Sunday, January 11, 2015

Books I Am Looking Forward to Reading - January Edition

Hello Book Junkies!

It is really cold and really wet outside...a perfect day to sink into a book with a nice glass of Moscato
cup of PG Tips tea by my side  It doesn't hurt that I've also got a crock pot full of chili and a pile of relaxing sewing to do.  I have really been thinking about this post.  It is impossible for me to know what I will be looking forward to reading ALL year long.  So, what I am going to do is make this a monthly part of the blog.  (See, this is organic...).  I have a list of books that I want to really dig into this year.  First, I want to fulfill the Reading Challenge I talked about in my last post.  Second, I have shelves of galleys and books that I meant to read once I finished grad school.  Well, no time like the present.

Not all of these books are new or forthcoming.  You can get those lists anywhere.  I assume you are reading this blog because you want an opinion.  Well, here's mine:

1.  The Unspeakable: And Other Subjects of Discussion - Meghan Daum

This book seems interesting because it is touted as one where the author, an essayist and memoirist, takes on those subjects that we are often too polite to speak about out loud.  I'm one essay in (the fabulous and searingly honest "Matricide") and so far, it's pretty good.

2.  The Ultimate Betrayal - Kimberla Lawson Roby

This is the latest entry in the Reverend Curtis Black series.  I have been reading this series from the first one (Casting the First Stone) and I can get lost in these books any time.  I am a huge Roby fan and can't wait for this one to come out in May.  This novel focuses on Rev. Black's daughter Alicia, who has shown in previous novels that she takes after her daddy in some unfortunate ways.

3.  If Beale Street Could Talk - James Baldwin

One of my reading goals is to read the lesser known novels of the African-American canon, beginning with the Harlem Renaissance.  Baldwin is one of my eternal favorites, and I picked up a copy of this novel for 50 cents at a book sale.  I am eager to see how this novel compares to his more well-known tomes.

4.  Beach Town - Mary Kay Andrews

Nobody loves a beach read more than I.  Even if I don't get to read it on a beach.  Mary Kay Andrews begins my summer reading every year.  Her writing style is easy on the brain and eyes and her characters are well-drawn.  She uses the same beach locales for her stories and they are always engaging.  Plus, she sometimes puts a great recipe at the end.  If you want to get lost in stunning descriptions of interior design, floral goodies and all things girly, this is a great and easy read for you.  This comes out in May.

5.  The Wife, The Maid and The Mistress - Ariel Lawhon

I'm a little ashamed at the lengths to which I went to get a copy of this book at the American Library Association Conference last January.  This book has been on my nightstand for months, reminding me of my shame (okay, there was light shoving involved, but no injuries).  It's a real mystery, about a judge who disappeared in the 1930's.  Widely touted on to-read lists for 2014, it is one of those historical fiction pieces that can kill a whole Sunday afternoon.

6.  Some Luck - Jane Smiley

Another galley I couldn't resist on the library discard table.  I am a fan of Jane Smiley and this is the first book in a trilogy about an American family from the 1920's to modern day.  This volume covers 1920 through the Cold War era.  If you are a fan of sweeping family sagas, this seems like a good one in which to invest some time.

7. God Help The Child - Toni Morrison

Can one ever really describe a Toni Morrison novel?  I've never been able to do it successfully, because they are always layered and have so many themes.  All I know is that the main character is named Bride.  Okay, I'm in.  Comes out in April.

8. Firebird - Misty Copeland, illustrated by Christopher Myers

So, I may or may not have placed this on my school library book order with the full intention of reading it standing up amidst the delivery detritus.  I am curious to see this book, which has gotten great advance reviews.  I am also a Christopher Myers fan, so I'm excited about this story which involves Misty talking to a young girl about reaching her dreams.

9.  Factory Man - Beth Macy

I'm not gonna lie - sometimes those "important" books about "capitalism" and "globalization" frankly make my eyes cross, even if I really want to know the content.  This book (and I'm cheating, because I'm 1/4 of the way through), reads like a novel.  Everyone, especially in the South, has or has had some piece of Bassett furniture and their stores are everywhere.  This is part sweeping family saga, historical non-fiction and underdog story.  There is also a civil rights aspect that is pretty fascinating.

10.  Clementine Hunter:  Her Life and Art - Art Shriver and Tom Whitehead

I've had this on my list for a while.  It's about a beloved person from my state who made great art.  It is published by my beloved LSU Press.  I have heard nothing but great things about it.  However, something tells me that I'm going to be mad by the end of the book.  We will see.

11.  The Last Stop on Market Street- Matt de la Pena, illustrated by Christian Robinson

In the children's book game, the illustrator is the person that makes a book sing.  Christian Robinson is one of my favorite illustrators and I look forward to all of his books.  This one sounds great, too.  A boy keeps wondering aloud why he doesn't have an iPod like everyone else and why his circumstances are different from some of his classmates.   Could be a great story time tool.  And by story time, I mean story time for ME!

