Sunday, May 31, 2015

It's Monday and I am loving A Little Life


This week was a lot of catch-up for me after my sister's wedding weekend, so the blog was pretty quiet. I did write a post to check in about what I had been reading and raved about the awesomeness of Saga.

Reading-wise, I've been immersed in A Little Life. At 720 pages, it's taking me a while but I can already tell that I will be sad when my time with Jude, Willem, Malcolm, J.B. and the rest is over. If you haven't read it yet, get to your library or bookstore already! But be warned that it is some very heartbreaking stuff.

Reading Now:
A Little Life
A Little Life
By Hanya Yanagihara

Up Next:
Tiffany Girl            The Folded Clock: A Diary
Tiffany Girl                                       The Folded Clock
By Deeanne Gist                               By Heidi Julavits

What are you reading this week? 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

5 Reasons to Read Saga

Saga, Book One
By Brian K Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Image Comics November 2014
504 pages
From the library 

Saga Deluxe Edition, Volume 1

1. This story is all about family.
Saga may be set in the middle of an intergalactic conflict, but the characters are devoted to their families. We see parents coming to the aid of their adult children, spouses supporting each other, and people grieving the loss of their loved ones. But this story also subtly suggests that families can be created when people come together to fight for what is right.

2. Awesome women
Hello cover of a nursing mother! This might be my favorite cover ever. The story in fact opens with a birth as a Marko and Alana, a couple from opposite sides of the war, bring their baby Hazel into the world while danger is literally knocking at the door. This story is full of women fighting for what they believe in and generally being awesome, all the while being nurturing mothers, wives, and friends.

3. It's impossible to put down
I confess I picked up the collection intending to read one issue and then put it down for a while. That did not happen. I read this straight through, all 18 issues of goodness. Vaughan and Staples drop the readers right into the middle of action and it doesn't let up. When I finished this collection, I went right to my computer to request the next volume from the library. 

4. The world building is amazing.
You can't set a story in far-off planets and not explore other places and species, right? We travel with Marko and Alana around the galaxy, sometimes in a ship that grew out of a tree, and encounter royals with tvs for heads, ruthless bounty hunters, and a world populated entirely by brothels (have I mentioned this is definitely not a series for kids?)

5. Fun and thought-provoking
Saga is a blast to read. It's clever, beautifully drawn, and has characters you have to adore. But it is also written to make you think about issues that exist both on the page and real life. Vaughan is taking a hard look at war, slavery, and power and reading this awesome collection will make you do the same. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Checking In

Well, I'm a little late to meet up with everyone for the "It's Monday, What Are You Reading" posts, but here I am. It's been a whirlwind weekend as my sister got married on Saturday and I haven't been home since Friday morning. It's been a really great to spend lots of time with my entire family these past few days.

Last week on the blog, I shared some thoughts on two graphic novels I read during the 24 Hour Readathon, and reviewed The Bullet by Mary Louise Kelly. Reading-wise, I started off with The Memory Painter but it wasn't really working for me. I put it aside for now (which is not really my strong suit) and sat down and read straight through Volume 4 of Saga instead. Then I spent some time with a Catholic family in Massachusetts in Inside the O'Briens. I brought The Girl on the Train with me for the wedding weekend and managed to finish it on Monday night. I promise some posts will appear on this blog again soon!

                                    Inside the O'Briens   Saga, Volume 4
                                        Inside the O'Briens                Saga: Volume 4

                                                          The Girl on the Train
                                                          The Girl on the Train

Up Next:
Royal Wedding (The Princess Diaries, #11)                 A Little Life
Royal Wedding                                     A Little Life
By Meg Cabot                                       By Hanya Yanagihara

What are you reading this week?

Friday, May 22, 2015

Review: The Bullet

The Bullet
By Mary Louise Kelly
Gallery Books March 2015
368 pages
Read for review via Netgalley

The Bullet

Caroline Cashion has a certain order to her days. She teaches her classes at Georgetown University, she visits her parents, and she has lots of time to read the books that she loves. When she gets an MRI, she is stunned to learn that there is a bullet at the base of her skull. She has no memory of ever being shot. Caroline soon discovers that everything she thought she knew about her childhood was false. Her beloved parents adopted her as a three year old after her biological parents were brutally murdered. She heads down South to her hometown, determined to find answers about what happened to her parents that night. But the bullet lodged in her skull is from that terrible night - will it help her find the truth or bring the killer back to finish what he started 33 years ago?

