July 31, 2016

A Month in Summary - July 2016

Yes, it's definitely summer, as my reading (or lack thereof!) will show. One would think the lazy days of the season should provide countless hours of reading on the porch, but my summer days tend to be full of extra chores (weeding and watering!), house guests (our annual visit with our granddaughter) and a trip to the Pacific Northwest thrown in for good measure. Other than the flights to and fro, I can't seem to make time to read while on vacation. There are always too many distractions, whether those are conversations with family and friends or the beautiful surroundings we happen to be so fortunate to enjoy. While at home, we spend more time on the porch, but it's our time to sit and relax after a long day at work, enjoying a glass of wine or chilled beer. Reading is usually the last thing I do before falling asleep, so it's no surprise I only finished two books this month. Last month wasn't much better, but at least this month's numbers are due to a busy schedule rather than a reading slump.

Before the Fall  by Noah Hawley (Borrowed - Audio) 3/5

The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens (Borrowed - Audio) 4/5

Keeping the Feast: One Couple's Story of Love, Food, and Healing in Italy by Paula Butturini (Own) 2/5


Triple Dog Dare Challenge - I stuck to my goal to read from my stacks, since the borrowed books were an audio. I think it's time to go through my shelves once again and reassess what I want to hold on to for future reading.

3 books
2 novels

1 memoir 
2 mystery
3 new-to-me-authors 
1 print
2 audio
1 female
2 male
2 borrowed
1 from my stacks 

Favorite of the Month: The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens

Reviews to follow  

Anya's Ghost

Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol
Graphic Novel
2011 First Second Books
Finished on February 24, 2016
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

Anya could really use a friend. But her new BFF isn't kidding about the "forever" part . . .

Of all the things Anya expected to find at the bottom of an old well, a new friend was not one of them. Especially not a new friend who's been dead for a century.

Falling down a well is bad enough, but Anya's normal life might actually be worse. She's embarrassed by her family, self-conscious about her body, and she's pretty much given up on fitting in at school. A new friend―even a ghost―is just what she needs.

Or so she thinks.

Spooky, sardonic, and secretly sincere, Anya's Ghost is a wonderfully entertaining debut graphic novel from author/artist Vera Brosgol.

Meh. I didn't care for the art in this one as much as Jillian Tamaki's in This One Summer. The plot was alright, but again, a little juvenile. Really wondering if graphic novels are my thing.

Final Thoughts: 

While I didn't fall in love with Verga Brosgol's book, it appears that it's a winner with many other readers! It's also a very quick read, so maybe give it a try, if you're curious.

  • Bram Stoker Award Nominee for Best Graphic Novel (2011)
  • School Library Journal Best Book of the Year (2011)
  • Harvey Awards for Best Original Graphic Publication For Younger Readers (2012)
  • Boston Globe-Horn Book Award (2011)
  • Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards for Best Publication for Young Adults (ages 12-17) (2012)
  • Cybils Award for Graphic Novels (Young Adult) (2011)
  • Kirkus Best Teen Book of the Year (2011)

July 28, 2016

Looking Back - The Blacker the Berry

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 Blacker the Berry by Wallace Thurman
1996 Scribner (First published in 1929)
Finished on July 30, 1996
Rating: 2/5 (OK)

Publisher's Blurb:

One of the most widely read and controversial works of the Harlem Renaissance, The Blacker the Berry...was the first novel to openly explore prejudice within the Black community. This pioneering novel found a way beyond the bondage of Blackness in American life to a new meaning in truth and beauty.

Emma Lou Brown's dark complexion is a source of sorrow and humiliation -- not only to herself, but to her lighter-skinned family and friends and to the white community of Boise, Idaho, her home-town. As a young woman, Emma travels to New York's Harlem, hoping to find a safe haven in the Black Mecca of the 1920s. Wallace Thurman re-creates this legendary time and place in rich detail, describing Emma's visits to nightclubs and dance halls and house-rent parties, her sex life and her catastrophic love affairs, her dreams and her disillusions -- and the momentous decision she makes in order to survive.

A lost classic of Black American literature, The Blacker the Berry...is a compelling portrait of the destructive depth of racial bias in this country. A new introduction by Shirlee Taylor Haizlip, author of The Sweeter the Juice, highlights the timelessness of the issues of race and skin color in America.

My Original Notes (1996):

Not the greatest book. Somewhat dull. Didn't care for the main character at all. Wouldn't recommend.

My Current Thoughts:

I think I chose to read The Wedding (Dorothy West) and this book in an effort to learn a little bit about the Harlem Renaissance. Unfortunately, neither book appealed to me. I might have enjoyed them more had I read them in a literature class or for a book club, as I think they would both benefit from discussion with others.

