Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Ten Book Recommendations For....


Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is "Ten book recommendations for...." and I'm doing mine for people who want uplifting books that are "smart" or "not fluff." We've had some patrons in the library with this request and it's very difficult! Literary fiction tends to be pretty heavy duty. The thing about books is that there has to be some elements of conflict or risk or something to keep one's interest and be worked out, and the ones that tend to be more light-hearted are things like romance, which is absolutely not what these patrons want. Do you know how hard it is to find smart books without tragedy? It's hard! But I've put together a list with some contenders. You'll notice that most (or all?) of them are pretty reliant on humor, which is the only way I know to address this problem.

1. Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

This is my go-to recommendation for this type of request. Or lots of requests, come to think of it. It's the one that I think fits the bill the best. Bernadette is pushed over the edge by an impending family trip to Antarctica and disappears just days before they're scheduled to leave. The whole thing is told through emails, letters, documents, and some narration from her daughter, Bee. Fast-paced, satirical, wacky, and clever.

2. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

This story about a widowed curmudgeon who likes books more than people is filled with humor and literary references. In re-reading my post about it now, I said that it gets a bit dark and sad, but honestly I don't remember that. I remember the uplifting aspects of the story and the humor. Maybe I need to re-read it. But I'm leaving it here for now anyhow because it's really a fantastic book.

3. Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld 

A modern-day retelling of Pride and Prejudice! This is totally chick lit, but since Sittenfeld is considered somewhat literary, people eat this up and still think it's literary (whatever that actually means) and I'm willing to let them keep believing that.

4. Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson

A retired Major living in a small English village begins a romance with a Pakistani shopkeeper, and must contend with the disapproval of the locals who have never quite accepted her. A major theme is the tension between tradition and change. I really loved this book.

5. The Tower, The Zoo, and the Tortoise by Julia Stuart

This one is a bit divisive, but I really enjoyed its quirkiness. The main story centers around a couple who haven't dealt with the death of their child, which totally makes it sound like the opposite of what I'm looking for here, but believe me when I say it's not a sad book. The husband is put in charge of the Queen's menagerie at the Tower of London and there's a lot of comedy and little romances and whatnot.

6. Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

I read this one so long ago that I don't have a blog post about it. It takes place on the fictional island where the sentence "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog" was coined, and a statue upon which it has been memorialized (along with its creator) has been losing its letters. As they fall, the town council bans residents from using that letter AND the author drops that letter from the book as well. A very clever, unique book.

7. Bossypants by Tina Fey

Now we're getting into nonfiction, which I think is the easier way to handle this particular request except that I don't read nearly enough of it. Tina Fey is definitely smart and has some things to say about being a woman working in comedy, tells lots of stories from her own life, and of course it's quite funny.

8. At Home by Bill Bryson

Or probably anything by Bill Bryson? I've only read this and A Walk in the Woods (so far), and this is the one that strikes me as more brainy. But it's still easy to read and funny. Basically, he takes a tour through his historical house, exploring the history of each room and the objects within in, as well as the aspects of life most associated with that room. A thoroughly readable history of domestic life.

9. Packing for Mars by Mary Roach

Another book where you learn a lot, but have fun while doing it. I've read a few of her others, but I think this one is still my favorite. Roach investigates lots of practicalities about life in space, and there's science but not too much for a regular person to understand.

10. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

I mean, life in South Africa under apartheid when you are racially mixed is not a walk in the park, but this is not a depressing book. Noah talks a lot about his everyday life, tells lots of funny stories, and it's filled with admiration for his mom.

Can you think of any books that you think belong on this list? Let me know in the comments. Really, please, please tell me - I need help with this!

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Sunday Knitting

I have finished a thing! A pair of things!


And here's a close up (with a bit of dog hair, sorry.)



This is my first sunday knitting post since January when I finished my last pair of socks. I'm not even sure when I started these because I neglected to add the project in Ravelry (which I sadly have not been using, and I really need to rectify this), but I assume it was not long after finishing the last pair.

The pattern is from Sensational Knitted Socks. The yarn I think is Rowan Fine Art, at least that's one of the 3 yarn labels I found in my project bag. (The others are Regia which I'm pretty sure this isn't, and the Kettle Dyed yarn I bought in PA in the colorway Buggy Top, which I distinctly remember being grey.)

