Read: December 2017

My December reading has included newfound literary Christmas treats, many novellas, and several 2017 buzz-worthy books!

Bonfire

Bonfire by Krysten Ritter

In this fictional debut from actress and knitter (!!!), Ritter’s protagonist Abby is a lawyer who has returned to her rural hometown in Indiana 10 years after graduating high school and escaping to the allure of anonymity in Chicago.

She has no reason to come back and face unanswered questions until Abby’s legal team is sought to investigate claims that a local, do-gooder company is actually responsible for a variety of chronic illnesses and environmental red flags. Abby realizes the task to separate these current incidents from the unexplained behaviors of past acquaintances (many bullied her and were too mean to be called “friends”) is easier said than done.

My thanks to Edelweiss for access to the digital ARC. https://www.edelweiss.plus

TDOAL

The Deal of a Lifetime by Fredrik Backman

Probably best known for A Man Called Ove (which I have yet to read), Swedish author Backman tells a brief yet compelling story in this novella set on Christmas Eve.

Upon its completion I was left thinking about ambition and legacy, and as a Christian, humility and sacrifice.

Book read via: my academic library InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

ChristmasBall

Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball by Donita K. Paul 

I honestly can’t remember where I heard about this book, but it’s been on my Christmas TBR list for several years.

Cora and Simon are two co-workers whose paths have never crossed other than in a business as usual way. But when they both visit the same mysterious bookstore on the same evening and both receive tickets to the wizard’s ball, Divine destiny is giving them a push to take another look at one another.

Filled with a bit of Christmas magic from a Christian’s perspective, this novella was more traditional in its length and made for a sweet, romantic weekend read.

Book read via: my academic library InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

FamilyUnderBridge

The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson 

This Newbery Honor Book from 1959 casts a heartwarming and dreamy look at a serious topic – homelessness at Christmastime.

When Armand, a beggar on the streets of Paris, encounters a mother and her three children who are now also homeless, he begrudgingly sets in motion an unexpectedly generous approach to helping provide for them in their time of need.

The illustrations by Garth Williams, whom I met as a young girl, are a beautiful accompaniment to this story about kindness and the family you choose.

Book read via: youth collection from my academic library

Chemist

The Chemist by Stephenie Meyer

Recommended by a colleague back in the summer, I began listening to this during my Thanksgiving travels. The narration was well done with easily identifiable character voices. For those familiar with Meyer, the author of Twilight, I promise there are no sparkly vampires in this one!

This spy thriller unfolds well, allowing the reader to get to know The Chemist and how she earned her name from her former job as a mastermind of chemical persuasion for the American government. But questions remain: why is she still on the run, who set her up to interrogate an innocent man and why, and whom can she love and trust moving forward as she seeks answers (and revenge) for those who have wronged her?

Book read via: public library (audio CD)

ExitWest

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

The American Library Association’s Book Club Central, has developed a new(ish) partnership with actress Sarah Jessica Parker as their honorary chair. I just love how she describes herself as an avid reader, “To this day, I would never leave the house without something to read. I’ve been running late for things and run back just to get a book” (from American Libraries magazine). I hear you, SJP, I hear you.

Exit West has been the fall selection, which I added to my public library wish list and when I found it wasn’t checked out a few weeks ago, I brought it home with me.

Also mentioned in the NPR Best Books of 2017 list, this contemporary fiction novel depicts two Middle Eastern young adults, Nadia and Saeed, whose friendship and burgeoning love becomes increasingly difficult as safety within their unspecified city becomes painfully violent with infighting between rebels and the military. But rather than be trapped by their surroundings, portals exist in their city (as do they all around the world) allowing them to pass through a door and leave their home location.

While I would classify this as fiction with magical realism, it is steeped in a reality all too common for many who face being a refugee in various parts of the world. The prose is beautifully written and easy to follow, which makes for a beautiful read from a different cultural perspective.

Book read via: public library

FC-JRRT

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

Reading all of The Lord of the Rings series remains an ongoing goal, but this sweet collection of letters has nothing to do with Middle Earth. They have everything to do with Tolkien and his imaginative love shared with his children over the span of about 20 years as he writes and illustrates letters from the pen of Father Christmas.

