Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Readers Imbibing Peril Mini Reviews

Hello. Yes, I am ridiculously late with my Readers Imbibing Peril books. I did read them during September and October, but I've been in a bit of a blogging slump lately. Now that I'm getting back in the groove of writing about books here, I wanted to tell you about the books that would be perfect picks for spooky reading next year and the ones you can leave languishing on their library shelves.

Career of Evil is the third book in the Cormoran Strike series featuring the titular detective and his assistant Robin Ellacott. In this story, Robin is shocked and sickened when she opens a package at work and finds a severed leg. Cormoran has some ideas about who might have sent it, but the police won't listen to him so it is up to the intrepid duo to figure out who is targeting them and what their end game is. I think this was my least favorite of the series so far. The will they/won't they dynamic between Cormoran and Robin goes to some weird and frustrating places and it feels like the whole purpose of this case is to fill in backstory for the main characters as Cormoran muses about which figure from his past might send them a severed leg. This book also features the point of view of the perpetrator, so we get way too many pages of violent fantasy about assault to women.

Recommend for RIP? Meh.

Jane McKeene worries she will never be good at remembering proper etiquette or keeping her dress clean. But that is only part of her training--the rest of her classes at Miss Preston's School are about combat and defending wealthy white women from the zombies that rose up from the battlefields of the Civil War. But Jane's future as an attendant may never come to pass when she starts investigating the disappearance of local families and finds out that the zombie uprising is much more complicated than it appears. Dread Nation is a book where I loved the premise and the main character, but had a hard time sticking with the story the way that the author laid it out.

Recommend for RIP? Meh.

               Career of Evil (Cormoran Strike, #3)     Dread Nation (Dread Nation, #1)

A man returns home for a funeral and decides to go visit the family that lived down the road. Once there, he starts to remember the incredible and impossible things that happened the year that he turned seven. This is one of those books best entered not knowing too much about the plot; I didn't really know what it was about and I was thrilled to enter into this melancholy little book. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is magical and atmospheric and captures the feeling of being a child who feels unseen and misunderstood by adults, while also understanding the distance and beauty of memory. This reads almost like a parable or fairy tale, where there is no wasted information and anything is possible. If somehow you have missed reading Neil Gaiman or this one in particular, get to it!

Recommend for RIP? Yes!

Nancy thought she was all alone, the only child to stumble into another world. But at Eleanor West's Home for Wayward Children, she finds people just like her who lived for a time in a magical realm only to find they no longer fit in back home. As Nancy starts to find her place among these strange and broken children, someone is murdered. In a house where people will do anything to get back to their magical worlds, is anyone safe? Every Heart a Doorway is an incredibly dark story because there is a brutal murderer in the house, but mostly because these children have been through traumatic experiences. Seanan McGuire has done an incredible job of giving you just enough information so you can imagine the beautiful, terrible, amazing worlds they have visited and see how the darkness of magical worlds compares to the darkness in our own.

Recommend for RIP? Yes!

          The Ocean at the End of the Lane    Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children, #1)

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Review: Unsheltered

Willa's life has not gone the way she expected. She finds herself in a crumbling house in Vineland, New Jersey with her husband, her dying father-in-law, her adult daughter, her son's baby, and no job. Willa is determined to find a way to care for her family and when she discovers that a famous female scientist from the time of Darwin might have lived in her house, she thinks that  will be the key to ensuring their home doesn't fall down around them. The story moves through two timelines, as we see Willa and her family in the present and the people who lived in and around their home in the mid-nineteenth century--scientist Mary Treat and schoolteacher Thatcher Greenwood.

Barbara Kingsolver is the author of beloved books The Poisonwood Bible and The Bean Trees and a new book of hers is always a big deal in the literary world. In Unsheltered, she masterfully shows the frustration and heartbreak of doing everything right and not being able to make ends meet. Willa and her husband are both starting over again in their careers in journalism and academia instead of having stability after decades of working. She is having trouble navigating the endless complications of medical care for her sick father-in-law. Her son has finished graduate school, but his world implodes when his girlfriend commits suicide and leaves him as the sole parent to their baby. This kind of story is all too familiar to modern readers, who know all about stringing together several part-time gigs  and still not being able to pay the bills or spending all their savings when someone needs unexpected medical care.

There are many readers who felt that this book was too political and devolved into political diatribe with Willa's debates with her very Republican father-in-law or daughter Tig's ruminations on how the generations before her ruined both the planet and the economy. But for me, it felt very of the moment. It might be impossible to write about the past few years without acknowledging that very charged political discussions are everywhere and many people are discouraged and angry with the way things are going in the United States.

As always, Barbara Kingsolver gives a master class in doing good research and crafting rich characters that compel readers to follow them through a story. It is obvious she did a great deal of research into the accomplishments of real-life scientist Mary Treat and the fascinatingly bizarre origins of Vineland, New Jersey. She has written a book that captures this specific moment in time and also reminds us that having to start all over again is a familiar story across generations.