Thrillers are not my usual cup of tea, but something about the description of an ordinary professor drawn into intrigue drew me into the story. Caroline was a very believable protagonist. I am often frustrated by books and movies where an ordinary Joe or Jane suddenly is able to beat up all the bad guys and shoot with perfect aim and win in a car chase. That's not the case here. Caroline is a professor of French literature and so she goes looking for the story. She starts at the local newspaper and ends up talking to the cop who worked the case and her old neighbors. She certainly picks up some skills as she goes and evolves, but it is a gradual change. 

This novel is dark in places because it is about knowing ourselves. Caroline adores her family and thinks that she knows her history, but finding out new things about her past makes her question who she is, what she wants, and just what she is capable of doing. She is heartbroken that her parents and brothers have been lying to her for her entire life and must learn to trust them again after a lifetime of lies by omission.

Ms. Kelly does a wonderful job of portraying place. We begin in Washington D. C. as we travel in and around Georgetown. Caroline travels to Georgia to find answers and readers are treated to a totally different landscape and a group of people who are very different from Caroline's usual big city companions. I don't want to spoil anything, but Caroline travels to one more place during this book and the attention to detail makes the reader feel as if they have been instantly transported.

The Bullet is a great fast-paced read that will have you flipping pages late into the night, all the while wondering just what you would be capable of if your life changed forever in one terrifying moment. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Readathon Mini-Reviews: Seconds and The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage

Katie is a talented young chef with her own successful restaurant and plans to open another one. But she doesn't always make the best decisions. When Katie reignites a tryst with the sous chef in order to feel better about the reappearance of her old boyfriend, disaster strikes. A waitress is terribly burned and Katie wishes she had a chance to do that day all over again. In the middle of the night, a girl appears in her room and instructs her to write down her mistake, eat a magical mushroom, and relive the day in question. So she does. She fixes her mistake. But Katie soon discovers that fixing one thing isn't enough - she wants to fix everything. As Katie rewrites her life, things quickly become complicated. Has she created a mess she can't get out of?

For a reader who doesn't often dip into graphic novels, this was a perfect pick. The story draws the reader right in - who doesn't imagine what they would do differently if they had a do over? The premise of the story is magical, of course, as Katie uses magic to live days over and finds herself on the bad side of an angry and powerful house elf. But at its core, it's about the responsibility of being a grownup and the knowledge that success in our professional and personal lives comes from hard work. There are no shortcuts or magic mushrooms. There is only putting in the time and the love and waiting to see what delicious combinations we can cook up.

By Bryan Lee O'Malley
Ballantine Books July 2014
323 pages
From the library

In ye olde 19th century, eccentric inventor Charles Babbage and sheltered mathematician Ada Lovelace invented plans for the first computer. Sadly, their machine was never built but it did go on to inspire more modern incarnations. Sydney Padua imagines what might have happened if Charles and Ada had brought their plans to fruition. How might they have used the machine? To save the economy? To finally get rid of street music? To fight crime? This book is jam packed with lots thrilling adventures and a good dose of Victorian history.

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage is one of those books I desperately wanted to love, but found a little flat. I appreciate so much that Sydney Padua is bringing science and history to life in a really fun way. The comics themselves and the accompanying footnotes are often chuckle-worthy as the author reveals the disparities between what she imagines and the realities of history. But I found myself having a tough time transitioning between the stories and the notes. Padua has included copious notes and she obviously understands her science. I oscillated between trying to understand the machinery (so maybe not the greatest pick for the wee hours of the morning on Readathon day) and wishing that the comics themselves were longer. I wanted more zany adventures with Lovelace and Babbage and I wanted the ones I did experience to be more fleshed out.

The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage:
The Mostly True Story of the First Computer
By Sydney Padua
Pantheon April 2015
320 pages
From the library

Monday, May 18, 2015

It's Monday and I bought more books. Whoops.

So our library's book sale was this week. I was sort of good. I only bought three books for me and four for D. And in my defense, I took several bags for our books to the library as donations. But my Thursday night purchases were not so helpful to my toppling tbr shelf.

I played the piano for the entire Sunday morning service at our church. I am pleased to report that there were no major catastrophes. Then I came home and feel asleep on the couch for the afternoon. Making music is hard work!

