Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Favorite Books of 2015

This morning I'm sitting cozily in my apartment, listening to the plumber and my super discuss standard versus automatic transmission and why pipes corrode in the other room, and feeling glad nothing exploded.  These things always happen when you finally get on vacation, right?

In any case, I thought it was a good time to write up a quick post about my favorite books of 2015.  Goodreads had a cute graphic to let you know how many books you read this year, and I felt inspired.

I had a goal of reading 40 books in 2015, which I don't think I'll quite make, but 30 is pretty freakin' great too. A lot went on this year, and the second half involved a ton of reading for class - ahem, the entire Pentateuch - so getting in 10,132 fun pages feels good.

Here are five of my favorites:

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
Everyone and their mother is going nuts about this book, and for good reason.  This is the first in a series about two friends from the same neighborhood in Naples whose lives follow very different paths.  High-quality prose and some of the most poignant, accurate portrayals of adolescent female friendship I've read anywhere.  I loved every minute I spent reading - not a page or a word too many.  Go out now and find it! I'm getting on the wait list at the library for the next one.

The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
I had never read any Jhumpa Lahiri before, and I'm glad this was my first one.  A beautiful, complex book about family relationships, brotherhood, politics, and the way lives collide and diverge again and again over a lifetime.  If you're looking for an escape into a different world, with compelling characters (including well-written, strong women), this is a good one to pick up.

All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
This is the first of two WWII era books on my list, but it also received the Pulitzer Prize, so don't skip ahead.  The story follows two young people - a blind girl in France and a German boy - as they navigate the years leading up to WWII as well as its aftermath.  This was one of my favorites both because of the descriptions and because of the incredibly gentle way in which curiosity and imagination were treated throughout the book.  I read it during landing turbulence, which usually finds me clutching my seat and doing deep breathing - that's how intense it was.

Hello From The Gillespies by Monica McInerney
Okay...this is a bit of light read, even at over 600 pages long, but one I loved.  It follows a family of four in Australia.  The mother of the family always sends out a holiday letter, but this year she types up an honest, scathing report of her family's dysfunction - which accidentally gets sent to hundreds on her email list.  The ending is a bit expected, but it's still a cute, fun read.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
For a while, this book was zooming around book blogs all over the place, but it took some time for me to pick it up.  Once I did, there was no question: I could read Kate Atkinson's writing all day long.  If you ever read the "Choose Your Own Adventure" books when you were a kid, this kind of follows a similar vein - what would happen if we went one way rather than another in our lives, or someone came late rather than on time - to an extreme.  It follows the story of Ursula Todd, a young woman born in England in 1910, and her family as she grows up.  It covers parts of WWII and after, but is more of a story about her life and less about the larger war that is happening.

Overall, a good year for reading! What are some of your favorites from 2015?

Monday, November 23, 2015


Good morning, all! I'm taking this week off from blogging to celebrate Thanksgiving with my family.  Wherever you are, and however many people you may be celebrating with, Sheba and I hope your week is filled with safe travels, good food, and even better - lots of time for reading. :)

Below are some posts from the past, if you're in a browsing mood:

See you again next week!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Reading Wish-List

Now that space is limited and most of my funds are funneled to school, having a reading wish-list is almost its own dream.  That said, thanks to my library I don't really feel like I'm lacking - any book on my wish-list is a possibility!

Now that's living big :)

Time - unlimited time to read - well, if I could squeeze out more of that (and I just might!), here's what I'd choose:

The Wind Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami
I hadn't taken a closer look at this book by Murakami until an "employee picks" card at my local bookstore caught my attention.  They described it as an adult Alice In Wonderland, and after reading the first few pages, I was hooked.

Opera 101: A Complete Guide to Learning and Loving Opera by Fred Plotkin
Aside from the fact that this guy has a terrific name, this book is immensely readable.  I wandered into the Metropolitan Opera after having moved to the city and saw this gem after (naturally) finding the bookstore.  His writing is clear and relatable, and I wanted to buy it right away.  For those who, like me, are secret (or not so secret) fans of opera, or anyone who wants to learn more about opera, this is one to add to your list.

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
As a kid, the Anne of Green Gables series never did anything for me, but they were some of the only books on the shelves at Girl Scout Camp when I was a teenager.  I worked several summers there, and picked up one or two - I'd love to take a closer look, maybe as a wintery escape.  Plus, have you seen pictures of Prince Edward Island?

The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing (A Vish Puri Mystery) by Tarquin Hall
It's no secret that I'm a big fan of the Vish Puri mysteries, but I haven't picked this one up.  The series is terrific for a number of reasons: the rich, vivid descriptions of India, the incredibly well-developed characters, the intriguing storylines - and on and on.  It's been a long time since I've read one of Hall's novels, and I would love to hide away with this one.

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie
Over the summer I became a non-fiction (specifically, finance and business-related) aficionado.  Carnegie's classic went right up on my list.  Not only is it timeless, it's approachable and action-oriented.  The title originally put me off (I mean, come ON), but it's filled with wise little tidbits that will, I imagine, serve me well one day.

What's on your reading wish-list? If you make one, what are the qualities you look for in an author or a book?

Monday, November 9, 2015

Bookish Things To Be Thankful For

One of the things I love the most about this season (aside from eating stuffing and stepping on crunchy leaves) is how attention is turned to being thankful.  Some of it is hokey - sales! marketing! - but on the other hand, when I've looked at lists or made my own, life does seem infinitely better.  Perspective is everything, and this year, I decided to make a list of bookish and reading-related things I'm thankful for.

