Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Best of the Best: My Most Recent 5-Star Reads

This week's Top Ten Tuesday topic, provided by The Broke and the Bookish, is all about the cream of the crop, the best of the best, the books that get seats of honor on our shelves -- our 5-star reads. As you can see by the dates, I don't dole out 5-stars all that often. I give a lot of 4.5s, but to earn 5 stars a book has to be one of my all-time favorites, something that'll stick with me for a very long time. And unfortunately, after an awesome reading year in 2015, I've only read one measly 5-star book during the first three months of 2015. I've got some catching up to do!

So below we have my 10(ish) most recent 5-star reads. A couple of my favorites are part of 5-star series (aren't those the best?!), so I counted them as one entry. What are the most stellar books you've read recently? Do tell -- I can always use recommendations!

Read in January 2016

Read in October 2015

Read in July 2015

Listened to in April 2015 and July 2015
Here's my review of "Sorcerer's Stone," the first HP audiobook I listened to, in which I rave about the amazingness that is Jim Dale's narration. Even if you're not an audiobook person (which I'm not), these are a must for any Harry Potter fan. I'm so grateful that a friend convinced me to give them a try!

Read in February 2015 and April 2015

Read in March 2015

Read in February 2015
If you're not familiar with PostSecret, check it out here. I've been reading almost every Sunday since college!

Read in February 2015

Read in January 2015

Read in January 2015

Monday, March 28, 2016

Monday Musings


Highlight of the week: After a week of working our asses off getting our house in tip-top shape for photos and showings, the first people who looked at it put in an almost-full-price offer and we accepted! What a major relief to have that off our plates! I also enjoyed our Easter weekend visiting relatives in Indiana. It was a little sad to say goodbye, though, because we probably won't be able to visit again until we move back from Hawaii in three years. (If you're not a frequent visitor to the blog,  that whole paragraph will make more sense if you know that my husband is in the Air Force and we're about to move to Hawaii for a three-year assignment. We lived in Hawaii before Ohio, where we're stationed now, so it's old hat for us.)

Reading: I read and loved "Letters to the Lost" by Iona Grey, a beautiful WWII story woven with a present-day narrative. I fully recommend it for anyone who enjoys historical fiction or epistolary novels. And last night I started a completely different kind of book, "Be Frank With Me" by Julia Claiborne Johnson. It seems like it'll be quirky and fun. One of the main characters is a 9-year-old with unusually dapper style who enjoys wearing morning suits and top hats.


Watching: Bas...ket...ball. Zzzzzz. Is March Madness over yet? Between the games and working on the house, we didn't have time to watch a single TV show or movie together! And I'd hoped to go see "Allegiant" at the theater but that didn't happen either. Maybe this week!

Listening to:
"Leave a Trace" by CVRCHES

Looking forward to: All the flowering trees in our yard bursting into bloom! Our pear trees started flowering while we were gone this weekend and the redbud will be next!


It's my first week linking up with The Book Date for the weekly feature It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

10 Great Books I Should Mention More Often


The week for Top Ten Tuesday the ladies at The Broke and the Bookish have asked us to think about books we love that maybe get short shrift on the blog or in real life. Sometimes the right discussion to include these great reads just never comes up. This fate usually befalls books I read at least a year ago, or even before I started the blog. So today these neglected titles get to be in the spotlight! They all come with a high recommendation from me. Give them some love!

The Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich: I've read every single one of the Plum books and I'll keep on reading 'til the end, even though the books are sometimes painfully tired and recycled these days (which, really, is to be expected after 26 novels about the same handful of characters). But the first 13 or so books are awesome! If you need something light and fun and want the perfect mix of mystery, humor and romance, the Plum books are a must-read!
The All Souls trilogy by Deborah Harkness: Until the Red Rising books by Pierce Brown came along, Deborah Harkness's vampire/witch/magic/time travel trilogy had the honor of being my favorite. I was super-excited to hear last month that "A Discovery of Witches" is being turned into a TV show! ("A Discovery of Witches" review; "Shadow of Night" review)

My Life in France by Julia Child: Julia's autobiography -- half of the inspiration for the movie "Julie and Julia" -- is full of mouthwatering food and amazing descriptions of French life, plus the saga of cookbook writing and Julia and Paul's enduring relationship. (review)
Half Broke Horses by Jeanette Wall: In this fact-based novel, Jeanette enthralls readers with the life story of her fascinating grandmother, Lily. (review)