I think I mentioned at one point that I cut back on knitting and yoga months ago because of wrist pain, and I only started doing both again fairly recently. I also hadn't been watching much TV because TV and knitting go hand in hand for me, so I started both again at the same time. I've started watching Doctor Who again, which I gave up after a few Peter Capaldi episodes, but now I'm (re)committed to it.

Next up, I reeeally need to rip back my East Neuk Hoodie to, oh, about the spot it was at in this photo, and a little more actually, because I think I should have attached the pocket earlier. I don't even remember how far past that point I got because it's literally been months since I've looked at it. I'd love to just ignore it and start another pair of socks, but I feel strongly that I need to deal with this mess before moving on. Wish me luck.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Falling for Trouble

Falling for Trouble (Librarians in Love #2) by Sarah Title (2017)

Joanna's band finally made it big, but at their first show of the tour Joanna froze on stage and was kicked out of the band. She's returning to her hometown of Halikarnassus to stay with her grandmother, who just happens to have broken her leg, so the timing works out perfectly. She'll hide for a while, help out her Granny, then leave this stupid town again, once and for all. What Joanna didn't count on was meeting Liam, the sexy director of the local public library.

The first thing you should know about this author is that she is a librarian. Because I'm going to tell you, there is nothing more painful for me to read than a non-librarian writing fiction about libraries and librarians (and I'm sure that goes for other professions, too) because they inevitably get it all wrong. Not this lady, though - she knows what's what! From the anecdotes about patrons to the very real budget struggles of a small library, Sarah Title has nailed it. What a relief!

So, back to our story. Liam loves the town of Halikarnassus as much as Joanna hates it, and he's dedicated to making sure the library provides much-needed services to everyone in town. The mayor, though, has other ideas about how the town's budget should be spent, namely by making expensive improvements to their sports facilities. (Isn't that always the way?) Definitely not a reader, the mayor doesn't grasp even the basics of library service and is constantly making stupid (but believably stupid) arguments about why the library shouldn't have to, say, buy new books all the time. Meanwhile, Joanna's grandmother Peggy is an avid library user and advocate. While she's laid up with her broken leg, she must send Joanna to the library for her books which, of course, results in Joanna and Liam crossing paths a number of times and being very drawn to each other despite their outward-seeming differences, she being a rocker and he a librarian.

The main conflict in the story is that while the two are becoming involved right away, there's an understanding that Joanna is only there temporarily and the relationship can't last. As far as conflicts go, it's not a huge one - it doesn't really keep them from being together - but it's a welcome respite from the typical neuroses that often serve as the main conflicts in contemporary romances.

I enjoyed Title's writing a lot, easy and breezy with a healthy dose of humor. I loved the moment early on when the mayor points out that sports equipment like shoulder pads would protect children, saying "New books won't actually do anything for kids, would they?" and Liam responds with "Are you fucking kidding me?" Only when silence fell did he realize he had said that out loud. Later, in another conversation with the mayor, Liam became so frustrated that "he wished he was holding a pencil so that he could break it in half. But then Hal would probably cut his supply budget because now he had two pencils." It was all so enjoyable to read!

If I were going to write a romance novel, it would pretty much be this one. But of course I won't ever do such a thing, so I'm very glad that Sarah Title has done it for me. I heard of the first book in the series, The Undateable, when it came out, but it was the plot description of Falling for Trouble that really caught my notice. Now that I know I like her writing, I'll likely try others in the series. The Undateable is about a college librarian and the forthcoming Laws of Attraction is about a law librarian. I like that she's mixing it up with different kinds of librarians - how fun!

Monday, August 7, 2017

Homegoing

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (2016)

In 18th-century Ghana two sisters were born in different villages to the same father, but unaware of each other's existence. One marries an Englishman in the slave trade and lives in a palace; the other is captured and brought to America as a slave. Homegoing follows these sisters and their descendants through several generations to the present day (or close to it.) It's been a pretty popular books and nominated for several awards.

The writing is beautiful, and Gyasi does a wonderful job of bringing the reader into each time and place. With all these settings, that can't have been easy. She must have done a ton of research to get it all just right, and I'm no judge of accuracy but it sure felt right. It's very impressive, especially for a debut.

Interestingly, she focuses a lot on how Africans were complicit in the slave trade. I don't think this is discussed much (at least I wasn't very familiar with this aspect of history), but I guess in the US our education about slavery tends to be focused on slavery here, not what brought the slaves here. Of course, this is only in the early chapters, as the later stories bring in other themes and issues that were more relevant to those time periods.