Learning how to read
Coming from a family of curious, book-loving people
Book bloggers from all around the world, who post and think critically
Inter-library loan (!)
Being able to return books at any branch of my city's library
Learning new skills and facts about anything under the sun - hummingbirds, the history of tea, investing, management, dealing with difficult people
All of the library's non-book related services - job search, computer and tax classes, book groups, after-school programming, and on and on
Book covers - brown paper, stretchy, colored, hard plastic
Bookmarks - magnetic, paper stenciled, laminated with children's drawings, museum bookmarks, ones with tassels
The hush of (some) libraries as you come inside
Having a place to study, do work, and write where I don't have to spend money (like at a coffee shop)
Unbent corners of new books
Poetry - Mary Oliver, John 
Haiku collections
Local authors
Book signings
Not being yelled at for browsing without buying
The ache you get in your back from sitting on the floor of the store and reading
Losing yourself completely in a story
Roald Dahl and iconic illustrations
Almost missing your stop when you're so invested in a story/character/plot
Seeing people read anywhere, and seeing what commuters are reading
Used bookstores

Do you make lists like this? What are you thankful for?

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Autumn Reading

The following is a repost of a previously published blog post.  These are still some of the books I love to recommend!

I always try to think of the fall as a time to recharge, reflect, and delve deeper in the kind of reading I do.  It's not yet time to hide indoors under a blanket, far far away from dripping shoes and muddy coats with a tropical read.  At its best, I think, early fall is the chance to take in the chill and the crisp air and hang out around a campfire in the hopes of getting some whistling apples (yum) and learning something new.  Maybe it's the new year or the beginning of school that still lingers for me, but fall always feels like a new chance to grow.

Last year, my memorable fall reads were The Ministry of Special Cases by Nathan Englander and Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson.  The Ministry of Special Cases helped me learn about the disappearances of young people in Argentina in the 1970's, and the lengths to which people still go to try and find their loved ones.  Horrible, tragic, devastating - and an absolute must-read.  Major Pettigrew's Last Stand was a mild and mellow retreat into the life and mind of a middle-aged man in the UK, and his search for fulfillment and meaning.  It was a lovely read - I wish I'd started writing about books I read earlier last year! If you've enjoyed Zadie Smith and are looking for something a bit different, I'd give this one a shot.

Here's what I'll be nose-deep in this month:

Someone*, by Alice McDermott An ordinary life—its sharp pains and unexpected joys, its bursts of clarity and moments of confusion—lived by an ordinary woman: this is the subject of Someone, Alice McDermott’s extraordinary return, seven years after the publication of After This. Scattered recollections—of childhood, adolescence, motherhood, old age—come together in this transformative narrative, stitched into a vibrant whole by McDermott’s deft, lyrical voice. Our first glimpse of Marie is as a child: a girl in glasses waiting on a Brooklyn stoop for her beloved father to come home from work. A seemingly innocuous encounter with a young woman named Pegeen sets the bittersweet tone of this remarkable novel. Pegeen describes herself as an “amadan,” a fool; indeed, soon after her chat with Marie, Pegeen tumbles down her own basement stairs. The magic of McDermott’s novel lies in how it reveals us all as fools for this or that, in one way or another. Marie’s first heartbreak and her eventual marriage; her brother’s brief stint as a Catholic priest, subsequent loss of faith, and eventual breakdown; the Second World War; her parents’ deaths; the births and lives of Marie’s children; the changing world of her Irish-American enclave in Brooklyn—McDermott sketches all of it with sympathy and insight. This is a novel that speaks of life as it is daily lived; a crowning achievement by one of the finest American writers at work today. (from Goodreads)

The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light*, by Paul Bogard A starry night is one of nature's most magical wonders. Yet in our artificially lit world, three-quarters of Americans' eyes never switch to night vision and most of us no longer experience true darkness. In The End of Night, Paul Bogard restores our awareness of the spectacularly primal, wildly dark night sky and how it has influenced the human experience across everything from science to art. From Las Vegas' Luxor Beam--the brightest single spot on this planet--to nights so starlit the sky looks like snow, Bogard blends personal narrative, natural history, science, and history to shed light on the importance of darkness--what we've lost, what we still have, and what we might regain--and the simple ways we can reduce the brightness of our nights tonight. (from Goodreads)

Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson Twenty-four years after her first novel, Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson returns with an intimate tale of three generations from the Civil War to the twentieth century: a story about fathers and sons and the spiritual battles that still rage at America's heart. Writing in the tradition of Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman, Marilynne Robinson's beautiful, spare, and spiritual prose allows "even the faithless reader to feel the possibility of transcendent order" (Slate). In the luminous and unforgettable voice of Congregationalist minister John Ames, Gilead reveals the human condition and the often unbearable beauty of an ordinary life. (from Goodreads)

*I picked these two up at the National Book Festival this weekend! I'll be writing more about that experience soon.

What about you? What are you reading this month? What books do you pick up every fall?

Friday, October 9, 2015


Reading: Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates.  Borrowed this one from the library and will be returning it late! Grad school means many awesome readings, but also less time for my own picks.  Lots of thoughts on this one, and more to come.

Baking: Well, seriously considering baking (ha!) these ginger snaps from Katy at The Non-Consumer Advocate.  Nothing quite like warm gingery cookies as the weather cools down.

Seeing: Cats in Kimonos - need I say more?

Happy Friday, friends! 

Sunday, September 27, 2015

On Being, Poets, and Irish Writers

I recently listened to an episode of a podcast called On Being, a discussion of the "animating questions at the center of human life" led by Krista Tippett, a Peabody Award-winner.  This episode in particular struck me because in it she interviewed John O'Donohue, an Irish poet who passed way suddenly in 2008, and the opener was so stunning, and so moving, I knew I had to listen to the whole thing.

