February 12, 2016

Looking Back - The Hundred Secret Senses

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

The Hundred Secret Senses by Amy Tan
1995 Putnam
Finished on February 4, 1996
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Set in San Francisco and in a remote village of Southwestern China, Amy Tan's The Hundred Secret Senses is a tale of American assumptions shaken by Chinese ghosts and broadened with hope. In 1962, five-year-old Olivia meets the half-sister she never knew existed, eighteen-year-old Kwan from China, who sees ghosts with her "yin eyes." Decades later, Olivia describes her complicated relationship with her sister and her failing marriage, as Kwan reveals her story, sweeping the reader into the splendor and violence of mid-nineteenth century China. With her characteristic wisdom, grace, and humor, Tan conjures up a story of the inheritance of love, its secrets and senses, its illusions and truths.

My Original Notes:

Great book! Quick read. Very well done. Another selection for my small book group. Maybe we'll discuss it over Chinese food. {We did! Then we played Mah Jong. Lots of fun.}

My Current Thoughts:

Amy Tan was one of my favorite authors in the early 1990s. I loved The Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God's Wife, so when The Hundred Secret Senses was published, I immediately bought the hardcover. I no longer own my copy, so somewhere along the way I must have decided it wasn't one I would ever re-read again. I do still own those first two novels and think it would be nice to read them again. It's been long enough that I have only a vague recollection of their plots.

Are you a fan of Amy Tan's novels? Have you read her latest book, The Valley of Amazement? Should I add it to my TBR list?

February 10, 2016

Waiting on Wednesday - The City of Mirrors

City of Mirrors is the 3rd and final installment in the Passage Trilogy by Justin Cronin. The book is set to be released this May and I am more than excited! I've listened to the first two books (The Passage and The Twelve), both of which were read by Scott Brick. City of Mirrors weighs in at a whopping 624 pages, so I definitely plan to stick with the audio version. I gave The Passage a near-perfect rating of 4.75/5, but The Twelve dropped down to 3.5/5. Fingers crossed that the grand finale ends on a high note!


In The Passage and The Twelve, Justin Cronin brilliantly imagined the fall of civilization and humanity’s desperate fight to survive. Now all is quiet on the horizon—but does silence promise the nightmare’s end or the second coming of unspeakable darkness? At last, this bestselling epic races to its breathtaking finale.

The world we knew is gone. What world will rise in its place?

The Twelve have been destroyed and the hundred-year reign of darkness that descended upon the world has ended. The survivors are stepping outside their walls, determined to build society anew—and daring to dream of a hopeful future.

But far from them, in a dead metropolis, he waits: Zero. The First. Father of the Twelve. The anguish that shattered his human life haunts him, and the hatred spawned by his transformation burns bright. His fury will be quenched only when he destroys Amy—humanity’s only hope, the Girl from Nowhere who grew up to rise against him.

One last time light and dark will clash, and at last Amy and her friends will know their fate.

Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly event that highlights a book we can't wait to be published.  It is hosted by Jill at Breaking the Spine.

February 9, 2016

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
Nonfiction - Self-Improvement
2015 Tantor Medio (Audio)
Read by Emily Woo Zeller
Finished on August 7, 2015
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

This guide to decluttering your home from Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes readers step-by-step through her revolutionary KonMari Method for simplifying, organizing, and storing.

Despite constant efforts to declutter your home, do papers still accumulate like snowdrifts and clothes pile up like a tangled mess of noodles?

Japanese cleaning consultant Marie Kondo takes tidying to a whole new level, promising that if you properly simplify and organize your home once, you’ll never have to do it again. Most methods advocate a room-by-room or little-by-little approach, which doom you to pick away at your piles of stuff forever. The KonMari Method, with its revolutionary category-by-category system, leads to lasting results. In fact, none of Kondo’s clients have lapsed (and she still has a three-month waiting list).

With detailed guidance for determining which items in your house “spark joy” (and which don’t), this book featuring Tokyo’s newest lifestyle phenomenon will help you clear your clutter and enjoy the unique magic of a tidy home—and the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire.

I've been an organizer since I was a very young child. Not only was my bedroom neat and tidy, but so were my brothers' rooms. Over the years, however, I've gotten less obsessive about my housework and I'm no longer as organized as I'd like. Hidden gifts and Christmas gift wrap and cards that I purchased at the end of the previous year are apt to be forgotten or overlooked for several years. My paper clutter is out of control. I can't even talk about how far behind I am with my photo albums.

