Monday, January 19, 2015

What I Read in 2014 — or, It's Never Too Late To Talk About Last Year's Books

Another year, another whole bunch of books read.

The year began with a bang but ended with a bit of a whimper, I am sorry to say. My total book consumption was a little shy of six dozen books, but I read only one novel in December: All the Light We Cannot See.

I started the year out favorably with one of my favorites of the year: The House of Silk, a Sherlock Holmes novel authorized by the estate of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It is worthy: while still writing in the style of the original, Anthony Horowitz brings The House of Silk — and Holmes' usual suspect — gingerly, but strongly, into the modern-day mindset (review).

Horowitz's follow-up, Moriarty, hit the shelves right before Christmas, and it's on my list of January reads.

A favorite read from 2011, Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (review) was followed up in 2014 by Hollow City. It also was wonderful, but it wasn't the end — which will please author Ransom Riggs' fans.

It was not the only series on my reading list in 2014. I consumed the entire All Souls trilogy by Deborah Harkness, including re-reading Discovery of Witches (also from 2011). The series was far-reaching in time and geography. It was very intriguing, and very worthy.

Another favorite read was One Summer: America, 1927. Who knew so much happened during a few months in a single year? Well, I suppose Bill Bryson, one of my favorite authors, who did not disappoint with this book (review). It's incredible, and a worthy read.

Another fascinating historical read was was American Decameron, a series of stories written by another favorite author, Mark Dunn (review). Based on the structure of  Giovanni Boccaccio's The Decameron, a classic short story collection (which I also read in 2014), Dunn wrote one story for every year of the 20th century, set in every state and a couple of geographical locations outside of the United States. Many of the stories have stayed with me, especially 1948.

If you think human culture and society is strict and complicated, try living life as a bee. Laline Paul showed readers that in another fabulous novel, The Bees. Told from the perspective of Flora 717, a bee in the hive, Paull shows us what life in the hive is like — and helps us understand their lives and plight. I cannot see the world the same way after seeing it through the eyes of Flora 717.


The Book of Unknown Americans took my breath away. The character-driven novel features people who live in a particular apartment building in Delaware. Latino residents had come to the United States for their own reasons, bringing their families for a better life, for safety, for opportunities. How many left prosperous lives, how many were far from everything they knew, how many sacrificed everything to be in a country not their own — at least, not yet. How do people adapt, how do they cope, how do they relate? Cristina Henriquez's characters take us places we never could have imagined.

My least favorite book of the year was Unbroken — not because Louie Zamperini's story is not compelling or interesting, but because Laura Hillenbrand's storytelling did not feel compelling or urgent. I felt the same way about Seabiscuit, another of the author's books.

What were your favorite books of 2014? Which did you like least? Did any disappoint you? Let me know!

Here is a complete list of my 2014 reads:
  1. All the Light We Cannot See
  2. The Miracle Jar
  3. One Yellow Daffodil
  4. Hanukkah Around the World
  5. Judaism (DK Eyewitness Book)
  6. Hanukkah, Schmanukkah!
  7. Worst-Case Scenario Survival Handbook: Holidays
  8. Hanukkah Lights: Stories of the Season
  9. This House is Haunted
  10. The Family Fang
  11. The Book of Unknown Americans
  12. Unbroken
  13. The Brothers Cabal
  14. The Bees
  15. A Red Herring Without Mustard
  16. Second Glance
  17. Centuries of June
  18. A Room With A Zoo (http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/book/room-zoo)
  19. The Interestings
  20. Bats at the Ballgame
  21. Ouroboros Ouzo / Extent Demon King / Johannesburg Cabal and the Blustery Day/A Long Spoon: A Tor.com Original
  22. Bats at the Library
  23. I Lost My Bear
  24. The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag
  25. Bats at the Beach
  26. Bandit’s Surprise
  27. What Successful People Do Before Breakfast
  28. Tobacco Road
  29. Bandit
  30. The Book of Life
  31. Shadow of Night
  32. The Fault in Our Stars
  33. A Discovery of Witches
  34. The True Story of Stellina
  35. Top Secret Twenty-One
  36. Toots the Cat
  37. Millions of Cats
  38. The Beauty of the Beast : poems from the animal kingdom
  39. Takedown Twenty: a Stephanie Plum novel
  40. The Eye of Zoltar
  41. The Eyre Affair
  42. The Goldfinch
  43. American Decameron
  44. The Decameron
  45. Year of No Sugar
  46. Petropolis
  47. The River of No Return
  48. Philomena
  49. Healthy bread in five minutes a day : 100 new recipes featuring whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and gluten-free Ingredients
  50. The creative habit : learn it and use it for life: a practical guide
  51. One Summer: America, 1927
  52. A Face in the Crowd
  53. Twittering from the Circus of the Dead
  54. Ender’s Game
  55. Hollow City
  56. I Suck at Girls
  57. Sleep Donation
  58. A Walk in the Woods
  59. Talking Pictures: Images and Messages Rescued from the Past
  60. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
  61. Coffee is good for you : from vitamin C and organic foods to low-carb and detox diets, the truth about diet and nutrition claims
  62. Fossil
  63. Not left behind : rescuing the pets of New Orleans
  64. You can't take a balloon into the Metropolitan Museum
  65. You can't take a balloon into the National Gallery of Art
  66. You can't take a balloon into the Museum of Fine Art
  67. A contract with God : and other tenement stories
  68. House of Silk

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Poetry Wednesday: What My Lips Have...

