Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Ten Things That Make Me Instantly NOT Want To Read A Book

This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic is the opposite of last week's, where we discussed things that'll instantly make us want to read a book. Now we're talking about things that turn us off. Below are 10 things that'll instantly cool my interest in a book:

1. An ugly cover. For instance, Elena Ferrante's series. The covers are so absolutely horrific that I just can't bring myself to muster any interest in the books.

2. I can be into a premise until I read those death knell words: short story. I've never read a short story collection that I've enjoyed anywhere near as much as a novel.

3. Writing that's described in a blurb or review as "poetic" is usually a turnoff for me, as is 4. "lyrical." The irony is that I myself have used those words positively in reviews of my own... but too often they really just mean the writing is going to be pretentious.

5. After finally coming to terms with the fact that YA and I just don't get along most of the time, I avoid it like the plague. I've often been disappointed when I'm really intrigued by a blurb or cover, only to look the book up and discover that it's young adult.

6. If a book catches my interest and then I see it's over 500 pages, I'm a lot less likely to add it to my to-read list. There are some exceptions to the rule, to be sure, but unless it's a book I was already dying to read, I tend to avoid chunksters.

7. Christian fiction. I'm not religious, so I avoid most books advertised with the words like "faith" and "inspirational."

8. Dysfunctional families have turned out to really not be my jam -- at least when the characters are dysfunctional to the point where they're impossible for me to connect with. (See "Dead Letters.")

9. I like paranormal books to a degree (I love Anne Bishop's The Others series!), but I don't really care for stories that feature psychics or characters who can communicate with the dead. I just had a nasty surprise when it turned out that a book I'd been looking forward to, "A Bridge Across the Ocean" by Susan Meissner, featured just that -- and it was never even alluded to in the description. The times I've encountered these types of characters, they've just feel hokey.

10. I do read and enjoy them from time to time, but for the most part I avoid coming-of-age stories. Too much like YA -- I guess I want to leave my teen angst in my past!

Bonus! Some random phrases that've turned me off lately:

"minimalist and unsentimental"
"an engrossing meditation on grief and survival"
"poetic liberties"
"battered idealism and resistant hope"
a triumph of language and allegory"
"ambitious novel about grief and tragedy"
"hallucinatory prose...raw poetic talent...wild, plangent and revealing" (WTF does "plangent" even mean? I shouldn't have to pull up my dictionary app just for the blurb!)

Monday, April 24, 2017

Monday Musings


My week: Well, it was another week in the same vein as all the rest of the weeks the past couple months: it was full of puppypuppypuppy, work, a bit of reading, and desperately trying (and, of course, failing) to keep on top of the housework and errands.

Alohi has been going to puppy playtime at our local Petco the past few weeks and, since they were having a special, we decided to sign her up for some puppy training classes there. Saturday was our first hour-long session, followed by half an hour of puppy playtime. Alohi is the most exuberant, enthusiastic, sociable dog and she will go-go-go, but the second we got into the car she was out like a light, as you can see here:


Reading: I finished the first volume of "March" and started the second. It's a graphic novel trilogy written by Georgia Congressman John Lewis about his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement of the '60s and the books are fantastic! (I do have to say, though, that the only other graphic novels I've read are the Saga series, and I miss having color illustrations; March is just black and white.)

Then I read "Exit West" by Mohsin Hamid (part Middle East country on the brink of civil war, part love story, part magical realism), which turned out to be a lot different than I had expected but still decent. Then I read the memoir "Bleaker House: Chasing My Novel to the End of the World," a book I'd been anticipating for months, but it was kind of a let-down. Reviews to come soon for both of those.

Now I'm just beginning "The Wanderers" by Meg Howrey, about the first manned mission to Mars.

Crafting: No time this week for knitting, or for trying out one of my new embroidery kits. :(

Watching: We watched "Fences" this weekend. I was impressed with the acting, but the story was so sad and depressing. And I didn't love seeing Denzel as an unlikable character! I also watched two more episodes of "This Is Us," including the Thanksgiving episode. It made me nostalgic for the holidays!

