Reading Review: April 2021

The reads for April 2021 included:

  • Life After Life – Kate Atkinson (F). Loved this and plan on reading more Atkinson.
  • The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin (NF). Meh.
  • Bird: DK Eyewitness Books (NF). I’m starting to get into a bit of birdwatching but I’m a big novice right now. Thought I’d learn some basic facts.
  • Evil Under the Sun – Agatha Christie (F)
  • Living, Loving, and Lying Awake – Sindiwe Magona (F/short stories). OK.
  • Belfast Diary: War as a Way of Life – John Conroy (NF/history/geog). Pretty interesting how it “normalizes” a war-torn society and culture.
  • Suburban Sahibs: Three Immigrant Families and Their Passage from India to America – S. Mitra Kalita (NF). OK.
  • Sharks in the Time of Saviors – Kawai Strong Washburn (F). Despite my aversion to short stories, these worked. Plus it’s on a list of Favorite Reads by President Obama.
  • A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles (F). Loved this. Definitely going to read more Towles.
  • Dinner ASAP – Cooking Light (NF/cooking). I’ve been cooking some of these recipes – very good and not too complicated for this neophyte chef.
  • All Creatures Great and Small – James Herriot (NF/memoir). Just a good read.
  • Freddie and Me: A Coming-of-Age (Bohemian) Rhapsody – Mike Dawson (GN/autobio). Fairly typical teenaged angst for GNs.  

So to the (rather obsessive!) numbers:

  • Total number of books read in April 202112.
  • Total number of pages read 3,656 pages (av. 305). 
  • Fiction/Non-Fictionfiction / non-fiction. 0 plays.
  • Diversity 3 BIPOC. books by women.
  • Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): library books, owned books (whee!) and e-books.

Plans for May 2021 include continuing to include more BIPOC writing on my list. Continue this pace of reading and continue this streak of reading more from my own TBR as opposed to those titles from the library. Sounds pretty doable to me. Plus – it’s the end of the semester and I’m off for the summer. 🙂

Swabbing the decks…

Haven’t done a “swabbing-the-decks” post lately and thought that now would be a good time to fix that. I’ve been reading but for some reason, have lost some impetus to blog about them. It’s not that they have been bad reads but I think I’m at that point of the university semester when I’m plumb tuckered out with regard to words in general. (I teach a writing-intensive class which I love to do. But so. Many. Words.)

So what is it that I’ve been doing with myself? Well…

I’ve been reading and here are some brief reviews:

Sharks in the Time of Saviors – Kawai Strong Washburn (2020) F

Loved this very fast fictional narrative about a Hawaiian family and the saga of their lives in the mid 1990s, especially the life of young Nainoa Flores who falls over a cruise ship when he is just seven years old. A group of sharks approach him in the water. Everyone expects the worst but instead, the young boy is brought back to the boat in the mouth of one of the sharks all in one piece, and his family view this as a favor from the ancient Hawaiian gods. 

You’ll have to read on to find out how this impacts Nainoa’s childhood and the rest of the family but suffice to say, this was a super-great read and I’m only sorry that I didn’t do a proper blog post on this. (It was also one of former President Obama’s favorite reads for 2020, so if it’s good enough for him, it’s going to be great for me. (And it was.))

I’ve also been rather interested in learning more about birdwatching so I’ve been paying more attention to trees and sounds when I go outside now. To help increase my (rather paltry) bird knowledge, I pulled out the really lovely DK Eyewitness book on the topic and found it fascinating. So far, I’m still practicing seeing the birds – a lot have good camouflage or I have bad eyes! – but I can hear their songs so trying to use those as a clue to identification as well. 

There was an Agatha Christie in the list as well, this one Evil Under the Sun, which was just a fun and non-demanding read. I’m very glad that she was a prolific writer since she’s given me lots of titles to read. And have another title on the TBR pile from the library. <rubs hands with glee>

Another read (when I was yearning for a read from another culture/country) ended up being Suburban Sahibs: Three Immigrant Families and Their Passage from India to America by S. Mitra Kalita (2005). This is NF focused on three Indian families who all chose to live in Middlesex County in New Jersey, an area which has the largest Indian population in the world outside India (apparently). 

