Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Summer Reading from A to Z

I wrote about my slump yesterday and I'm still struggling with reviews, but I've decided to make an effort to keep blogging, even if I post less reviews and more just stuff.  Bookish stuff, of course, but more thoughts and ideas and less reviews.  We'll see how it goes.  

Anyway, I figured a book list is a good way to start and I was inspired by Hoopla's collection of A-Z Summer Reads.  I love me a good book list, so I thought I'd share with you what I think are the essential summer reads for each letter of the alphabet.  There are a billion ways to define a summer read, but I'd say that these books are united in my mind in that they both captured my attention completely and left me feeling at least somewhat intellectually stimulated.

A: About a Boy by Nick Hornby

B: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

C: Christy by Catherine Marshall

D: Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells

E: Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

F: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

G: Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson

H: The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

I: I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

J: Jackaby by William Ritter

K: The King of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner (I'm cheating a bit here - this is the third in the series and you really need to read the whole series in order, but I'm short on K books I love and find summer-appropriate)

L: The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

M: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides

N: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

O: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

P: The Princess Bride by William Goldman

Q: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a Wold That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain

R: Rex Libris by James Turner

S: The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz

T: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

U: Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

V: Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

W: Watership Down by Richard Adams

X:  The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver (cut me some slack, X is hard)

Y:  Yes Please by Amy Poehler

Z: The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Slump


This is the best I can come up with to summarize my feelings about books and blogging right now.  I've been blogging for almost six years and reading for my entire life and I cannot remember a slump of this magnitude before.  I've given up on about half the books I've started, not because of the book itself but just because I couldn't bring myself to care about it.  Books that I know at another time I'd go nuts for.  It comes up as due at the library or the day passes for its release and I just stop trying.  I can count on my hands the number of really great books that I can truly say I've loved this year.

I've read all the great posts and listicles about breaking a reading rut, but I think really you've just gotta stick it out.  It's probably largely related to having just a somewhat rough year in general.  I've mentioned depression and OCD here in the past and largely it's an issue that I have under control.  My depression particularly is cyclical and not something that affects my life 98% of the time.  The OCD is more constant, but it's not usually out of my control.  It's been about five years since my last episode, so I was due for another bout, and this one has been remarkably mild compared to the past. 

 What I'm trying to say is that things are well under control and I'm not really in need of any sympathy or sorrow, but it has seriously messed with my reading mojo.  In the past I've been incapacitated and I'm super proud that this time around I've got a handle on things and life is continuing as normal.  I'm a lot stronger than I used to be.  But this time a thing that I used to basically revolve my life around has become dry and pointless.  I've spent more time in the last two months playing Cascade and Candy Crush than I have reading and it sucks.  I miss reading.  I miss being excited about learning stuff and hearing stories.  

I've spent a lot of time pouring through Library Journal and making lists of books I'm excited about...until I get my hands on a copy, when it suddenly becomes mundane and uninteresting.  I'm not giving up on reading and I'm definitely not giving up my little blog, but it might be slower here for a while.  It's super hard to make myself write a review for a book that I didn't have strong feelings about - and right now that's almost every book.  If I really hate something, I've got lots to say, and if I love something I want to share it with the world, but it's hard to find the motivation to say "meh" about 40 of the 50 odd books I've read this year.  Especially when I don't think many of them actually deserve the "meh" I'm currently giving them.

All that to say, be patient.  I'll be back more regularly when my reading groove gets back.  I'm taking some steps to try to make it easier to read (like deleting games from my phone and only starting books I have a high likelihood of loving), but if any of you have other suggestions I'd love to hear them!


Thursday, May 19, 2016

Book Review: Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

Girls on Fire
Girls on Fire tells the story of Hannah and Lacey and their obsessive teenage female friendship so passionately violent it bloodies the very sunset its protagonists insist on riding into, together, at any cost. Opening with a suicide whose aftermath brings good girl Hannah together with the town's bad girl, Lacey, the two bring their combined wills to bear on the community in which they live; unconcerned by the mounting discomfort that their lust for chaos and rebellion causes the inhabitants of their parochial small town, they think they are invulnerable.

But Lacey has a secret, about life before her better half, and it's a secret that will change everything...

Writing
After a string of less than entertaining books and entertaining but poorly written books, I am so thrilled to have found this one!  The writing is just stunning - I don't usually highlight in fiction, but I've found myself marking several pages up because the writing is just so stunning.  It's super smart and much more literary than I expected, but doesn't sacrifice any entertainment.

Entertainment Value
Again, it was such a relief to find a book that combines literary talent with a super engrossing plot line.  Wasserman does a great job of creating characters who are both sympathetic and also gritty.  She's really captured adolescence and the desire to be adult and experienced while still being so young and immature.  In these girls, she also captures a striking balance between innocence and danger that I think is just the essence of the teenage experience.  In this case, of course, that danger is ramped up quite a bit, but that only added to my enjoyment of the story.