Marie Kondo's slim book appealed to my inner neat-nick and after perusing it at work on more than one occasion, I decided to download the audio and see what tips I could glean from this bestseller. While she is a little out there (who thanks inanimate objects for a job well-done?!), I have to admit the book is very inspiring. I've already gone through all my clothes and recently tackled my books. As you can imagine, this was quite daunting. How in the world do I part with unread books? How do I decide which favorites to keep or toss? Going through them one-by-one (this means removing every single book from each shelf), touching every single book, makes a huge difference. I lost track of how many books I took to HalfPrice Books, but it was in the hundreds. I made a whopping $178 and still had four large grocery bags of ARCs (which can't be sold) to pass on to a friend. Now all I have on my shelves are my absolute favorites and the books I really want to read. Purging one's belongings is quite addictive and I'm actually tempted to give the closets and bookshelves another overhaul!

Final Thoughts:

"Does it spark joy?" has become my new mantra. While it may sound silly to think in these terms, it actually does work, at least with regard to reducing the junk around our house. I may not fold my clothes the way Kondo recommends, but my drawers and closets are no longer crammed full of things I no longer enjoy wearing. My bookshelves have space for photographs and cherished items, as well as all the books I still want to read. Now to tackle the basement before the neighborhood garage sale in early May. I don't own a copy of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but eventually it might be worth a second listen, as I'm sure I'll need a refresher in a few years.

How about you? Have you jumped on the KonMari bandwagon? Have you read her new book, Spark Joy?

February 8, 2016

Mailbox Monday

I'm trying not to bring anymore ARCs home from work. No, really. But this one caught my eye and I do so love a good thriller. I think I read about this on another blog a week or two ago, but I can't remember where that was.

by Holly Seddon
On Sale 2.16.16

For fans of Gillian Flynn, Laura Lippman, and Paula Hawkins comes Holly Seddon's arresting fiction debut--an engrossing thriller full of page-turning twists and turns, richly imagined characters, and gripping psychological suspense.

Some secrets never die. They're just locked away.

Alex Dale is lost. Destructive habits have cost her a marriage and a journalism career. All she has left is her routine: a morning run until her body aches, then a few hours of forgettable work before the past grabs hold and drags her down. Every day is treading water, every night is drowning. Until Alex discovers Amy Stevenson. Amy Stevenson, who was just another girl from a nearby town until the day she was found after a merciless assault. Amy Stevenson, who has been in a coma for fifteen years, forgotten to the world. Who, unbeknownst to her doctors, remains locked inside her body, conscious but paralyzed, reliving the past.

Soon Alex's routine includes visiting hours at the hospital, then interviews with the original suspects in the attack. But what starts as a reporter's story becomes a personal obsession. How do you solve a crime when the only witness lived, but cannot tell the tale? Unable to tear herself away from uncovering the unspeakable truth, Alex realizes she's not just chasing a story--she's seeking salvation.

Shifting from present to past and back again, Try Not to Breathe unfolds layer by layer until its heart-stopping conclusion. The result is an utterly immersive, unforgettable debut.

What do you think? Does this sound good to you? I may have to read this one sooner than later!

Click on the title for more information.
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February 6, 2016

Our Souls at Night

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf
2015 Knopf ebook
Finished on August 1, 2015
Rating: 4.5/5 (Very Good!)

Publisher's Blurb:

A spare yet eloquent, bittersweet yet inspiring story of a man and a woman who, in advanced age, come together to wrestle with the events of their lives and their hopes for the imminent future.

In the familiar setting of Holt, Colorado, home to all of Kent Haruf’s inimitable fiction, Addie Moore pays an unexpected visit to a neighbor, Louis Waters. Her husband died years ago, as did his wife, and in such a small town they naturally have known of each other for decades; in fact, Addie was quite fond of Louis’s wife. His daughter lives hours away in Colorado Springs, her son even farther away in Grand Junction, and Addie and Louis have long been living alone in houses now empty of family, the nights so terribly lonely, especially with no one to talk with.

Their brave adventures—their pleasures and their difficulties—are hugely involving and truly resonant, making Our Souls at Night the perfect final installment to this beloved writer’s enduring contribution to American literature.

Another winner by the late Kent Haruf. I started this novel back in June, but set it aside to read a month later on my flight to Oregon. I wound up reading it on the flight home and the time passed very quickly. I love Haruf's spare prose and familiar settings and quickly came to care about the characters in this gem of a book. My only complaint is that it was too short. I wanted more and was surprised when I reached the last page. (I never pay attention to my place in a book while reading an ebook!) 

Final Thoughts:

This one's a keeper and worthy of several re-reads. R.I.P. Kent Haruf. You left us at the top of your game.

