Category Archives: Everything Else

#BookishBloggersUnite – Introduction

Welcome to #BookishBloggersUnite!

In the words of Katy @ The Bookish Cronk, this week’s host:

Bookish Bloggers Unite was formed when a group of like-minded writers decided they wanted to talk about books together. We hope you’ll join us!

This is the first week, so it’s only natural that our topic this week is introductions. Katy answers the full list of questions on her blog; I’ve selected some of them to answer myself.

Who/What got you into reading?

I’ve been reading as long as I can remember. One of my earliest memories is of sitting in our basement, reading a tiny little book of Peanuts comics.

My parents were (are) both readers, and our house was full of books of all kinds.

There’s a photo of me as a toddler, sitting on the floor, “reading” a copy of Ringer’s Winning Through Intimidation. I also happen to have a washcloth on my head, proving that I have always loved books and always had questionable fashion sense.

What are your favorite genres?

Historical fiction, mystery, and some fantasy. I’ve been on a cozy mystery kick of late. I used to be slightly obsessed with Arthurian-inspired tales. And, of course, I’m completely obsessed with Sherlock Holmes.

On the non-fiction side, I enjoy memoir, social science, and history, especially the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration.

What are your least favorite genres?

As a teen, I was really into horror, but I’ve found that as an adult (and particularly since becoming a parent), I just can’t read it anymore. The big-name thriller novels are also generally out for me. I like my mysteries cozy, historical, and/or “soft-boiled”, as I once heard them described.

If you had to choose between bringing a mediocre book series or one great standalone book to a deserted island, which would you pick?

One great stand-alone, please. Something I can read again and again and keep finding interesting things to think about.

How do you organize your bookshelves? Do you even have any organizational system?

As a Librarian, I am deeply horrified at the idea of not having an organizational system for my books. (Just kidding. Mostly.)

My books are loosely organized by subject, and sometimes then organized by author. My knitting/crochet/spinning books are all together and usually alphabetized. I have a small(-ish) bookcase that is all Sherlock Holmes books, with scholarship and pastiches in their own sections, plus another shelf with books about Arthur Conan Doyle and Victorian England, and a small shelf of Holmes adaptations/pastiches in graphic novel format.

When I have a lot of books by one author, I put them together and organize them by title.

What’s the next book on your TBR that you’re excited about?

Strange the Dreamer, by Laini Taylor – I heard about this a while back, thought it sounded interesting, and then kind of forgot about it until it was named a Printz Honor book.

Have you ever gone to any book signings? Which was your favorite?

I’ve been to several signings for Neil Gaiman, including one at ALA Annual Conference first thing in the morning the day after the Newbery/Caldecott Award Dinner in 2009. He was scheduled to sign at the publisher’s booth at 9am, when the Exhibits Hall opened for the day.

I got to the Convention Center and was waiting outside the closest door to the booth at 7am. (At 7:05, the girl next to me in that photo arrived with her mom. The first thing she said was something like, “See! I told you there’d be people waiting!”)

Around 8:30, one of the HarperCollins employees brought out signs for the beginning and end of the line that was by then quite long. The one I’m holding says, “Neil Gaiman line starts here”. He signed it for me (along with my book); it has been under the glass top on my desk ever since.

Another ALA signing with a special place in my heart was in 2012, when Jeanette Winterson was in the Exhibit Hall signing ARCs of her memoir, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? Her first book, Oranges are not the Only Fruit, is one of my absolute all-time favorite books. Of course, I didn’t manage to bring my beloved original copy with me to the conference, so I had to buy a new copy there. (Yes, “had to”.) Which is why I now have two copies of Oranges (I used to have three, actually – my original copy, a second copy I picked up at my local used bookshop, and the copy I bought that day and had signed) and two copies of Why Be Normal (the signed ARC and the hardback that I got as soon as it published).

Hardcovers or Paperbacks or eBooks or Audiobooks?

Yes, please! I will have all the books, thanks. I love a nice hardback book, but library ebooks might be stealing my heart.

What is the ideal reading day for you look like?

Me, a pot of tea, some yummy snacks, and a cozy spot under a blanket on the couch. (I actually did this on a day off work, while my daughter was at school, and read Dan Brown’s Origin. It was lovely.)

What book are you most excited about in 2018?

All the Perverse Angels, by Sarah Marr, which released yesterday!

I got to read the book when it was still in manuscript. I’m so excited that it’s finally out in the world!

