Friday, January 27, 2017

Weekend reads, or the first week of dystopian living...

I just have to say: the state of US politics right now has me in a pit of despair. I'm trying to so hard to turn down the outrage, anger, and hopelessness swirling through me (and my job requires me to pay attention to politics, so can't really ignore -- nor do I want to!) but I don't want to be complicit in what's happening by being unresponsive.

I'm grateful for Unabridged Toddler, who is my sunshine and joy each day. As a result, he's got me wrapped around his finger, and as you can see, on tap for this weekend is reading every book in that pile, more than once!

I'm also hoping to start Laurie Lico Albanese's Stolen Beauty, a historical novel about Klimt and Adele Bloch-Bauer and World War II. It's been a book I'd been soooo excited to read so can't wait to dive in.

What are you reading this weekend?

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Book Review: Good Night, Baby Animals, You’ve Had a Busy Day by Karen B. Winnick and illustrated by Laura Watkins

Title: Good Night, Baby Animals, You’ve Had a Busy Day
Author: Karen B. Winnick
Illustrator: Laura Watkins

First line: When baby elephants are born, they don't know how to use their trunk. from 'Baby Elephant's Little Trunk'

Review: Unabridged Toddler and I were both completely charmed by this book, which is a collection of six stories about busy baby animals easing their way to sleep.

Featuring animals that all kids seem to be familiar with (even if they've never seen them in real life!), these sweet stories are beautifully illustrated with soft, warm depictions of animal parents and children.

I loved that the stories are gentle and positive without being cloying; there's a rhythm to the text but it doesn't have an irritating rhyme that will echo in your head hours later.

Each story has a different plot -- tigers exploring, an elephant learning to use its trunk, a newborn giraffe trying to eat, an imaginative rhino, a wandering panda, and a playful gorilla -- which makes this a great book for the bedtime read rotation. There are elements in every story that appealed to my two-year-old, like the giraffe nursing, and I appreciated Winnick's and Watkins' understanding of what children find interesting!

Five of the six stories feature only mother and child, while the last story, 'Time to Play, Baby Gorilla', features a mother and father as well as extended "relatives". The concluding pages of the book feature animal facts, which should appeal to older readers (or anyone with trivia-obsessed toddlers, like me!).

You can view sample pages at the publisher's website (and do -- the art is so gorgeous!). At 64-pages, this is a great volume to buy for yourself or gift to parents, and I'm so appreciative we've got this one in our rotation.

Genre: Fiction (Children's / Picture / Animals / Mothers and Babies)
Publisher/Publication Date: Henry Holt and Co. (1/24/17)
Source: The publisher

Monday, January 23, 2017

Top 10 Reads of 2016

2016 was been a year.

But the last two months of 2016 have really overshadowed the earlier chunk of the year, so I feel a kind of melancholy at the moment. But this has been a more exciting reading year for me than the last few years as I've done more "free range reading".

My greatest blogging disappointment has been my lack of reviews. I can't believe that I ended up leaving my favorites un-reviewed, when they're the books that I want to squee about.

I never did a top ten for 2015 (I'm in awe of the bloggers with kids who keep up with the work!), so I can't compare my reading to that, but this year I read about 37 books (and, it appears, I've "read" nothing in December, yikes!). (Not included in this list are the massive number of children's books I've read to Unabridged Toddler; I'll do a top ten of them later on, as some of them are marvelous.)

These ten still stick with me, and have been among my most recommended this past year. All are written by women. Seven were historicals, two contemporary, and one futuristic-ish (maybe?). Three (I believe) were written by women of color.


Lyndsay Faye, Jane Steele 

Badass Victorian who loves Jane Eyre but is, herself, far less pious. (I'm not a Jane Eyre fan, what can I say!)

This JE retelling is dramatic, sensational, and wonderfully imaginative, with our heroine Jane Steele being among my top 10 fav heroines ever. In addition to being a fun send up of JE, Faye adds a dash of Sikh history to the mix, which provided hours of rabbit hole researching.