12.  The Paying Guests - Sarah Waters

I guess because of my obsession with Downton Abbey, I am newly interested in the WWI era.  This novel is supposed to be a "tour de force" with a "stunning" story.  I'm invested enough that I've downloaded it rather than checked it out from the library.  It involves a mother and daughter trying to make ends meet by renting out their house.  What ensues is supposed to be more than titillating.

That's it.  Let me know if you have any "must-reads" on your list.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

2015 Reading Challenge

Now, normally, I don't participate in book challenges.  I read enough, and I read what I like. That was true until I started graduate school in January 2012.  Technically, 2015 is the first year since 2011 that I am not in graduate school.  For anyone starting graduate school over 40, you are already tired.  Add to this the fact that you are told what to read, and most of it is scholarly journal literature.  This equals a temporary paralysis in your normal reading.  It is easy to get out of the habit of reading for enjoyment.  Even if you are pursuing a Master's degree in LIBRARY AND INFORMATION SCIENCE (See also:  the cobbler's children have no shoes...). Therefore, I have decided that to get myself back into the habit of reading for pleasure without guilt of an assignment hanging over my head, I will participate in a reading challenge for 2015.

I searched long and hard for the perfect reading challenge.  Ambitious, but not unreasonably demanding; thorough, yet still enjoyable.  The one that I like the most came from  I love Popsugar for a lot of things, but I never thought I'd find a booklist that I like on that particular site.  I have placed the link here if you want to download and come along with me on this ride.  I'd love to hear how you're doing in the comments section.  Please post liberally.

Popsugar 2015 Reading Challenge

Along with my other book-related chatter that you'll find here, I will also be keeping you up to date on how I'm meeting this challenge.  I'll be culling my own bookshelves, both real and virtual, for most of these.  I think this will be lots of fun.

I am working on the 2015 reading list for the first quarter.  Check back here on Friday to see what I've come up with.

Happy reading!

Monday, January 5, 2015

Back to the real me. This is a book blog.

Hello readers,

At the risk of sounding like a total cliche, I have decided to kick off this new year by refocusing this blog on what it is supposed to be.  This is, from its inception, a book blog.  Yes, I still love Scandal and Downton Abbey and pretty much everything on PBS and BBC America.  However, what I am passionate about is books.  Reading them, critiquing them, recommending them, and currently, writing them.  Anyone who knows me well knows that I love, love, love books.  Set me loose in a library, book bazaar, book sale, book store or thrift shop and I am in heaven.  So, in the spirit of working in my gifts and to answer the questions I get every day ("What are you reading?  Can you recommend a book for me?"), I have decided to be a full-on book blogger.

What does this mean?, you may be wondering. Well it means that I will spend my time here focusing on reading, literacy, books and other book-related "stuff."  I am curious to see what will grow out of my desire to connect everyone with the "just-right" book, and share the joy of reading a configuration of words that makes your heart sing.

You can expect that I will post roughly twice a week.  If you follow this page on Facebook, you'll see a status update.  Please follow me if you don't.  You're really missing out!

I will let you know that I read a lot and I read widely.  I am not extra cerebral with my reading, so if you are reading this to see what my opinion of Beowulf or Finnegan's Wake is, well, you will be sorely disappointed.  I read what most 40-something people read who enjoy words and want to be challenged and entertained, and sometimes moved by a book.  I want this blog to be a discussion, so I WELCOME YOUR COMMENTS! If asked nicely, I'll also give you recommendations.

So, in this first post, I will give another cliche.  My top books of 2014.   Some of these books are not new.  Some of them are books that I've read before, but re-read this year. These are books that made me laugh, cry, and just stayed with me, long after I returned them or gave them away.  Yes, I give most fiction books away.  I'm kind of like book Lothario.  Once I've read them, I don't want them anymore and will freely pass them on for the next reader to enjoy.

Anyway, the list.  And in no particular order.

1.  We Need To Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver
As an educator, I hope I never, ever, ever run into Kevin Khatchadourian.  He makes me glad I never had my own kids.  I ran into a couple of him while I was practicing law. I had actually read this book a couple of years ago.  The second time was even more gripping.    This book is disturbing, but I could not put it down.  The characters were so real to me.  Kevin commits a stunning act of violence and it changes his whole family.  The book is written in letters from Kevin's mother to his father, who are not together at the time of the writing.  They have been separated because of Kevin's crime.  What we see as readers is the romance of two mismatched people who followed the script of the particular cultural time in which they came of age.  Then they had a baby.  And oh, boy!  My book club read this and we were arguing about Kevin and Eva like our grandmothers used to do with the soap operas.  The writing was superb and it was stunning in its beauty and its horror.  I wish I could write like Lionel Shriver. Kevin stayed with me for a long time.

2.  Big Little Lies - Liane Moriarty

I've been reading Liane Moriarty since What Alice Forgot, and each book just gets better and better.  She's a master storyteller. On the surface, it's a story about a group of Australian mums and the politics of their children's private school.  But it is so much deeper than that.  I am always surprised by her endings and the writing is the kind that keeps me up at night to finish.  The characters are richly drawn, the suspense is subtle, yet masterful and you will literally yell, "Aha!" when you see how it all ends.  She is a budding Maeve Binchy.

