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.)

Friday, March 27, 2015

Book Therapy: Lessons Learned

There was a moment the other morning when I felt completely and utterly content.  I was sitting in my (cat-shredded) green gingham chair, Sheba was on the windowsill checking out the dog-walkers in the courtyard, and the apartment was filled with mid-morning sun and a light breeze.  It was really pretty perfect.

Sheba and I have many mornings together like that, which is one of the things about my life that I truly love, but life (my life, at least) is often a mixed bag.  There are ups and downs, times where I feel stretched to the limit and others when I feel underutilized, moments when I'm anxious, restless, curious, silly, when all I want is to be with my friends and when all I want is to be left alone.  I'm...pretty sure this makes me human.

If you haven't heard of Tolstoy Therapy yet, stop reading now and go check it out.  Lucy writes about handling life's many moments with books - poems, literature, essays, nonfiction - and the lessons we learn from them.  I love the idea, and the site, and decided to make a list of my own.  Here are some of the authors whose writing I find helpful/inspiring/comforting during:

Delicious (weekend) mornings:
Terry Pratchett
Jasper Fforde
Dodie Smith

The lonely hours:
JK Rowling
Diana Gabaldon
Jonas Jonasson
Muriel Barbery

Escaping on a lunch break/commute/evening of insomnia:
Joanne Harris
Steig Larsson
Jussi Adler-Olsen
Daniel Silva

The doldrums, or when you need a laugh:
P.G. Wodehouse
Dorothy L. Sayers
Agatha Christie
Sarah Addison Allen

Terrific resources:
Reading Lists from a UK organization called "Reading Well"
Bibliotherapy Recommendations from Tolstoy Therapy
Lit Therapy, where you can pick an emotion and find bookish recommendations.

What would your list look like? Have you heard of bibliotherapy?

Monday, March 23, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

It's Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals for me this week - I finished Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich on Friday and needed something lighter.  Also, I had never read anything by Terry Pratchett before, despite having heard almost only good things about all of the books he's written.  So far, I can see why.  It's wry, unique, imaginative, quirky, and at times hysterically funny.  I know I missed the Pratchett readathon from last week, but I'm glad I'm along for the ride now, and I may just have to add some more of the Discworld series to my must-reads for this year.

What are you reading this week? Have you read any of Terry Pratchett's books before?

Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday Favorites

Happy Friday! Here are a few of my favorite things from around the internet this week:

This review of Rachel Hartman's Shadow Scale, the sequel to Seraphina, which made me go straight to the library. (Warning: spoilers if you haven't yet read Seraphina!)

An article on shifting from a paycheck mentality to a net worth mentality.

As I recover from a cold, these poses from Yoga Journal to relieve tension look just right.

What's the deal with costumes? A discussion about one of my favorite villains, Poison Ivy, from a favorite comic, Batman.

What are your favorite things from this week?

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Notes on Nonfiction

Currently enjoying: Books on personal finance, habits, and biographies.

Noticing: An author's voice plays a big part in whether or not I continue reading.

Realizing: Non-fiction articles and journal pieces hold my attention longer than books (ah, attention span!).

Thinking: About digging into non-fiction reads during this upcoming season of travel.

What nonfiction are you enjoying, thinking about, or noticing?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Top Ten Books on My Spring TBR List

American Mirror: The Life and Art of Norman Rockwell by Deborah Solomon. I picked this up as a treat while visiting The National Gallery, and while I'm only a casual admirer of Norman Rockwell's (I knew almost nothing about him before starting this book), I'm really looking forward to finishing this one.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.  Oh, Fyodor.  Why, oh, why do you write characters that are so despicable in such mundane ways? Lots of drama, lots of religious monologues, and so far, little sanity (though, truthfully, it seems like many families are that way).  My first Classics Club book.

Father Goriot by HonorĂ© de Balzac.  While out with a friend one Sunday, I found a used copy of another book on my Classics Club list and snatched it up.  I checked out two translations and liked this one best -  it's Penguin Classics - and can't wait to get started on this story of "the excessive paternal love of a retired vermicelli merchant"(back cover).

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward.  This is a book I got a while back from Barnes & Noble, as one of a few I wanted to read, and I still haven't gotten through more than the first chapter or so.  It's a story about Hurricane Katrina, family, poverty, and growing up, and what I've read has been captivating.

American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar.  Another from a while back - a debut novel about a young Pakistani American in the Midwest who falls in love with his mother's closest friend.  Faith, love, and modern American life all come together for what looks like a powerful novel.

Life From Scratch: A Memoir of Food, Family, and Forgiveness by Sasha Martin.  I found out about this one from Oprah and from Kelly at The Well-Read Redhead, which meant it had to find a way to my TBR list.  I love memoirs and autobiographies and I love reading the stories behind recipes, so - no brainer.