Eva Flynn, The Renegade Queen 

Historical novel detailing Victoria Woodhull: badass mid-19th century American woman, born of hucksters, who decides to run for president. Married off as a teen, lovers with a Civil War hero, she goes nose-to-nose with Susan B. Anthony. Loved learning about her (especially during Hillary Clinton's campaign) and found Anthony's racism eye-opening (especially considering how white women decided to vote this year). I believe this is the first in a duology or trilogy, and I'm so there.
Heidi Heilig, The Girl from Everywhere

Nix has the ability to travel through time, if she's given a map of the place. Twist: the map has to be from the year she's to travel to as well. Her mother is from the 19th century, her father from the 20th; he's consumed with returning to Hawaii before her mother dies, and Nix helps him, unsure if this might wipe her out of existence in the end. There's this tantalizing fun world-building, and incredibly rich, complicated emotional landscapes, too. Whirl in some fascinating Hawaiian history, and I was glued to the pages.


N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season

My love for this book (and series) really can only be described by enthusiastic arm waving. But I'll try to explain. This world is geologically unstable with "fifth seasons" -- cataclysmic geological disasters -- dotting their history. The novel follows three women who can impact geology, all at different parts in their schooling/mastery of this skill, and their talent is hated, feared, and regulated. Part of this novel is written in 2nd person present tense, which I should have hated but loved, and every character was fascinating, intriguing, and vibrant. My tip: read the glossary at the end to internalize some of the world-building, then dive in and be mesmerized. Dy-ing for the final book in the trilogy, due out in late 2017.

Mary Robinette Kowal, Ghost Talkers

Mediums who debrief the dead during World War I. I mean, what is not to love? The story was fascinating and heartbreaking, and I really wish it was double the length because I was not ready to leave. World-building was rich but not complicated, and the characters immediately appealing. J'adored.


Catherine Lowell, The Madwoman Upstairs

My affection for this book grows as time goes on; I'm even contemplating a reread because I'm actually in the mood for more of our heroine's quirky charm. The last living descendant of the Brontes, Samantha, ends up at Oxford, studying literature. She's the focus of intense attention from many but her aloof-yet-dreamy tutor refuses to take on the Brontes. At moments, I wanted to shake Samantha, but ultimately, I was hooked by the occasionally over-the-top plot, hint of romance, and awkward, bookish Samantha.

Patricia Park, Re Jane 

Gorgeous, gutting sort-of Jane Eyre retelling, only so much more. I actually hated the Jane Eyre-ish bits and got hung up on trying to ascertain who was Bertha and whatnot. But when I stopped focusing on that, and immersing myself in Jane's story, I was captivated. Jane is a biracial orphan in Flushing, Queens, hungering for love and belonging. She becomes a nanny and finds something like love, and much like Jane Eyre, Jane Re flees. The book's setting provides a fascinating "twist" to the tale that I loved; Jane ends up visiting her relatives in South Korea and is a far more admired woman there. In the end, it's a novel about a young woman coming to love herself and trust her place in the world. It's just been optioned for tv, I think, and it will make for fabulous watching.

Cherie Priest, Maplecroft
Imagine a world where Lizzie Borden wasn't just a mad murderer, but a young woman who killed her parents in an attempt to stave off a far greater evil. And now, that evil -- a wet Lovecraftian evil -- has returned, and she and her infirm sister are the only ones capable of stopping it. If you're not already intrigued, I don't know what to say! I was immediately captivated by this novel, and it was just the escapist read I needed in the weeks leading up to the election. It's more than just an homage to classic horror, as Priest depicts a rather complicated relationship between Lizzie and her sister.
Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea

I'd long wanted to read this "prequel" to Jane Eyre and was not disappointed. In fact, this kicked of my unofficial 'Year of Eyre' in 2016, and set a rather high bar for everything that followed. This edition included an introduction by Edwidge Danticat, which read as a kind of love letter for both books. I'm planning to reread Jane Eyre this year, and I hope to rearead this one immediately after. Undoubtedly, it will get more rich with each read.



Imogen Robertson, The Paris Winter 

Audiobook "read" so good that I couldn't stop listening, which is saying a lot, as I'm not an audiobook fan. I grabbed this one on a whim -- basically, it was available on OverDrive when I had a day of chores ahead of me -- and I was digging the setting -- late 19th century Paris --with expat women learning to paint. Our heroine, impoverished, is set up to be a companion to a rich Parisian woman with an opium problem, and then BAM! the story takes this crazy, unexpected turn that made it a serious page turner. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Weekend reads, or, starting the #24in48 Readathon...