The Passage by Justin Cronin: Zombie-vampires run the apocalypse in this amazing page-turner that was my favorite book of 2013! (I still need to read book 2, though. Shame on me.) Incidentally, "The Passage" was my first e-book! (review)
Moloka'i by Alan Brennert: I read this gripping and heartbreaking novel about the leper exile colony on the small Hawaiian island of Moloka'i when we lived in Hawaii and we actually got to take a mule ride down the cliffs to visit Kalaupapa. The experience was enhanced infinitely because I read this book first. (review)

The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton: This was my first Kate Morton book and I absolutely adored it. Typical of Kate, it centers on long-buried secrets finally revealed, and it's a dual narrative split between present day and WWII England. (review)
Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons From the Crematory by Caitlin Doughty: This memoir -- about what on earth would possess a twentysomething girl to take a job in a crematory -- has continued to stick with me. It really opened my eyes about death practices in America, how much things have changed in the past 100 years, and how we're so very much more distanced from death than our ancestors. It also got me thinking about my own death and burial, and influenced me to decide I want some type of green burial -- an option I didn't even know existed before reading Caitlin's book. (review)

The Help by Kathryn Stockett: This was one of my pre-blog reads and it doesn't come up very often, but who didn't love "The Help"? What a great read, and an important one. (Plus I love Skeeter because she's a journalism grad like me!)
The River of No Return by Bee Ridgway: I'm desperately hoping for a sequel to this novel, which, as the cover proclaims, features romance and time travel to Georgian England. It's a totally under-recognized book and I urge any historical fiction fans to pick it up! (review)

Monday, March 21, 2016

Monday Musings

If you follow the blog at all, you probably know that we're moving to Hawaii this spring for my husband's Air Force job. The move is fast approaching -- my last day of work is just over two weeks away and the movers will be packing us up in less than three weeks. We're selling our house (I'm going to miss it so much!) and the realtor will be having professional photos taken for the listing on Wednesday. So we've been cleaning and organizing and mulching and raking and painting pretty much non-stop since Friday afternoon. I, my friends, am ready for a very long nap!

Highlight of the week: I have some personal time at work that's use-or-lose, so I had Thursday off work last week. It was such a treat to have an extra day off, and the weather just so happened to be amazingly gorgeous that day. And I met my husband for lunch at our favorite Indian place. AND I finally finished sorting through all the pictures from the last year and they're now ready to print out whenever I have a good coupon. (When I say "they" I mean 400 prints! Craziness! But we did take several big trips in the past year.)

Reading: I finished "The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend" by Katarina Bivald (review) and "Poor Your Soul," a wonderful memoir by Mira Ptacin (review), and read the first teeny weeny little bit of "Letters to the Lost" by Iona Grey.

Buying: Last night I rewarded myself with my first Society 6 purchase -- this bookish pillow cover! It's from the shop bookwormboutique.

Watching: Flowers popping up in the garden. And squirrels frolicking. And lots and lots of basketball. (Ugh on the basketball!) Oh, and I finally watched the series finale of "Downton Abbey." I'm so sad to see the show go, but I thought the ending was really well-done.

Listening to:

Looking forward to: Getting this house sold! And going to Indiana to see my relatives for Easter next weekend. And seeing everything bloom in the garden one last time.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Book Review: Poor Your Soul: A Memoir by Mira Ptacin

"Poor Your Soul: A Memoir" by Mira Ptacin
First published in 2016
306 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

The Short Of It:
"Poor Your Soul" is a fascinating, hard-hitting, brutally honest memoir about grief, love, family and moving on.

The Long Of It:
Imagine an unplanned pregnancy with a new boyfriend -- despite the fact that you take your birth control pills religiously. Imagine getting engaged and trying to get excited about the unexpected life change of an infant. Imagine trying to navigate New York City healthcare without insurance, because, until you got pregnant, you were perfectly healthy.

Then, when you're five months along and have begun to make peace with the whole situation, imagine receiving the devastating news that the baby has multiple birth defects and can't survive outside your womb. You have three options, none good: terminate the pregnancy, induce early delivery or wait and see what happens.

This was the situation facing 28-year-old New York City grad student Mira Ptacin and her boyfriend Andrew, and "Poor Your Soul" recounts Mira's tremendously difficult journey. The book is much more than that, though, because Mira also weaves in her mother's story of bravery and heartache, a compelling tale all its own; a physicist turned restaurant owner who left Poland's Communist regime and learned English by watching soap operas, Maria is the epitome of a strong woman -- never afraid to speak her mind and always helping whomever and wherever she can. She and husband Philip adopted a baby from Poland when Mira and her sister were young. Sweet blue-eyed baby Julian grew into a well-loved teenager -- and then at 14 he was killed by a drunk driver.