July 26, 2016

Tuesday's First Chapter, First Paragraph

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 a portion from my husband's new book! I didn't want to read the book until it was in its final version, so it wasn't until last week that I eagerly started reading Rod's book. I quickly became engrossed and found myself staying up far too late, telling myself, "Just one more page!" I can't remember the last time I've read such an intelligent and interesting work of nonfiction. 

by Rod Scher

Publisher's Blurb:

Leveling the Playing Field explores the technologies that "trickle down" to the rest of us, innovations that were once the domain of the wealthy and powerful--and which therefore tended to make them even more wealthy and powerful. Now, though, these technologies--from books to computers to 3D printing and beyond--have become part of a common toolkit, one accessible to almost anyone, or at least to many more than had heretofore had access. This is what happens with most technologies: They begin in the hands of the few, and they end up in the hands of the many. Along the way, they sometimes transform the world.

Since we all love books, whether in print, audio or digital formats, while not the first chapter or first paragraph, I thought you'd enjoy this particular passage:

Digital Books
When I travel, I read a lot. On the plane, in the car, relaxing on a relative’s back porch or a hotel balcony, even when dragged along on a shopping trip to visit those quaint (read: expensive) little shops—almost everywhere I go, I have a book with me. It might be work-related, it might be for research, it might be something I’m reading for pleasure. In fact, when I pack my bags for a trip, I generally include well over one hundred books tucked in among my jeans, shirts, and toiletry kit.
But of course I don’t actually carry one hundred printed books; together, those could easily weigh well over seventy-five pounds, and take up my entire suitcase. Instead, I carry the digital versions of those books, e-books, which weigh essentially nothing. There are several excellent dedicated readers available (the Amazon Kindle and Barnes & Noble Nook readers stand out, of course), but I like to use a small general-purpose tablet, since I already have it with me for e-mail, music, web surfing, and note-taking. (Right now my go-to tablet is an iPad mini. It’s about the size of a paperback book, though much thinner, and weighs about three-quarters of a pound. I can easily store hundreds of books on it.)

Not only do I save weight, but I also save a good deal of money when I buy the digital version of a book. The large-format paperback edition of one book I recently read (Erik Larson’s enthralling Dead Wake; Larson is an incredible researcher and a gifted storyteller), costs $17 from Barnes & Noble. The e-book version of the same publication costs $11, or about 34 percent less than the printed book. (If you purchase one hundred e-books and save two or three dollars apiece on them, you will have just paid for your tablet or reader. Of course, if you borrow digital books from a library, your savings are even more impressive.)

I also appreciate the authorial advantages offered by digital text. I can search for a term, a name, or a phrase; I can highlight and make notes, and I can then list all of those highlights or notes together in one place. If I’m quoting a passage, I can copy and paste that passage into a manuscript, thus ensuring that accessing the quote is convenient and that the quote itself is accurate. Although it takes some getting used to, there are undeniable advantages to using digital books.

Now, having said all of that, I should point out that I do realize not everyone is comfortable with e-books. Many of us (including myself; I am an English teacher, after all) enjoy the experience of handling and reading from a printed book; we feel that although the informational content may be the same, the experience of reading an e-book does not quite measure up to that of reading the printed version. The fact of the matter is that we love books, and printed books are what we grew up loving.

And there is a great deal to be said for the love of books—physical, printed, bound, ink-on-paper books. The inexplicable but undeniable beauty of them, stacked in disordered piles, or arrayed neatly on a shelf, or scattered about the house on every horizontal surface. The heft of them. The musty, paper-y smell of old books and the sharp, fresh-ink-on-paper smell of new books. The subdued colors of the bindings and the flash of cover photos. The tactile and aural experience of flipping a page. The convenience of scribbling in a margin or using a brightly colored sticky note to mark a favorite spot. (And some of you, I daresay, dog-ear pages in books. It’s okay, you can admit it. I’ve done it. But when I do, I can hear the angry voice of my mother: “Books are important! You don’t treat them that way.” And Mom was right, of course.)

I know (and agree with) all of that, but it’s difficult to ignore the ecological and economic imperatives that are driving the adoption of e-book technologies. Information, after all, is a weightless, formless commodity. For centuries, the best way to share that information was to attach it to a great deal of weight (in the form of paper), and then pay to ship that weight all over the world.

That is no longer the best way (that is, the most efficient, least harmful way) to communicate, to share information; it’s no longer the best way to show people how to do things, or to explain the world to them. Nor is it the most efficient way to allow people to share in the breathtaking adventure that is Moby-Dick, or to enjoy the whimsy of Peter Pan or the biting wit of Shakespeare; it’s no longer the least-expensive, most-accessible way to get caught up in the excitement of the latest political thriller, the currently popular young adult fantasy, or the most recent medical mystery.
Printed books, as much as many of us love them, are becoming less necessary because we now have alternatives to them that are more affordable and less injurious to the environment. Will physical books go away? Someday, perhaps, though surely not for quite a while. Still, I can see (and not without some profound misgivings) a new Middle Ages for books: a future in which printed books are once again so rare and so expensive that they are the province only of the wealthy, displayed for their beauty (and, of course, to advertise their owners’ affluence), but chained in place because their loss would be financially catastrophic.