February 5, 2016

Looking Back - My Dear Cassandra

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

My Dear Cassandra: Selections from the Letters of Jane Austen (Penelope Hughs-Hallett, editor)
Nonfiction - Epistolary
1990 Collins & Brown
Finished in January 1996
Rating: 3/5 (So-so)

Publisher's Blurb:

It has been said that Jane Austen the woman and Jane Austen the author are all of a piece, and nowhere is this more evident to the lovers of her novels than in the pages of her letters. This new celebration of these letters is illustrated with portraits, facsimile letters, topographical engravings and fashion plates, and aims to bring to life the world Jane Austen inhabited. Although the book follows a broadly chronological scheme, the letters are arranged round visual themes considered particularly suitable for illustration, such as the Hampshire countryside, social life in Bath and London, domestic pursuits, paying visits and traveling by carriage. The author, who was born in Jane Austen's Hampshire village, lectures on English Literature for the Open University and the Oxford University Department of External Studies. Her special interest is 19th-century children's literature and she has compiled an anthology, "Childhood".

My Original Notes:

A wonderful look into Jane Austen's life through letters to her sister, Cassandra. Full of biographical information, as well as the original letters. Reading the letters was actually tedious and more secondary than the biography and side notes.

I read this prior to my book club meeting for Sense & Sensibility, so I'd have additional information on Jane's life to contribute to the discussion.

My Current Thoughts: 

A "wonderful look" might be a bit of a stretch. I love epistolary works, but as I vaguely recall, this was a chore. I no longer own the book, so I can't flip through it to see if the annotations were really any more interesting than the letters. No rating at the time, so I give it an average 3/5.

February 3, 2016

Wordless Wednesday {more or less}

Today we had a snow day, so Annie and I pretty much spent the day inside. I read and watched the snow fall. Annie did what she usually does: sleep. I finally decided we both needed to get outside and check things out in the 'hood.

6 a.m.
Best dad ever!

This is where I planned to spend most of the day. 

Yep. Still here.

Looks pretty much like every snowstorm
 photo shot from our front door.

Neighbors' kid. {??}

Just hangin' out.

Making snow angels.

Leading the way.

Ready for bed!
{at 6 pm}

February 2, 2016

Tuesday's First Chapter, First Paragraph - The Space Between Us

Each Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile By the Sea shares the first part of a book that she is reading or thinking about reading. This week I'm sharing the  paragraphs that make up the prologue to The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar.  The Space Between Us was published in 2006 and I've owned the ARC of the book since 2005. I've heard nothing but great things about this novel, so it's high time I give it a try. I started reading the book last Thursday and I'm looking forward to spending the day, curled up on my couch, reading while the snow falls. Yes, we got a snow day, thanks to the blizzard conditions outside!! I can't remember the last time I got to stay home and do nothing but read! :)

The thin woman in the green sari stood on the slippery rocks and gazed at the dark waters around her. The warm wind loosened strands of her scanty hair, pulling them out of her bun. Behind her, the sounds of the city were muted, shushed into silence by the steady lapping of the water around her bare feet. Other than the crabs that she heard and felt scuttling around the rocks, she was all alone here--alone with the murmuring sea and the distant moon, stretched thin as a smile in the nighttime sky. Even her hands were empty, now that she had unclenched them and released her helium-filled cargo, watching until the last of the balloons had been swallowed up in the Bombay night. Her hands were empty now, as empty as her heart, which itself was a coconut shell with its meat scooped out.

Balancing gingerly on the rocks, feeling the rising water tonguing her feet, the woman raised her face to the inky sky for an answer. Behind her was the lost city of a life that at this very moment, felt fictitious, and unreal. Ahead of her was the barely visible seam where the sea met the sky. She could scramble over these rocks, climb over the cement wall, and reenter the world; partake again in the mad, throbbing, erratic pulse of the city. Or she could walk into the waiting sea, let it seduce her, overwhelm her with its intimate whisperings.

She looked to the sky again, searching for an answer. But the only thing she could hear was the habitual beating of her own dutiful heart...

I've read close to 100 pages and am thoroughly enjoying this book. At this point, I have no idea which character the prologue is referring to. 

Happy Tuesday, friends! Visit Bibliophile By the Sea for more introductions.

February 1, 2016

Mailbox Monday

Oh, it is so hard to resist the temptation of an ARC. It is even more difficult to turn down a comp copy of a beautiful hardcover edition of a book that I've had my eye on. My determination to read only from my existing stacks of books is going to be severely tested this coming month!

by Paul Kalanithi

I first learned about Paul Kalanithi's memoir when I stumbled upon an article by his wife, Lucy (My Marriage Didn't End When I Became a Widow) in The New York Times earlier this month. I was intrigued by their story, so when Kalanithi's book appeared on the shelves at work, I noticed it included a foreword by Abraham Verghese (author of Cutting for Stone), which piqued my interest even further. I hadn't planned to read the book right away, but now that I have my own copy (thanks to working in the book industry!), I may have to ignore my goal to read only from my stacks and spend an afternoon curled up on the couch with this new bestseller. Like Atul Gawande's Being Mortal, I predict this memoir will receive notable attention and become one of the most talked about books in 2016.

