to the story!

5) Darth Paper Strikes Back by Tom Angleberger -

Friday, November 10, 2017

October (and the first week of November) Retrospective

1) What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum - This is the 50th book I've read this year. It was a story about a teenaged boy with Asperger's and a teenaged girl whose father had recently died in a car accident and how they became friends. I kind of like Julie Buxbaum's YA books. This one left me with a few questions just because I don't know enough about Asperger's- how realistic was this?

2) It Ain't All About the Cookin' by Paula Deen - This is one my mother-in-law sent me for my birthday last year. I used to quite enjoy Paula's cooking show on Food Network so I think that is what made her think of me when she came across this one. Now that Paula is sequestered to some obscure television shopping network and has quit putting on her cutesy Southern persona, she comes across more to me like a tacky chain smoker. Which is a terrible thing to say, but I kind of always knew she was a little different than the Food Network producers wanted her to come across. It's kinda like how I never see people's new hair color when they dye it, I just see their natural color with the distractingly obvious fake color on top. Anyway, in this book, she exposes herself with pretty much no holds barred. I guess to some that is admirable, and it is inarguably gutsy, but it just kinda grossed me out. I know I put myself out there in days gone by, and it's hard to feel like the return on that is sometimes "Eww, yuck!" But we know the risks when we share these things. Not everyone should be trusted with our most secret thoughts and words and deeds. I'm sure she has other secrets anyway. There was still a bit of fake color on top, so to speak, the cliche Southern dialect it was written in being the most prominent among them. As a Southerner, I have to say, nobody talks like that. Or maybe the more important thing to say to Paula is that you don't have to talk like that as a Southerner to be distinguished as a Southerner. It's like watching the Beverly Hillbillies. I was talking to some coworkers about that show recently and they said they had always enjoyed that show. As a Southerner, I never much appreciated that show because I didn't get it- we didn't eat possum and we didn't call swimming pools "cement ponds." Similarly, most of the wording in this book is so over the top it's absolutely annoying. People love to think Southerners are simple and unintelligent and it bothers me when Southerners not only perpetuate this idea but propagate it in order to capitalize on it.

3) Dear Carolina by Kristy Woodson Harvey - I am not sure how I heard of this book, but it had been on my library list for a while. Coming right after the Paula Deen book was unfortunate timing for reading this one which also made heavy use of cliched Southern dialect. What was maybe slightly more forgivable is that an uneducated character who had been raised by and among other uneducated people was the one using it- but I still don't buy it. There was also an inordinate amount of absurd similes peppered throughout the novel. These figures of speech are supposedly most common in the South, but many of the ones here were contrived and even distracting (I had to stop and go back and read again to figure out the gist), and there were just way too many of them. Furthermore, I just dreaded reading this one. It took at least three times as long as any other book to read because I just didn't want to read it. It was painfully slow and uneventful for the first half. I thought about quitting, but I already had it formatted and on the list for this post and I just couldn't give it up because of that. Memo to myself: don't put books on my blog, even as a draft, until I'm sure I really do want to read them! 

4) Uncommon Type: Some Stories by Tom Hanks- What?! I love Tom Hanks. George got this for me on Tuesday the 17th and I couldn't wait to be done with Paula and move on to Tom. But then my library hold came ready and Tom had to wait a little longer. I hated my library hold so much (see above) that I went ahead and started this one while I was reading the other, just to give myself something enjoyable to read. And it was indeed enjoyable! Reading a book of short stories doesn't go quite as quickly as reading a novel because the plot doesn't carry you along and compel you to keep picking the book up to see what happens next. So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised that it took me as long as it did to read this one. But you know, there was no need to rush anyway, no more than one rushes through a piece of dark chocolate or a warm bath. Hanks is so pleasant and his voice so familiar and warm that we may all have been able to figure out they were his stories even without his name on the cover. Ok, that may be a little bit of a stretch, but readers will definitely recognize him and everything they love about him as they read. 

Sunday, October 08, 2017

September (and the first week of October) Retrospective

1) Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout - This is the final selection (well, for me, I didn't read them in order- just in the order the library could get them to me) from the Modern Mrs. Darcy Minimalist Summer Reading Guide. Ugh. I read comments on MMD's blog where people said they didn't like My Name is Lucy Barton because it was ick and dark and sad but that they did like this one. Well, I liked My Name is Lucy Barton okay because I thought it was somewhat redemptive. However, this is a collection of short stories from Lucy Barton's world, and the one short story with Lucy in it seemed to undo the redemptive nature of the first book! It would seem that Strout's take on mankind is that people are mostly gross and sad and depraved but oh well-- that for the most part it is what it is, but every now and then something good-ish happens and that means "anything is possible." To me, this was a hopeless book. And I can't do hopeless right now. And it seems that's where our culture is and has been in regard to art-- the books and the films that win prizes are largely depressing and overly realistic in the darkest way. Meanwhile, anything cheerful and redemptive has been sequestered to Hallmark Channel and chick lit booklists and therefore neglected by the most intelligent writers. Can good literature and film not also be happy? It can! We know it can! If no one else has proved it, Jane Austen certainly has. And Austen is uber popular! So can we please stop this dark, depressing trend in modern writing?!