(Full disclosure: I got to read the book pre-publication because Sarah is a good friend of mine. She is also a fantastic writer, and the book is amazing.)

This is a beautiful book about love and loss and art and feelings and stories. It is powerful and smart and original, and you should read it.

 

Now, I’m off to read some more #BookishBloggersUnite via the link-up in Katy’s post.

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2018 Reading Challenge Check-In #1

We’re one month into 2018, so how are those Reading Challenges going?

I’ve fallen a bit behind, though not as much as I thought before I went and put together this post! I went to New York in early January, then came home and promptly got a massive cold. Which I attempted to ignore while catching up at work.

The cold would not be ignored. So, that went well.

On to the Challenges!

Mount TBR (hosted at My Reader’s Block for 2018)

Goal: 24 books
End of January Progress: 16% (target pace: 8%)

Ahead of schedule, and I even posted reviews of three out of the four. Of course, the one I liked the most, The Dollhouse, is the one that I didn’t get around to actually reviewing.

 


The Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge at Roof Beam Reader

Goal: 12 books
End of January Progress: 8% (target pace: 8%)

This is the only Challenge that required a list at the beginning of the year. I’m right on target pace-wise, but I’ve discovered that I might have actually gotten rid of one of the books on my list! Oops.

 


Newbery Reading Challenge at Smiling Shelves

Goal: Konigsburg (75+ points)
End of January Progress: 4% (target pace: 8%)

  • Sounder by William Armstrong: 3 points (Newbery winner, 1970)

A bit behind on this one, but no reason to think I won’t catch up soon – probably later this month, once the 2018 YMAs are announced.

 

Old School Kidlit Reading Challenge 2018 at Read-at-Home Mom

Goal: 12 books
End of January Progress: 8% (target pace: 8%)

  • Sounder by William Armstrong, published in 1969

Right on target with this one. I’m also planning to re-read A Wrinkle in Time, which wasn’t on my original list, but qualifies, since it was published in 1962.


Book Riot Read Harder 2018

End of January Progress: 12.5% (target pace: 8%)

  • A children’s classic published before 1980: Sounder by William Armstrong, published in 1969
  • A one-sitting book: The Grownup by Gillian Flynn
  • The first book in a new-to-you YA or middle grade series: Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett

My next challenge will probably be the celebrity memoir one, just as soon as my library hold on Jenifer Lewis’s The Mother of Black Hollywood comes through.


2018 Book Blog Discussion Challenge

Goal: Creative Conversationalist (11-20 posts – aiming for 12)
End of January Progress: 8% (target pace: 8%)


2018 Share-a-Tea Reading Challenge at Becky’s Book Reviews

I’ve fallen down on this one and not posted about any teas in January. I’ll have to get to work on that!

So, how’s your 2018 reading going?

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Ten Books I’m Looking Forward to in February

There are a lot of great books coming out next month. These are just 10 that I’m especially looking forward to reading. (Plus a bonus at the end of the list!)

1. The Art of Vanishing: A Memoir of Wanderlust by Laura Smith (February 6)

Part memoir, part real-life mystery, this looks like a really interesting read, examining the choices we make and the sacrifices we choose. The publisher says it’s “a riveting mystery and a piercing exploration of marriage and convention that asks deep and uncomfortable questions: Why do we give up on our childhood dreams? Is marriage a golden noose? Must we find ourselves in the same row houses with Pottery Barn lamps telling our kids to behave? Searingly honest and written with a raw intensity, it will challenge you to rethink your most intimate decisions and may just upend your life.”

 

2. Feel Free by Zadie Smith (February 6)

The publisher’s blurb characterizes Smith as “[e]qually at home in the world of good books and bad politics, Brooklyn-born rappers and the work of Swiss novelists, she is by turns wry, heartfelt, indignant, and incisive–and never any less than perfect company.” I enjoyed Swing Time, and this essay collection sounds great.

 

3. Becoming Madeleine: A Biography of the Author of A Wrinkle in Time by Her Granddaughters by Charlotte Jones Voiklis (February 6)

With the movie of A Wrinkle in Time coming out this year, I’m looking forward to re-reading a favorite of my elementary school years. I’m also looking forward to this biography of L’Engle, written by her granddaughters.

