Thursday, July 30, 2015

I Judge Books By Their Covers: "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry"

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

Confession: I always judge books by their covers. A book's appearance -- from the artwork to the font to the colors to the texture to the weight and cut of the pages (I like the ragged-edged ones) -- is very important to me. And there are certain kinds of covers I like and certain ones I'd never pick up unless I was already planning to read the book. It's fascinating to see how covers change between editions -- hardcover and paperback, or U.S. and international. I'm always discussing book covers with my co-workers at the library, so I thought it would be fun to share some beautiful -- and awful -- covers here!

 The cover on the left is the U.S. paperback, the right is U.S. hardcover. (These are the two I discuss below.)

 The cover on the left is the Canadian hardcover, the right is the U.K. hardcover.

The U.K. paperback.

I'm only talking about the two U.S. covers -- they're definitely the best of these five editions.

"The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry" was one of my favorite books of 2014 (here's my review), and I really like both of these charming, whimsical covers. I had absolutely no problem with the original hardback version (what bookworm wouldn't like a drawing of a baby in a basket with a book!?), but when I first laid eyes on the paperback it was an instant favorite.

What a stroke of genius to put the original hardback cover on display in the bookshop window! Everything about the paperback cover is warm and inviting -- it makes me want to open up the book -- or better yet, walk into the painting and visit that welcoming, cheery little shop. The paperback cover stayed true to its predecessor -- pops of red on neutrals, lowercase letter Is, and a predominant book theme -- but there's so much more going on. The choice is easy -- the paperback is the clear winner here. How can it not be, when it incorporates the wonderful original cover and has a charm all its own? Do tell: which cover do you prefer?

Winner: U.S. paperback

(A few thoughts on the other editions pictured: the Canadian cover is pretty, but it's lacking a major element -- books (otherwise known as "which one is not like the others?")! The U.K. hardback cover definitely has some whimsical artwork and I do kind of like the wonky bookshelves, but overall it looks a little sloppy and cheap to me. And the U.K. paperback -- just meh. Doesn't do anything for me.)

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Book Review: "The Kill Artist" by Daniel Silva

"The Kill Artist" by Daniel Silva
First in the Gabriel Allon series
First published in 2000
425 pages
My rating: 3 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

Gabriel Allon -- a former assassin for Israeli intelligence -- lives a quiet life as a highly sought-after art restorer. But a special job and an old enemy bring him out of retirement in this spy thriller, which, sadly, didn't really thrill me at all.

I kept expecting this to become a major page-turner, but the story never did grip me. I had to force myself to keep reading and I did a decent amount of skimming along the way. The book was written 15 years ago and the its major topics -- the Israel/Palestine conflict and Middle East terrorism -- have obviously changed a lot since then. I also thought the writing was bogged down with unnecessary descriptions and non-essential information. It definitely could've been 100 pages shorter.

I became interested in reading the Gabriel Allon series after seeing some of the newer books in the series come through the library where I work (like the brand-new release "The English Spy"), and I figured I might as well start at the beginning. I'm glad I did, so I have Gabriel's background info, but I'm now planning to skip ahead to the more recent books in the series.

P.S. What is up with the awful cover? That strange partial image of a face has no bearing on the story at all. Ugh!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

11 Literary Characters Who Are Fellow Book Nerds

The subject of this week's Top Ten Tuesday listed, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, is about characters after my own heart -- fellow book nerds! I had a great time compiling this list, and all these books are total winners (I mean, how could a novel with book-nerd characters not be?!). Who are your favorite literary book nerds/academics/writers/librarians/bookstore owners? (P.S. If you're interested in a very adventurous, very fascinating, not at all bookish woman, check out my review of Paula McLain's wonderful new novel, "Circling the Sun," which is out today!)

Diana Bishop of "A Discovery of Witches" is a brilliant academic who frequently visits Oxford's Bodleian Library. Hermione Granger, well, she needs no explanation -- but this quote from the first time we meet Hermione in "Sorcerer's Stone" about sums it up: "I've learned all our course books by heart, of course. I just hope it will be enough -- I'm Hermione Granger, by the way, who are you?"

Two adorable, lovable super-smart kids: Bee of "Where'd You Go, Bernadette," and Tanzie of "One Plus One." 

Lady Emily of Tasha Alexander's mysteries is a brilliant amateur sleuth who enjoys pastimes like translating works from Greek. One of the main characters of "Guernsey," Juliet Ashton is an author fond of letter-writing.

The protagonist of "The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry" owns a small independent bookstore, and one of the people who helps turn his doldrum-filled life around is Amelia, a publishing house sales representative. Skeeter, star of "The Help," is working as the Miss Myrna column writer for the Jackson Journal but she aspires to be a serious writer.