Eating: Every time I go into Starbucks the cheese danishes in the pastry case catch my eye, and I finally decided to whip some up myself. I used the cheater version with Pillsbury crescent roll dough and they came out ok... I'm not a huge fan of crescent rolls, so I should've known they wouldn't be quite as good.

Making: This pretty wreath for my new rotating genre display for work. The wreath was made out of paper bags, paint and hot glue, and I'm so pleased with the way it came out! The whole display turned out just about how I had envisioned it, which is such a wonderful feeling! Even my very-amateur hand-lettering looks ok. Every month we'll highlight a different genre, and the genre is written in chalk so it should be easy to change. I had SO much fun researching and brainstorming memoirs to display; I was especially interested in including some that wouldn't just be in biography section. Now I'm thinking about what to do next... it could be as broad as mysteries or as specific as WWII novels. We shall see!



Looking forward to: Afternoons free! Starting today, my schedule at work is changing. Instead of working three 8-hour shifts, I'll be working four 6-hour shifts. I'll be getting off at 3 or 4 instead of 6 or 7, and it'll be so nice to have some time in the afternoons to get stuff done! Plus, Jarrod's schedule is about to change too and it would've meant a lot more time in the crate for Alohi. This way, she'll still only be by herself for a few hours a day.

*I'm linking up with Kathryn of Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Friday, April 21, 2017

I Judge Books By Their Covers: The Wanderers

Hi, my name is Lindsay, and I judge books by their covers.

I recently picked up "The Wanderers" by Meg Howrey at the library and I'm so looking forward to reading it! The blurb likens it to "Station Eleven" plus "The Martian," and it's about the first humans headed to Mars. Can't get more up my alley than that! It'll be a bit before I get to it, though, and in the meantime I thought it'd be a great time to do a cover battle. 

U.S. // U.K.

This is an easy-peasy choice for me: I choose the U.S. cover hands down, a million times over! I love covers that feature starry night skies, and covers that have a pop of red. It's gorgeous! The U.K. artwork, though... ugh! If you cover up the bottom half, the top really isn't horrific. Maybe if the ombre title were on a different background I could get behind that part, but as a whole there's nothing that draws me to this cover. The lurid colors remind me of some clothes I wore as a kid in the early '90s, and what is with that random digital-graphic house?

Do tell: which cover do you prefer?

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Book Review: Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

"Swimming Lessons" by Claire Fuller
First published in 2017
350 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5

The Short Of It:

A well-written, character-driven novel about the life and death of a marriage.

The Long Of It:
Despite being a sort of quiet, understated novel -- not to mention character-driven as opposed to plot-driven, something I struggle with at times -- "Swimming Lessons" grasped hold of my attention and wouldn't let go.

Fuller is a talented writer, which I knew from her first novel, "Our Endless Numbered Days," but her second effort is even better. And the book has several things I like in novels: an English coastal setting, an author, books, letters and a relatable protagonist, plus it's told in dual-narrative format.

On the surface, the novel details the inner workings of an ill-fated marriage between a professor and his student, a girl who all-too-quickly becomes a mother, and who eventually vanishes and is presumed drowned. There's so much more going on, though. It's about love, motherhood and sisterhood, betrayal, grief, regrets, whether it's better to know the awful truth or to be left with a chance to hope, and that shocking revelation we get as we become adults ourselves that our parents had lives completely apart from being Mom and Dad. There's some levity and quirkiness, to be sure, but don't let the artsy, bright cover fool you -- this is not a particularly happy story.

"Swimming Lessons" is told both in present-day as the now-elderly Gil -- professor turned famous author -- is in the throes of illness, and through letters secretly written by Ingrid, his wife, in the early 1990s just before her disappearance and tucked in some of the books in Gil's massive collection. The modern-day chapters introduce us to their adult daughters, free-spirited Flora and uptight Nan, and I enjoyed getting to know them. But it was Ingrid's beautiful, raw letters -- for Gil to maybe find one day or not -- that carried the novel for me. Her letters detail her marriage from the moment she met her husband and explain to readers how everything went so terribly wrong. Ingrid is quite flawed, but so very real.