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell.  I have heard only good things about this book, and started to listen to it as an audiobook over the summer.  Life got very busy and I never finished reading it, but I was hooked.  A story about teenagers that isn't moralistic and doesn't sound like someone who never experienced adolescence wrote it? Done.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson.  Young Adult Fiction is not usually on my radar, but this is a book that kept popping up over and over again.  It's gone on to win the National Book Award, the John Newbery Medal, and is a memoir-in-verse.  I'm really excited to read it.

Terrier by Tamora Pierce.  For as long as I can remember, I've had friends tell me to check out Tamora Pierce's books.  I never got to them when I was younger, and thought I'd outgrown them. This (fantasy) story, the first in a trilogy, got my attention as soon as it mentioned a young girl assigned to a tough beat who can communicate with the dead...and uncovers a conspiracy.  It reminds me of the Sabriel series, but I think it will be pretty different.

Neverhome by Laird Hunt.  This is one I heard about through the book blogger grape vine, and it sounds incredible.  Taking place during the Civil War, Neverhome tells the story of a farmer's wife who disguises herself as a Union soldier.  The New York Times says: "Through bloodshed and hysteria and heartbreak, she becomes a hero, a folk legend, a madwoman and a traitor to the American cause." I mean, why haven't I already read this one?!

What books are on your spring to-be-read list?

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

Monday, March 16, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

This weekend found me hit with a headcold for the first time in years - it did give me an opportunity to do some reading, which was the only nice part of it.  I finished up All the Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know About Getting and Spending by Laura Vanderkam and listened to A Death in Vienna by Daniel Silva, read by John Lee.  I found the Invest chapter of All the Money in the World a little less engaging than the others, but once again, really liked the thought-provoking questions she asks.  As for A Death in Vienna, I'm a sucker for a good comfort read and the narration is spot-on.

This week I'm looking forward to reading some of my first titles from Netgalley as well :)

What are you reading this Monday?

Friday, March 13, 2015

Friday Favorites

Happy Friday! Here are some of my favorite things from around the internet this week:

These three instagram accounts (!): 1. Cats Only Book Club 2. Paris Review 3. Subway Book Review

Navigating a confusing world with Whitman's "Of the Terrible Doubt of Appearances" on Tolstoy Therapy, and what Aung San Suu Kyi would bring with her to read on a deserted island.

A quick note on getting better at things from Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic.

Rory's review of Mosquitoland by David Arnold made me want to beg, buy, or borrow this book as soon as possible.

A response to the minimalist, de-cluttering craze from someone raised with the "perfectly good" mindset.

What are your favorite things from this week?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Review of Longbourn by Jo Baker

Longbourn by Jo Baker was a bit of (beautifully written) calm that fell into my lap at just the right moment.  It had been on my "Wish List" on Overdrive for a few months, and when it popped up as available, I was stressed and felt pretty glum.  When I listened as I washed dishes and walked home, it left me with an almost zen-like feeling of wellbeing.

Basic plot: In this irresistibly imagined belowstairs answer to Pride and Prejudice, the servants take center stage. Sarah, the orphaned housemaid, spends her days scrubbing the laundry, polishing the floors, and emptying the chamber pots for the Bennet household. But there is just as much romance, heartbreak, and intrigue downstairs at Longbourn as there is upstairs. When a mysterious new footman arrives, the orderly realm of the servants’ hall threatens to be completely, perhaps irrevocably, upended. Jo Baker dares to take us beyond the drawing rooms of Jane Austen’s classic—into the often overlooked domain of the stern housekeeper and the starry-eyed kitchen maid, into the gritty daily particulars faced by the lower classes in Regency England during the Napoleonic Wars—and, in doing so, creates a vivid, fascinating, fully realized world that is wholly her own. (from Goodreads)

Memories from reading: Walking through Logan Circle in the damp cold air, along colored row houses and messed up sidewalks on the way back from lunch at a friend's house.

Favorites: I loved the smaller details, the intricacies in describing calm, consistent country life.  I thought that the comparisons, or juxtaposition, of the Bennett girls and Sarah and Polly were profound.  While the last image in the book was really lovely, I thought the end felt a little bit rushed to get the longview and see how the characters all ended up.

Teeth-gnashing: While listening to the audiobook, I sometimes had a hard time understanding who was who - or who the narrator was referring to, since there are so many "she"'s in the novel.  Also, I did not like Sarah's choice at the end, and didn't find it so realistic, smart, or rational.  To be fair, it's fiction.

Weapon of Choice: Audiobook to begin with, then raced through the regular hardcover.

Other titles by this author: The Undertow, The Telling, The Mermaid's Child

Have you read Longbourn or any of Jo Baker's books? What were your thoughts?

