Five Sentence Reviews: Dear Mrs. Bird, Anne Lamott, and Romance!

I’ve been on a month-long yoga journey with the amazing Adriene Mishler of Yoga With Adriene. I’ve practiced EVERY NIGHT. This is kind of a big deal because I’m famous for starting things and not finishing them. There are three practices left in the sequence (I started a day late.) I’m telling you this because the nightly yoga, while amazing for my soul, posture, and core, is not conducive to blog posting. I’ve been reading, though, so I’m (as usual) a bit behind on reviews. Here are some five-sentence reviews to clear the decks. All of these were four-star reads. In fact, in January I’ve had ALL four-star reads. Still waiting for the first five-star of 2019!

81w5wudgvllDear Mrs. Bird by A.J. Pearce. A charming historical fiction novel set in London during World War II. Emmy Lake is an irresistibly plucky heroine. She takes a job that she thinks is going to be a junior reporter for a newspaper but turns out to be a typist for an advice columnist at a floundering women’s magazine. Mrs. Bird, the advice columnist, is prudish and severe, so Emmy decides to secretly help the young women who need friendly advice in a scary time. This was an enjoyable yet moving look at lives in England during the Blitz.

After a big raid it was always sad to see flattened buildings and burnt-out churches which had stood for hundreds of years, but there was something rather triumphant about the monuments and statues, even the parks and big department stores that were still there, getting on with things. The Luftwaffe may have been  trying to blast us to pieces, but everyone just kept getting back up.

Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott. I love Anne Lamott. I listened to 39203790the audiobook, read by the author, and it was wonderful. If you’ve never read her before, she’s like a kindly, slightly kooky neighbor or aunt who tells you hard truths about life but also gives you M&Ms and hugs. She is consistently hopeful yet aware of the pain of the world and unfairness of life. Reading her makes me feel better, stronger, less crazy, and this was one of her better recent books.

It’s okay to stop hitting the snooze button and to wake up and pay attention to what makes you feel okay about yourself, one meal at a time. Unfortunately, it’s yet another inside job. If you are not okay with yourself at 185 pounds, you may not be okay at 150, or even 135. The self-respect and peace of mind you long for is not in your weight. It’s within you. I resent that more than I can say. But it’s true. Finding a way to have a relatively healthy and safe relationship with food is hard, and it involves being one’s very own dearest person. This will not cause chaos or death, as you were surely taught, but rather an environment where you can drown out the many mean and mistaken voices.

51flpz8fm5lA Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole (Reluctant Royals #1.) A fun, smart, sexy page-turner. This contemporary romance features a guarded, independent STEM-based grad student heroine, Naledi, and an actual prince from the fictional African country of Thesolo, Thabiso, who comes to New York to track down his long-lost betrothed. A case of mistaken identity brings to two together, where they experience undeniable chemistry. The storyline was so well-crafted I kind of skimmed over the sexy parts, to be honest. These characters were fully realized and incredibly likeable; I can’t wait to read more of this series (the next focuses on Naledi’s best friend Portia.)

“Um,” she said. Her general reaction to men she met in her daily life was indifference or tolerance, at best, but something about this man sent her thoughts spinning far, far away from lab work or serving or studying. The only data she was currently interested in collecting was the exact tensile pressure of his beard against her inner thigh, and the shift in mass of his body on top of hers.

Have you read any of these? Have you had a five-star read yet in 2019?

 

 

 

 

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Reading Goals Update – January 2019

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Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

Yes, I know January isn’t over, but I’ve made such good progress towards my reading goals that I wanted to go ahead and document it. I think a monthly post will also help keep my momentum going.

downloadGoal #1: Read From the New Books Shelf at Work. I’ve read one book! It was The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen. It’s a domestic thriller, which Anita Shreve blurbs on the cover as “Fiendishly clever… in the vein of Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train.” Well, I liked it somewhere between those two, giving it four stars for pure page-turning readability. It’s one of those books that’s pretty entertaining, slightly cheesy, and ultimately forgettable, sort of like reading an US Weekly magazine. Initially the writing didn’t float my boat (lots of brand-name dropping) but I let myself forget all that and just got lost in the escapist, twisty fun. I have a hold on the writing pair’s new book, An Anonymous Girl.