This is a perfect Christmas read-aloud for members of the whole family but I would suggest using the print version so as to not miss out on viewing his variations of hand lettering and fonts for the different characters, along with the accompanying colorful illustrations.

Book read via: my academic library InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

TheHangman

The Hangman by Louise Penny

This Chief Inspector Gamache novella was written for the Good Reads incentive program for reluctant readers in Canada, thus making it very approachable with the plot and vocabulary. A handful of Penny’s characters from Three Pines make an appearance and only whets your readerly appetite for more!

Book read via: public library Overdrive

SistersFirst

Sisters First by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush

Over the past three decades the Bush family has been synonymous with American politics. Without a political agenda, this co-authored memoir by twins Jenna and Barbara lends a very personal and inviting presence to hear their side of the story.

This memoir is filled with candid stories of their childhood, honest explanations of moments in the spotlight, and, most importantly, a deep and appreciative love for each other and their unique family.

Book read via: public library


Next up on the blog: my knitting recap and goals for 2018!

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Read: Top 5 of 2017!

Favorite books read in 2017:

(Links below lead back to blogs where I discuss these books in more detail.)

Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan
This was my FAVORITE book of the year, especially via Audible!

Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Why did it take me over 3 decades of living on Earth to discover this literary kindred spirit?!

Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist
An ideal read when needing to take a breath at the start of summer.

The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson
Discovering the term “Southern fiction” makes me very excited to read more in this genre in the coming year.

Still Life by Louise Penny
…Plus the next 5 Chief Inspector Gamache books I’ve also read this year – a newfound favorite mystery series.

Total books read: 74

Home library: 13     Public library: 23     Academic library: 9     InterLibrary Loan: 11     E-books: 13     Audio books: 5

2018 reading goals:

  • Seasonal reading
    Over the past two Christmases, I have really enjoyed reading seasonally, so I hope to do more of that through spring and summer this year (as well as fall and winter).
  • Less screen time
    Since this summer, I’ve been motivated to spend less time on my phone and instead reach for a book and hope to continue this diligent bit of self-control into the new year.
  • Diverse reading
    I live by the philosophy that “the right book finds you at the right time.” In September and beyond I have intentionally been more open to reading books with diverse characters and plots, namely viewpoints from African American authors and stories about immigration, and I desire for this pattern to continue to inform my view of the world.
  • Read more from my home library
    Upon viewing my reading statistics, over the past year I’ve leaned heavily on borrowing library books, for which I (and my bank account) are so thankful, but there remain many, many books I need to read on the shelves of my home library.
  • An active TBR list
    Like a lot of people the winter blues can really zap me in January, so having a list of books ready to read and/or request from the library really gets me excited!
    On my short list are:
    • Lean In by Cheryl Sandberg
    • Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence
    • Courage is Contagious by Nicholas Haramis
    • Endurance by Scott Kelly

What have been your favorite books of 2017? Are there specific books you are excited about reading in 2018?

4 Quick Christmas Reads

With Christmas less than two weeks away, if you need a short but memorable way of getting into the Christmas spirit, I might I suggest these four titles?

TDOAL

The Deal of a Lifetime by Fredrik Backman

While this is classified as a novella, I found it to be more of a short story that takes place on Christmas Eve as a man of importance examines his actions and behaviors in a selfless way.

ChristmasBall

Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball by Donita K. Paul 

More of a traditional novella, this story takes a cute perspective of Christmas magic combined with Christian principles and God’s love. Themes include looking beyond the surface of those you think you know, kindness to others, developing new traditions at Christmastime, and a sweet and chaste romance.

FamilyUnderBridge

The Family Under the Bridge by Natalie Savage Carlson 

This Newbery medal winner from 1959 is one I never before remember reading, but the cover looked very familiar to me. Recently I was intrigued when another book blogger mentioned how this story of a beggar and a family with small children find one another on the streets of Paris at Christmastime. So I pulled it off the shelf from my academic library’s youth collection, found it tinged with sadness at the beginning, happiness at the end, and a wonderful reminder of how often family are the people you choose.

