Friday, December 19, 2014

2014: A Year In Review

Do you do this every year as well - get to this point in the year and wonder how it has passed so quickly? When my kids were younger, I thought the years would slow down once they were grown up and I wasn't so involved in their lives. Not so much. On the other hand, when they were young, I was lucky to squeeze in four or five books in a year. Seriously. As of the other day, I reached 76 books read this year,  something 2004 me could not have imagined.

Best Bookish Things of 2014

 The Omaha Bookworms welcomed several new members this year (although we sadly said goodbye to a long-time member and dear friend). We had dwindled away to only four reliable attendees; this week we had nine at our meeting. It does make for a lot more side conversations and crowd control is harder, but so much fun to have so many opinions!

Omaha Lit Fest was, as always, terrific thanks to local author Timothy Schaffert, the Omaha Public Library, and wonderful panels of authors, including Melanie Benjamin and Rainbow Rowell. The event always kicks off with a fun evening of art, adult beverages, delicious treats and the chance to mingle with fellow book lovers. It's so much fun the The Big Guy has decided it's a can't-miss event for him, too.

The crowd packed The Bookworm this fall to see Rainbow Rowell read a bit but mostly talk about her writing and take questions from her fans. There were so many people who so badly wanted to have a few words that it took an hour and a half for me to work my way to the front of the signing line. It was work it - Rowell is every bit as funny, honest and real as you would imagine if you have read any of her work.

Best Books of 2014

This year I have broken the audio books out separately and the three that are on there are on the list because they were not just very good audio books, they were very good books. That short non-fiction list? It's not because I haven't read good non-fiction this year; it's because my non-fiction reading was really down this year, something I definitely need to rectify in 2015.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
Closed Doors by Lisa O'Donnell
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
Still Alice by Lisa Genova
The Good House by Ann Leary
The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar
Love and Treasure by Ayelet Waldeman
One Plus One by Jojo Moyes

Orange Is The New Black by Piper Kiernan
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

You Know When The Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon
I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron
What Is The What  by Dave Eggers

Honorable Mention:
Landline by Rainbow Rowell
This Dark Road To Mercy by Wiley Cash

How I Did With My 2014 Goals

At the end of 2013, I set these goals for the coming year:

1. Limit the number of books I accept for review. This one's going to be hard; every day there are interesting books coming to my attention. But I'd like my reading to consist of no more than two books for review every month and I've already got quite a backlog to work through as it is.

2. Read at least 12 non-fiction books in 2014.

3. Read at least 15 books for the Classics Challenge.

4. Read at least 20 books written by authors from or set in countries other than the U.S.

5. Get back to my beloved fairy tales - Fairy Tale Fridays will return at least once a month.

6. Give myself permission to give up on books that aren't working for me.

So how'd I do? Pretty well on #1, which allowed me to make a decent dent in my older books. Clearly I failed on #2 and #3 was a bust as well. Both of those will move onto my goal list for 2015. I knocked #4 out of the park - #37 of the books I've read so far this year have been set outside of the U.S. or written by authors from another country. Fairy Tale Fridays was not a reliable feature in 2014, but it did come back periodically. I did better this year on giving up on books that weren't working for me than I ever have; even so it was only about 2 or 3 books. Given that my overriding goal going into 2014 was to have fun reading, I'm wishing I had been better with #6. There were a lot of books I finished that were just okay for me. 

I'll put together a new list for 2015 later this month but I imagine it will look very much like this year's list. Although, I'm not going to get overly stressed about it because, after all, it's supposed to be fun, right?!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen by Charlie Lovett

First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen by Charlie Lovett
Published October 2014 by Viking Adult
Source: my copy courtesy of the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher's Summary:
Book lover and Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has recently taken a job at an antiquarian bookshop in London when two different customers request a copy of the same obscure book: the second edition of Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield. Their queries draw Sophie into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice—and ultimately threaten Sophie’s life.