There are many poets that I love, but there's something to me about Irish writers, equalled only by the Russians, that captures the human spirit - the suffering as well as the beauty.  O'Donohue's writing is no exception.  Below is a recording from the podcast of O'Donohue reading one of his poems, called Beannacht, from his collection Anam Cara.

If you're interested in listening to the whole podcast, you can do so on the OnBeing website or on iTunes (the episode is titled: John O'Donohue: The Inner Landscape of Beauty).  If you're looking for more, find his collections and sit a long while with them - that's what I plan to do.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

10 Questions

Instead of doing a Top Ten Tuesday today, I thought I'd pull out some answers to the 55 Questions post that went around for ages last year and the year before.  Fifty-five questions is a TON, and scrolling fatigue is real, so here are ten, in no particular order.

Bad book habit?
Leaving them flopped open facedown to keep my place. 

Do you have an e-reader? 
Yes! 2011 Amazon Kindle, still plugging along. Love it.

Do you prefer to read one book at a time, or several at once?
Several at once.

Have your reading habits changed since starting a blog? 
I think I’m more aware of “popular new releases,” which I’m not sure is a good thing. I keep a notebook and a space on my phone to jot down notes/how I feel about a book as soon as I finish it, which is definitely a good thing.

Can you read on the bus?
Nope. I do audiobook-read on the bus, though. 

Favorite place to read? 
Anyplace you can people watch.

What’s your policy on book lending? 
I once lent my copy of Gone With The Wind (which I’d read on a train ride from St. Petersburg to Sochi and which had a lot of sentimental value) to another girl on my trip and never saw it again. Now my motto is: only books I’m not crazy about to begin with.

Do you dog-ear your books? 
Only in desperate situations.

Do you write notes in the margins of your books? 
Not usually – I underline.

Do you break/crack the spine of your books?
Yes! Spine crackers unite! Best way to break in (my own) books.

Did you participate in the 55 Questions challenge? What would your answers be?

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Top Ten Fall Classics (on a Wednesday!)

*Since Monday and Tuesday were Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), this week's post is a bit delayed! To those of you who celebrate, L'Shana Tova u'Metukah!
This week's topic is a freebie, and I knew that it would be a great time to bust out some fall classics.  These are my old standbys, the ones I pull out when the weather starts to get cooler and all I want to do is cuddle up inside with a mug of tea, my cat, and no distractions.  Spooky, damp, windy, fraught with moral angst and beloved characters -- are there books that better capture fall?

Monday, September 7, 2015

Paired Reading

In the last few truly delicious-weather days of summer break, while on the hunt for a perfect (free!) spot to sit and read, I realized something.  The two books that I was reading paired nicely together.  So nicely, in fact, that the more I read one, the more I wanted to re-read the other.

Obviously, this is not a new phenomenon, but I haven't noticed it very much in my own reading.  It was doubly surprising when it happened because I was reading two non-fiction books at the same time, which is unusual for me.

The first of these two books was The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's Wealth, written in 1996 by Thomas Stanley and William Danko and wildly popular among the personal finance crowd (and other crowds, too).  It was a look into the lives and habits of America's millionaires, but shockingly different than what you or I may have expected.  After publication, it was critiqued and criticized, and with all of the financial changes the world has seen in the last nineteen years, some say outdated.

The second was Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Lives by Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project.  I'd heard of The Happiness Project, but had never read anything by Rubin before, and I picked it up as the dreaded "The library is closing in five minutes" message rang out over the loudspeaker - a rushed library choice is a bit like Russian Roulette.  Better Than Before speaks to the nature of habits: why some are easier to maintain than others, why certain people have trouble building "good" habits, and what it takes to make and keep them.

So what was it about both books that was so fascinating and enjoyable?

Several things, I think.  Each came with a practical approach to understanding how and why people are the way they are.  The millionaires in The Millionaire Next Door seemed to have mastered the habit-building that Gretchen Rubin discussed in Better Than Before.  Combined, the ideas of self-control, hard work, and slow growth blended together beautifully.  Each offered examples of how habit-building or wealth-building worked for others - and could work for the reader - and the voice of each of the narrators was immensely readable.  (So readable, in fact, that I went out and borrowed The Happiness Project as soon as I could, and went on the hunt for Stanley's later books.) Was this the kick I needed to think about habits I want to build, or did it just coincide nicely with the beginning of fall and all of the changes that come with it? Either way, it worked for me.

Have you ever read books that pair together well, or either of these two books? What were your thoughts?

Monday, August 31, 2015

Review of In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

Basic plot: (from goodreads) In 1987, Miri Ammerman returns to her hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, to attend a commemoration of the worst year of her life. Thirty-five years earlier, when Miri was fifteen, and in love for the first time, a succession of airplanes fell from the sky, leaving a community reeling. Against this backdrop of actual events that Blume experienced in the early 1950s, when airline travel was new and exciting and everyone dreamed of going somewhere, she paints a vivid portrait of a particular time and place—Nat King Cole singing “Unforgettable,” Elizabeth Taylor haircuts, young (and not-so-young) love, explosive friendships, A-bomb hysteria, rumors of Communist threat. And a young journalist who makes his name reporting tragedy. Through it all, one generation reminds another that life goes on.

On a scale from 1 to Cripplingly Depressing: The thing that surprised me the most about this book was the way the airplane crashes were written.  Reports of plane crashes make for serious reading, and while Blume doesn't shy away from the impact they had on the community, it is by no means a dim and grim book. (Should it have been? I wasn't sure.)