Mary Russell is a girl genius -- smart enough to attend Oxford University, oh yeah, and apprentice Sherlock Holmes! Josh Hanagarne of the memoir "The World's Strongest Librarian" works as a reference librarian in Salt Lake City.

This makes 11 but Holden Caulfield came to me after I had already put the rest of the list together (this is becoming a weekly problem!). This quote from Holden is one of my favorites: "What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up whenever you felt like it."

Monday, July 27, 2015

Release Day Review: "Circling the Sun" by Paula McLain

"Circling the Sun" by Paula McLain
First published in 2015 (it comes out today, July 28!)
384 pages
4.5 stars

Image from Goodreads
*I received a free advance-read copy of this book from NetGalley for review.

The Short Of It:
There's only one way to describe Beryl Markham: extraordinary. And Paula McLain does a wonderful job of bringing Beryl to life for us. A great read, and a must for anyone who enjoyed "The Paris Wife."

The Long Of It:
Striking to look at, courageous of heart, and full of gumption and gusto, racehorse trainer and aviator Beryl Markham shines in Paula McLain's latest based-in-fact novel.

Beryl was born in England in 1902 but spent most of her childhood on her father's horse farm in Kenya. Her days were full of adventure and exploration involving lions, bush pigs and warrior games with her best friend, a local boy named Kibii. Young Beryl was wild and unkempt -- but utterly, joyously free from high society's ideas about what a little girl should be. As a result, Beryl bucked against social norms for the rest of her days -- and that willful spirit helped her become the first woman with a racehorse training license in Kenya and the first person (man or woman) to fly solo across the Atlantic from England to the U.S.

Beryl wore pants and men's shirts, she trained horses, she flew planes, she went toe-to-paw with a lion and lived to tell the tale, she got dirty and worked hard, she was always up for an adventure, she was independent and she shined brilliantly all on her own. It's not surprising, then, that Beryl -- so different from the other women of her time -- attracted men wherever she went. Unfortunately, her can-do attitude didn't help her with her string of lovers -- most all wrong for her and the love of her life, safari guide Denys Finch Hatton, permanently unavailable for long-term commitment. Beryl spent years in a love triangle with Denys and his other mistress, Karen Blixen -- the characters of the movie "Out of Africa," which is based on Blixen's memoir. (Denys, by the way, was a pretty darn good looking fellow, and I can see why all the ladies fell head-over-heels for him!)

While we in the 21st century laud Beryl's accomplishments, pioneering spirit, forthrightness and perseverance, and we hardly bat an eyelash at women having extramarital affairs and getting divorces, things were not always easy for her in 1920s Kenya -- not to mention the far more rigid 1920s England. At a time when women were still considered weak of mind, body and will, and in need of a man's guidance and protection, Beryl pushed the boundaries and was often rewarded with gossip, scorn and isolation.

I had never heard of Beryl before reading "Circling the Sun," but I'm so glad she made her way into my life. I can totally see why Paula McLain felt she needed to paint a portrait of this amazing woman for us modern-day readers. It horrified me to learn in the epilogue that Beryl spent her later years in poverty. This lover, friend, fighter, horsewoman and pilot proved women can do anything, and she deserved so much more. By skillfully telling her story, McLain is giving her Beryl's memory the honor it deserves.

In the ways that count, "Circling the Sun" is extremely similar to "The Paris Wife," McLain's previous novel. Both are fictionalized accounts of a very notable but little-known women, both take place in the 1920s, and and both benefit from McLain's talented hand and storytelling abilities. But the settings, the adventures and the women themselves are completely different. I highly recommend picking up "Circling the Sun" and traveling back to 1920s Kenya to meet the remarkable Beryl Markham.

Monday Musings


Highlight(s) of the week: It's a tie! Jarrod and I dog-sat a friend's 5 1/2-month old, 80-pound(+) Great Dane puppy, Duke, and he was so much fun! I absolutely loved his joyful, exuberant puppy gusto. And he was such a good, sweet boy! It was so, so nice to have a dog in the house again. It's been almost a year and a half since our Conan passed away and we've been talking about adding a new furry member to the family. Maybe sooner than later...

We also attended my cousin's wedding on Saturday, and it was really nice to hang out with some of my relatives! That's my wonderful grandma in the picture above. Jarrod and I clean up pretty nice, huh? ;)

Reading: I finished up "Circling the Sun" (which was awesome!) and started "The Kill Artist," the first in Daniel Silva's Gabriel Allon series (the 15th book of the series just came out). I'm about a third of the way done and it's ok so far. I'm not totally sucked in, though, and I'm wondering if I should've just dove into one of the newer books instead of starting at the beginning. Fingers crossed that it gets gripping fast! I'm also still listening to "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" on audiobook while knitting. There was a Harry Potter movie marathon on ABC Family this weekend and I had to force myself not to watch the "Half-Blood Prince" movie just yet! (Not that I haven't already read the book and seen the movie a zillion times! But still!)