Overall
If you like Megan Abbott's work in The Fever and Dare Me, you're going to have to pick this one up.  It's not for the faint of heart - it's got plenty of underage exploits that can be difficult to read, but worth it if you can handle it.  I think it fits in well with the psychological page-turners, but does so with a literary bent that makes it stand out from many of the other Gone Girl read-alikes.

Thanks to TLC for having me on the tour.  Click here to see a list of the other tour stops.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Journal Review: Life-Changing Magic: A Journal by Marie Kondo

Life-Changing Magic: A Journal: Spark Joy Every Day

I've read and loved everything Marie Kondo has published and spent hours watching videos of her on YouTube.  As weird as it is to type, her underwear folding method has revolutionized my clothing storage.  Yes, I know.  Weird.  But it's so pretty!  My drawers look amazing and for the first time in forever I've actually kept my clothing neat and organized for months.  Anyway, all of that to say, of course I jumped at the chance to review this journal, because I find Kondo and her methods delightful in every way.

I'm not an excellent journaler, particularly in blank books.  I might make some bullet lists every now and then or take some sermon notes, but I never know what to just sit down and write.  The great thing about this journal is that it's guided enough to give me an actual thing to write about, but not so guided that I feel like I'm stuck writing about a topic that I'm not interested in.  

It's laid out like a calendar with a page for each day of the year.  Each day has three entry blanks, so you can use it for at least three years.

For a non-journaler, the short spaces are so freeing.  I feel like the small space gives me permission to just make a few notes about my day.  I try to put in what I'm reading, something that brought me joy or that I'm thankful for, and any major happenings of the day.  It's super short and not intimidating.  I know when I pick it up I'll only spend a few minutes with it and wind up with a written account of several years.  If you're a fan of her books and methods, this is an obvious buy.  I'd also recommend it to those who are hesitant to pick up journaling, who don't enjoy writing lots, or who would like a short daily account that doesn't require much work.  

Thank you to Blogging for Books for providing me with a copy to review!

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Audiobook Mini-Reviews: My Mother Was Nuts, The Pocket Wife, and The Girl in the Red Coat


My Mother Was Nuts
My Mother Was Nuts is an intimate backstage pass to Penny’s personal life, her breakout role on The Odd Couple, her exploits with Cindy Williams and John Belushi, and her travels across Europe with Art Garfunkel on the back of a motorcycle. We see Penny get married. And divorced. And married again (the second time to Rob Reiner). We meet a young Carrie Fisher, whose close friendship with Penny has spanned decades. And we see Penny at work with Tom Hanks, Mark Wahlberg, Whoopi Goldberg, Robert De Niro, and Whitney Houston.
I wasn't alive/aware of pop culture during Marshall's biggest years, but I knew I wanted to read this after seeing the book trailer with Fred Armisen (click here to watch).  I'd seen it on a list of books that read like Bossypants, which was also a good indicator that I'd enjoy it.  It's as delightful and funny as I had hoped - and the bonus was that it inspired me to go back and watch some older movies that I missed out on.  I'm not going to say it's as funny or as entertaining as Bossypants, but I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it, especially with Marshall narrating.

The Pocket Wife
Dana Catrell is horrified to learn she was the last person to see her neighbor Celia alive. Suffering from a devastating mania, a result of her bipolar disorder, Dana finds that there are troubling holes in her memory, including what happened on the afternoon of Celia's death. As evidence starts to point in her direction, Dana struggles to clear her name before her own demons win out.

Is murder on her mind—or is it all in her head?
I've had this one on my list since it came out with the "reads like Gone Girl" billing that I always immediately lunge for.  When it showed up on Hoopla at about the same time as my road trip to Pennsylvania, I thought it would be the perfect time to binge it.  I did manage to listen to the whole thing and it did keep me occupied during the drive, but that's about all I can say for it.  I didn't connect with any of the characters, didn't care about the plot twists, and found the ending to just be silly.  There are a lot more choices out there that I think are much more entertaining if you want to read something thrilling and unexpected.

The Girl in the Red Coat
Newly single mom Beth has one constant, gnawing worry: that her dreamy eight-year-old daughter, Carmel, who has a tendency to wander off, will one day go missing.

And then one day, it happens: On a Saturday morning thick with fog, Beth takes Carmel to a local outdoor festival, they get separated in the crowd, and Carmel is gone.

Shattered, Beth sets herself on the grim and lonely mission to find her daughter, keeping on relentlessly even as the authorities tell her that Carmel may be gone for good.