Now this isn’t really much of a stretch read for me as I do like mysteries and thrillers, but I’m just glad I read something that my branch owns for a change, ha ha!

Goal #2: Read The Count of Monte Cristo. I am currently on page 345 y’all! I am killing it. It’s still so good. I’m kicking myself for not reading it sooner, but I guess the right books come to you when you’re ready for them. (I mean after you’re out of school and teachers aren’t assigning you books way before you’re ready for them.)

Goal #3: Read more poetry. I’m progressing through Shauna Barbosa’s Cape Verdean Blues. It’s not grabbing me like I had hoped but I’m going to finish. I think maybe reading poetry is like exercising, and you have to get warmed up again after a period of inactivity. I also checked out five more books of poetry this weekend, so I’m at least setting myself up for success.

a1ndiwiiwqlGoal #4: Read More of My Own Books (#unreadshelfproject2019.) The prompt for this month on the Instagram challenge was to pick any unread book off your shelf and read it this month or get rid of it. I chose Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker, a book I purchased for myself during my birthday(ish) trip to Nashville and Parnassus Books. Sorry to say, this book was a DNF for me. I realized that I didn’t really care about wine to the degree necessary to make this book interesting or fun for me. I was annoyed by the obsessive sommeliers Bosker was interacting with and got to page 70 before throwing in the towel. I couldn’t imagine reading 230 more pages of it. I can see how some people would like this but it just wasn’t the book for me. However, this means I have gotten rid of one book from my shelf, so it’s a win (a donation to the Friends of the Library.)

Speaking of the library, I mentioned earlier that I’d gotten a promotion at work. I’m now the branch manager of my small public branch (seriously, we’re tiny, we normally have only three staff members.) I’m thrilled, relieved, and energized, and ready to try lots of new program ideas to try and get people in the door.

How are you all doing so far in January? I hope you’ve already found some great reads in 2019.

 

The First 200 Pages of The Count of Monte Cristo

I’m doing it, friends! I’m finally reading this book!

And it’s terrific.

I’ll be posting informal reading updates every 200 pages or so. These are not going to be in-depth lit-crit examinations of the book but more like a reader’s journal. Reading about 100 pages a week works for me, allowing me to continue reading other books and making progress on my other reading goals. I’m pleasantly surprised by how entertaining and easy to read this is. I don’t know what I expected, but I suppose I thought it would be harder going than it has been so far. Where do we get these notions of “classic” novels, that they should somehow be like work?

9780141392462Anyway, the book. Do you guys know how the plot gets rolling? There’s this young sailor, Dantès, who’s virtuous and upstanding, well-liked by his men. He’s about to be married to his true love, the beautiful Mercédès.  He does an errand for his dying Captain, delivering a letter to Elba, where the deposed Napoleon is exiled. Upon his return, and about the become Captain of the ship, he is accused of treason for his errand. How did this devastating turn of events come to pass? Three men, jealous of Dantès for different reasons – Danglars, Caderousse, and Fernand – have conspired to frame him.

The villains are villainous, although I suspect one of them may have a change of heart at some point. One of them I absolutely hate. (Guess which one?) Mercédès is pretty much a non-entity at this point; I get nothing from her except she’s awfully blind to Fernand’s true nature. Dantès’s father is a heartbreaking case.  The injustice of the whole thing propels the plot along. I want to keep turning the pages because I want Dantès to get his revenge! And I know it’s coming, but as I have 1200 more pages to go, probably not for a while. 🙂

Then there’s the whole Villefort/Noirtier side plot, the thing that takes the accusations of the three conspirators to the next level and gets Dantès imprisoned. I’m not sure what to make of Villefort yet  – he’s selfish and conniving – but the meeting with his father was certainly a dramatic moment.