By Barbara Kingsolver
Harper October 2018
480 pages
From the library

Saturday, October 20, 2018

The 24 Hour Readathon, Fall 2018

And so we say goodbye to another Readathon! Thank you to everyone who worked so hard to make Readathon happen. I found that this year, I checked in online periodically but I didn't really feel like participating in the mini-challenges or bingo. So I did a lot of reading and it was lovely.

Closing Survey
1. Which hour was most daunting for you? Friends, I was tired this time around! I usually make it to at least hour 18 or so, which is 2 a.m. on the East Coast of the United States. This time, I was falling asleep in my book before midnight. Oh well!
2. Tell us ALLLLL the books you read! I read When Dimple Met Rishi, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, An Age of License, Every Heart a Doorway, one Flannery O'Connor story, and I listened to 13 chapters of my audiobook Cress. 3. Which books would you recommend to other Read-a-thoners? The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Every Heart a Doorway are perfect for the fall Readathon! They are both short and creepy without being so terrifying that you have to turn every light on in your house. 4. What’s a really rad thing we could do during the next Read-a-thon that would make you happy? I don't know! I look forward to seeing what will happen in April. 
5. How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? Would you be interested in volunteering to help organize and prep? If I'm free, I'm always here for Readathon and I would be happy to help out with whatever our intrepid leaders need! 

Mid-Event Survey:
1. What are you reading right now? I'm reading some Flannery O'Connor short stories and trying to decide on my next book. 
2. How many books have you read so far? Four
3. What book are you most looking forward to for the second half of the Read-a-thon? I'm looking forward to dipping back into some comics when I start to get tired (Giant Days, Lucy Knisley) 
4. Have you had many interruptions? How did you deal with those? Well, I have two kids and I had to do a few things, so I just kept going. 
5. What surprises you most about the Read-a-thon, so far? Nothing really, although the time is going by strangely; sometimes it's really fast and other times, I can't believe how much reading I've done in a little time! 

So it's time to check in again! I've read four books so far--When Dimple Met Rishi, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, An Age of License, and Every Heart a Doorway. I've also been listening to the audiobook of Cress when I had to do some other things.

              The Ocean at the End of the Lane    Every Heart a Doorway (Wayward Children, #1)
The boy has been sick for the past few days, but he managed to read four books: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Geeked Out, and Game Over, Pete Watson. I also took some time this afternoon and went to the library with the little girl. Tonight at bedtime, we read Yasmin the Fashionista and Lucia the Luchadora. 

Now I'm looking forward to some ice cream and short stories. What are you reading? 

Getting to Know You Survey
1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today? Hello from New Jersey! Today is pretty gloomy, which is fine with me. Who needs to go outside when there is reading to do? 
2) Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to? I'm pretty excited to read When Dimple Met Rishi and catch up on some Lucy Knisley comics. 3) Which snack are you most looking forward to? I have to confess I didn't do a lot of snack planning this year. However, I did make a giant batch of pumpkin pancakes the other day so there will definitely be pancakes at some point. 4) Tell us a little something about yourself! I've lived in New Jersey since I was five, I married the boy I started dating in eighth grade, I have two kids, and I am really enjoying expanding my editing business now that my little one is in kindergarten. 5) If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today? If this is your first read-a-thon, what are you most looking forward to? I figured out that this is my 15th Readathon (!) so I'm going to relax and enjoy reading lots of fantastic books. Thanks to everyone who makes Readathon possible every year! 

Friday, October 19, 2018

Readathon Prep and Tips

Tomorrow is Readathon! In a world where temperatures drop 40 degrees in one day, it's nice to know that one thing is certain: each fall and spring, readers around the world will assemble an audacious stack of books, fill their fridges and cupboards with snacks, and settle in to read for 24 hours.

If you haven't signed up yet, there is still time! Go here to join us.

Here are the books I'm starting out with tomorrow:

Comics: Displacement, Giant Days
Fiction: The Ocean at the End of the Lane, When Dimple Met Rishi, The Keep
Short stories: The Sadness of Beautiful Things, The Complete Stories of Flannery O'Connor
I also have A Forever Family on my kindle and the audiobook of Cress on my phone.

I figured out that I have been a part of the Readathon since I started blogging in 2011, which means that this is my 15th Readathon. If you are a newbie, I have some tips for you!

1) Variety, variety, variety
Make your stack of books ridiculously large and as varied as possible. It's terrible to only plan a book or two and then find that you hate them and have to go find something else. Give yourself a lot of options and make sure that you have children's books, short stories, audiobooks, and comics in the mix--you never know what is going to keep you awake when you have been reading for 18 hours!

2) Take a break
Seriously. Get up. Stretch. Go for a walk. Take 10 minutes and clean up your kitchen or vacuum your living room. Sitting in one place for too long is an invitation to fall asleep.