FC-JRRT

Letters from Father Christmas by J.R.R. Tolkien

Of these four, this is the only one I haven’t yet finished reading. Since I still have another week to read it before it’s due and our library closes for the Christmas holiday, The Optometrist and I are enjoying taking our time reading aloud these imaginative letters J.R.R. Tolkien wrote from the pen of Father Christmas to his children, spanning the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. The illustrations drawn by Tolkien aren’t to be missed so if you are on the lookout for this, I highly recommend the print versus the audio!


Do you have any other quick Christmas titles to share? If so, please leave them in the comments below!

Read: November 2017

DeadEnd.jpg

Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos

After finishing Anne of Green Gables on Audible, I wanted to try my public library’s Overdrive audio book selection. I downloaded the app, searched for available Newbery winners, and selected this 2012 medal recipient. Easy!

Narrated by the author, this semi-autobiographical story of Jack Gantos’ childhood is a fictitious glimpse of a child’s life in the post WWII 1950s with quirky characters, two parents with differing styles of love and discipline, the care taken to write a quality obituary, a neat (and true) connection to Eleanor Roosevelt.

Book read via: Overdrive audio

TheEncore

The Encore by Charity Tillemann-Dick

Sixteen years ago I was a vocal music education major in my junior of college and after an extended period of having difficulty producing sound, I was placed on vocal rest by my ear, nose, and throat doctor. The diagnosis of a cyst on one of my vocal chords was the culprit, which I combated with vocal rest, consistent hydration, a modified diet, and medication to combat acid reflux. After approximately 3 months, I was able to begin singing again – a praise for which I continue to give thanks to God Almighty.

Thus when I came across Charity Tillemann-Dick’s story of undergoing a double lung transplant as a young opera singer, I immediately empathized with a fellow soprano and was intrigued to read her account of overcoming a much more serious and life-threatening hurdle.

I flew through this memoir over a weekend and found her story approachable, honest, and filled with faith, hope, and the desire to truly live and be thankful for each personal and musical achievement. Even for those who have not studied classical music or medicine, her story is relatable and entirely inspirational.

Her 2010 TED Med speech/performance gives a condensed synopsis of at least part of her story. Watch her TED Talk here.

Book read via: my academic library InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

84CharingCrossRd

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

This has been on my TBR list for ages and after receiving it from ILL, I was astonished how slim an epistolary novel this was – only 71 pages! Had the adjustment back to standard time not thrown my internal clock for a loop, I could have easily read the whole thing in a day.

This collection of real letters exchanged over several decades between Hanff, an avid reader and writer in New York City, and the employees of Marks & Co. antiquarian booksellers at 84, Charing Cross Road in London, was as endearing as I hoped this book would be.

Book read via: my academic library InterLibrary Loan (ILL)

DearMrHenshaw

Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary

The recipient of the 1984 Newbery medal, this is an outstanding example of the timelessness of well-written children’s books that includes themes of reading and writing, the difficult impact divorce has on the life of a child, and the longing to be understood, listened to, and loved.

After reading 84, Charing Cross Road and Dear Mr. Henshaw, I started thinking about other epistolary novels I’ve read and enjoyed, which led me to blog about other books in this style of writing. Read this blog post here.

Listen to Ms. Cleary’s Newbery acceptance speech here.

Read more about my Newbery Reading Project here. 

Book read via: youth collection from my academic library

genius-kerouac

You’re a Genius All the Time by Jack Kerouac

Currently the shelf organization of our main collection allows me to walk out of my office and see this immediately outside my door. I’ve often walked by it, meaning to pick it up for a quick read, and I finally did so on a recent Friday afternoon.

This slim volume contains brief but deep phrases and ideas about the process writing from one of America’s most famous beat poets. My favorite was, “No fear or shame in the dignity of your experience, language & knowledge”

Book read via: my academic library

camino

Camino Island by John Grisham

I read The Innocent Man by John Grisham in April of 2016, but prior to that, Skipping Christmas in 2002 was been the last time I read anything by him newly published. (The Firm remains my favorite of Grisham’s writing.)

I’ve been aware of his more recent publications, but when I heard this book’s premise of a heist planned to steal original F. Scott Fitzgerald manuscripts from Princeton (academic library!), a black market book seller (book store!) and an inquisitive writer (author!) seeking inspiration in Camino Island, Florida, I couldn’t help but request it from the library!