Memories from reading: This was an all-weekend read as I was in the middle of moving - lots of sitting at the kitchen/dining room table and on the deck (when I got desperate for some sun).

Best Bits: I loved the voice that Blume used while telling the individual stories and that of the community of Elizabeth, NJ.  It made me understand why so many women and girls (and boys and men!) love her books.  If I had been more exposed to her books as a kid, I think I would have loved them too.  The characters were beautifully written.  It was just right - the voice of a friend, not too old, not too young, very relatable.  In this context, however, in a book marketed towards adults, I felt it was a bit odd.  At certain points it did feel like the book was written for children and a little simplistic - but the material was very dark, and at other times quite mature.  I wasn't sure if the actual experience felt like an episode from The Twilight Zone, but reading about it definitely felt that way to me.  Overall, I would say it was beautifully written but unusual.

Teeth-gnashing: I was definitely not a fan of Natalie.  I think that her storyline, while important, wasn't addressed in depth and felt a bit tired as a result.  I would also have loved to have heard more from Miri as an adult.

Favorite character(s): Uncle Henry.

Weapon of Choice: Hardcover, borrowed from a friend.

Other titles by this author: Too many to list them all!
Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret
Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing
Then Again, Maybe I Won't

Have you read In the Unlikely Event? What did you think?

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Review of The Magicians by Lev Grossman

This is a first! I don't think I've posted a negative review on Small Hour Books before, but here it is.  I read The Magicians while moving, when I stayed with family for a week and had down time.  I'd read nothing but terrific reviews, was glad I had a copy I could borrow, and dug right in.  Unfortunately, it did not live up to any expectations.

Basic plot: [from goodreads] Like everyone else, precocious high school senior Quentin Coldwater assumes that magic isn't real, until he finds himself admitted to a very secretive and exclusive college of magic in upstate New York. There he indulges in joys of college-friendship, love, sex, and booze- and receives a rigorous education in modern sorcery. But magic doesn't bring the happiness and adventure Quentin thought it would. After graduation, he and his friends stumble upon a secret that sets them on a remarkable journey that may just fulfill Quentin's yearning. But their journey turns out to be darker and more dangerous than they'd imagined.

On a scale from 1 to Cripplingly Depressing: Dim and grim for many (many) chapters.  Similar to re-living high school.

Memories from reading: I read this one a lot at the kitchen table.

Teeth-gnashing: One of the most confusing and frustrating things about this book was that there seemed to be almost no plot.  I'm a plot-driven reader (especially with fiction and fantasy books), and this one did not pick up until over 240 pages in.

There were long, long passages about very smart teenagers and their magical school, but for some reason, the descriptions seemed to only scrape the surface.  I was disappointed by the lack of detail.  It made magic sound dull, not exciting, and most certainly not unique - which would have been fine if that was where the author was going thematically, but the book seemed stuck somehow.  Teachers were described briefly, but given great weight in certain parts (and I had to flip back because...who were they again?) and the five years of school dragged.  By the time they graduated, I didn't want to "hang out" with them anymore, so to speak.  The conversations they were having were cliché, dull, and ones I'd heard (and lived through) before.

I thought that maybe the book would have been better if it had been split up.  More attention could have been given to the school experience and developing the characters, and then another book could have moved on to graduation and adventures.


By the time they were having any adventures - in the last hundred pages of the book - the most interesting character was killed off, sacrificing herself for her cheating, dull, insipid boyfriend, also the protagonist of the novel.  At that point, I thought: You GOTTA be kidding me, Mr. Grossman.  I slogged through this book to get HERE?

It seemed to borrow a lot from many popular children's fantasy novels (The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter especially) but in my view failed where they succeeded.  While magic does not need to be all lightness and fun, there should be some depth to it.

Weapon of Choice: Paperback, borrowed while visiting family.

Other titles by this author:
The Magician King
The Magician's Land

Have you read The Magicians or other books in the series? What did you think?

Monday, August 17, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

We're back! Boxes have been mostly unpacked, pictures have been hung, and life is beginning to get back to normal.  I've been to my new local library and am excited about finding new places and books to read.  

Here's what I've been reading over the last few weeks in limbo, and what I'm reading right now:

The Magicians by Lev Grossman.  Man, what a book.  I love fantasy, especially fantasy series, heard SO many good things - I think I only saw terrific reviews wherever I looked - and it just sort of flopped for me.  At over 400 pages, it was hard to get through.  I've got a review coming up with more about why.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.  This is the book I picked up after reading The Magicians, and it flew for me.  Also a bit dark, and I keep waiting for something terrible to happen (ha!) but I'm really liking all of the characters, the time period, the ambiance, the descriptions of the weather, everything.  I'm about a third of the way through.

In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume.  I was never a Judy Blume reader as a kid, so I went in without any expectations.  So far, it seems very strange - and by that I mean I don't really know what genre it is.  It reads like a YA book, which is really well done, and then there are pieces that are very heavy and adult and don't quite fit in the YA style I think she's writing.  I like it, but it's weird.  Anybody else have mixed feelings? I'm about halfway through.

And that's it! Thanks for hanging in there with me during the move, and I'm looking forward to getting back into blogging.  I'll be posting once a week, most likely on Mondays (for these kinds of posts) or Tuesdays (for reviews).

Happy August! What are you reading?