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why (Sonnet XLIII)

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why, 
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain 
Under my head till morning; but the rain 
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh 
Upon the glass and listen for reply, 
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain 
For unremembered lads that not again 
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry. 
Thus in winter stands the lonely tree, 
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one, 
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before: 
I cannot say what loves have come and gone, 
I only know that summer sang in me 
A little while, that in me sings no more.

-Edna St. Vincent Millay

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Poetry Wednesday: When the Year Grows Old



When the Year Grows Old

 

I cannot but remember
  When the year grows old—
October—November—
  How she disliked the cold!
 
She used to watch the swallows
  Go down across the sky,
And turn from the window
  With a little sharp sigh.
 
And often when the brown leaves
  Were brittle on the ground,
And the wind in the chimney
  Made a melancholy sound,
 
She had a look about her
  That I wish I could forget—
The look of a scared thing
  Sitting in a net!
 
Oh, beautiful at nightfall
  The soft spitting snow!
And beautiful the bare boughs
  Rubbing to and fro!
 
But the roaring of the fire,
  And the warmth of fur,
And the boiling of the kettle
  Were beautiful to her!
 
I cannot but remember
  When the year grows old—
October—November—
  How she disliked the cold!

- by Edna St. Vincent Millay
courtesy poets.org

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Winter's Read: Polar Book Club and Mark Helprin's Tale

Winter is the perfect time to bundle up, grab a cuppa and climb into a good book. Who's with me?

Let's form the Polar Book Club!

The 2015 Polar Book Club selection is Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin.

Here is a description from Helprin's website:

Set in New York at the beginning and the end of the twentieth century, Winter´s Tale unfolds with such great narrative force and beauty that a reader can feel that its world is more real than his own. Standing alone on the page before the book begins are the words, I have been to another world, and come back. Listen to me. In that world, both winter and the city of New York (old and new) have the strength and character of protagonists, and the protagonists themselves move as if in a vivid dream. Though immensely complicated, the story is centered upon Peter Lake, a turn-of-the-century Irish burglar, and Beverly Penn, a young heiress whom he encounters in robbing her house, and who eventually will die young and in his arms. His love for her, and a gift of grace, will allow him after the most extraordinary and painful explorations and discoveries to stop time and bring back the dead. To follow him, his predecessors, his inheritors, and his companions is to experience one of the great stories of American literature.

 The book is available in bookstores and libraries.

After we finish the book — let's aim for March 5, 2015 —  club members can join an e-mail conversation about the book.

This isn't a lit class, so how (and with whom) you participate is up to you. However, think about why you liked (or didn't like) the book, and consider telling other readers about it to spur discussion. No one is right or wrong. It's all about the book and reading.

E-mail me to join the Polar Book Club — and the ensuing conversation.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Poetry for the Holidays: When Giving Is All We Have




When Giving Is All We Have


Alberto Ríos, 1952
                                              One river gives
                                              Its journey to the next.


We give because someone gave to us.
We give because nobody gave to us.

We give because giving has changed us.
We give because giving could have changed us.

We have been better for it,
We have been wounded by it—

Giving has many faces: It is loud and quiet,
Big, though small, diamond in wood-nails.

Its story is old, the plot worn and the pages too,
But we read this book, anyway, over and again:

Giving is, first and every time, hand to hand,
Mine to yours, yours to mine.

You gave me blue and I gave you yellow.
Together we are simple green. You gave me

What you did not have, and I gave you
What I had to give—together, we made

Something greater from the difference.
— by Alberto Ríos
Courtesy poets.org

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Built-In Distraction: 'Hang Up and Drive' Gets More Difficult

It's easy to "hang up and drive" when you don't have the tools to tempt you — but when you do, it's easy to justify using them.

Let's take a look at how ubiquitous phones have become to driving. You may no longer use them to talk, but they still tells you where to go, and how. Pandora, iTunes, Amazon Music? Check. GPS and maps? Check.

Not only are phones tempting to use when we're on the road, but the technology and convenience they provide drivers as technology creeps further into vehicles makes putting them away that much harder.

When my husband purchased a new car this year, the first amenity the salesperson showed us was how to pair the smartphone with the car. It it was the cornerstone of the interactive stereo technology, and even the phone's GPS program was available via Bluetooth. Guess where that put my smartphone? Not in my purse.

When I drove the new car, I paired the phone before putting the car into traffic. Inevitably, however, I heard a song I wanted to skip. Back when changing the radio station or skipping a CD track was a single button on the dashboard, I could keep my eyes on the road and still filter my music easily and relatively safely. Now, however, that same act may involve multiple touches of the smartphone, which itself can be anywhere: on your lap, in the cup-holder, accidentally on the floor...