In a dual narrative that alternates between Sophie’s quest to uncover the truth—while choosing between two suitors—and a young Jane Austen’s touching friendship with the aging cleric Richard Mansfield, Lovett weaves a romantic, suspenseful, and utterly compelling novel about love in all its forms and the joys of a life lived in books.

My Thoughts:
In all of that long title, it never once mentions that First Impressions is first and foremost an mystery revolving around the origins of Jane Austen's masterpiece Pride and Prejudice. That mystery drives the dual narrative, moving between Austen's beginnings as a novelist and Sophie's efforts to solve not only the mystery surrounding Austen's writing but also the murder of her beloved uncle.

To be sure, even when things got the most tense, there was never any doubt that all would work out for Sophie...and, for that matter, Jane. And there was not much mystery for me in who was the "bad guy" and who would win the girl. Plus you all have heard me say how tired I am of the dual narrative using a present day story to play off an historical story line.

Jane Austen
Still, all of that didn't take away from my enjoyment of this book. Maybe because I love Austen so much, I felt more kindly toward the dual narrative scheme this time, maybe because the two stories tied so well together. And even though I sometimes wanted to shake Sophie, I couldn't help but admire her determination and resourcefulness.

Lovett never overdoes his research, not while moving through Austen's life, from the beginning of Sense and Sensibility to her death, not while schooling his readers about the worth of old books and their place in our lives. Not surprisingly, Lovett was, once upon a time, an antiquarian bookseller. His love of books absolutely shines through in this book.

Happy 239th birthday, Jane Austen! I sometimes feel that we are taking away from your genius with all of our love then along comes a book that really does you honor while creating an entirely new story line for you.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Life It Goes On - December 14

Oh my goodness, have I had a productive weekend! It's a good thing, because I was starting to get that panicked feeling I'm so familiar with around this time of the year and I really was hoping to avoid it. The cards got picked up and will go out in the mail tomorrow, I'm almost finished shopping, and of the nine gifts that I'm making, eight are almost finished (seven will be done tomorrow).

Some good news for the book industry - we headed to Barnes and Noble to pick up some books we'd had set aside and found the parking lot packed and a long line to check out. We may yet make a trip to Half-Price Books to see if we can pick up a few bargains and experience this time of year has me expecting them to be busy as well.

This Week I'm:

Listening To: Finally turned on the Christmas music on the radio - occasionally. The majority of my drive time has been spent listening to podcasts. Sadly, while listening to NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour,  I got an ear worm stuck in my head. They were having a discussion of their favorite Christmas movies and they played "Mr. Heat Miser" and "Mr. Cold Miser" from The Year Without A Santa. Take a listen and see if it doesn't stick in your head. Because I shouldn't be alone in this!

Watching: I am totally getting into watching Christmas movies - or movies that have Christmas in some of the scenes (like Bridget Jones' Diary). Elf, White Christmas, The Santa Claus and It's A Wonderful Life have all been on the agenda this week.

Reading: I finished Charlie Lovett's First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen and my review for that will post on Austen's birthday, December 16. I thought to read one more Austen-themed book to post this week as well but declared Lost In Austen a DNF (did not finish) after less than 50 pages. Instead I started The Time Traveler's Wife - finally. My friend Mari has been insisting I needed to read this for years.

Making: Lasagna, chicken and noodles, potato soup, and hot cocoa mix. You'd think it'd been cold here but we've had unseasonably warm temps.

Planning: On finishing all of the shopping and gift making by the end of the week so when I have next week off it will be all about relaxing.

Grateful for: Treadmills. I've been trying to recuperate my knee by walking outside all fall and it just was not working. Hit the treadmill this week and every day after I do that, the leg feels much better. I may finally get this sucker working right again!

The Inspiration
Inspired by: Pinterest. It's where I've found several recipes I'll be trying this week, some decorating ideas and a couple of gift projects.

Feeling: Festive. At last. Especially now that I've got things so well in hand.

Looking forward to: Book club Tuesday night and celebrating Mini-me's birthday Wednesday. And Friday because that will be the last time I'm at the office until the 29th! What are you looking forward to this week?