Author Kalita traces each of these long-term residents’ journeys as they land in America and start their lives in suburbia and it’s actually quite fascinating (especially for me, since I was an immigrant as well but with a different trajectory. [Am I still an immigrant even though I’ve been here decades now? When do you stop being an immigrant? Do you stop being an immigrant?)) 

So this was a fast and interesting read and I enjoyed it. Plus – another off the TBR. Go me. 😉 

Other stuff: I’ve just started a new jigsaw puzzle. (Fun.) We’ve been watching Netflix and I’ve even been exploring some new recipes. (Who is this person who is doing this? I’m not really a chef but I’ve suddenly become more interested in food and would like to find some different recipes to try…I think it’s linked with reruns of The Great British Baking Show that I’ve been forcing the Super Hero to watch in the evenings…)

So – nothing too exciting but it’s been nice. I hope that you can say the same. 

Library Loot: April 07 2021

Loot from my local library included the following:

  • Belfast Diary – John Conroy (NF about 1980s Northern Ireland during the Troubles).
  • Sharks in the Time of Saviors – Kawai Strong Washburn (F). One of former Pres. Obama’s favorite books of 2020, apparently. If it’s good enough for him… 😉
  • A Caribbean Mystery – Agatha Christie (F/murder mystery). Love me some Christie.
  • The Secret River – Kate Grenville (F/Australian). I’ve heard good things…
  • Dolores Claiborne – Stephen King (F). I would like to read more King so seeing if I can handle his less-scary titles first.
  • Emma – Jane Austen (F). In the mood for a good classic.
  • The Water Museum – Luis Alberta Urrea (F/short stories). I don’t always get on that well with short stories but I’ll give them a go with Urrea’s work since he’s really good.)

Warm books for a cold day…

I was just thinking about an earlier post I had written which listed some cooler book selections for readers who live in a hot climate and since today is a little cool for here, I thought I would flip that script and do warm books for those who live in a cooler climate and are looking to raise their body temps a little!:

What do you think? Do you have any ideas of any other book titles to add that can spirit readers to a warmer place?

Library Loot: March 04 2021

I’ve been busy at the library lately so thought I’d update my stash of interesting titles:

  • The Colorado Kid – Stephen King (F) – was looking for another read by King since I loved his Misery title… (This edition actually has what I consider to be the WORST cover art in the world. I’ll get you a pic…)
  • The Water Museum – Luis Alberto Urrea (F/short stories). Love Urrea’s other work
  • Hitting a Straight Lick with a Stick – Zora Neale Hurston (F/short stories). Other Hurston reviews here: Barracoon (NF), Their Eyes were Watching God (1937)…
  • Mrs. Malory Wonders – Hazel Holt. (F/mystery). Just was looking for a cozy murder book and this title came up…
  • Bookmarks: Reading in Black and White: A Memoir – Karla F. C. Holloway (NF). I ILL’d this title but it looks rather different inside than I was expecting. We’ll see how it goes.
  • Around the World in 80 Days with Micheal Palin – Michael Palin. (Loved his travel book on the Himalaya mountains and wanted to read some more good travel writing.)

And more titles… (Told you I might have got carried away… 😉 )

  • The Sittaford Mystery – Agatha Christie (F/mystery). Already finished this – good fun.
  • My Cousin Rachel – Daphne du Maurier (F/thriller/mystery). Was looking for a Gothic thriller type of read… (Just realized that I’ve already read this. Sigh. No worries. Moving on…)
  • Ice: The Antarctic Diary of Charles E. Passel – Charles E. Passel (NF/travel/adventure).
  • The Round House – Louise Erdrich (F/Native American).
  • Queenie – Candice Carty-Williams (F).
  • A Traveller’s Life – Eric Newby (NF/travel).
  • DK Eyewitness Books: Astronomy. (NF). Just looked interesting.

Which one to read first?…. I know I’m going to read the astronomy Eyewitness book this weekend for starters and make a start on “The Commitments” by Roddy Doyle for Cathy’s Reading Ireland 2020 project.