Knitting: I didn't knit a whole lot with Duke here last week, but I did have a chance to work on my BlueSand Cardigan last night. I tried it on and noticed that it seemed really short compared to other people's photos. I measured my sweater against the prescribed gauge and I'm almost an inch too small! Crap! Double crap! (In English, for every four inches of sweater there should be, I only have 3. You can see the problem.)

Ironically, for once in my life I actually did a gauge swatch and ended up going down two needle sizes to get gauge. Now I'm thinking I should have just screwed the gauge swatch like I normally do and knitted with the needle size in the pattern. I feel like I could cry every time I think about it. Do I knit on and hope it all blocks out to fit ok, or do I rip it allllll out and start fresh? Le sigh.

Watching: We watched "Woman in Gold" the other night and it was pretty good. It reminded me a lot of a novel I read a few weeks ago, "The Girl You Left Behind" by Jojo Moyes. Both deal with art restitution -- returning works of art stolen by the Nazis to their rightful owners.

Eating: Yesterday Duke helped me make (and by help I mean taste-tested) some blackberry cheesecake bars to take into work, and they were pretty tasty. I pretty much love anything made with cream cheese. Add fresh berries to the mix and I'm done for! (Here's the recipe, from the Pioneer Woman.)

Looking forward to: Finishing up the rest of last season's "Downton Abbey" episodes on the DVR this week! And one of my co-workers told me where I can get some of that special Downton Abbey tea. Maybe I'll go buy some to sip while I watch the show!

I'll leave you with one more picture of this big ol' kissable face. Have a good week!


Tuesday, July 21, 2015

11 Books With Diverse Characters

The subject of today's Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and the Bookish is the timely topic of diversity in books. My list features diversity of all sorts: some of the characters are ethnic minorities, some face challenges like Tourette's -- but all these novels (and one memoir) are great reads that I'd fully recommend. What are your favorite stories featuring diverse characters? 

Auggie of the ubiquitous middle grade novel "Wonder" is afflicted with a severe facial deformity, and Josh Hanagarne, author of the memoir "The World's Strongest Librarian," has Tourette's.

Both Don of "The Rosie Project" and Boo of "Boo" have Asperger's.

The characters in "The Joy Luck Club" are Chinese Americans and "The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" is about Japanese Americans. 

"The Help" is probably my favorite novel featuring African Americans and "Molokai" is about a native Hawaiian with leprosy.

And three on my to-read list:

Monday, July 20, 2015

Monday Musings


Highlight of the week:
I worked on Saturday so I had Friday off, and the whole day was just wonderful. I did a bit of shopping in the morning, then spent the afternoon knitting, reading and getting caught up on some DVR recordings while sipping iced coffee. It was relaxing, extraordinarily lazy, and totally fabulous.

Reading: Still reading my ARC of Paula McLain's "Circling the Sun" about the extraordinary Beryl Markham. It took a bit to get into (and I've been knitting more than reading lately) but I'm totally loving it now.

Knitting: I got a great start on my BlueSand Cardigan this week! I'm cruising right along and loving this project. I'm listening to "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" while knitting so it's doubly enjoyable!

Watching: I convinced Jarrod to watch the new Masterpiece Classic show "Poldark" with me and we're enjoying it so far. Episode 5 was on last night. (The main character is played by Aidan Turner -- Kili from the Hobbit movies -- and I may or may not have a wee bit of a crush on him.) We also watched "Get Hard" this week, which was hilarious.

Listening to: All about Misterwives this week!

Eating: We tried this yummy recipe for "pickle chicken" with potato wedges and spicy pickle dipping sauce for dinner last night and decided it's a keeper. It sounds a bit odd, but it was surprisingly good! I also made some really tasty chocolate cookies with Reese's peanut butter chips.

Looking forward to: I'll be a bit sad to finish "Circling the Sun," but I have a huge pile of books waiting in the wings and I'm excited to choose my next read. What will it be? "The Kill Artist" by Daniel Silva? "The Argonauts" by Maggie Nelson? "The Gracekeepers" by Kristy Logan? "The Truth According to Us" by Annie Barrows? "I'll Give You the Sun" by Jandy Nelson? "The Death's Head Chess Club" by John Donoghue? Decisions, decisions!

Friday, July 17, 2015

I Judge Books By Their Covers: "Delicious!"

Hello, my name is Lindsay, and I judge books by their covers.
Confession: I always judge books by their covers. A book's appearance -- from the artwork to the font to the colors to the texture to the weight and cut of the pages (I like the ragged-edged ones) -- is very important to me. And there are certain kinds of covers I like and certain ones I'd never pick up unless I was already planning to read the book. It's fascinating to see how covers change between editions -- hardcover and paperback, or U.S. and international -- and it's so fun to see who prefers what!