I'm a terrible failure at readathons, but I still love 'em, and today, I seriously need something to distract me.

So I'm attempting the 24in48 Readathon, in which one tries to read for 24 hours within a 48 hour period.

Unsure which read I'm going to focus on: short stories (Lovecraft, Gay) or novels (Smith, McVeigh). I'm wicked sleepy, so I'm thinking it'll be short fiction, with a longer dip tomorrow when/if I get some sleep. (Have been really anxious this last week and sleep hasn't come easily!)

If you're readathon-ing this weekend, good luck -- what are you reading?

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Teaser Tuesday, January 18

My Teaser Tuesday this week is from Ottessa Moshfegh's Eileen, a short but dark novel set in 1960s Boston.

It's narrated by the titular Eileen, a weird young woman who works for a boy's penitentiary, who wants to both escape her life and remain mired in its petty misery.

(I'm both delighted and depressed while reading it!)

Today's teaser from about halfway, on having a social outing with a new co-worker, the gorgeous and confident Rebecca.
I stared disbelievingly into Rebecca's serene, wistful face, her eyes closed, her hands on my shoulders like an angel and a devil debating the logic of longing. (p150)

Share your teasers with me!

Friday, January 13, 2017

Weekend reads, or, a very long weekend

So, I'm feeling like my kick off to 2017 (blog-wise) hasn't been the worst. I've finished one book, and did some blog posts, and I've got one review in the works. Small steps, right?

I took today off from work to give myself an especially long weekend, as we're off this Mon in the US. To my surprise, my in-laws took the toddler for the day, so I'm totally on my own! Obviously, there's only one thing to do: READ.

My weekend read is Zadie Smith's Swing Time. What are you reading this weekend?

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Winter 2017 Bloggiesta To Do Post

I love Bloggiesta for reminding me to brush up and take of my blog, and doing it "in community", so to speak, makes this housework a little more fun.

Given my earlier whining about feeling out-of-it with my blog, I'm really excited there's a mini-event this coming weekend in which I can do some backend work here.

My to do list is pretty simple:
  • make a top 10 of 2016 post (even if it is just a list!)
  • review the book I just finished!
I'd like to start 2017 without a backlog of reviews, so it feels important I keep up. We'll see if I'll tackle my 2016 backlog. (Perhaps for another Bloggiesta!)

Friday, January 6, 2017

Weekend reads, or, it's my 7 year blogiversary!

Well, maybe my angst about this blog isn't unfounded; perhaps I'm just having a seven-year itch!

To my surprise, I just realized that this blog is entering its 7th year! This is crazy to me as I still feel like I "just" started blogging. It seems like only a year or so ago I was staying up late trying to finish my 200th read of the year or something crazy like that! (And this year 50 was a struggle!)

Having a book blog has changed my life, which sounds like hyperbole!, I know, but it's true. Through book blogging, I've meet readers and writers who've encouraged, supported, and guided me toward taking my own novel writing seriously -- a priceless gift.

I've learned so much about the publishing industry, and have gotten incredible access to authors and publishers. And for a long while, swam in a glut of a free books.

But mostly, I've met so many incredible people through blogging: readers like me who love books. Full stop. Even better, and more precious to me, is the incredible gift of growth offered by all the book bloggers in my life. My political, emotional, social, and psychological consciousness has grown thanks to book bloggers introducing me to books, writers, and ideas that have challenged, soothed, and inspired me.

So thank you, all, for helping me become a better reader and person. I'm not sure if another 7 years is what I want or need as a reader, but I'm looking forward to this year here and what it might bring!

This weekend we'll be attending our third Moby Dick Marathon at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. It's a really incredible event that brings this behemoth alive: the mayor of New Bedford reads the chapter about New Bedford, for example, and the fiery sermon preached at the start is read at the Seaman's Bethel across the street from the museum. And this year, the opening chapter -- with its famous first line -- will be read by Herman Melville's great-great-(great?) grandson. I doubt I'll make the entire marathon, what with a two-year-old in tow, but hoping my wife -- the Moby Dick fanatic -- will have fun.