The thing about this book is that each chapter is about a different character, and this is where it fell short for me. It reads more like a collection of connected stories than a novel, which is fine if that's your thing, but I found it frustrating. Every time I became captivated by a character and their story, the chapter would end I'd be transported to another continent, and another time period. It felt like a lot of jumping around, and a lot of characters since each main character also came with a full cast of family members, friends, and other people who showed up in their stories briefly and then were forgotten again when it jumped ahead another twenty years. Sometimes a character would reappear, but by then I couldn't remember who they were and what I knew about them, only that the name was familiar.

As much as I can appreciate this novel and admit that it's very well crafted, I can't say that I enjoyed it as much as I had hoped.

I read Homegoing for my 2017 Personal Reading Challenge and also my library's community read committee, thus killing two birds with one stone.

Have you read this book? Did you like it more than I did? I feel so conflicted about it!

Thursday, August 3, 2017

My Last Continent

My Last Continent by Midge Raymond (2016)

Naturalist Deb Gardner spends as much time as possible in Antarctica studying penguins. Here she meets Keller Sullivan and they begin a romance of sorts. They see each other when they're in Antarctica, but then go to their respective homes back in the US. Such are the lives of those who study Antarctic penguins. Conditions in the region are dangerous and precarious, and both Deb and Keller are caught up in a deadly disaster when a cruise ship travels too far into unsafe territory. The novel begins several years later, but moves back and forth between several time periods before and after the shipwreck.

I really know how to pick a book for a cruise! In my defense, I only knew that it was about Antarctica and penguins - because what else would I need to know to pick a book? But luckily I'm not really bothered by that sort of thing. (I once read a book about a plane crash on a flight and I hate flying.) Lindsay over at Lindsay's Library shares my affinity for books that take place in cold climates. We both read Bleaker House and were disappointed by the lack of penguins, so when she mentioned this book and said it was very satisfying on the cold/penguins front I grabbed a copy from the library. It was very satisfying in these important elements.

Parts of the book take place in Oregon and Missouri, but most of it is in icy Antarctica. I thought Raymond did a great job in transporting readers to this unfamiliar landscape. I also learned about different types of penguins, other birds of the region, and even Yeti crabs. (Did you know they were a thing? I didn't even know they were a thing.) Deb felt most at home in this landscape, and her character was definitely a loner who didn't form relationships easily. Her romance with Keller was a surprise to her, and unsurprisingly, not terribly easy.

For me, it started to drag a little in the middle, and I became slightly confused about the different time periods (though I know that's me, not the book), but then it really picked up again near the end. Mostly it was quite easy to read, and though it goes rather quickly I wouldn't call it a page-turner. It's slower paced and focuses a lot on the characters rather than the action, until the actual disaster is happening anyhow. Some parts of the story were a bit predictable, but I don't think this book is supposed to be full of surprises.

It's also kind of a sad book. Parts of the main story are sad, and there's also an overarching environmental message that is not pleasant to think about, though it's undoubtedly true. I liked it a lot, but if you want a light-hearted pick-me-up, this isn't it. If, however, you are drawn to this sort of place, as I am, or you think you'd like a story about a disaster intertwined with a relationship story (that also might be rather disastrous) then you might like this as much as I did.

Monday, July 31, 2017

July wrap-up and plans for August



I think I say this every month, but July really flew by!

Reading


Not as much as usual, to be honest, for several reasons. I was away on vacation for a week, spent my listening time on podcasts rather than audiobooks, and starting watch more tv. Which is all fine! But it means I didn't do great in my categories. Let's have a look, shall we?

Reading Challenge List: I've begun Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
CBAM: nothing
Romance: finished A Scot in the Dark which I started in June, and is my only June/July romance
Nonfiction: Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud by Anne Helen Petersen

I also read two of the four books I have to read for the IPNE Book Awards, but I can't post about those books until sometime this fall. Now I also have six books to read for the library's community read committee, though I can post about those as I read them. One happens to be Homegoing which was also on my reading challenge so I'm currently killing two birds with one stone.

In terms of reading I'm very torn. On the one hand, I have a lot of assigned reading and want to resist paying attention to what new books are coming out. On the other hand, I'm doing a Fall Book Buzz program at the library with a coworker in which we'll talk about books we're excited about for the fall so I have to pay attention.