Friday, July 10, 2015

Life Lately

I've had a post in my drafts for weeks (!) about what I've been reading, as well as a few reviews, but haven't hit publish.  Moving to a new city and starting graduate school are not for wimps, and they're taking the blogging stuffing out of me!

Forgive me for not giving this space the time it deserves over the last few weeks - if you stop by and take the time to read, thank you.

I'll be back to posting regularly mid-August, and for now you can catch me and some small reviews on Instagram and Twitter.

Happy summer reading!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Summer Reads

It has been dismally hot lately, almost uncharacteristically early (90+ weather in spring, I'm looking at you), which means that most of my indoor free time lately has been spent drinking cool beverages, not moving, and reading as much as possible.  Here are some of the books that have been in rotation lately:

A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear

Thoughts so far: I really love the main character (Maisie Dobbs), the time period (post-WWI, pre-WWII), and the location (Gibraltar).  It hasn't been easy to figure out where and what Miss Dobb's investigating is leading to, which I think is a good thing so far.  On the other hand, the writing is a little bit lacking and has slowed down for me midway through.  I snuck a peek at some Goodreads reviews of the book, and others agree - but say that the earlier books in the series are much better.  I'm sticking with it, in the hope that it will be worth it in the end and that I'll get the chance to check out some of the earlier books in the series.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Thoughts so far: I am definitely not knowledgeable about this period of time (in terms of names and places - sorry, History teachers), so it's a bit tricky to keep track of the characters, why they're significant, and what they do.  There's definitely a bunch of re-reading of pages and flipping back to the chart(s) at the beginning of the book.  That said, I don't mind that it's a slower read since the writing is lovely.  The characters are certainly brought to life.

The World On A Plate: 40 Cuisines, 100 Recipes, and the Stories Behind Them by Mina Holland

Thoughts: Loved this one - got it as a birthday present, and can't wait to try many of the recipes inside.  Hopefully I'll get a review up soon, but in the meantime, I liked the fact that she lists normal kitchen things as essentials (no expensive KitchenAid stand mixers or international brand blow-torches listed), the charts with information about the history behind certain spice blends or grapes, and the short chapters and blurbs on each of the regions and recipes. 

What have you been reading lately? 

Friday, June 12, 2015

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami Review

While I was living overseas, I tried valiantly to read Murakami's 1Q84.  I enjoyed the prose and the even style of writing - level, calm, and unhurried.  Unfortunately, I had a copy with all three or four volumes in one, which made for something like over 300 pages of calm, unhurried writing...and I put it down.  Alas alack, etc.

This, however, was just right - a lovely introduction to the writer, and also gave some insight into his style and mindset.  I'd only heard good things about both Murakami and this book before reading, and was not disappointed.

If you're looking for a slow-paced summer read for sitting in cafes or on the stoop, pick it up.  It's not an "athletics" book, and it's not just about writing.  I think it's fair to say it's about life changing, making choices and sticking with them, community, and how we respond to challenges in life.

Basic plot: (from back cover) An intimate look at writing, running, and the incredible way they intersect, from the incomparable, bestselling author Haruki Murakami.  While training for the New York City Marathon, Haruki Murakami decided to keep a journal of his progress.  The result is a beautiful memoir about his intertwined obsessions with running and writing, full of vivid memories and insights, including the eureka moment when he decided to become a writer.  By turns funny and sobering, playful and philosophical, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is rich and revelatory, both for fans of this masterful yet guardedly private writer and for the expanding population who find similar satisfaction in athletic pursuit.

On a scale from 1 to Cripplingly Depressing: 0

Memories from reading: I read this while waiting for graduation ceremonies to start and for my plane to arrive, which I think added something to it.  There was never one period where I just sat and read for ages, and the book is good for that - when you have a moment, the pieces you do read are engaging and thought-provoking.

Teeth-gnashing: Nothing, really.  I can't think of any bits that I wish had been longer, or cut short.  It all seemed to be put together very well.

Weapon of Choice: Paperback, from The Harvard Bookstore in Cambridge, MA.

Other titles by this author:
After Dark
After the Quake
Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman
Kafka on the Shore
Norwegian Wood

Have you read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, or any of Murakami's other books? What did you think?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


Reading: 1. This Is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper.  I know this one is coming out (has already come out?) as a movie, and the book reads that way.  I was looking for a lighter summer read, and it kind of fits the bill - the writing style/author's voice is very readable, and yet at the same time it's also about family dysfunction.  So far I like it, but I hope the plot picks up.  Amen.

2. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel.  WH, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I watched one episode of the miniseries when I was visiting with my family and was...underwhelmed.  The book, however, is so well written I almost can't stand it.  I'm not usually the early historical fiction fan, and I'm not very far in, but I have the feeling it will fly by.  Here's an excerpt:

Wolsey looks at his expression, and laughs.  Squabbling underlings! He knows quite well that, dissatisfied with their original parentage, they are fighting to be his favorite son.  "Whatever you think of Master Stephen, he is well grounded in canon law, and a very persuasive fellow, except when he tries to persuade you.  I will tell you ---" He breaks off; he leans forward, he puts his great lion's head in his hands, the head that would indeed have worn the papal tiara, if at the last election the right money had been paid out to the right people. "I have begged him," the cardinal says.  "Thomas, I sank to my knees and from that humble posture I tried to dissuade him.  Majesty, I said, be guided by me.  Nothing will ensue, if you wish to be rid of your wife, but a great deal of trouble and expense."

Making: Vegan Molasses Cookies.  I'm not vegan, but love eating cookie batter without eggs - and another positive is that these come out very soft - maybe too soft? Still delicious. (Try these, too.)