3.  Out To Lunch - Stacey Ballis

I'm not a big romance book reader and the formulaic, unrealistic escapism is not my general style.  I like my love stories to be real and for the characters to be well developed.  This is a love story on many levels - romantic love, platonic love, love between best friends, love of animals and love of life.  Apparently,  Ms. Ballis has a number of books with the food theme.  I'll be reading them on a beach or some reasonable facsimile of one this summer.  A great book with a great and unexpected ending.

4.  Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? - Roz Chast

I read this book for the same reason I read a lot of books -- I heard about it on NPR.  A graphic novel that is, well, graphic in depicting a relationship that we will all face if we are lucky.  Roz Chast chronicles the last few years of her elderly parents' lives and how, as an only child born late in her parents' childbearing lives, she has to deal with caring for them while retaining their dignity, bank account and her sanity.  I meant to just go into Barnes and Noble and read the first chapter to see if it was something that I wanted to buy.  And hour and a half later, I was sitting on the floor in the magazine section laughing and crying as I finished it. (Sorry, B&N.  I'm one of "those people.").  If you've ever looked over at a parent and realized that they are not in their 40's any longer, you will enjoy this book.  This is probably the best book that I read all year, if we're concerned about that type of thing here.

5. The Boy Who Cried Fabulous!- Lesléa Newman, Illustrated by Peter Ferguson

Okay, so as an elementary school librarian, I read a ton of children's books.  Story time is one of my greatest joys and bar none my favorite part of the job.  This book is so great.  It teaches use of adjectives, celebrating differences, being true to yourself and tolerance.  It is Shrek-like in the message that goes to kids' brains and the message the adults totally get.  Roger loves describing the world around him with his very favorite word, "Fabulous!'.  When that word is taken from him, Roger reacts in a way in which we both laugh at and cheer on.  I absolutely loved this book and my kids loved it too. Fabulous!

6.  Chestnut Street - Maeve Binchy

Reading this book was bittersweet and sad for me.  I have loved Maeve Binchy since first reading her in college and was stunned to learn of her death in the summer of 2012.  This is her last book, a collection of stories about people in a related neighborhood.  This is a hallmark style of Binchy and one that I love.  She takes the mundane and makes the best story.  See, I'm talking about her like she's still with us!  Anyway, her husband published this book through her estate, and I've heard rumors that she was like Prince, in that she had several unpublished stories and manuscripts completed at the time of her death.  So, hopefully, this isn't the last we'll hear from the great Ms. Binchy.  In this book, we learn the truth about a faraway aunt, how a mum really supports herself financially and emotionally, and how various Irish blokes and lasses handle the beds they've made to lie in.  Storytelling at its best.

7.  The Divorce Papers - Susan Rieger

The way this books is written, you will either instantly love it or hate it.  It is a novel written through emails, letters, text messages and other written communication.  In inept hands, this is a disaster.  However, Susan Rieger gives us a brilliant novel about divorce, family, love and floating along this journey of life.  A young lawyer at a white-shoe firm is tasked with handling the divorce of a long-time client.  The only problem - she's a criminal lawyer who's never done a divorce.  Hilarity ensues.

8.  Eleanor and Park - Rainbow Rowell

I was shamed into reading this book by one of my professors in library school and starting reading it with the worst attitude. I know that it's the 'cool' thing for adults to read tons of YA.  I'm not one of those adults.  I do not pine for my teenage years, which were mostly awkward.  Except for my first love.   But by page 2, I was searching for my Walkman and some old mixtapes.  In this amazing, crazy, beautiful book, it's 1986 and Asian-American Park meets new, and kind of weird, redheaded, thriftshop-outfitted Eleanor on the school bus.  We hear from both Eleanor and Park in this book, and for those of us who came of age in the 80's, the backdrop is super cool.  But it's the voices, the words, the images of those two.  If you ever had your first great love as a teenager, this book will break your heart.  It will play with your emotions.  You'll go dig up some Spandau Ballet. You'll never be the same.  I promise.

9.  Pete The Cat and His Four Groovy Buttons - by Eric Litwin, art by James Dean

Before I started working as a school librarian, I was talking to a children's public librarian about some great books for the littles.  With reverence I save for talking about God or, say, Prince, she told me with a straight face that Pete the Cat was her personal hero.  I backed away slowly, thought to myself, 'What a whackadoodle!' and politely walked away.  Then I read this book.  Pete is truly the coolest cat in the whole world.  He knows for sure, and convinces us, that buttons come and buttons go, but we need to just keep it moving.  Also, if you want instant street cred with the PreK-2 crowd, read a Pete story.  They will come delightfully unhinged!

10.  Golden Boy - Abigail Tarttelin

I can't say too much about this little gem of a book I found while browsing the shelves.  I liked the cover.  But I LOVED the book.  I can't say too much because I might give it away.  So, I'll say this: Boy, Sex, Identity, Love, Intersex, Brotherhood, Unintended Consequences.

Okay, so this was fun to write.  Later this week, I'll post about the books I'm most excited about for 2015.