Auto makers may try to improve safety by installing phone and stereo function buttons on steering wheels, but drivers must have newer cars with that technology — and many of my family members, myself included, do not have new-enough cars for that.

In my 10-year-old car, I have an after-market device: an arm that holds the phone in place below the dashboard. It has no interface, no convenient buttons. If I want to listen to music, or change the music playing, I have to access the program on the phone. That requires me to take my eyes off the road.

I can rationalize that it's a quick fix, or it won't be dangerous to accomplish. Maybe I don't see other vehicles on the road so I think no one else will be affected. Perhaps I'm stopped at a red light, so that means I'm not moving so that makes it safe. Juicy justifications, all: multiple taps and swipes of the phone are anything but quick, I'm never completely alone on the road, and I must remain alert for drivers at stoplights.

Smartphones may offer hands-free GPS service, but that may not even be a reasonable option, considering that multi-tasking while operating a multi-ton vehicle is ill-advised under the best of circumstances, even with a skilled driver.

More importantly, when a text or call comes in and the phone is perched next to my hand, it's difficult to resist the impulse to read the screen or answer the phone (which, again, involves multiple keystrokes or swipes).

I am not alone. When I'm behind the wheel, I see many drivers, including professionals, operating their smartphones. If I see a car swerve into another lane, inexplicably slow down or stay stopped at a light after it turns green, I see the driver's head jerk up from her or his hand or lap in surprise.

How do we make our roads as safe as possible while using modern technology — or is that even possible?

Friday, November 7, 2014

Summer Reading: It May Last into Winter!

So, did you read a lot this summer? I know of a few readers who did, and it will earn them a book of their own!

One of the most enjoyable parts of the summer reading club is coming up with new books to read. I invited my buds to join the club for summer reading, and two readers took me up on it.

Both Karen and Stacy  tantalized me with their amazing reading lists. I think I found a few more tomes to add to my (growing) "to be read" list and was pleased to see an unexpected name among the authors. (Oh, there were more than a few favorites in there, too. I know how to pick them — friends and books.)

Karen read the following, for a total of 20 tomes:
  1. The Bone Chamber, Robin Burcell
  2. Misery, Stephen King
  3. Coming Home, Mariah Stewart
  4. Desperation, Stephen King
  5. Feels Like Family, Sherryl Woods
  6. The Sign of the Beaver, Elizabeth George Spear
  7. Escape from Andersonville, Gene Hackman and Daniel Lenihan
  8. The MacGregors-Alan Grant, Nora Roberts
  9. The Walking Dead:Rise of the Governor, Robert Kirkman and Jay Bonansinga
  10. The Hazards of Hunting a Duke, Julia London
  11. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou
  12. The Help, Kathryn Stockett 
  13. Stoker's Manuscript, Royce Prouty
  14. Sixth Sense, Ramona Stewart
  15. The Eye of the Tiger, Wilbur Smith
  16. True Believer, Nicholas Sparks
  17. The Trap, Tabitha King
  18. Soldier Dogs, Maria Goodavage
  19. Global Warning: Are we on the Brink of World War III? Tim Lahay and Ed Hindson
  20. Supervolcano:Eruption, Harry Turtledove

Stacy is "claiming a total of 40," which include:
  • Frozen, The Kraken King part 1, novellas by Meljean Brook
  • Magic Breaks by Illona Andrews
  • Warlord, Warprize, Warcry by Elizabeth Vaughan
  • From the Dark Hunter series by Sherrlyn Kenyon: Fantasy Lover, Night Pleasures, Night Embrace, Dance with the Devil, Kiss of the Night, Night Play, Seize the Night, Sins of the Night, Unleash the Night, Devil May Cry, Upon the Midnight Clear, Acheron, One Silent Night, Bad Moon Rising, Time Untime and Styxx.
  • Once Burned by Jeanine Frost
  • Demon Bound by Meljean Brook
  • The King, Lover at Last, Lover Avhenged and Lover Reborn by JR Ward
  • The Winter King by CL Wilson
  • Body Guard by Jenifer Ashley
  • Archangel's Legion by Nalini Singh
  • Bound by the Vampire Queen by Joey W Hill
  • The Little Prince
  • Le Petit Prince
  • A Child's Garden of Verses by Robert Louis Stevenson
  • His Majesty's Dragon, Throne of Jade, Black Powder War by Naomi Novik
  • Macrieve by Kresley Cole
  • Thankful in Death, Concealed in Death and Festive in Death by JD Robb
  • Hiawatha by Longfellow 
Stacy also donated 40 used books to the public library in honor of her summer read.

Both readers will receive a copy of the book of their choice.

Speaking of books, who's in for a winter reading club? Let's choose a book to read it during the chilly winter months. (Just one because I know you're busy, and you'll have a few months to fit it in!)

Do you have any particular titles in mind? Do tell!