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

Monday, March 9, 2015

Classics Club Update

In lieu of an "It's Monday, What Are You Reading?" post, I thought I'd write about my Classics Club progress.  I'm rolling my way through The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and am not finding it as arduous and mind-numbing as I'd anticipated.  (Am I being too honest?) I'm happy to say that I like the way I've split up the chapters, and when thinking about writing this update, I realized I'd...rather be reading.  Ha! It's engaging and I like it even more now that I've gotten past the part I've read six or seven times (double ha).  I'm proud of myself for sticking to it.  Now it seems wherever I go I find another one of the books on my list - more incentive to read this one and keep going.

Here's a favorite recently-read excerpt:

"'I love mankind,' he said, 'but I marvel at myself: the more I love mankind in general, the less I love human beings in particular, separately, that is, as individual persons.  In my dreams,' he said, 'I would often arrive at fervent plans of devotion to mankind and might very possibly have gone to the Cross for human beings, had that been suddenly required of me, and yet I am unable to spend two days in the same room with someone else, and this I know from experience.  No sooner is that someone else close to me than his personality crushes my self-esteem and hampers my freedom." Dostoyevsky, p. 79

Are you working your way through the classics? Have you read The Brothers Karamazov before?

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Friday, March 6, 2015

Friday Favorites

Happy Friday! Here are a few of my favorite things floating around the internet this week:

A lovely review from The New York Times of a novel from a former professor.

One of my favorite series from Oh Dear Drea - pictures taken by her daughter.

An excerpt from 2015 Whiting Award Winner Azareen Van der Vliet Oloomi's Fra Keeler.

Kelly at The Well Read Redhead is giving away a copy of Life from Scratch by Sasha Martin! Memoirs and food - yes, please.

Shannon from River City Reading reviewed A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara, which I am dying to read.

What are your favorite things from this week?

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Books for A Snowy Day (Part II)

*Clears throat*

I have an exciting announcement to make (don't get too excited) --

I think I've found my sweet spot when it comes to nonfiction.

A few months ago, Karen from One More Page tweeted about finding a good nonfiction book that wasn't also over 500 pages.  Readable, engaging nonfiction that isn't either flashy or too dry - is that possible?

(Many of you who read nonfiction regularly are rolling your eyes, because, duh. I, however, was more skeptical.)

Here's what I've discovered in the last few months, though, and what's become my (obvious) secret - read whatever the fl*ff you want.  What are you interested in? Read about that - and if the book doesn't hold you, put it down.

This was very good news, of course, for this post.  Here are a few of my newest favorites, which have been getting a lot of face time in this dismal wintry weather:

Daily Rituals: How Artists Work edited and with text by Mason Currey.  I had heard of his website years ago, but never much got into it, and then stumbled across the book while I was at the library.  I'm fascinated by how other people live their day-to-day, and the short pieces on artists ranging from John Adams to Andy Warhol are just right for waiting for the shuttle/metro to take you home again.

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  Everyone and their mother has been talking about this one, so I'll keep it short.  From the back cover: "Passionately argued, superbly researched, and filled with indelible stories of real people, Quiet has the power to permanently change how we see introverts and, equally important, how they see themselves." Perfect for dodging the chatty Cathy next to you at your gate (or, you know, starting a great conversation!).

All the Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know About Getting and Spending by Laura Vanderkam.  I first read Vanderkam's 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, and I really enjoy her voice and writing style.  While I don't find everything applicable, and I sometimes think she can be a little off base, I think the questions that she asks are fantastic.  She seems to really explore the range of time (and here, money) issues that come up, and the more philosophical questions behind them.  Definitely recommend.

What are your favorite reads for snowy, traveling days? How do you feel about nonfiction?

Monday, March 2, 2015

It's Monday, What Are You Reading?

Good morning! Wherever you are, I hope your week is off to a good start.  The last few weeks were incredibly busy for me, but also really, really good.  I had some interviews, saw a bunch of old friends, and got to do one of my favorite things - traveling!

Reading while on the go is so satisfying to me.  For every small delay or thing I have absolutely zero control over - like, say, a train car catching fire or losing power, both of which happened on these trips (!) - I'm able to work on my own frame of mind.  Reading, it's distracting :)

While I was on said train with no power, I finished up 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam.  I found out about Vanderkam through Everyday Reading, a really lovely book and lifestyle blog, and am glad I did.  One of my goals for this year is to read more non-fiction, and this was a good kick in the pants to get started on managing my time more effectively and feeling motivated about it.  I've got another one of her books, All The Money In The World: What the Happiest People Know About Getting and Spending, on hold at the library, and I'm interested to see how she approaches a different theme.

That in turn got me to pick up The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg, which I'd been looking at for ages.  It passed my initial test (do you keep reading after the first few pages?), but I'm not sure about the style.  It reminds me a bit of Malcolm Gladwell, whose books I haven't been able to stay interested in - weird, but true.

Since I was traveling, I hadn't been able to pick up my first Classics Club book, The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, so I borrowed the audiobook to listen to on OverDrive.  It's not the same translation as my "real" book, but hey, anything to get this sucker read!

What are you reading this week?