I thought Mira made a very wise decision to intersperse her mom's story with her own: mother and daughter, two dead children, parallel -- unfathomable -- grief but different methods of dealing with it. It also allowed us to see key events in Mira's life -- like that time she ran away from home and lived with her two-timing, drug-dealing boyfriend for a handful of months not long before her brother was killed -- from two perspectives.

Mira has bared heart and soul in this memoir. She sugar-coated nothing, and seemingly held nothing back. She describes moments of unfounded bitchiness toward ever-patient Andrew, profound sorrow, shame, guilt, fear and anger, her sex life, her insecurities, life in New York City, her childhood in Michigan, her experience carrying and losing baby Lilly, and her struggle to move on with life with total unabashed, unfiltered honesty. I was in awe at Mira's vulnerability. (I was also wildly curious to see what Mira, Andrew and dog Maybe looked like, so I stalked her Instagram!)

I appreciated Mira's candid, sincere, real account of this terrible thing that happened to her, her grief and, ultimately, how she overcame it. An added bonus is that her writing is gorgeous -- almost poetic at times -- and full of lovely similes and metaphors. Plus the book is as readable as a novel. I highly recommend this insightful, enthralling memoir.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Book Review: The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

"The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend" by Katarina Bivald
First published in Sweden in 2013, in the U.S. in 2015
384 pages
3 stars
Image from Goodreads

The Short Of It:

A quick, easy read filled with endless bookish references to please us bibliophiles. Hardly the best book I've read this year, but a fun diversion. Plus it's partly written in letters, which is always a plus in my book!

The Long Of It:
"The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend" is aimed at book-lovers who like charm, quirk and abundant literary references in their novels. It does deliver in some respects but there's definitely room for improvement. Still, it's probably decent enough to please most readers who enjoy books about books.

Twentysomething booknerd Sara Lindqvist has traveled all the way from Sweden to spend two months with Amy, her elderly bookish pen pal, in the tiny town of Broken Wheel, Iowa. But when Sara arrives, she's stunned to learn that Amy has just passed away (but don't worry -- we readers meet Amy through her letters to Sara, which appear throughout the book). The townsfolk convince Sara to stay and take up residence in Amy's home, but without her friend to spend hours talking books with, Sara is at loose ends.

Surrounded by Amy's hundreds of books, Sara decides to open a used bookstore in one of the many abandoned storefronts on Broken Wheel's main drag. She hopes to share her love of reading with the town's residents, distribute Amy's books in a worthy way, and for once in her life take a chance and do something interesting and meaningful. What she doesn't count on is providing a gust of fresh air to a deteriorating town, making true friendships with the oddball citizens of Broken Wheel, and even finding romance -- something she'd never have dared to dream of as a shy, mousy bookstore clerk back in Sweden, where she had no friends and definitely no significant others.

While "Broken Wheel" was a cute, fun, fluffy bookish story, there were several things I struggled with. I initially had a hard time keeping all the characters straight, and I never really cared about their stories or the sometimes-annoying small-town dynamic. Bivald was going for quirk, but sometimes Sara's new friends were just plain irritating. I also never really warmed up to Sara. I appreciated her deep love of books, but I was frustrated with her utter lack of self-confidence and her weak nature.

Something else that was missing for me was the desire to pack up and move to Broken Wheel -- or even just keep reading to stay in the imaginary world a little longer -- though I did applaud Bivald's choice of an unusual location. Charming small-town stories often have a wonderful sense of cozy, quaint, whimsical atmosphere, but Broken Wheel sounds like a positively miserable place to me. I could not fathom living in a town with fewer than 700 residents that doesn't even have a school or grocery store, and where half the citizens seem to be in need of some Prozac.

"Broken Wheel" likens itself to "The Little Paris Bookshop" and "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry," and I can see how it would appeal to readers who appreciate those types of stories. I mean, how can a novel that's about people who love books as much as we do -- and features a bookstore, a girl determined to spread the joy of reading, and a lovely quote about the intoxicating smell of books -- possibly be that bad!? Save this one for when you need a light read to remind you why you have this crazy, wonderful love affair with books.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

My Spring 2016 To-Read List

Happy Tuesday! Today's Top Ten Tuesday topic is one my of my favorites. I love putting together the quarterly to-read list posts because it gives me a chance to look through all the books I want to read, from upcoming releases to new discoveries to novels that have been out for years.