Be ready. Be seated. See what courage sounds like. See how brave it is to reveal yourself in this way. But above all, see what it is to still live, to profoundly influence the lives of others after you are gone, by your words. In a world of asynchronous communication, where we are so often buried in our screens, our gaze rooted to the rectangular objects buzzing in our hands, our attention consumed by ephemera, stop and experience this dialogue with my young departed colleague, now ageless and extant in memory. Listen to Paul. In the silences between his words, listen to what you have to say back. Therein lies his message. I got it. I hope you experience it, too. It is a gift. Let me not stand between you and Paul. (Abraham Verghese)

Click on the titles for more information.
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January 31, 2016

A Month in Summary - January 2016

Whoohoo! I finished eight books, six of which I already owned before the year began. Not bad for the first month of 2016!

Unremarried Widow by Artis Henderson (own - ARC) 4/5

The Secret Place by Tana French (borrowed - audio & print) 2/5

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (own - ARC) 4.5/5

Wildflower by Drew Barrymore (borrowed - audio) 4/5

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd (own - audio) 4.5/5

What Comes Next and How to Like It by Abigail Thomas (own - ARC) 4.5/5

Like Family by Paolo Giordono (own) 3.5/5

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg (own - ebook) 2.5/5


Triple Dog Dare Challenge - 6/8 books read from my own stacks (but 2 were audio books, so I believe I stuck to my goal)

8 books
4 novels
1 mysteries
3 memoirs
4 new-to-me-authors 
5 print
1 ebook
3 audio
6 female
2 male 
2 borrowed
6 from my stacks 

Favorite of the Month: The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Reviews to follow 

January 29, 2016

Looking Back - Sense & Sensibility

Looking Back... In an effort to transfer my book journal entries over to this blog, I'm going to attempt to post (in chronological order) an entry every Friday. I may or may not add extra commentary to what I jotted down in these journals.

Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
Fiction - Classic
Originally Published: 1811
1996 Barnes and Noble Books
Finished in January 1996
Rating:3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

The first of Jane Austen's published novels, Sense and Sensibility portrays the life and loves of two starkly different sisters: Elinor and Marianne Dashwood.

The elder Elinor is the epitome of prudence, discretion, and self-control, while Marianne embodies emotion, openness, and enthusiasm. This contrast results in their attraction to men of vastly different characters--and sparks family and societal dramas that are played out around their contrasting romances.

Secrets, betrayals, and confessions soon complicate the story, whose goal is nothing less than the achievement of perfect happiness. Beyond the polar differences between the two sisters' characters lies the universal dilemma of balancing what we owe to other human beings and our own needs.

In this classic novel, Austen--the most insightful and, at the same time, most entertaining of novelists--demonstrates her gift for irony, which gives her portrayal of ordinary life the heft of profound drama. As in every great work of literature, the philosophical resolution of this one is ambiguous: It is for the reader to decide whether sense and sensibility have truly merged--if life and love can really coexist.

My Original Notes:

Read this for my newly created "Book Group" (Linda Thomas, Nancy Wood and myself). Started off slow, but eventually caught my interest. Similar to Edith Wharton (privileged upper class). Lots of thought spent on acquiring a husband of wealth and importance. Somewhat trivial, yet apparently accurate for the time. Sparked interest to now read Pride and Prejudice.

We had a wonderful, two-hour long discussion about the book. We all enjoyed it and are excited to see the new movie tonight!

My Current Thoughts:

I'm sure this will cause gasps from some of you, but I have to admit that I'm not a big fan of Jane Austen's books. As I recall, I struggled with this novel, preferring Edith Wharton's works to Austen's. I have no recollection of this book and while I know I saw the film (starring Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant), I still couldn't tell you what it's about.

Should I re-read it, now that 20 years have passed (and I am, hopefully, a more mature reader than I was back then) or should I simply watch the movie(s) and call it good? 

I didn't rate the book back in 1996, but given that it wasn't that remarkable, today I will give it an average rating.

January 27, 2016

Wordless Wednesday {more or less}

A Trip of a Lifetime {Day Three - Wachau Valley}

Sunrise over the Danube

One of the many locks (66 to be exact) we sailed through. 
If this was in Altenword, it's 52.48 feet high.

Looking back before the lock gate closes.

Watching the lock fill.

Heading out.

MS A'Rosa Mia

A (state)room with a view.

Cruising through the Wachau Valley.

Durnstein Abbey and Trifels Castle.