This was a fun read and reminded me why John Grisham (and other authors like him) are so popular – they draw readers in with an intriguing story, likable characters, short and easily digestible chapters, and a tidy conclusion at the end.

Book read via: public library

InThisMoment

In This Moment by Karen Kingsbury

While this is listed as a part of the Baxter family saga, the Baxters and Flanigans are only supporting characters in this newest release from Karen Kingsbury.

The key story revolves around a new character, a Christian high school principal whose students are exhibiting increasingly troubling and dangerous behavior. As a way of providing an alternative, he forms an after school Bible club which results in lives changed…but also a religious freedom lawsuit. Thus themes of standing up for religious liberty are heavily woven throughout Kingsbury’s latest installment.

My thanks to NetGalley for access to the digital ARC. https://www.netgalley.com/

 

Refugee

Refugee by Alan Gratz

A highlight of my fall semester is helping out at our Scholastic Book Fair fundraiser, where a portion of the proceeds go to enhance and support our academic library’s youth collection. When I saw Refugee was included, of which I had heard good reviews, it piqued my interest into a very timely topic and I bought a copy for myself.

Told from three children’s perspectives, each of whom face exile from their homeland: Josef – a boy who is Jewish during Hitler’s oppressive rise in 1930s Germany, Isabel – a girl from Cuba fleeing during Castro’s reign in the 1990s, and Mahmoud – a boy from Syria facing modern-day atrocities.

This would spur wonderful conversation for middle and high school readers, yet due to the intense nature of these three stories, I wouldn’t recommend this for sensitive or younger readers without guidance or an adult reading partner.

Book read via: personal library


I’ve just received several festive Christmas novellas from various library sources and am looking forward to these enhancing my already festive Christmas mood! (Look for a blog post about that soon.) Are you also getting ready to read seasonally? Feel free to leave comments and suggestions below.

 

Book Review: Artemis by Andy Weir

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Artemis by Andy Weir

For fans of The Martian, you will be excited to see Andy Weir revisit a space theme with his sophomore release. Set decades into the future, Artemis is a thriving industrial and tourist city on the Moon.

However, this sophomore release is a departure from The Martian in a few notable ways: we are greeted by lead female character Jazz Bashara and there is far less technical language in comparison to The Martian. Because of these two components I personally found this novel to be a more engaging read with the snarky, take-no-prisoners, owns her own mistakes heroine, along with a more understandable and approachable level of futuristic, scientific technology.

Through Jazz’s first-person perspective we get to know the history of this lunar city, her love for it, her loyalties to her job and her people in Artemis, her longings for a better way of life, and just how smart she is. The plot thickens when her (somewhat self- serving) business savvy leads to a domino effect of consequences when she discovers interconnected Artemisian secrets, industrial monopolies, and the role she will have to play in order to preserve the way of life for the people living in the Moon’s only habitable location.

I would have liked to have had a few more details explained in regards to her connections with friends and family back on Earth, but overall, I found this to be a fast-paced read that takes place in a very believable celestial city.

My thanks to NetGalley for access to the digital ARC. https://www.netgalley.com/ 

5 Favorite Epistolary Novels

As the weekend dawns, let’s take a look at five of my favorite epistolary novels. Happy reading weekend, bookish friends!

dracula_book_cover

Dracula by Bram Stoker

During the last semester of my Masters in Library Science program I was enrolled in a reader’s advisory class in which we read a lot of books in various genres, one of which had to be a horror novel.

More recently I’ve discovered I am a highly sensitive person, thus am hesitant about scary premises, but even in 2010 I opted for a classic approach to this assignment. Upon picking up Dracula, I wasn’t expecting this Gothic classic to be told in a series of letters! It was creepy, mysterious, and compelling, but didn’t give me bad dreams at night!

Published in 1897, this novel is now in the public domain and the above link is a free electronic version via Project Gutenberg. Print copies are still easily available too, if you prefer a more tactile reading experience.

guernsey_bookcover

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows 

While it’s been a number of years since reading this sweet series of correspondence between a woman living in London and a small community on a French island, I think fondly think of the enjoyment I received in reading this story set during World War II.