This week on the blog,  I reviewed Neil Patrick Harris' quirky autobiography and shared mini-reviews of Tiger Lily and Glaciers, two books I read during the April Readathon.

Read This Week:
Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy     Americanah
Scary Close                               Americanah
By Donald Miller                   By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie 

Up Next:
The Memory Painter: A Novel      Inside the O'Briens
The Memory Painter                  Inside the O'Briens
By Gwendolyn Womack            By Lisa Genova 

What are you reading this week? 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Readathon Mini-Reviews: Glaciers and Tiger Lily

I picked up this book because I love Peter Pan and I wanted to read a YA book during the 24 Hour Readathon. I was excited to read it, but I had no idea how much I would like it!

Tiger Lily is the story of Tiger Lily and Peter Pan told from the perspective of Tinker Bell. But this version is different from any you've read before. Tiger Lily is a sort of outsider in her own tribe. She was discovered by her tribe's shaman as a baby and the people's respect for him protects her even as her neighbors watch her with suspicion. When Tiger Lily encounters the boy behind the terrifying legend of Peter Pan, she finds someone who might actually understand her. Their growing relationship is threatened when Tiger Lily is promised in marriage to the village brute, but their greatest danger will be in the form of a group shipwrecked on their island...and one girl named Wendy.

This book is not a fluffy love story. It's a dark tale about coming to terms with being a grownup and taking responsibility for the difficult choices we have to make. The characters in this book have been broken by their circumstances and by their loneliness. They don't really know how to make good choices. Even the villains aren't truly villains in this tale. People you think you should despise (Captain Hook, anyone?) turn out to have tragedies of their own to shape them into the people they become. The characters are so well-written that I am still thinking and wondering about even the most minor of them. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants a new spin on Peter Pan's story or readers who appreciate a dark, well-written story.

Tiger Lily
By Jodi Lynn Anderson
HarperCollins July 2012
292 pages
From the library

Isabel is not the kind of person you would notice out on the street. She is a quiet young woman who works as an archivist at her local library and likes to wear vintage clothing. Glaciers take you into her life for just one day. On this particular day, Isabel is thinking about the guy who works down the hall and wondering if she has the nerve to invite him to a party that night.

This book is short and not many things happen in its pages. We are just following one woman on one day, where nothing particularly catastrophic happens. And yet the story is utterly captivating due to Smith's gorgeous writing. Isabel wonders about what it means to be home and what it is like to travel. She grew up in Alaska and now lives in Portland. But she dreams of traveling the world, especially through her collection of vintage postcards.

Glaciers is a tiny jewel of a novel. The story is gentle and lovely and the perfect read for a rainy evening or quiet weekend. Witnessing Isabel's examination of her past and her hopes and dreams for the future can only cause readers to do the same.

By Alexis M. Smith
Tin House Books January 2012
174 pages
From the library

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Review of Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography

Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography
Crown October 2014
304 pages
From the library

Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography

From his numerous television and stage performances, we know Neil Patrick Harris is a talented actor. His interviews and hosting gigs suggest that the real Neil is also a fun and fascinating person. But he might be the only person who would think to tell his life story through a Choose Your Own Adventure. 

Harris covers many of the things that have happened in his life so far. He recalls his childhood and his first experiences as an actor. He writes about his time in Broadway shows and his beloved television roles as Doogie Howser and Barney Stinson. We are also privy to much more personal moments, as he shares his thoughts on being outed as gay and becoming a father. 

One of the greatest things about this book is the transparency and humility that shine on every page. He is candid about his discomfort when another actor was unprofessional or unprepared for a role in a show. But then Harris confesses his own mistakes as he tried to balance television and stage roles and went onstage totally unprepared for his role in Company. His genuine gratitude for everything he has received and his joy that he is able to play for a living is apparent from cover to cover. 

The Choose Your Own Adventure format is really interesting and fun. I enjoyed it for a while, but unfortunately found myself getting the same endings again and again. Eventually, I had to give up and just read it from start to finish in order to ensure that I got to read the whole book. It's evident that Harris has a lot of fun with a totally original format, which means he can include annotations from his husband David, comics, quick synopses of the terrible TV movies he starred in, and magic tricks. Yup, magic tricks. 

Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography is a fun look into the life of a man who is a wonderful performer and just a genuinely nice guy. It's a book that will make you laugh, make you cheer on an awkward kid from New Mexico, and it just might make you do a few Netflix searches so you can get your NPH fix. 

Have you read any unique biographies lately?

Monday, May 11, 2015

It's Monday and I am feeling seriously lethargic

It's been a busy and exhausting couple of weeks around here. I would really love to stay in my bed for a day or two and read and nap. Alas, that's just not going to happen. I'm doing my best to be kind to myself and work through my giant to do list one thing at a time.

This week on the blog, I reviewed Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, talked about books that tell the same story from different perspectives, and tried to convince you all to pick up a new cookbook full of yumminess.

Read This Week:
My Brilliant Friend                  Gummi Bears Should Not Be Organic: And Other Opinions I Can't Back Up With Facts
My Brilliant Friend                            Gummi Bears Should Not Be Organic
By Elena Ferrante                               By Stephanie Wilder-Taylor

Up Next:
Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy              Americanah
Scary Close                                           Americanah
By Donald Miller                                By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

What are you reading this week?

Friday, May 8, 2015

Cookbook Thoughts: The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

Every few months, I feel stuck in a rut. It seems like I am just recycling the same meals, so I start looking for new ideas. I usually turn to the internet, but this time I decided to pick up some cookbooks from the library.

I am a frequent cook and I enjoy doing it. Cleaning up and doing dishes is a different story. I'm usually pretty comfortable tackling a new recipe, but I try to keep in mind that I am cooking for myself, two small children, and a hubby with some dietary restrictions. Not every recipe will work for us. It's also very difficult to make a dinner with 72 steps when you have a toddler clinging to your leg and a first grader shouting for help with his homework.

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

The first cookbook I checked out from the library was Deb Perelman's The Smitten Kitchen. I have used many recipes from her blog and I thought this would be a good pick for our family. Perelman admits that she started cooking (and blogging about it) not because she attended cooking school in Italy or came from a proud tradition of chefs. Instead, she started cooking because she was picky. In fact, she calls herself "an obsessive home cook."

She shares pictures of her tiny New York City kitchen and writes about the quest of every home cook - "Will the time and effort of making this dish be worth it?" There are even sections about the items you must have in your kitchen and how to throw a dinner party that won't make you hate cooking altogether

The Smitten Kitchen is a beautiful book. It's one of those cookbooks that you might just leave on your coffee table because it's too beautiful to put up on a kitchen shelf. I meant to take lots of pictures before I took it back to the library, but I forgot. Whoops. Trust me when I say that the photos are gorgeous and I really appreciated that Perelman includes photos of the steps instead of just one of the final product. (See these pictures from her website for a Carrot Graham Layer Cake recipe.)

         flour, grahams, spices     one CUP of carrots per layer

         moderate heaps of filling    graham crumb decoration

The book is divided into breakfast; salads; sandwiches, tarts, and pizzas; vegetarian main dishes; main dishes with seafood and meat; sweets; and party snacks and drinks. Each recipe gets an introduction as Perelman describes her love for a certain food or the experience that led her to experiment in the kitchen.

I'm especially excited to make a marbled pumpkin gingersnap tart and the cheddar swirl breakfast buns.

What cookbooks are you using lately?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Review: Shadow Scale

Shadow Scale (Seraphina #2)
By Rachel Hartman
Random House Children's Books March 2015
608 pages
From the library

Shadow Scale (Seraphina, #2)

The kingdom of Goredd has maintained a shaky peace between humans and dragons for many years. But war is now on the horizon. Their best hope for a united kingdom lies with Seraphina, who is half human and half dragon. When she learns that there are others like her and that their combined powers could turn the tide of the war, Seraphina sets out to find them. She expects to be in charge of her motley group, but another half-dragon makes a power play to control the ityasaari (half-dragons). Seraphina will have to convince the others to join her, fight off powerful enemies, and make it back home in time to save the kingdom. 

Seraphina is one of the rare YA books I adored. I loved the world that Hartman created and getting to know her unique and fascinating protagonist. In the sequel, this author really expands her world. We get to travel to other realms with Seraphina, meet lots of new characters, and go deeper into the politics and scheming that are guiding current events. Unfortunately, this is an example of a book that went too wide and not deep enough.