Watching: Endless youtube videos about skincare.  One of the finer examples of internet rabbitholes, and yet so addicting.  Here you go.

Quoting: This may be my new favorite, by none other than Mary Oliver:
There were times over the years when life was not easy, but if you're working a few hours a day and you've got a good book to read, and you can go outside to the beach and dig for clams, you're okay.

What are you currently reading, making, or watching?

Friday, June 5, 2015

Happy Friday!

Hello again and Happy Friday (the first Friday in June)! 

How are you? What are you reading? How has your spring been? I hope that life has been treating you well.  Thanks for sticking with me - I'm glad to be back.

Since I haven't been blogging about it, what have I been reading for the last month and change?

Hello from the Gillespies by Monica McInnerney
Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen
A Pocket Full of Rye by Agatha Christiee
The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison
The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
Skin Cleanse by Adina Grigore
The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels by Ree Drummond
What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

All of which I have genuinely enjoyed, some more than others.  I finished Murakami's book yesterday morning, and if you like essays, memoirs, or sports, definitely read it.  I found it both calm and relatable, and it made me want to pick up another of his shorter works - maybe essays.

In addition to terrific library finds, this spring has turned into a "cup runneth over" experience with books. While visiting with family, I was very generously given How To Be Both by Ali Smith, which I've been wanting to read for ages - and then a friend lent me Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, which I started to read while waiting for the bus (and LOVE so far, good gravy).

Then last week, as I was walking back from grocery shopping, I saw a yard sale with a box of books and stopped to look.  You know where this story is going, of course. I flipped through the books while balancing my bags, and picked up three - The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz, Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, and The Lover by A.B. Yehoshua.  How much did they cost? Twenty-five cents each.  It was, if I were the dramatic type, as if the heavens opened up and practically gave them to me.  So they now sit on my to-be-read pile as well, with some picks from your blogs over the last several weeks.

They're not fancy new books, but just right for me, and what I so love about reading and book blogging.

Have a wonderful weekend :)

P.S. Has anyone else been watching Outlander?? Any thoughts on the end of the first series? The more I watch, the more I keep re-reading, and thinking about how they're going to work the end of the second season! I'm ridiculously excited to follow along.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Back to regular posting soon

We've been reading, reading, reading, spending time with family, cooking up a storm, and relaxing.

Be back soon!

Cornelia & Sheba

Friday, April 24, 2015

UPDATES: Dewey's Readathon!

Update: I had a terrific time! I started with Hello from the Gillespies, since I'd enjoyed reading it so much and was hoping it would get me through my April reading slump - it did, and then some.  This also meant that I finished my first book for the ReadingMyLibrary Challenge, thank goodness.

I'd been thinking of reading The Marco Effect next, since Adler-Olsen has been a favorite Nordic crime novelist of mine in the past, but decided to read The River of No Return instead, since it sounded so incredible.  I really loved the first 300 pages, and then thought: Am I getting tired, or is the plot getting more confusing? I finished it on Sunday, and it wasn't just the fatigue.  

Overall, I'm so glad I joined.  I got a ton of reading done, and it felt great.  Throughout, I almost wanted more Saturdays to be like that one - more time reading, more time connecting with others, more time eating snacks :)

Thanks Team Popper for stopping by and cheering me on - I can't wait till next readathon.

Dewey's Readathon is tomorrow, April 25th! It's a chance for readers and bloggers to come together and honor the memory of one blogger, Dewey, who started the readathon, and to read as much as possible for 24 hours.  I'm joining in for the first time - while I'm nervous about how much I'll actually be able to finish, I feel so good about reading alongside fellow book lovers.  Almost all of the joint activities that I've been a part of in this book-blogging world have been so, so fun.

Getting down to it - while I won't be able to post updates or join in the twitter chats until Saturday evening, I will be reading! I'm excited to dedicate my day to eating, reading, and standing around waiting for the bus with a book.

Below are the ones I'll have in rotation, linked to Goodreads.  Will I get through all of them? Nope.  But I like a little variety in my life, and who knows what I'll actually be in the mood to pick up!

Hello from the Gillespies by Monica McInerney (e-book)
Percentage before: 32
Percentage after: 100 

Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris (e-book)
Percentage before: 14

The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway
Pages read: 346

Labyrinth by Kate Mosse

How Children Succeed by Paul Tough

The Marco Effect by Jussi Adler-Olsen

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

My Mother's House and Sido by Colette

Are you joining Dewey's Readathon? What's on your list? 

Can't wait to check out everyone's reading tomorrow :)

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Review of Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting by in America by Barbara Ehrenreich

Nickel and Dimed is a book I've been wanting to read for ages (see: here), but I didn't realize that as soon as I picked it up from the library that I'd devour it in one day - almost in one sitting.  It was compelling, devastating, heartbreaking, and funny all at the same time.  If you're looking for a (nonfiction) book that will make you seriously think about how to change the world, go now and read this one.

Okay.  Phew! Now down to it.

Basic plot: (from Barnes and Noble) Millions of Americans work full time, year round, for poverty-level wages. In 1998, Barbara Ehrenreich decided to join them. She was inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that a job -- any job -- can be the ticket to a better life. But how does anyone survive, let alone prosper, on $6 an hour?

To find out, Ehrenreich left her home, took the cheapest lodgings she could find, and accepted whatever jobs she was offered. Moving from Florida to Maine to Minnesota, she worked as a waitress, a hotel maid, a cleaning woman, a nursing-home aide, and a Wal-Mart sales clerk. She lived in trailer parks and crumbling residential motels. Very quickly, she discovered that no job is truly "unskilled," that even the lowliest occupations require exhausting mental and muscular effort. She also learned that one job is not enough; you need at least two if you [intend] to live indoors. 