 

4. The Lost Girls of Camp Forevermore by Kim Fu (February 13)

I’m looking forward to this novel, which promises to follow five women from girlhood “through successes and failures, loving relationships and heartbreaks; we see what it means to find, and define, oneself, and the ways in which the same experience is refracted through different people. In diamond-sharp prose, Kim Fu gives us a portrait of friendship and of the families we build for ourselves—and the pasts we can’t escape.”

5. The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (February 13)

This looks like a super-cute comic for middle grade readers. It features a French Prince with a secret identity – “the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!” His best friend is a talented dressmaker, but her own dreams must be kept on the back burner as long as she keeps his secret. I’m trying to read more comics in 2018, and this is a great addition to my TBR.

 

6. Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories by Kelly Barnhill (February 20)

A short-story collection from the winner of the 2017 Newbery Award. The Minneapolis Star Tribune calls Barnhill “a fantasist on the order of Neil Gaiman” – one of my favorite authors. The blurb also says “the stories in Dreadful Young Ladies feature bold, reality-bending invention underscored by richly illuminated universal themes of love, death, jealousy, hope, and more.”

 

7. Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower by Brittney Cooper (February 20)

The publisher’s description says: “With the election of Donald Trump and the massive step backward this signals for both African Americans and women, Eloquent Rage offers a way forward, one that encourages us all not to be cowed or silenced by fear. It looks to the lives of Black women — one of the nation’s most maligned subjects — for direction. For it is Black women who model critical dissent as a practice of prophetic love not for who America is, but for who she can be.” I expect this book to make me uncomfortable and challenge me in necessary ways.

 

8. Don’t Call Me Princess: Essays on Girls, Women, Sex, and Life by Peggy Orenstein (February 27)

I’ve been meaning to read Orenstein’s Cinderella Ate My Daughter for ages. This collection of essays is super-timely; the publisher says they’ve been “updated with both an original introduction and personal reflections on each piece. Her takes on reproductive justice, the infertility industry, tensions between working and stay-at-home moms, pink ribbon fear-mongering and the complications of girl culture are not merely timeless—they have, like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, become more urgent in our contemporary political climate. Don’t Call Me Princess offers a crucial evaluation of where we stand today as women—in our work lives, sex lives, as mothers, as partners—illuminating both how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go.”

 

9. Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress by Steven Pinker (February 27)

I’m really hoping this one will, well, give me some hope. In a very rationalistic, practical way. The description says it “makes the case for reason, science, and humanism: the ideals we need to confront our problems and continue our progress.”

 

 

10. Enough As She Is: How to Help Girls Move Beyond Impossible Standards of Success to Live Healthy, Happy, and Fulfilling Lives by Rachel Simmons (February 27)

My daughter is on the verge of teenagerhood, and this book claims to offer “practical parenting advice — including teaching girls self-compassion as an alternative to self-criticism, how to manage overthinking, resist the constant urge to compare themselves to peers, take healthy risks, navigate toxic elements of social media, prioritize self-care, and seek support when they need it.”

 

And a bonus: All the Perverse Angels by Sarah K Marr (February 22)

I actually already have a copy of this book, and I’m so thrilled that it’s finally going to be available to everyone! I’m just going to put the whole description here:

Anna, an art curator, leaves a psychiatric hospital and finds herself in an English village, sharing a rented cottage with her partner. Seeking refuge from the aftermath of past infidelities, she constructs a personal reality from the brushstrokes and histories of her favourite artworks.

A chance discovery in the cottage’s attic leads Anna on a journey back to the late nineteenth century and the complicated relationships of two women studying at Oxford University.

As Anna’s investigations blend with the students’ story, and the threads of her life intertwine with those of a century earlier, she finds a way to run ever farther from her pain. But the past is not all it seems, and Anna’s escape routes are taken from her, one by one, until she must face the truth of her present.

All the Perverse Angels is a breathtaking novel about the nature of loss and the confusion of love, about the stories we are told and the stories we tell ourselves.

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The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

The Grownup

The Grownup by Gillian Flynn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I didn’t stop giving hand jobs because I wasn’t good at it. I stopped giving hand jobs because I was the best at it.

That’s our introduction to our unnamed narrator, who has recently started posing as a fortune-teller who reads auras (in the front room of the same establishment where she has been providing orgasms to lonely men in the back room). She’s a clever young woman who grew up a grifter and relies on her keen observation skills to provide just the right story to the right person to part them from their money. But her skills at reading people might not be quite enough in this creepy, twisty tale.