I LOVE that Dantès has found a pal in prison! And they’re doing all sorts of fun prison break stuff together! The Abbé is practically MacGyver (do people remember that show?) He’s made pens out of fish bones, paper out of hankerchiefs, and ink out of soot and blood.

“There is one thing puzzles me still,” observed Dantès, “and that is how you managed to do all this by daylight?”

“I worked at night also,” replied Faria.

“Night! – why, for Heaven’s sake, are your eyes like a cat’s , that you can see to work in the dark?”

“Indeed they are not; but a beneficent Creator has supplied man with ability and intelligent to supply the want of the power you allude to. I furnished myself with a light quite as good as that possessed by the cat.”

“You did? – Pray tell me how?”

“I separated the fat from the meat served to me, melted it, and made a most capital oil; here is my lamp.” So saying, the abbe exhibited a sort of vessel very similar to those employed upon the occasion of public illuminations.

“But how do you procure a light?”

“Oh, here are two flints, and a morsel of burnt linen.”

“And your matches?”

“Were easily prepared, – I feigned a disorder of the skin, and asked for a little sulphur, which was readily supplied.”

I love how nonchalant the Abbé is about the whole thing.

81lq9cbf+sl._sy445_Are there classic novels you’ve put off reading for one reason or another? What’s been stopping you from getting to them? Is the movie version of this book any good? Let me know in the comments.

 

 

Thoughts on Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin (#CCSpin #19)

And the darkness of John’s sin was like the darkness of the church on Saturday evenings; like the silence of the church when he was there alone, sweeping, and running water into the great bucket, and overturning chairs, long before the saints arrived. It was like his thoughts as he moved about the tabernacle in which his life had been spent; the tabernacle that he hated, yet loved and feared.

510dFZyJmyL._SX303_BO1,204,203,200_I feel like I got way with something by reading Go Tell It on the Mountain for the latest Classics Club Spin. We were supposed to be reading one of the longer books on our lists, but I only put ten “big books” on mine, and the spin result happened to be Baldwin’s 1953 first novel. The one I borrowed from the library clocked in at 291 pages. Oh well. Those big books are still waiting for me.

This is a challenging books to write about. It’s a family story and a coming of age story. Goodreads says it’s semi-autobiographical and my copy’s jacket flap quotes Baldwin himself as saying, “Mountain is the book I had to write if I was ever going to write anything else.” I’ve now read three of Baldwin’s books, and I’ve seen the exquisite documentary about him, I Am Not your Negro, but I do want to read a biography about him or at least do some more research into this life.

Not only is this book challenging to describe but it was challenging to read as well, because I felt so bad for the main character, the young teenager John. His family lives in 1930’s era New York City, and his cold and critical father Gabriel is an associate pastor of a very Evangelical type of church. His world seems pretty sheltered and restricted, and you can feel John wanting to break free and explore the variety of experience that New York offers.

He stood on the crest of the hill, hands clasped beneath his chin, looking down. Then he, John, felt like a giant who might crumble this city with his anger; he felt like a tyrant who might crush this city beneath his heel; he felt like a long-awaited conqueror at whose feet flowers would be strewn, and before whom multitudes cried, Hosanna! He would be, of all, the mightiest, the most beloved, the Lord’s anointed; and he would live in this shining city which his ancestors had seen with longing from far way. For it was his; the inhabitants of the city had told him it was his; he had but to run down, crying, and the would take him to their hearts and show him wonders his eyes had never seen. 

Gabriel and John do not get along, and we come to find out that John is Gabriel’s wife Elizabeth’s son by another man. Gabriel becomes a bit more humanized and sympathetic as we delve into flashbacks of his story, and we come to understand in flashbacks how and why Elizabeth married him as well. The last section of the book is John’s feverish, nightmarish religious experience (salvation? conversion?) with an ambiguous ending.

Did I enjoy this book? Enjoy is not exactly the word – it was a surprisingly page-turning read. Some parts were more engaging than others, especially the back stories of John’s aunt Florence and mother Elizabeth. But I gave it four stars because of the beauty and precision of the language and the challenging spiritual imagery.