This spring my list is pretty ambitious -- I've got 20 books on here! -- but we'll be moving in April and I'm going to stay with my parents in Colorado for a month while my husband is taking a class for his new job. (We'll be stationed back in Hawaii, and staying with my parents will ensure that our stuff meets us there so we don't have to live out of a hotel for several weeks like we did last time we lived there.) It seems a little weird to be a 30-year-old going to live with my parents for an entire month with nothing at all to do, but theoretically that should mean I have plenty of time to read, read, read!

 Current Library Check-Outs:

Letters to the Lost by Iona Grey: I've been meaning to read this WWII novel forever! I love novels that are written entirely or in part in letters and I'm fully expecting to love this one.
A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly: I came across this while processing new books at work. I've been in a major sci-fi/fantasy mood lately, and this seems like just the thing to quench my thirst for some magic! From Goodreads: "It's 1926 in Washington, DC, and while Anti-Sorcery activists have achieved the Prohibition of sorcery, the city's magic underworld is booming." (And since it's set in the '20s, it's great for my "Downton Abbey" withdrawal!)

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katrina Bivald: I'm about 100 pages into this novel right now. It's billed as a charming book for bookish people and it's cute, but it's also twee and predictable and I'm not yet feeling attached to our main character. Still, it's a book about people who love books, so it can't be that bad! I also like that our main character is from Sweden and the book is set in a tiny village in middle-of-nowhere Iowa, which sets it apart a bit. (Although I'm not actually crazy about the town, so...)
Poor Your Soul by Mira Ptacin: This memoir deals with a very tough decision -- what to do when you find out your baby has birth defects that will prevent the child from surviving outside of the womb. From Goodreads: "Moving, wise, and passionately written...a beautiful reflection on sexuality, free will, and the fierce bonds of family."

 Everything Else:

The Things We Keep: I sorta missed the boat on this one and I'm a zillion people down on the library holds list. I definitely want to read it though -- I'm interested in this unique romance between two middle-aged people suffering from dementia.
Saga: Volume 5 by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples: Gotta get caught up before the next installment comes out in July! (Is anyone else obsessed with Lying Cat? I want a real, live Lying Cat to go with my snowy owl and my direwolf!)

Morning Star by Pierce Brown: This really should be at the top of the list because it's the book I'm most excited about! I LOOOOOOOVED "Red Rising" and "Golden Son," and I can't wait to see how this amazing trilogy ends. I would be sad, but Pierce has said there will be more books set in the Red Rising-verse.
The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner: I expect to be enthralled by this memoir about growing up in a polygamist cult. Ruth was the thirty-ninth of her father's children -- I'm fascinated already -- and spent her childhood in poverty in a compound in Mexico.

Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase: English Gothic mystery, yes please!
A Study in Charlotte by Brittany Cavallaro: This Sherlock Holmes spin-off is intriguing enough to make me forget my ban on contemporary YA!

American Housewife: Stories by Helen Ellis: I'm not usually a short story fan, but I am basically an American housewife so I thought I'd give this book a try!
Finders Keepers by Stephen King: I loved "Mr. Mercedes" and I have to read book two of the series before the final installment comes out this summer!

Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye: I'm excited about this modern-day Gothic re-telling of "Pride and Prejudice"!
A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab: I enjoyed "A Darker Shade of Magic" and I'm looking forward to learning more about these parallel-universe Londons!

Uprooted by Naomi Novik: I saw this book on so very many best-of-2015 lists, and since I'm more into the fantasy genre now it's a must-read for me!
I'll See You in Paris by Michelle Gable: This dual narrative, which takes place in both present-day and the Vietnam War (an unusual setting!), has me intrigued. From Goodreads: "Annie’s quest to understand...her own history takes her from a charming hamlet in the English countryside, to a decaying estate kept behind barbed wire, and ultimately to Paris where answers will be found at last." 

Be Frank With Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson: This book sounds so fun and quirky! I've got it in my box at the library right now.
Dark Places by Gillian Flynn: The only Gillian F. book I have yet to read. It's time.

The Two-Family House by Lunda Cohen Liogman: From Goodreads: "Brooklyn, 1947: in the midst of a blizzard, in a two-family brownstone, two babies are born minutes apart to two women. They are sisters by marriage with an impenetrable bond forged before and during that dramatic night; but as the years progress, small cracks start to appear and their once deep friendship begins to unravel. No one knows why, and no one can stop it. One misguided choice; one moment of tragedy."
A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebold: I'm from Colorado and I was in middle school when the Columbine school shooting happened. I cannot fathom the horrors of realizing you're the mother of a mass murderer and I'm interested to read Sue's story.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...