This is not an action-packed thriller, and there's not even much of a mystery. Instead, it's a beautiful, sad portrait of a family, and every member has his or her own issues to conquer. It's a good choice next time you want a contemplative, well-written story. It won't have you on the edge of your seat, but it'll get you thinking nonetheless.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

New Release: Gone Without a Trace by Mary Torjussen

"Gone Without a Trace" by Mary Torjussen
First published April 18, 2017
352 pages
My rating: 2 out of 5

*I received a free advance copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

The Short Of It:
Another run-of-the-mill, predictable psychological thriller. Blah.

The Long Of It:
I've finally come to terms with the fact that, with the exception of a few standouts like "Gone Girl," thrillers are just not for me (so if you typically adore them, you might want to disregard my review). They're so often formulaic: someone goes missing or is killed, there's some build-up, and then comes the inevitable plot twist -- often in the form of an unreliable narrator. After I cottoned on to the formula, it's been hard for me to enjoy these books because they're so darn predictable -- plus, good writing is pretty important to me, and in this genre it typically takes a backseat in favor of fast-paced action.

"Gone Without a Trace" fell short in quite a few ways for me, right down to to the repetitive, uninspired writing. There was so little actually going on that I skimmed nearly the entire thing and read it in a day. I felt zero connection to our protagonist, thirty-something Hannah, who comes home from work one day to find her boyfriend has vanished and erased every part of himself from her life, even going as far as deleting pictures of himself from her phone and taking every single one of his possessions. Hannah becomes obsessed with tracking him down and discovering why he left her -- and alternately wanting to give him an earful and hoping he'll grovel to come home. After the "twist," I liked her even less.

I do have to give props to Torjussen for one thing: the vanished person is a man! So many of the thrillers I've read involve a kidnapped child or a missing woman. Unfortunately, though slightly fresher than normal (and I do admit, the initial premise was intriguing), the story was kinda weird and just didn't work for me.

Another random issue: the cover. The artwork looks to me like a woman walking down a path to the sea... but I don't remember the ocean ever once being mentioned.

So, yeah, if you've got thriller-fatigue like I do, definitely skip this one. But if the genre is your thing -- and it is for a lot of readers -- you may like it much better than I did.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

10 Things That Make Me Instantly Want to Read A Book

This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) is a pretty open-ended one: what qualities make us instantly want to pick up a book? (Or at least look it up to check reviews, or add it to my to-read list.) My list is pretty random, but below are 10 things that never fail to make me take a look at a book!

1. A pretty cover. Oh yeah, I'm a cover-judger. I'm a very visual person and a beautiful cover will always get me to pick up a book and read the blurb. I especially love covers with illustrations (as opposed to pictures of real people) and pops of bright colors.

2. Books about books/libraries/bookstores. What reader doesn't appreciate a good bookish book?! Books are one of my favorite things in the whole wide world, and it's nice to read a book once in a while in which the main character is just as much of a bookworm as me. (Some favorites: "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry" by Gabrielle Zevin, "The Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield, "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.)

3. Set in England, France, Ireland, Scotland or Russia. These are all places I desperately want to visit, and usually books set in these locales are imbued with a wonderful sense of atmosphere! (Some favorites: anything by Kate Morton and Tasha Alexander, "In the Woods" by Tana French, "A Gentleman in Moscow" by Amor Towles, "Outlander" by Diana Gabaldon, the list goes on and on.)

4. Set in Colorado or Hawaii. Because it's fun to read books set in places you're familiar with, and these are the two coolest places I've lived! (I've only come across a couple, so I'd love some recommendations!)

5. WWI/WWII. Despite my husband's military career I'm a bit of a pacifist, so I don't know what it is that draws me to war novels, but some of my all-time favorite books have been set during the world wars. Maybe it's that most of the stories feature themes of courage, strength and perseverance. (Some favorites: "All the Light You Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr, "I'll Be Seeing You" by Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan, "Letters to the Lost" by Iona Grey.)

6. Dogs. I'm a dog mama, and books about dogs (or with a dog on the cover) will always catch my eye. (Some favorites: "The Art of Racing in the Rain" by Garth Stein, "Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever Who Saved Him" by Luis Carlos Montalvan, anything by W. Bruce Cameron.)