Nickel and Dimed reveals low-rent America in all its tenacity, anxiety, and surprising generosity -- a land of Big Boxes, fast food, and a thousand desperate stratagems for survival. Read it for the smoldering clarity of Ehrenreich's perspective and for a rare view of how "prosperity" looks from the bottom. You will never see anything -- from a motel bathroom to a restaurant meal -- in quite the same way again.

On a scale from 1 to Cripplingly Depressing: Oh, man.  I would say that the realism - the reality of the situations she describes in this book - is what makes it a serious read.  I found myself asking: How do you build community or a positive outlook in these situations? How do you in any way get out?  If I were working in one of the places she worked, I don't know that I could have read this book.  That said, Ehrenreich is tremendously funny and honest, which kept the book buoyant.

Thoughts: Ehrenreich wrote this book over ten years ago, and it doesn't seem as though (minimum) wages have gone up very much - from 1998 to 2008 to 2015.  So what happens when the job market, even for low wage jobs, tanks? For years? Ehrenreich used the word "shameful" to describe what's been going on - and it is.  The middle class bubble she talks about was something I'd never thought of in that way, and it seems very, very true.  Additionally, one of my favorite things about the book was how beautifully she captured the interactions and relationships between co-workers.  You really get a sense of people in the workspace, not case studies.

Teeth-gnashing: There aren't really any resolutions to the problems she presents.  I don't think that the point of the book was to solve the problems, since they are so huge, but it would have been nice to know what I could do when I finished reading.

Memories from reading: Got home from the library and couldn't even wait to put everything away before I started reading.  Green gingham chair all the way.

Weapon of Choice: Paperback!

Other titles by this author:
Living With A Wild God: A Non-believer's Search for the Truth About Everything
Bright-Sided: How Positive Thinking Is Undermining America
Bait and Switch: The (Futile) Pursuit of the American Dream

Have you read anything by Barbara Ehrenreich? What have you read recently that's been all-consuming, or left you thinking about it long after you were done?

(If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.)

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Top Ten All Time Favorite Authors

Good gravy.  How do you pick just ten of your favorite authors?

I decided to make rules, because otherwise it's impossible (impossible!) to narrow it down.  There are too many. I asked myself: which books have I picked up and read and re-read (and haven't already written about ad nauseam on this blog)? How many of those authors have written other books that I've picked up and read and re-read?

And then I chose.  Eurgh.

So, yes, JK Rowling and Zora Neale Hurston should be on this list, as well as Hans Fallada, Frantz Fanon, Leo Tolstoy, and Diana Gabaldon.  But here we have it, cut down to a mere ten.  Three ladies, seven men, all white, five from Western Europe, five from these United States, nine out of ten deceased.  If you want to read something (potentially) life-changing, go pick up one of their books/letters/essays/poems.  My favorites? Linked in their names.

From left to right!

Top Row: 
Bottom Row: 

Also, whenever I see that picture of John Steinbeck I think: You old cad, you.

(If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.)

Who are your ten all time favorite authors? Would you be able to narrow it down?

Friday, April 17, 2015

April is the cruelest month

If I'm being completely honest, I haven't been feeling the book love in April.  I don't know what it is - I flew through the first few months of the year, but at last it seems to have slowed.  I didn't continue most of the books I had checked out from the library, and didn't feel like reading anything.  I started and stopped, started and stopped (which is a bit what life feels like right now).  I'm not even gonna tell you what I'm reading now, I'm that ridiculous worried it won't stick.

My one reading relief has been National Poetry Month.  I love poetry - at its best, I think it can help cure almost any melancholy feeling, and it captures so much of what is beautiful in life.  I've been discovering new poems and poets through the Poetry Foundation, and have forged ahead with Yehuda Amichai and W.H. Auden, old favorites.

There is Walt Whitman too, a dog-eared companion, who so captures America (and life) for me I can't stand it.  Below is an excerpt from a poem he wrote after Abraham Lincoln was killed, called When Lilacs Last in Dooryard Bloom'd:
Lo, the most excellent sun so calm and haughty,
The violet and purple morn with just-felt breezes,
The gentle soft-born measureless light,
The miracle spreading bathing all, the fulfill’d noon,
The coming eve delicious, the welcome night and the stars,
Over my cities shining all, enveloping man and land.

Go read the rest here - and have a beautiful spring weekend!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

March in Review

Oh, gosh.  It's only the second full week of April, so I don't feel as though I've procrastinated too much for a month in review.  Let's get to it.  Outside of the blog, March was filled with a lot of travel, some fantastic events, a few tough decisions, and a lot of library time.  Inside the blog, I thought about what I wanted from this space, how I could make it happen, and got down to do a bunch of hard (but good) work.

So what went on?

Reviews (2):

I had a goal of posting two reviews per month, which I did! I also created a posting schedule, blogged ahead, and made changes to the way I engage with the book blogging community (aka, became less of a scaredy-cat about tweeting and commenting) - and I feel really good about all of it.

Finished (4):

Nonfiction was at the head of the line - it was one of my reading goals for 2015, and I'm proud of myself for making progress on it.  Through Everyday Reading, I discovered Laura Vanderkam's books, and then finally got to Nickel and Dimed, which was on my TBR for ages and ages.  Also, unplanned but pretty neat - all of the books I finished this month were written by women.