Time was indifferent, like snow and ice; but the heart, crazed wanderer in the driving waste, carried the curse forever.

Have you read this? If you’ve read Baldwin before, what is your favorite of his books? Are you interested in seeing the new film If Beale Street Could Talk (based on Baldwin’s 1974 novel?)

 

 

Totally Achievable Reading Goals for 2019

I was really excited to formulate my reading goals for the year. You all may know that I am a reader and blogger who dislikes sticking to lists and needs a lot of freedom in my book choices and in my blogging life. So I don’t make formal monthly TBRs because I know that just doesn’t work for me. But the goals I am aiming to achieve this year are so viable and doable – I am already getting started on them!

Goal #1: Read more books from the New Books shelf at work. I work in a small public library branch (actually, I just got a promotion, more about that later!) My regular patrons are always asking me, as they stand in front of the New Books shelf, “What have you read lately that’s good?” And of course, I immediately blank out and have to scrounge for titles. This is partly because I read so many backlist titles and also because my reading tastes don’t exactly line up with the tastes of many of my patrons. To that end, I am committing to reading at least 6 books from that range of shelving – and to trying some genres that I normally don’t read, like Inspirational (Christian) fiction, Romance, and gentle “Women’s” Fiction. (I don’t really like that genre title, and I don’t know if it’s a valid designation, but it seems to fit a certain kind of book for a certain kind of audience that makes up a large portion of my regular patrons who need recommendations. Maybe I should call it “fiction centered on women characters.” That’s kind of wordy. Anyway, you get my gist.)

41tj7urm1sl._sx323_bo1,204,203,200_Goal #2: Read The Count of Monte Cristo – finally! So I’ve already started on this one! I’m at page 100 of this 1400+ page behemoth. And guys, I’m really enjoying it! It’s so readable. My way of reading this while also reading other things is to read 100 pages a week. I’ll knock it out in a few months, and I’ll write some reader’s journal-like impressions of each section I complete.

Goal #3: Read more poetry. Last year I started off dabbling in some poetry, but I didn’t finish a whole collection the entire year. Sad face. If I can read 4 books of poetry this year, I’ll be happy.

Goal #4: Read more from my own bookshelves. Last year I did a good job of reading my own books, but I kept buying more, so my total number of unread books actually INCREASED over the course of the year. This year I am following along with The Unread Shelf Project on Instagram, where Whitney gives us prompts to get us reading our own books. This month’s is to pick a book off your shelf that you HAVE to read by the end of January or else you have to get rid of it. Motivation! My January book is Cork Dork by Bianca Bosker. I’ve started reading it and so far I like it, yay!a1ndiwiiwql

That’s it. I don’t want to make my 2019 reading feel like homework, so I’m happy with 4 goals. I am confident I can achieve them, and even if I don’t, I’ll at least have fun trying. Hey, if you have any poetry recommendations, lay them on me. I’ve checked out Cape Verdean Blues by Shauna Barbosa. I know nothing about her but Kendrick Lamar blurbed her book, which intrigued me, and it’s one of the newer poetry books added to our library system.

Do you make a list of reading goals for the year? Or do goals just seem like too much pressure? Let me know in the comments.

It’s My Blogiversary!

Four years ago tonight I decided to start Big Reading Life. I didn’t know what I wanted to do here other than write about books and hopefully connect with other passionate readers. I didn’t know if anyone would ever read my blog, let alone comment. It’s been a wonderful experience these past four years! I can’t express how much joy you all have given me simply by reading my posts and reaching out to me. It’s so fun to know I have blog friends all over the globe.

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Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

At times this year I’ve wondered if I had anything left worth saying here. But I think I’ve turned the corner on that and have found my spark again! I’m excited about my reading plans and goals for the new year and can’t wait to go on bookish adventures with you all.

To everyone who has read anything I’ve written here, and especially to those that comment, thank you. Let’s keep having fun and reading good books in 2019! Happy New Year!