This is a skinny little book at just 62 pages, a hardback the size of a thin paperback. It was originally published as a short story in George R. R. Martin’s Rogues anthology under the title “What Do You Do?” (Which is a really excellent title for this story, actually.) It won the 2015 Best Short Story Edgar.

The narrator (I really wish she had a name) is a compelling character. She’s so sure of herself – a confidence woman in multiple senses. I was reminded a bit of Selina Dawes in Sarah Waters’ Affinity, brought up into the 21st century. She’s flawed in ways she recognizes and in ways she doesn’t. She should be one of those “unlikeable” characters, but you want to like her.

I haven’t read Gone Girl, even though it seems like everyone else has. I really enjoyed this little taste of her writing, so I can see why everyone’s been buzzing about her novels.

Source: Book of the Month club

Reading Challenges: Counts for Read Harder (Task 15: A one-sitting book), Mount TBR

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Sounder by William H. Armstrong

Sounder

Sounder by William H. Armstrong
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The tall man stood at the edge of the porch. The roof sagged from the two rough posts which held it, almost closing the gap between his head and the rafters.

Somewhere in the deep South, a young black boy lives with his family in a small cabin. One morning, he is surprised to discover pork sausage and ham cooking. For a family of impoverished sharecroppers, this is an unexpected luxury. Even their hound/bulldog mix, Sounder, gets a treat. The joy is short-lived, however, as the white Sheriff and his deputies arrive at their door and take the boy’s father away in chains. The boy grows into a young man with Sounder by his side.

I’ll start by noting the elephant in the room: this book, published in 1969 (and winner of the 1970 Newbery Medal), is a story about a black family written by a white man. The book opens with an author’s note beginning, “Fifty years ago, I learned to read at a round table in the center of a large, sweet-smelling, steam-softened kitchen. My teacher was a gray-haired black man who taught the one-room Negro school several miles away from where we lived in the Green Hill district of the county.” This would have been in the late 1910s; Armstrong was born in Virginia in 1911. He goes on to explain that his teacher told him many stories, including “the story of Sounder, a coon dog.” This book is, says Armstrong, “the black man’s story, not mine.”

Perhaps that is why none of the characters, other than the dog, are given names. For that matter, the place is never specified. Or maybe the vagueness is intended to leave as much as possible to the reader’s imagination.  In any case, our protagonist is always referred to as simply “the boy” – which feels a little awkward and uncomfortable. The particular racist use of the term is touched on in the novel itself: “‘Stick out your hands, boy,’ ordered the second man. The boy started to raise his hands, but the man was already reaching over the stove, snapping handcuffs on the outstretched wrists of his father.”

Throughout the short novel, we see the institutional and casual racism of the place and time through the boy’s eyes. He’s led a fairly sheltered life, rarely leaving the warm circle of his own family. His interactions with the people he encounters over the years reflect the prevailing attitudes.

I think this would be a great book to read with a group (a classroom or a book group) paired with an Own Voices book like Linda Williams Jackson’s Midnight without a Moon or Sharon M. Draper’s Stella by Starlight.

Source: Checked out from the public library

Reading Challenges: Counts for the Old School Kidlit Challenge (published 1969), the Newbery Reading Challenge (Medal Winner: 3 points), and Read Harder (Task 11: A children’s classic published before 1980).

View all my reviews

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A Disappointing Start

It’s been a bit of a rough start to my reading year here in 2018. I had high hopes for the first book I read this year, but it was not quite what I expected. I knew going into the second book that I hadn’t loved the book to which it was a sequel. And the book was okay, but that’s it.

Both books count for the Mount TBR challenge, and one counts for the TBR Pile challenge. Neither one satisfies a Read Harder task, so I ought to get cracking on that. I really need something good, too. (I am also reading A Study in Scarlet as part of my personal Canon Reading project, but that’s a known quantity.)

How is your reading year going? Are you working on any challenges? Did you choose a book specifically to be your first book of 2018?

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Geek Girls Unite by Leslie Simon

Geek Girls Unite: How Fangirls, Bookworms, Indie Chicks, and Other Misfits Are Taking Over the WorldGeek Girls Unite: How Fangirls, Bookworms, Indie Chicks, and Other Misfits Are Taking Over the World by Leslie Simon
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Once upon a time, to be labeled a “geek” was a fate worse than death. It meant you were an outcast. A loser. Destined for a solitary existence where a twelve-sided die would provide you with the only action you’d ever know. However, over the past decade or so, four-eyed social pariahs have been waging a quiet — yet powerful — revolt.