Happy Hanukkah to those whose celebration will begin Tuesday!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Classics Club - December Question

I've been a very bad Classics Club member, rarely remembering to play along with the monthly questions, never trying my hand at the spin to determine what classic to read next, and definitely not getting enough of my classics list read. But this month the question is right up my alley and I couldn't resist.

"Let’s talk about children’s classics! Did you read any classic works as a child? What were your favorites? If not, have you or will you try any classic children’s literature in the future? (We’re aware children often read at an adult level. Please feel free to share adult OR children’s classics that you treasured in childhood OR children’s works that you’ve recently fallen for.)"

I loved classics as a child, perhaps reading almost as many classics as modern books. I expect that may have something to do with the fact that, although we were frequent library patrons, most of the books I owned were gifts that were classics. I still cherish them and my shelves of books I keep for my "some day" grandchildren include these books. Some classics I read as a child but never owned have been purchased over the years to be read to my own children.

My favorites, in no particular order, except one and two which remain two of my all-time favorite books, are:

1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
2. A Little Princess by Francis Hodgson Burnett
3. Little Men by Louisa May Alcott
4. The Railway Children by Edith Nesbit
5. The Five Little Peppers And How They Grew by Margaret Sidney
6. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain
7. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
8. Heidi by Johanna Spyri
9. Heidi's Children by Charles Tritten
10. A Children's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson
11. Daddy Longlegs by Jean Webster
12. Mr. Popper's Penguins by Robert Atwater

If I were to include picture books in this list, you'd also see: Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel, The Story of Ferdinand (among many of Munro Leaf's books), The Little Engine That Could, and the Babar books which I adore to this day.

Were you a reader of classics as a child? If so, what were your favorites?

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Published September 1992 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: bought this one

Publisher's Summary:
Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.

The Secret History tells of a small circle of friends at an esteemed college in New England, whose studies in Classical Greek lead them to odd rituals, shocking behavior--and murder.

My Thoughts:
Well, yeah. I can't tell you how much I wanted this to top The Goldfinch which I so enjoyed, which painted such vivid pictures for me. So many people have told me how great this book is, but...

Lacking the grand scope of The Goldfinch, The Secret History is almost claustrophobic in it's setting, almost entirely set on the campus of a small New England college in a small Vermont town. It also lacks, surprisingly, much action. I say "surprisingly" because, as you'll notice in the publisher's summary, murder is involved. Yet, at over 500 pages, the actual act of killing takes up very little space. So it's not a book that pulled me along. In fact, I really had to make myself pick it up and read it. Which isn't altogether a fault; in fact it may be considered a true mark of Tartt's success.

Tartt has populated The Secret History with a group of the least likable characters I've ever "met" in a book. Five arrogant, privileged intellectual friends (who struck me as more bored and looking for something to alleviate that than eccentric) befriend a blue-collar boy (Richard) hiding behind a lie of wealth. Or do they? And, for that matter, are they really even friends? They sure as heck are not nice people. Any time Tartt gave one of them a touch of sympathy, created a little softness, she quickly snatched it back. Even poor Richard, who should have been the most sympathetic character was more often someone I wanted to slap. Except for his awful parents, ever bad situation in found himself in was more his doing than the fault of anyone else.

I knew that every time I picked up this book, I'd just be frustrated with Richard, disgusted with the rest of the group, and disappointed with the so-called adults in this book who were almost nothing more than Charles Schultz adults - all noise and nothing helpful about them. My brain hurt reading this book. Seriously. Everyone's motivations were suspect. I was constantly second-guessing what I thought to be true about situations, characters. To read this book, you have to be all in. I couldn't sit and read on the sofa while the hubby watched television in the same room which is kind of my usual m.o. I still don't really know why some of the characters did what they did. And if you're okay with that, and you're okay with a slowly-paced, character-driven novel, The Secret History might appeal to you. I'm still trying to figure out if it appealed to me or not.