In the first book, readers came to know and love Seraphina's uncle Orma and her close friends Princess Glisselda and Prince Lucian. But we spend little to no time with these characters in this new book and not enough time with most of the new characters to really care for them. Seraphina travels to new and exciting places too and I wanted to spend more time with them and get a feel for their peoples and culture instead of just passing through. 

I did love Seraphina's experiences meeting the other ityasaari. She assumed that they would all band together as an instant family of misfits. But Seraphina learns, as most of us do, that having the same scars doesn't mean that we react the same way or want the same things for our futures. 

It seems like Shadow Scale suffered from many of the follies of sequels. Readers get a lot of information and many important events happen away from the eyes of our protagonist. There were several moments that I wish Seraphina was present to witness, instead of hearing about it afterwards. And the ending? It seemed awfully quick and convenient, but still left me wanting more information and more time with the characters. 

Seraphina is a book I very much enjoyed reading and I am impressed by Hartman's ability to give us characters to love and new lands to dream about. I wish some things had happened differently in Shadow Scale, but I still recommend the series so that readers can experience Seraphina coming to terms with who she is and finding the strength to fight for what she believes in. 

My review of Seraphina 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Harold Fry, Queenie Hennessy, and Related Stories

           The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry    The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy

When The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry begins, Harold receives a letter from a former colleague named Queenie. She is dying and has written to say goodbye. Harold writes a letter back but instead of just dropping it into the mailbox, he starts walking. He decides to walk across England, determined to get to Queenie and see her one last time. In The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy, readers spend the same span of time with Queenie as she learns that Harold is coming and tries to hold on until he arrives.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage was a huge hit for debut novelist Rachel Joyce. In The Love Song of Queenie Hennessy, readers get the other side of Harold and Queenie's story. I don't know if Joyce always planned to write a second book about these characters or if she made that decision after seeing the love that readers had for Harold. Either way, the second story never felt entirely necessary to me.

I enjoyed reading about Harold's adventures in the first book. Harold was a delightful character and it was wonderful to read about people looking out for and caring for each other in a time when that seems rare. I think it's the first time I really thought about the lack of elderly protagonists in literature and set out to find more of them.

Reading The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy was a tender, lovely experience. The book is its own sort of love song to the quiet moments of love and life. But hearing Queenie's side didn't seem to add much to the story overall and revealed few things that we didn't already know about this pair's history. I'm glad I experienced the story of Harold and Queenie, but I wonder if it might have been better served in one book that alternated between perspectives.

Do you recommend any connected stories?  Do you think they are necessary or is the story better when it is told only once?

Sunday, May 3, 2015

It's Monday and life is moving right along!

Last weekend was my birthday/readathon. This was the quiet weekend before my husband and daughter's birthdays/Mother's Day next weekend. I took most of the day on Saturday to go shopping with my mom and sister. Mom and I needed dresses for sister's wedding, and then sister and I got new dresses for the rehearsal dinner. The good news is that this crazy life is apparently not slowing down my reading!

Read This Week:
The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage: The (Mostly) True Story of the First Computer                                                            The Best American Short Stories 2013
The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace & Babbage          The Best American Short Stories 2013
By Sydney Padua                                                                      Elizabeth Strout, editor

The Bullet                                                       Image result for 100 days of real food
The Bullet                                                                                    100 Days of Real Food
By Mary Louise Kelly                                                               By Lisa Leake

Posts from this Past Week:

This Week's Reading:
My Brilliant Friend                Wishful Thinking     
My Brilliant Friend                           Wishful Thinking
By Elena Ferrante                              By Kamy Wicoff

What are you reading this week?

Friday, May 1, 2015

April Wrap-Up

April is my birthday month, so I always look forward to it with excitement. It's also Readathon time, which always makes me a happy reader. I read four books and change during this Readathon. I was also one of your friendly neighborhood cheerleaders (Go Team Mr. Popper!). We also had a really fun surprise bridal shower for my sister. April was a crazy month in many, many ways. 

Anyway, here are my April reads!

Equal of the Sun  Almost Famous Women: Stories  Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania

  After Birth  Welcome to Braggsville

Books reviewed in April: 9
Pages read: 2,755
Fiction/non-fiction: 6/3
Male authors/female authors: 3/6
My books/library books/books for review: 2/5/2
Most-read April review: Almost Famous Women
My favorite April reads: Dead Wake and After Birth 

What was the best book you read in April?