Listening


Pic from this month: yarn bombing in Bermuda!
I did listen to one audiobook this month, When Dimple Met Rishi, which I think I started in June. After that, I just listened to podcasts. I just subscribed to Book Riot's new podcast, Annotated, and the first episode was pretty good. It was all about independent bookstores. There was a great episode of Smart Podcast, Trashy Books that I listened to early in the month about an author who is traveling around the world living temporarily in different places while she writes. It sounds kind of amazing.

Halsey has a new album out, Hopeless Fountain Kingdom, which I've been enjoying despite the fact that it begins with an excerpt from Romeo & Juliet.

I've also been digging a song called "Meticulous Bird" by Thao & the Get Down Stay Down (The really weird video is here) and "New Rules" by Dua Lipa (video here.)

Watching


I finished up the latest season of Call the Midwife, watched a few episodes of Miss Fisher's Mysteries, and then decided to revisit Doctor Who. When Peter Capaldi was cast I had only watched a couple of episodes and decided I didn't like him. But I heard it got better, and - I'm not gonna lie - when the announcement came that the next Doctor will be a woman, it rekindled my interest. I'm now halfway through the first Peter Capaldi season and I still think his Doctor is kind of an asshole but I do like Clara a lot.

Also this month I finally saw Cool Runnings, the 1993 movie about the Jamaican bobsled team.

Knitting


I have been knitting! I was going to even throw together a knitting progress post, but failed. At any rate, all this tv watching has resulted in more knitting time and I'm now halfway through the second sock of the pair I began back in the winter. I'm trying to psych myself up to rip back my East Neuk Hoodie and fix the pocket that I screwed up but didn't realize until later. I'd like to be able to wear this sweater in the coming winter.

Eating


I've begun preparing overnight oats for breakfast. There are a ton of recipes on Pinterest and I just took ideas from various ones. I combine oats, chia seeds, banana, almond milk, blueberries, and maybe nuts in a mason jar or other container with a tight-fitting lid, shake it up, and put it in the fridge before I go to bed. In the morning I have a satisfying breakfast that holds me over much longer than cereal does and is more healthy. This week I bought some cherries (on sale!) and slivered almonds to try in my oats.

Doing


The big focus this month was my trip to Bermuda! Nothing else really mattered :)

Plans for August


I need to finish the two books for the book award committee, and I'm also hoping to read Sense and Sensibility or perhaps Emma by Jane Austen. The Classic Book A Month selection for August is Northanger Abbey, but I just read that last year. I want to participate though, so picking another Austen title seems appropriate.

Other than that, my plans are just to enjoy summer as much as possible before it's gone!

How was your July?

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Swans of Fifth Avenue

The Swans of Fifth Avenue by Melanie Benjamin (2016)

The novel opens with a conversation about a murder. Several wealthy women sit at a trendy restaurant in 1975 and accuse one another of letting Truman Capote into their social circle, which they say led to a death. You don't yet know who died or how it happened, but as the story proceeds it moves back and forth in time, filling in the details. At the heart of the novel is the intense friendship between Truman and a woman named Babe Paley. Much of what occurs in the novel is based on real-life events, but as Benjamin explains in the Author's Note at the end, she had incredibly leeway in writing this book simply because so many of the people involved were chronic liars, so anything is possible.

Babe fascinated me. She was known for her beauty, she was always impeccably dressed and completely gracious. But her marriage was pretty much a sham. Her husband no longer desired her and had many affairs. She was incredibly lonely. Truman was exactly what she needed in a friend, and he was the only person with whom she was completely honest. Injured in an accident when she was very young, Babe had false teeth and facial scars, but nobody except Truman ever saw her without her teeth and full makeup, even her husband. Her existence seemed exhausting, the constantly facade she had to maintain, and for what?

Truman was very hard to pin down. He was genuinely devoted to Babe, and even to some of their other friends, but he lacked good judgement. He eventually published a story full of their secrets, told to him in confidence, and somehow thought they wouldn't be angry at him. Throughout the novel he turned from a young, fun, promising writer to a troubled, unhealthy, heavy drinker who was crushed by the pressure to write something that could live up to the mastery of In Cold Blood. It left me wanting to read more about his real life.

This book was just full of flawed characters who did awful things to each other, but with whom I couldn't help but sympathize. I loved all the glamour and drama and secrets. I read this on my vacation, and it was just perfect for a sunny day lazing about drinking cocktails on a cruise ship. But I imagine I would have enjoyed it just as much had I been at home.