3) Eat and drink well
Half the fun of readathon is planning and eating delicious snacks. But this is not a good time to triple your caffeine consumption or eat only Cheetos for a day. Your body needs good fuel to go with the snacks and lots of water. Keep drinking water!

4) Relax
Readathon is a fun day. It's not the day to beat yourself up because your kid had a soccer game or you only read one book when that crazy lady on twitter read 22. Read things that make you happy, check in and see what wonderful books people are talking about online, and revel in the knowledge that there are people all over the world who love books just as much as you do.

Happy Readathon, Friends!

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Review: The Family Tabor

Harry Tabor is about to be honored as the Man of the Decade in Palm Springs. He will be recognized for his work in helping Jewish families escape persecution and resettle in Florida. Harry's family gathers to celebrate his accomplishments--his wife Roma, an insightful child psychologist; his daughter Pheobe who keeps talking about a boyfriend no one has met; his daughter Camille who is trying to discern where to take her anthropology work next; and his son Simon, whose new interest in his Jewish roots is causing problems with his wife. But before Harry can be honored, he vanishes into the night. Each family member has a secret, but it will be Harry's sudden memory of his actions many years ago that could unravel everything that they have worked to accomplish.

The Family Tabor is a story told in fragments: we get a bit of Harry's history and then a piece of a child's present. Cherise Wolas has written a book (and a family) that you must commit to following because it's not linear and it won't go where you expect. The present action is limited but, as each person reveals a little piece of themselves, we understand the full impact of their choices on their family. It's also an examination of how one family and its members fit within the history of a people and a religion as the Tabors decide what it means to be Jewish in the 21st century.

Wolas' writing is insightful and powerfully draws readers into the inner lives of her characters. It is clear that these people care for each other, even if they can't always be honest with each other. This story requires some suspension of belief with its conceit that Harry forgot something important for so long and Wolas is not afraid to leave her readers in unexpected places, but it's worth experiencing these characters and their search for where they fit in their family and the world.

The Family Tabor
By Cherise Wolas
Flatiron Books July 2018
400 pages
Read via Netgalley

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Readalong: The High Wire Edition

A few years ago, I started a series called Readalongs. It fell to the wayside a bit, but I recently read a book that brought it right back to the forefront of my mind. 

As you probably know, I have two littles (10 and 5, respectively). It's fun to read beloved childhood classics with the kids in your life. But it can be even more fun is to pair books for kids and adults that have the same kind of stories. So, welcome to volume 3 of Readalongs!

Mirette on the High Wire was one of my favorite books as a little girl and I've read it with both of my children. Mirette lives with her mother in a boardinghouse. They often get interesting boarders, but Mirette is particularly intrigued by a sad man who used to be a famous high wire walker. She is determined to find out what happened to him and to convince him to teach her to walk the wire.

Older readers can find that love of high wire walking in Girl on a Wire by Gwenda Bond. Jules Maroni is a proud member of a circus family. But when the join the Cirque American, she discovers there is very bad history between the Maroni family and the Garcia family. Jules finds cursed objects in her costume and trailer and things start to go terribly wrong. Can she figure out who is trying to destroy the Maroni name and make her fall from the wire? 

Whether you are a kid or an adult, there is something alluring about living among the magic of the circus and climbing up to walk the wire each night. Are there other books about high rope walkers that you love?

       Mirette on the High Wire     Girl on a Wire (Cirque American #1)

Other Readalongs:
The Fox Edition
The Pirate Ship Time Travel Edition 

Friday, September 7, 2018

Review: Off the Clock

Laura Vanderkam's entire career revolves around people's ability (or inability) to manage their time. She studies how people order their days and the habits that make them feel productive. When she found herself with an unexpected free day, it surprised her to realize how restorative it was and how difficult it could be to make that free time happen. In her most recent book, Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done, Vanderkam investigates how we can find margin in our lives and find good even in the necessary repetition of life.

When I heard people rave about this book, I have to admit I was dubious at first. Surely the author would advise us to take certain steps that would be possible for some and cause the rest of us to laugh a bit before putting the book aside. Instead, Laura Vanderkam guides readers to think differently about their time. While she does begin the book by urging each of us to track our time, she believes that we can all enjoy the time that we prepare for. Once you've decided on your priorities, the key to feeling like you have time might just be taking it. Vanderkam advises leaving white space in your schedule and taking concrete steps to remember unexpected beautiful moments.

It's often hard to manage our time because we don't have hard boundaries. We work from our office and from home or juggle side gigs. We certainly don't get to clock out from raising kids or caring for elderly parents. But Vanderkam is quick to point out that investing in people is a good use of time. When we spend time intentionally strengthening the relationships with our friends and family, it makes us happier and interestingly makes it feel like we have more time, not less.

Laura Vanderkam has written a book that could really change how you view and spend your time. I have a better sense of how I can enjoy my time after reading Off the Clock and I can see returning to this book when I'm feeling a time crunch.

Off The Clock
Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done
By Laura Vanderkam
Portfolio May 2018
256 pages
From the library