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich
Seraphina by Rachel Hartman
168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam
All The Money In The World: What the Happiest People Know About Getting and Spending by Laura Vanderkam

Begun (2):

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett
Blanche Among The Talented Tenth by Barbara Neely

Added a Reviews and a Benefits (of reading) page
Edited the New Here page
Fixed mobile issue

Overall, I'd say it was a good month. How was your March? Better still, how is your April coming along? If you do Month In Review posts, share in the comments below - I'd love to hear your take on them!

Friday, April 10, 2015

Oh, The Books!

Happy Friday!

Today I'm doing my first-ever guest post over at Oh, The Books! with Asti and Kelley - I'm excited, I'm nervous, their site is fantastic, has a great voice, and their weekly recaps are *beyond* detailed (seriously, if you want to get an incredible spread of what's been going on in the book blogging world, that's the place) - so go check them out!

Monday, April 6, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

This weekend, I was able to take advantage of some down time to finish up one of my very first NetGalley books, Blanche Among The Talented Tenth by Barbara Neely.  It was exciting for me (dorky but true), and is a mystery that I've been reading for a few weeks.  I really enjoyed getting to know the main character, Blanche White, and was surprised by the author's style and approach.  I'll have a full review up soon, but for now let's say it was a good read.

I decided to crack open Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris next, as part of the Reading My Library Challenge for the month of April.  There's a certain edge to Harris's books that I hadn't picked up on, but so far I like it.  It's part of her "food trilogy," which also includes Chocolat (which I haven't read, but did see the movie, yum).  This scratches both my travel bug and my magical realism itch - double win.

What are you reading this week? Anything juicy? Or are you still recuperating from the holiday weekend?

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Reading My Library Challenge

First of all, Happy April!! Spring is here, I can feel it.  Daffodils are blooming, the wind has kicked in full gear - it's time.

Second! Today is the first day of the Reading My Library Challenge, hosted by Stefani at Caught Read Handed, and I am so excited to be participating.  The rules are: for the whole month of April, read free books - aka, any book you want from your local library.  You only have to read one book to participate, but the book blogiverse is large, contains multitudes (WW reference, you betcha), and I know so many people are going to read, like, 37 books and be casual about it.

Not so here at Small Hour Books.  I'll probably read one or two.  We keep our books free and our reviews short here, as you can tell.

You can tweet about your books using the hashtag #ReadingMyLibrary and check out all sorts of cool links from other bloggers as well as giveaways (!!) over at Stefani's blog.

Here is what I'll be reading:

Unseen Academicals by Terry Pratchett - I know, I know, I've already been reading this one for a while.  Nutt and Glenda!

The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana by Umberto Eco - old school audiobook disks for this one, a book club read for April 19th.  Pray for me that I'll actually be able to get through all 12 disks by the meeting.

and then, some either/ors:

Prince of Persia by Jordan Mechner, A.B. Sima, LeUyen Pham and Alex Puvilland - my first ever graphic novel, based on a video game I played in the early 90's.  So far, meh.  Long.  We'll see!

The Girl Who Owned A City by O.T. Nelson, Dan Jolley, Joelle Jones and Jenn Manley Lee - another graphic novel, which looks either silly or like zombie apocalypse with kick-ass girl protagonists.

Right Ho, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse - this was a desperate grab as I was leaving the library when it was closing.  I'm always on the lookout for a good mystery, and I panicked, so here we are.  I may take this one on the plane with me for some chilled British humor during takeoff.

Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris - I loved (loved) Peaches for Father Francis, and thought I'd try this one.  I've never read any of Harris's books, only listened to them, so we'll see how this goes.

Alright.  Sheba's giving me that look, so I'm off.  Read along this month! Use your library! E-books are great, and there are so many neat resources available through your library.  What else are you gonna do this month??

Happy reading, and happy spring :)

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Review of Anthony Doerr's All the Light We Cannot See

Basic plot: (from Goodreads) Marie-Laure lives with her father in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where he works as the master of its thousands of locks. When she is six, Marie-Laure goes blind and her father builds a perfect miniature of their neighborhood so she can memorize it by touch and navigate her way home. When Marie-Laure is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris, and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great-uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, the orphan Werner grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments, a talent that wins him a place at a brutal academy for Hitler Youth, then a special assignment to track the resistance. More and more aware of the human cost of his intelligence, Werner travels through the heart of the war and, finally, into Saint-Malo, where his story and Marie-Laure’s converge.

On a scale from 1 to Cripplingly Depressing: This is a book about World War II, so there are violent scenes and some disturbing behavior.  That said, they were used to frame ethical questions: When do you keep your mouth shut and when do you risk your own well-being? How do you protect those you love? People are complicated, and their inner lives are far harder to untangle than we might think.  Doerr uses these questions to develop extraordinary characters.

Favorites: I loved that there was such affection for childhood curiosity, exploration, science, gentleness and authenticity throughout the book - and the difficulty in retaining those things as we grow up.  Marie-Laure's world, her impressions and perceptions, were vivid and terrific, and I'm glad that Doerr made Werner such a relatable and human character. The rich descriptions of cities and landscapes were sweeping and cinematographic, and added tremendously to the book as a whole.

Memories from reading: This turned out to be a book I read while traveling, so most of my memories are in the airport at my gate, in my seat as we (turbulently) landed, and while visiting family - snuggled under the covers as snow fell on Boston again and again.

Weapon of Choice: Borrowed from the library, read on my Kindle.

Other titles by this author:
The Shell Collector: Stories
Memory Wall
About Grace
Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World

Have you read anything by Anthony Doerr? How do you feel about books that take place during war?

(If you make a purchase through a link on this site, I will receive a small commission.)