The cover on the right is hardcover, the left is paperback.

Here's my review of "Delicious!"

"Delicious!" was a fun, sorta-fluffy, glass-half-full type of book with tons and tons of food references, a charming old building, letters, a magazine and a cute dog. There's nothing wrong with either one of these covers, but somehow neither jumps out at me all that much. I definitely prefer the paperback cover, though; the red makes it a lot more eye-catching, and I like the old-fashioned envelope and the New York City walk-ups, both of which tie into the story. The bold colors and overall cheerful feel make the paperback more appealing to me. Which cover do you like better?

Winner: the paperback edition

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Mini Reviews: "The Girl You Left Behind" by Jojo Moyes and "I, Ripper" by Stephen Hunter

"The Girl You Left Behind" by Jojo Moyes
First published in 2012
369 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

This dual narrative centers on Sophie Lefevre in German-controlled 1916 France and London widow Liv Halston in 2006. Separated by nearly a century, the lives of these two not-so-different women are joined to a very special work of art painted by Sophie's husband. "The Girl You Left Behind" is historical fiction and it's romance, but it's also something more -- poignant and thoughtful, tragic and sweet. (And I also learned a thing or two; for instance, did you know there's an industry devoted to recovering war-looted artwork?)

"The Girl You Left Behind" was my third Jojo Moyes book and I haven't been disappointed yet. It's interesting how all three -- "Me Before You," "One Plus One," and this book -- vary so vastly in subject nature but they all manage to resonate with readers. I think it just comes down to the fact that Jojo Moyes is such a skilled storyteller with a knack for writing lovably flawed characters and making readers feel invested in their fates. These days I rarely get around to reading an author's entire set of works, but I'm going to make a point to read all of Moyes's. Do you have a favorite Moyes book that I haven't read yet? I'm thinking "The Last Letter From Your Lover" will be next.

"I, Ripper" by Stephen Hunter
First published in 2015
298 pages
My rating: 3 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

I had such high hopes for "I, Ripper" and they were, sadly, ripped apart -- though not so brutally as Jack the Ripper wrecked the guts of the Whitechapel prostitutes who were his victims.

Hunter's novel attempts to answer the age-old questions of Jack's identity and motivation. On that count I think Hunter fell short -- I didn't really like the answers he provided, and I thought the "mystery" part of the story was too predictable.

I also really struggled with the writing. "I, Ripper" is told in the form of a later memoir by newspaper reporter Jeb of the London Star and entries from the diary of Ripper himself. The 1888-style writing was hard to wade through to begin with, and Hunter threw in a lot of obscure (military history?) references that I just didn't get.

On the plus side, I really didn't know a lot about Jack the Ripper going in and I learned quite a bit from this novel. Other than inserting a motive and face for our killer, it seems Hunter stayed quite true to the actual known facts of the case.

Overall, though, this novel was a rather long, hard slog and I ended up doing some skimming the last 75 pages. It could definitely have been worse -- Hunter is indeed a good writer  -- but unless you're a "ripperologist" this book might not be worth the effort.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

My 11 Most Recent Bookish Acquisitions

Ah, books. Too many of them, not enough time! I didn't have to look back very far to compile my list for this week's Top Ten Tuesday hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Our prompt is the last 10 books to come into your possession, be they purchases, library books, free books for review or anything else.

I work at a library, so that's where almost all of my books come from. It just seems silly to buy books when I'm surrounded by perfectly good free reading material all day long (although I do admit to raiding the book sale cart every so often!). On any given week, every single book on this list would be a library check-out, but right now I'm reviewing a galley, I received a book as a gift and I won one from the adult summer reading program at my library. Way to go me, spicing things up just in time for Top Ten Tuesday! ;)

Where did the last 10 books you obtained come from? Were they spur-of-the-moment selections or were they already on your to-read list? 

Checked-out library books from my summer to-read list.

 Checked out library books. "The Last Bookaneer" is on my summer to-read list and "The Ice Twins" was recommended by two separate co-workers.

 Checked out library books. Both of these are on my to-read list, but I didn't have plans to get them right away. As fate would have it, though, they both came my way when I was processing new books -- and it's nearly impossible to resist taking home a brand-new library copy of a book I'm already planning to read. It's a special treat -- only a few people have touched the book besides me, and it's just as good as reading a newly purchased copy from the store!

 Read and returned library books (reviews forthcoming... one of these days).

"I Could Chew on This" was a gift from my secret pal at work (yes, my work is awesome). "Where They Found Her"was a prize from the adult summer reading program at the library (yes, my work is doubly awesome).

NetGalley advance-read book.
(D'oh! I know this makes 11, but I almost forgot about the book I'm currently reading! How could I leave that one off?)
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