Over the course of this relatively-slim volume, Simon describes the “Fangirl Geek”, “Literary Geek”, “Film Geek”, “Music Geek”, “Funny-Girl Geek”, “Domestic Goddess Geek”, and a handful of others lumped into “Miscellaneous Geek”. For each type that gets a whole chapter, there is a quiz for the reader to test her own category knowledge, a “character sketch” of personality traits, a “Geek Mythology” section recounting relevant historical events and people, a “Geek Goddesses” section of short biographies of celebrities who fit the particular type, a list of “Frenemies” to beware of, and a “Geek Love” section describing the type of guy who would be a perfect match for the girl who identifies herself as a Fangirl/Literary/Film/etc Geek.

It’s a fun idea, and the Mythology and Goddesses portions are the best part of the book. Unfortunately, they’re weighed down by the snarky jabs in both the “Frenemies” lists and the quiz sections, and occasionally in the opening “character sketch”. But it was the “Geek Love” bit in each chapter that really left me mystified. It just seemed completely unnecessary. If the overarching theme of the book is “Hey, Geeky Girl, find yourself in this book and take pride in your quirks!”, then what is the relevance of several pages on What Kind of Guy You Should be Looking For? The idea that the reader might not be looking for a guy at all is never even suggested. Apparently, all girl geeks are heterosexual.

I had such high hopes for this book, which just makes it doubly disappointing. I made it my first read of the new year, thinking that it would help set a tone of empowerment and pride. I finished it mostly because I didn’t want to DNF the very first book I was reading for the TBR Pile Challenge.

Source: This book has been sitting on my shelves for years. I’m honestly not sure if I bought it, was given it as a gift, or picked it up at a conference as a freebie.

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2018 Discussion Challenge

Welcome to the 2018 Book Blog Discussion Challenge hosted by Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction and Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight!

Even when I’ve failed to complete specific reading challenge lists, I’ve still read a lot of books. What I haven’t done is post about them! This challenge is all about starting discussions on book blogs.

There are five levels for this challenge:

  • 1-10 – Discussion Dabbler
  • 11-20 – Creative Conversationalist
  • 21-30 – Chatty Kathy
  • 31-40 – Terrifically Talkative
  • 41+ – Gift of the Gab

I’m aiming for “Creative Conversationalist” with a personal goal of 12 posts, because one post each month sounds reasonable.

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Share-a-Tea 2018

Like I could resist this one.

This is a pretty laid-back “challenge”, as it’s all about slowing down and enjoying a book along with a cup of tea. And discussing said books and tea with like-minded folks. You may have noticed that I like tea. A lot.

Becky says, “If you write a post on your blog announcing the challenge (and making a place to keep track of what you’ve read), consider sharing a bit about yourself–your reading and drinking habits.”

So, hi! I’m Beth, a Librarian at a busy branch library in the San Fernando Valley. I’m a transplant from Chicago, but I’ve been here 15 years. I’ve been told that my accent has even changed. (Of course, I can’t hear it!) I’m obsessed with Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson, knitting/crochet/spinning, and tea.

I drink a lot of black tea blends from Adagio. I also get a monthly subscription box from Tea Runners. I like lapsang souchong more than is probably reasonable. I also have a completely ridiculous sweet tooth. I recently won a tea-themed gift basket at a work function, in which there were 13 kinds of tea. (The basket was donated by my area of the library system. Three of those teas were donated by me.)

I’ll admit I was a tiny bit disappointed that that was not actually one giant Lindor truffle.

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Mount TBR Reading Challenge 2018

How many books do I have on my shelves that I’ve not got ’round to reading just yet?

Um… well… a few. Some. More than I would like. Enter the Mount TBR Reading Challenge!

Like the Official 2018 TBR Pile Challenge, this is all about reading those books that have been lying around waiting to be read. Those books that were enticing enough to buy, or perhaps were gifts, or (and this covers quite a few of mine) were part of a book-of-the-month type club many months ago.

This challenge is a little bit looser than the other TBR Challenge. Any book you own before 1/1/18 is fair game, and you can pick and choose throughout the year. There are several levels you can choose. I’m aiming for Mount Blanc: 24 books. Half of those will come from the other challenge, naturally. I may end up shooting for a higher goal by December. A girl can dream.

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