EMP

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

I received this as a gift from The Optometrist for Christmas last year and chose to read it a bit later, in July. Centered around the phrase “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog,” the story grows progressively more interesting as letters of the alphabet are banned from being used in written or verbal speech. Read it and you’ll learn why!

84CharingCrossRd

84, Charing Cross Road  by Helene Hanff

I forget how I heard about this epistolary novel, but it was on my ever-growing “wish list” (I would like to read it without buying it). Having reached a slight lull in my reading decisions, I freely requested it through my academic library’s InterLibrary Loan department.

This slim novella could easily be read in a day, or leisurely over a weekend, and was a lighthearted but heartfelt series of real letters between Helene Hanff and the employees of Marks & Co. booksellers found at 84, Charing Cross Road in London.

This little gem was also the catalyst for this blog post!

DearMrHenshaw

Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary

I remember reading this as a little girl while visiting my grandparents, but retained nothing about the plot 25+ years later. The story centers around Leigh Botts, a little boy who writes many letters to his favorite author, Mr. Henshaw, and thus grows as an author himself. It goes without saying that Beverly Cleary knew a thing or two about this topic, having received countless letters from young readers throughout her lifetime.

Upon re-familiarizing myself with this as a part of my Newbery Reading Project, and an example of an epistolary children’s book, I was reminded how well-written children’s books can endure across generations of readers. Even though children are obviously well acquainted with technology and are now more likely to e-mail an author, the themes of inspiration, imagination, dedication to reading and writing, children whose parents are divorced, a longing for friendship, love, and a desire to be known are all timeless.

A surprise came in remembering Paul O. Zelinsky illustrated this book. I loved the episode of Reading Rainbow when Zelinsky’s Caldecott winning version of Rumpelstiltskin is included! Watch the full Reading Rainbow on YouTube episode here.


Are there other epistolary novels you’ve enjoyed and would recommend? Please feel free to share in the comments below!

A Very Hermione Halloween

I’ve never really been one of those people who was enamored by dressing up for Halloween. I’m a big wienie when it comes to scary things and the idea of wearing a costume to work isn’t my idea of professional behavior.

In fact, it’s been five years since I dressed up with several library colleagues as Waldo.

Waldos

However, this year, I’ve been inspired by one of my favorite literary heroines.

Hermione Granger.

https://www.thesun.co.uk/archives/news/1169942/hermione-granger-and-the-chamber-of-secret-cash-emma-watson-used-offshore-firm-to-buy-3m-home/

Image source

I’m convinced if she hadn’t have been such a loyal friend to Harry and a brave member of Dumbledore’s Army, she would have been one awesome librarian.HermioneLibrary
From Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling

Since Halloween has fallen in the middle of a workweek, I still wanted to look professional (as aforementioned) – a priority since I taught a face-to-face class and later lead a live video chat with an online class today.

My outfit came together very smoothly and all the garments I wore came from my existing wardrobe. I bought just a few extra accessories, but more about that in a moment.


Skirt: Banana Republic Factory, similar here
Shirt: Ann Taylor Loft Factory, similar here
Sweater: Talbots, similar here
Tights: Target, similar here
Shoes: Naturalizer, similar here
Bag: Gryffindor tote bought during my visit to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter
Robe: Bachelor’s degree graduation gown
Magical Cat: Sylvester (not Crookshanks) – he opted to stay home today rather than come to campus with me

My two accessories were this inexpensive Hogwarts tie (the child’s size fit me perfectly) and a semi-homemade wand.

After a weekend trip to Hobby Lobby to transform Clover bamboo knitting needles, The Optometrist handily stripped the finish, stained the wood, used his Dremel tool to engrave a swirly design, painted the engravings gold, and sealed it with a light coat of polyurethane. (Yes, I have the coolest husband who supports my nerdiness.)


In my tote bag (because Gryffindor is my house, too), I carried copies of The Tales of Beedle the Bard and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, since these would have likely been books found in Hermione’s personal library.

My full Hermione transformation!


Have you dressed up for Halloween today? If so, has a literary character inspired you, too? Please share in the comments!