Library Loot: Feb. 22 2021

I checked out the following titles from my local library:

  • Quilts: Masterworks from the American Folk Art Museum – Elizabeth Warren. (I really enjoy looking at textile art…)
  • Snowstruck: In the Grip of Avalanches – Jill Fredston. (I was in the auto/bio section and this just looked very interesting.)
  • India Calling – Anand Giridharadas. (Still fascinated by India…)
  • Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick – Zora Neale Hurston. (I enjoy her work.)
  • The Invisible Man – H.G. Wells (Was looking for a classic and this looked short!)

So, of course, I’m not actually reading any of these just yet and reading something completely different.! 😉

Patsy – Nicole Dennis-Benn

I’m not quite sure where I found this title (probably on one of my blog-reading adventures) but it sounded very good and my library had a copy so I brought it home.

From Amazon: Beating with the pulse of a long-withheld confession and peppered with lilting patois, Patsy gives voice to a woman who looks to America for the opportunity to love whomever she chooses, bravely putting herself first. But to survive as an undocumented immigrant, Patsy is forced to work as a nanny, while back in Jamaica her daughter, Tru, ironically struggles to understand why she was left behind. Greeted with international critical acclaim from readers who, at last, saw themselves represented in Patsy, this astonishing novel “fills a literary void with compassion, complexity and tenderness” (Joshunda Sanders, Time), offering up a vital portrait of the chasms between selfhood and motherhood, the American dream and reality.

 “But di weirdest t’ing ‘bout life is dat it’s only understood backward. Yuh neva know what’s at di end ah dis tunnel waitin fah you, sweetheart. Now come get dressed. We got life to live an’ rent to pay.” (p. 204)

This was a fast read at first and I really enjoyed the first two-thirds but then… I’m not sure what happened. The last third of the book seemed to be a different quality of writing (and not in a good way). It became sooo over-written in several spots that it became irritating to read which is a shame because the plot was good. I’d been sucked into the narrative of the characters but the questionable writing kicked me out very quickly.

What do I mean by “bad” writing? Let me count the ways:

“She weeps finally, finally with the rage of a woman touching her earlobe for the feel of an heirloom earring and discovering it gone, not knowing when and where it fell, and powerless at this point to find it.”

I know, right? A long and rambling non sequitur…

Or how about this example:

“Patsy pauses, the words bundled in her belly, as lifeless as a still newborn.”

Doesn’t it actually hurt your writing soul to read these sentences? Why would you use this comparison when there has been no talk of babies or infants around this?

The only (very slight) mention of anything linked with the topic of “baby” is “belly” in the phrase that comes right before this one and this image is such a stark negative one for what it’s being used to describe…

AND this book was stuffed with a really heavy Caribbean dialect which was continuously tricky to follow. I can typically do dialect for most books but this one was really hard to decipher. There were times when I had no idea what the characters were yapping on about.

The book, on the whole, had a strong basic narrative plot but my goodness, the last third of it was so overwritten that I almost stopped there. I soldiered on though because (a) I am pointlessly stubborn about some things and (b) it became quite entertaining to see what other writing nuggets I was going to read.

So, in terms of a plot and the actual story, this was a good read. In terms of writing, ummm…..

My year of reading…

New Year's Eve | CDC

Similar to others in the book blogosphere, I rather enjoy being quite nerdy and reviewing how my reading patterns went over the past year, although I had thought I had read more than this. However, no worries. It’s not a race so all is fine. Just interesting. 

So, to the numbers:

TOTAL books read in 2019 – 48. (Average: 4 books/mo.) This is waaaay down from a typical reading year, but then this wasn’t a typical year! I’m ok with that.

Biggest monthly totals in the summer months (when school is out). Smallest total was in January. 

This was composed of a focus on NF. (Actual numbers were 23 F and 52 NF. Of the NF, the majority were bio/autobio, similar to last year’s total.)

Authors:  25 M and 23 F. I’m happy with this split…

Authors of color (AOC)/Topics related to POC21 (44%. That’s pretty good, I think.)