7. Sci-fi/fantasy. It's funny, a few years ago I'd probably never picked up a book in one of those genres, but now they're quite possibly my favorites and I actively seek them out. Any well-recommended sci-fi or fantasy novel (especially if it has to do with something like magic or time travel) catches my interest. (Some favorites: "Red Rising" by Pierce Brown, "Ready Player One" by Ernest Cline, "Uprooted" by Naomi Novik.)

8. Set in a cold place. This gets me every time! I love reading books that take place in locations like Alaska and Antarctica! I wouldn't actually want to be one of the book characters freezing my butt off in rugged remoteness, but I definitely enjoy living vicariously through them. (And I do totally want to visit Alaska and take an Antarctica cruise one day.) (Some favorites: "To the Bright Edge of the World" by Eowy Ivey, "Where'd You Go, Bernadette" by Maria Semple, "Burial Rites" by Hannah Kent.)

9. Recommended by a trusted fellow reader. I have a couple friends (plus my mom) and follow of a few bloggers who have pretty similar reading tastes to me. And if they love a book, I'm 100% going to check it out.

10. 4+ stars on Goodreads. If I type in the title of a book that intrigued me and it pops up with a rating of over 4 stars, it almost definitely goes on my to-read list. Of course I don't always agree with other readers, but generally a rating over 4 stars means it's going to be well-liked by almost every type of reader.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Monday Musings


My week: Just another blur of a week here! Saturday we took Alohi to her weekly puppy playtime and signed her up for some training classes that begin next week. And she had her first trip inside Lowe's!

Did you do anything for Easter? Usually we at least make a ham and some yummy sides (and up until last year I made Jarrod color eggs with me) but Easter totally snuck up on me this year and we didn't do anything Easter-y at all. We did take a couple fun pictures of Alohi in an Easter hat during her first trip to Petco when she was just eight weeks old and teeny-tiny (she had her four-month birthday yesterday; where does the time go?!), which I had planned all along to save and share for Easter. Meet Alohi-Bunny!

alohi bunny

Reading: I finished and enjoyed the Australian mystery novel "The Dry" (review) and I was excited to see that it's going to be a series! The main character was a dynamic detective I could get behind and I'm looking forward to having a new series to keep up with! (I'm good at reading newer series as the books come out, but I have a terrible time reading all the books in older series.)

After that I read "Swimming Lessons" by Claire Fuller. I really liked Fuller's first book, "Our Endless Numbered Days," and while the plot of her new novel is very different it's just about as dark. Don't be fooled by the cheerful cover -- it's mostly about the inner workings of a failing marriage, which doesn't sound like something I'd normally pick up but Fuller is a talented writer and it definitely held my interest.

Then I plowed through the psychological thriller "Gone Without A Trace," which releases tomorrow. I saw going in that it had mixed reviews and, since thrillers have not been my thing lately, I would've skipped it if I hadn't committed months ago to reading an ARC. Sadly, this book continued my downhill streak with thrillers and -- unless you really, really enjoy the genre -- I wouldn't recommend it. (Uninspired writing, formulaic plot, predictable, weird...)

Yesterday I started the first book in the graphic novel series "March," about the civil rights movement, by Congressman John Lewis. It's a super-short book and I should be done quickly; then it's on to "Exit West" by Mohsin Hamid, a new book I've been looking forward to for a while!

Crafting: I didn't do any knitting this week, but I did start on a project for work, a wreath made out of paper leaves.

Watching: We finally watched "Moana" and it was so cute! Definitely fun to see while living in Hawaii. We also watched this week's "Designated Survivor" and an "Elementary" from a couple weeks ago. And while Jarrod was at his Saturday-night poker game, Alohi got her first introduction to Harry Potter! I've been craving a Potter movie and I chose "Half-Blood Prince" because I've seen most of the others more recently. If Alohi were under the Sorting Hat, I'm 100% positive she'd be put in Gryffindor!

I'm excited to start watching "The White Princess" on Starz, based on Philippa Gregory's book. I haven't read the novel (I haven't picked up anything by her in a few years) but I loooooved "The White Queen" miniseries and I'm excited to watch the sequel.

Listening to: "In Cold Blood" by alt-J.

Looking forward to: Beginning an embroidery project! The three kits I mentioned on my MM post last week arrived and I'm excited to choose one and get started.

*I'm linking up with Kathryn of Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?
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