Carmel, meanwhile, is on a strange and harrowing journey of her own—to a totally unexpected place that requires her to live by her wits, while trying desperately to keep in her head, at all times, a vision of her mother …
 I like the kidnapping trope and I enjoyed that this one takes it in a different direction than most books.  It's much more character-driven than plot-driven and focuses largely on Carmel's attempts to retain her sense of self, along with Beth's attempts to figure out who she is without her daughter.  There's an open-ended question of spirituality and whether or not Carmel has the healing gift that her kidnapper believes she possesses.  It's well written but I never really got into it. I didn't like Carmel much and didn't care about her rescue.  I cared a lot more for Beth, but I hated that we didn't really get to see her outcome.  It's received a lot of great reviews, but it was just ok for me.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

What I Read in April


In terms of having a general fulfilling, happy life, April was a huge success.  Luke and I took our first vacation with just the two of us since our first anniversary.  That's right, in seven years we haven't traveled alone.  So this year, for anniversary #8 we went to Durham.  He had a Netrunner tournament (don't judge) and I...went to the farmer's market and all the bookstores and had the best massage of my life.  Oh right, and we also got to hang out just the two of us - we raced go-karts, went paddle boating, ate EVERYTHING, and played board games in our hotel room.  




In spite of (or maybe because of) all of the fun we were having outside of books, this reading month was dismal.  I cannot remember being in a book slump of this magnitude, ever.  I am reading almost nothing and the things I'm reading I'm not loving.  My average star rating in the month of August was 2.5.  Bleak, bleak, bleak.  I've tried everything to break my slump but it's just not happening.  Here's what I read in April:

The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford
The Decent Proposal by Kemper Donovan
Some Day You'll Thank Me for This by Gayden Metcalfe
The Rattler by Jason McNamara
Tragedy Girl by Christine Hurley Deriso
After the Woods by Kim Savage
The Girl Who Fell by Shannon Parker
Golem by Lorenzo Ceccotti
The V-Word by Amber Keyser
The Widow by Fiona Barton

So there you have it.  It was a sad month for books - everyone cross your fingers that May brings me a new energy for reading and some amazing books!

Monday, May 2, 2016

Book Review: Capture by Dr. David Kessler

Capture: A Theory of the Mind

Why do we think, feel, and act in ways we wished we did not? For decades, New York Times bestselling author Dr. David A Kessler has studied this question with regard to tobacco, food, and drugs. Over the course of these investigations, he identified one underlying mechanism common to a broad range of human suffering. This phenomenon—capture—is the process by which our attention is hijacked and our brains commandeered by forces outside our control.

In Capture, Dr. Kessler considers some of the most profound questions we face as human beings: What are the origins of mental afflictions, from everyday unhappiness to addiction and depression—and how are they connected? Where does healing and transcendence fit into this realm of emotional experience?

Analyzing an array of insights from psychology, medicine, neuroscience, literature, philosophy, and theology, Dr. Kessler deconstructs centuries of thinking, examining the central role of capture in mental illness and questioning traditional labels that have obscured our understanding of it. With a new basis for understanding the phenomenon of capture, he explores the concept through the emotionally resonant stories of both well-known and un-known people caught in its throes.

The closer we can come to fully comprehending the nature of capture, Dr. Kessler argues, the better the chance to alleviate its deleterious effects and successfully change our thoughts and behavior Ultimately, Capture offers insight into how we form thoughts and emotions, manage trauma, and heal. For the first time, we can begin to understand the underpinnings of not only mental illness, but also our everyday worries and anxieties.Capture is an intimate and critical exploration of the most enduring human mystery of all: the mind.
I'm going to preface my review by just saying that I don't love this cover or the subtitle.  The cover is just generic and the subtitle doesn't do the book's topic justice.  I probably wouldn't have picked it up without having read the description, which is a shame because the book is actually right up my alley.

Writing
Yes, yes, yes!  Science and psychology writing exactly the way I like it - tons of examples and studies all backed up with excellent references and footnotes.  There are close to 300 pages of text and over 100 pages of footnotes and citations, which is just heaven.  I'm still making my way through the notes and making a list of further reading that I want to do.  Along with the meticulous research, the author also writes in a way that is easy for the casual reader - you won't need to be a scientist or psychologist to understand the concepts being presented.

Entertainment Value
Again, based on the subtitle I never would have guessed it, but this book completely hooked me by focusing on a topic that I've long been interested in but have never found explored the way I wanted.  The connection between genius and madness has been something that has fascinated me since college, but I struggled in finding a more psychological examination of the subject.  While this book isn't written to directly address the topic, by the end of the introduction I was hooked.  I'm thrilled to report that this answered a lot of my questions about the topic or at least addressed the ideas surrounding both genius and madness.

Overall
If you're a fan of science and/or psychology writing this is a great one to read.  I think it's also good for anyone who struggles with anxiety or depression or any other mental illness.  It's less of a "how to" and more of a "how your brain works", which I find extremely helpful.  It's not fiction and it's not a super fast read, but it's worth it.

Thanks to TLC for having me on the book tour.  Click here to see the other stops on the tour!