If I can find the time, this weekend I'm reading Ottessa Moshfegh's Eileen for my book club at work. I'm also wildly behind on writing my novel for the writing class I'm taking, so I seriously need to make time for that.

What are you reading this weekend?

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Wordless Wednesday, January 4

My Wordless Wednesday made me laugh: I think today's tarot card of the day might have been influenced a little by the line of the book I'm still reading (David Morrell's Ruler of the Night). Had just finished reading when I pulled my card.

The line in particular that I think subconsciously influenced me was, "Make your need for revenge warm your body." (A particularly delicious dig after a particularly dramatic scene!)

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Teaser Tuesday: Just me

I'm feeling seriously blue about my blogging. Not only have I not reviewed more than half of my 2016 reads, but it appears I've only reviewed a quarter of my favorite reads for last year. Most of the books I enjoyed the most I've just ... left un-squee'd.

I started doing a brisk summary of all my unreviewed 2016 reads but that list got so long, I was immediately daunted. So then I tried to just do two sentence reviews of my top ten of 2016, and even that felt like too much.

When did I become so damn delicate?

I'm not ready to quit blogging but clearly I need to do something different. I will confess to a sense of overwhelm when I look at all the things I want to do -- read, blog, work on my novel, knit, spend time with my wife and son -- against the free time I have. I could probably be more efficient with my time, but that daunts me as well. So I'm a bit stuck, trying to work through the haze of last year to come up with some plan that keeps me blogging, reading, and being happy.

My current side table, which is my unofficial blog life HQ, is mostly cleared of reads; we hosted a big party for New Year's Eve, and I decided not to stack all my I-should-read-these books back. Of the three books I did return there, I've not started any; I'm still stuck trying to finish my 2016 reads, le sigh.

Anyway, I don't really have anything to say, other than aspiring once again to do more. My work and social circles have jumped on this year-in-a-word-rather-than-a-resolution trend, which frankly works for me because a list of should-dos is a guaranteed way to get me back into a pit. I've finally hit upon "complete" for my word -- because I want to feel complete, and because I want to complete things. 

So, what's your 2017 like so far? Any and all tips, life suggestions, and advice warmly welcomed. Let me know what you're reading, too.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Books Read in 2016

January

Heidi Heilig, The Girl from Everywhere
Jean Rhys, Wide Sargasso Sea

February

Susan Wittig Albert, Loving Eleanor

March

Eva Flynn, The Renegade Queen

April

Diane Eickhoff, Clarina Nichols
Lyndsay Faye, Jane Steele
Rita Maria Martinez, The Jane and Bertha in Me
Sylvain Neuvel, Sleeping Giants

May

Mary Robinette Kowal, Glamour in Glass
Mary Robinette Kowal, Shades of Milk and Honey
Catherine Lowell, The Madwoman Upstairs
Patricia Park, Re Jane

June

Helen Ellis, American Housewife
Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
N.K. Jemisin, The Fifth Season
Mary Robinette Kowal, Without a Summer
Michelle Moran, Mata Hari's Last Dance
Ryan North, Romeo and/or Juliet: A Chooseable-Path Adventure

July

Genevieve Cogman, The Invisible Library
Mary Robinette Kowal, Ghost Talkers
Rena Olsen, The Girl Before
Katherine Ozment, Grace Without God

August

Julie Eshbaugh, Ivory and Bone
Mary Robinette Kowal, Valour and Vanity
Robin Coste Lewis, Voyage of the Sable Venus and Other Poems
Imogen Robertson, The Paris Winter
Mary Sharratt, The Dark Lady's Mask
Colson Whitehead, The Underground Railroad

September

N.K. Jemisin, The Obelisk Gate
Kim McLarin, Jump at the Sun

October

Anne Boileau, Katharina Luther: Nun, Rebel, Wife
Kent Haruf, Our Souls at Night
Julie K. Rose, Dido's Crown
Various, A Song of War

November

Richard McGuire, Here
Cherie Priest, The Family Plot
Cherie Priest, Maplecroft