2) To Wager Her Heart by Tamera Alexander - Well, I love me some cheesy historical fiction set in the South- especially Nashville. This is the last of the Belle Meade Plantation novels. And this is Christian chick lit for sure- not exactly what I am asking for in terms of smart, artful writing, but a relief to read after so many downers lately! It does always bug me a little that Alexander's heroines always have very modern sensibilities. They're light years ahead of their time in regard to feminism and civil rights in a heavy handed way. To me, this is almost judgmental (and certainly not empathetic) of the real life women who lived in the setting she is actually writing about because I don't think that they all were so removed from the culture and time they were living in-- nor are we today-- but that also doesn't mean that they were all hateful and ignorant and harsh as our modern perspective would sometimes have us interpret them. Anyway, I can see why, as a modern Southern woman, she wants to get it right for her heroines. And I'm excited that she's announced a new three book series set in Franklin, the first one being a Christmas book! It comes out next month, but I think I will wait to read it until Thanksgiving- something fun for the car ride to Michigan!

3) The Identicals by Elin Hilderbrand - This was my last summer reading selection from Modern Mrs. Darcy's Summer Reading Guide and I got it in just before Autumnal Equinox. Phew! ;) I generally don't like Hidlerbrand. It's been a frustrating discovery because I really enjoyed the first book I read of hers (The Blue Bistro). It wasn't perfect, but the beachy setting and the foodie descriptions won me over. What I have realized after reading several others by Hilderbrand is that I hate her characters. They're not lovable or even likable most of the time. But this book was a little better- the unlovable characters were becoming more lovable. It was redemptive, and I love redemptive stories. The story seemed a little unfinished- maybe she'll write more about Tabitha and Harper in the future? Incidentally, Tabitha and Harper are very unlike names for identical twins. The kind of person who names their daughter Tabitha does not seem like the same kind of person who names their daughter Harper. Right?

4) Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen - This was another book off the Modern Mrs. Darcy books about endearingly quirky families list. She has recommended this author at least one other time before. I read The Sugar Queen by Allen last year. I didn't actually even realize it was the same author until I started feeling the weird magical realism vibe and thought "hey, this reminds me of that other book." This one was set in the South without feeling like the South. But the author did, in fact, grow up in North Carolina, so I guess my South is just different from hers. To me, the South is deeply religious, and none of the characters in this book seemed to have a shred of religion. Well sure, we all worship something, and we all believe in something, but these characters were rather godless. That's not to say that they weren't likable. But they weren't familiar or relatable. Though I did appreciate that the elderly aunt needed to go to the store for some "Cokecola." But I'm getting to the point in my reading life where I am tired of things that seem hopeless, and even weary of hope coming from a false source. Often times, books will place hope in people changing or growing closer to friends or family- while they may not be cognitive of the Source of growth and of good friends and family, I am, and I can make the jump. But this book had its hope resting in a magical apple tree and in an "uptight" character throwing caution to the wind and shacking up. Nice. (Insert eye rolling emoji here). I guess "magic" just isn't really for me.

5) Girl Waits With Gun by Amy Stewart - This was also off the MMD books about endearingly quirky families list. It was based on actual events that took place in New Jersey and New York in the nineteen teens. It was well done and I liked the author's style. And I liked the characters. But the story wasn't my favorite. It wasn't bad though- it was just a little slow. There are two more books about the main character in this one and I may give them a try down the road- the same good writing with the same "endearingly quirky" characters in a faster paced story could be pretty good.

6) Lily and the Octopus by Steven Rowley - This one is about a dog with cancer. So right away I'm like "no thanks." I hate animal books. I have always hated animal books. I don't want to get all emotional about a fictional animal- it makes me feel ridiculous and a little bit out of control. I always felt so embarrassed crying at Lassie movies as a kid. Also, our culture is deeply entrenched in its own out of control state over animals. As a mother, even as a former child, I find the idea of pets being called people's "babies" or "children" absurd and even offensive. People need to realize that pets aren't people. It's okay to love them- it's great to love them! But they aren't the same as a child. They just aren't. And when I started this book about a single man who considers his dog his baby, I kind of knew it wasn't going to be for me. But I have this dumb commitment to this list (the MMD books about endearingly quirky families) so I decided to stay with it, at least for a little while. In reading, I  was able to appreciate that people can learn so much from having a pet, the same way I have learned a lot from marriage and parenthood. So while pets aren't people, the connection to and love for one's pet is very special and very real (and I know this from loving my own pets as well).  I did read the whole book and I cried my eyes out when Lily died (of course she did- it's an animal book). There were some good insights and I liked the writing style; but, in the end, it's exactly what I thought, and didn't want, it to be. A final thought: the fact that a book about a guy and his dog makes a list of books about "families" is highly annoying to me- though not the book's fault, but more toward an ongoing issue I have with Modern Mrs. Darcy. 

7) Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis - Oh how I loved these movies when I was a kid! I am not sure if I could ever choose between Auntie Mame with Rosalind Russell or Mame with Lucille Ball. I loved them both. And the book is exactly the same.  So I might recommend this to someone who hadn't seen the movie, but since the movie is such delight with all the vivid costumes and set designs and fun musical numbers, I'd rather see the movie. I think I'll have to watch it with my girls soon! 

8) Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson - This is the last from Modern Mrs. Darcy's 15 Books About Endearingly Quirky Families list! Hurray! Hurray! I'm officially done with MMD! But I did like this one. I didn't love the ending, but I have lowered my standards significantly in terms of what to expect when it comes to recommendations from this source. It is easy to tell from this month's retrospective that I was just ready to be done with this list and put Modern Mrs. Darcy officially behind me. Why have I wasted so much time listening to someone I don't know or really know anything about about what I should read? I'm so happy to be relieved of the idea that she may have a great recommendation for me that I absolutely can't miss. If it's really great, I'll hear about it some other way. This was a book about a bit of a Harper Lee type who has an eccentric (endearingly quirky) ten year old son. When the author finds herself swindled out of much of her fortune and needing to write something new for the first time in decades to keep her family fed, she has to rely on outside help to take care of her son. The book is written in the caretaker's voice from her perspective. 

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