BRL Best Books of 2018

Some of you may remember that I keep a paper book journal in addition to my Goodreads account for book tracking. When I read a book that particularly moves me I give it a star in my paper journal, which equals a five-star rating on Goodreads. As I looked over my 2018 reading I realized that TWENTY books had rated a star this year! So I had some choices to make as it came time to make my Top Ten List for the year. Without further ado, here are my favorite books of 2018. (Note: I’m a huge backlist reader so not all of these books were published this year.)

In no particular order:

  • The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World by Dalai Lama XIV, Desmond Tutu, Douglas Carlton Abrams (2016). This was a life-affirming, uplifting audio book that truly inspired me. I learned a lot about the friendship between the Dalai Lama and Bishop Tutu, and how each man approaches life’s challenges with grace and equanimity.
  • How Many Miles to Babylon? by Jennifer Johnston (1974.) Set in Ireland in WWI, this beautifully written novella explores the growing friendship between a young member of the landed gentry and one of the workers on his family’s estate as they both set off to fight in the war. Truly moving with a devastating ending.
  • An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (2018.) Just a gorgeous, emotionally probing book about two people who fell in love with the best of intentions – and then life throws them a horrific curveball that reverberates for years. It’s a beautifully told relationship story with well-drawn, believable characters. Unforgettable.
  • Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal (2015.) What a surprise! A book that had been on my TBR list for a few years and I’m so glad I decided to read it. It was one of those absorbing reads that made me want to ignore my family for a few days. Linked short stories, all centering in some way around the character of Eva, a young woman in Minnesota with a passion and a gift for cooking. Foodies will love it, but anyone who just wants a good story will enjoy it too.
  • Born A Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah (2016.) The BEST AUDIO BOOK I’VE EVER LISTENED TO. Funny, surprising, illuminating, moving. I learned so much about South African history through this story of Noah’s unlikely existence. I can’t say enough good things about it. It’s one I would read (or listen to) again for sure.
  • Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (1956.) This novel is exquisitely written and emotionally tough. A portrait of a man utterly in denial about who he truly is. David, a young, rootless, white American living in Paris in the 1950’s, has a fiancee he’s running away from when he meets a handsome Italian waiter and falls in love. His denial sets off a tragic chain of events for everyone involved. Baldwin is a genius! I intend to read everything he’s written.
  • The Library Book by Susan Orlean (2018.) I recently wrote about this one, but it’s just a gem of a nonfiction book, about the importance of libraries today and Orlean’s emotional connection to them through her late mother, as well as a gripping true-crime account of the devastating library fire in L.A.’s Central Library in 1986. Lots going on here, but Orlean weaves all the strands together beautifully.
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman (2017.) That rare super-hyped novel that is worthy of all the praise. What starts off as a quirky portrait of a lonely young woman who doesn’t connect well with other human beings becomes a moving and warm-hearted novel about unexpected connections and the capacity for change and growth. A lovely book that I will definitely read again someday.
  • Brother by David Chariandy (2018, first published in Canada and the UK 2017.) Not one word wasted in this slim but powerful novel about two brothers growing up in a poor, multi-cultural part of Toronto in the 1980’s. There is tragedy here but there is also terrific beauty and great love, especially in the character of the boys’ Trinidadian immigrant mother, who works herself to the bone to provide for her sons and tried to give them a better life. I just adored this.
  • The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton (2018.) Another book I recently read and can’t stop talking about – thank you Oprah! Hinton’s ridiculous sham of a trial for crimes he didn’t commit will make you angry, and his emotional journey living on death row in Alabama for 30 years will move you, inspire you, and make you question your beliefs about the death penalty.

51mPEE0qUtL._SX336_BO1,204,203,200_Honorable Mention: Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout (2017.)  Linked short stories, a companion piece to Strout’s My Name is Lucy Barton. Spare prose and heartbreaking, real characters in small town middle America. Strout is a hell of a writer.

 It’s been such a good reading year. Have you read any of the books on my list? Do any of these pique your interest?