Where were these books from? I’m pleased with this one: 69 percent were from my own TBR. (Progress of sorts.)

Publication details:

Number of pages: 13,961.

Year range of publication date: 1843 (A Christmas Carol/Dickens) to 2020 (various). 1996 average.

Shortest book length: 98 pp (When the Green Woods Laugh/H. E. Bates). Longest: 581 pp (Invisible Man/Ellison). 298 pp. average.

Overall, this was a fun reading year and I really enjoyed my focus on increasing the number of BIPOC authors in the list (42 percent of the reads were by BIPOC authors). Definitely going to continue with that campaign.

Another focus: reading more from my TBR. (Insert hollow laugh right here.) 😉

Additionally, I had two really good solid reads of the AP Style Book (for professional development), so it was a good mix of work/play. I had an enjoyable year. 

Goals for 2020? None really (apart from the yearly read of the AP Style Book :-] ). Just more of the same, so long as it’s fun. 

June 2020 Reading Review

The reads for June 2020 included:

So to the numbers:

  • Total number of books read in June 20207
  • Total number of pages read 2181 pages (av. 321). 
  • Fiction/Non-Fictionfiction / non-fiction.
  • Diversity 5 BIPOC. books by women.
  • Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): library books, owned books and 0 e-books.

Plans for July 2020 include a month of teaching online Summer School at the university, prepping their lectures and grading work… Apart from that, lots of reading, jigsaw puzzles and hanging out. Temperatures are very hot outside for the most part, so it’s a pretty indoor life right now. 😉

Our city has a few lakes and flooded canyons. Here is one of them on a lovely weekend morning walk the other day.

She Came to Slay: The Life and Times of Harriet Tubman – Erica Armstrong Dunbar (2019)

Crikey. This was one heckuva read about an amazing Black woman. It’s also an excellent nonfiction book with cool modern graphics integrated in amongst its well-written text. (I know. Lots of praise but this volume deserves every ounce of that.)

If you’re unfamiliar with Harriet Tubman, get thee to at least the Wikipedia page and read about this true American hero. (No hyperbole there.) Her life story just blew me away. 🙂

Harriet Tubman (1885). Photograph by Horatio Seymour Squyer. National Portrait Gallery.

So – not only is this the life story of an astonishingly brave woman, this title presents her history (or herstory) in a modern and extremely graphically-pleasing format. And — it’s well-written. As you can perhaps surmise, this was an informative and wonderful read for me, and I highly recommend it for you.

She Came to Slay:
Erica Armstrong Dunbar, author.

If you’re not familiar with Tubman (and disregarded my advice in the second paragraph to go and read the Wiki page on her), you’re missing out. Tubman may have been small in stature (five feet tall) but holy cow – she had the biggest and bravest heart and used that courage to save hundreds of people from slavery.

Not only was she a leader in the historical Underground Railway system for escaped slaves, but she was also a hardcore soldier, a brilliant spy, a suffragette for the vote AND an advocate for old people. And – she had brain surgery without anesthetic. Phew. Can you see why I am amazed by this fabulous woman?

Author Erica Armstrong Dunbar, the Charles and Mary Beard professor of history at Rutgers in New Jersey, has done a great job here of relating Tubman’s life and endless achievements, all done in an energetic and graphically pleasing presentation which made this a pure pleasure to read.

It’s written in a conversational tone (despite Armstrong Dunbar’s academic status), but this tone comes across as friendly and informative, similar to watching an approachable historical documentary onscreen but while retaining the sheen of academic rigor to the text.

Credit: Toledo Public Library.

A powerful and mesmerizing read about one of the most impressive historical figures I have ever come across. I’m astonished that Tubman is not more well known for her life and times – she should be. This will be definitely be one of the top reads for 2020. Amazing.

(Curiously – Tubman was scheduled to be honored on the design of the $20 dollar bill [to replace racist President Andrew Jackson] but true to form, the Orange Goblin has put the kibosh on that for now. See this CNN article for the (disgusting) details. Sigh.)

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You’re still here? Shouldn’t you be at the library checking this book out? Or buying it online? Why – yes. You should. 😉