The University of Nebraska’s Stephen Buhler doesn’t quite agree, though. Dr. Buhler feels that the printed book is here to stay, in some form or another, even as digital books increasingly make sense when presenting and discussing certain types of material.

“I foresee ways of managing ‘print-on-demand’ that keeps costs low without economies of scale. I also foresee different kinds of books suited to different technologies. The e-book is ideal for . . . [multimedia] presentation. A lot still has to be resolved over issues of Fair Use and intellectual property, but I would love to see books of criticism devoted to, for example, film or music that provide samples from (or links to) all the works under discussion. As much as I love the traditional book and as firmly as I believe in its continuance (and some studies suggest its revival is already under way), there are some things that e-book technology can do so very much better.” (If Dr. Buhler is right about print-on-demand technologies, perhaps printed books might once again become what Simon Horobin earlier called “a bespoke trade,” only this time a much more affordable, more accessible one.)

If the printed book does become a rarity, it will be a sad time, and we will have lost something important—something magnificent, in fact. But we will not have lost—in truth, we will have greatly enhanced—the ability to transmit information, to communicate with readers; the power that derives from knowledge will be available to more people, rather than to fewer.
I am not the only fan of Rod's new book. Here are a few blurbs from early readers (including one from our dear friend, Bellezza!):

An extremely relevant book for our times, Leveling the Playing Field does an amazing job documenting how technology has changed our society. Written in a style reminiscent of the James Burke Connections series, Rod drives home why the encryption debate is so important for the preservation of our rights, and why some governments so desperately want to restrict access to encryption technology. (Jim O'Gorman, Security expert, author, Metasploit: The Penetration Tester's Guide)

Don’t let the cover fool you. Although this book’s plot line traces the history and democratization of technology, its heart is about human nature: how and why we create tools, how tools are used to dominate and suppress others, and how in the end our inventions become accessible to everyone – sometimes for the worse, but far more often for the better. Scher is a witty tour guide as he illuminates more about humankind and our inventions than you might expect. (Calvin Clinchard, editor of CyberTrend magazine)

I read Leveling The Playing Field in two days, thoroughly engaged by the topic and author's writing style. Rod Scher clearly shows how technology is a powerful tool for disseminating information that began as early as prehistoric days. The questions he raises about the possible consequences that technology brings to everyday life are truly alarming, making this an important and fascinating book with a theme that affects all of us. (Meredith Smith, Dolce Bellezza)

Rod's extensive research into the history of technology is both impressive and engrossing. I found myself being drawn into each chapter and having a hard time putting it down. Rod takes an approach that gives you the deep dive history into the tech he is talking about and applies that history to its impact today. Rod is equal parts entertaining and educational. (Christopher Hadnagy, author of Unmasking the Social Engineer: The Human Side of Security)

A fast-paced and enlightening adventure, Leveling the Playing Field journeys from from fire to Firebee drones to the infinite possibilities of 3D printing. While Gutenberg's "start-up company" in Germany and Agatha Christie's husband's excavations in Mesopotamia will engross you, the author's asides about a potbellied piglet, Betamax, and presidential canines will amuse you. (Jenifer Edens, teacher at University of Houston – Language and Culture Center)

Leveling the Playing Field is engaging, entertaining, and often sneakily profound, offering expansive historical overviews and taking seriously the pitfalls of technology – all while remaining appreciative of its past accomplishments and hopeful about our shared future. (Stephen M. Buhler, Professor and Past Project Convener for the W. K. Kellogg Foundation's Leadership for Institutional Change, University of Nebraska)

A fascinating, educational and insightful narrative look at the march of technology from cave fire and the invention of language to the Internet and 3-D printing—and the competition, politics, privacy issues and moral quandaries it has produced in its wake. Leveling the Playing Field is a swift journey through history from simple convenience and self defense to the relevant and sometimes frightening questions surrounding the technology we readily take for granted today. I thoroughly enjoyed Scher’s depth of research as well as his wit. (Tosca Lee, NYT bestselling author)

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

July 25, 2016

Mailbox Monday

Welcome to Mailbox Monday, a meme started by Marcia and now hosted on its own blog.

by Ann Patchett
On sale September 13, 2016

I've been trying to refrain from bringing more books home from work, but this one caught my eye and after reading the first two pages, I knew it was futile to resist the urge to tuck it away in my backpack. Goodness, will I miss working at B&N! Yes, I have great coworkers and I enjoy chatting up my favorite books with the regulars, but the ARCs are such a treat!

So, did you all know that Ann Patchett has a new book coming out in September? Anyone want to lay odds on how close to that release date I'll have it read? ;) Here's the blurb:

One Sunday afternoon in Southern California, Bert Cousins shows up at Franny Keating's christening party uninvited. Before evening falls, he has kissed Franny's mother, Beverly--thus setting in motion the dissolution of their marriages and the joining of two families.

Spanning five decades, Commonwealth explores how this chance encounter reverberates through the lives the four parents and six children involved. Spending summers together in Virginia, the Keating and Cousins children forge a lasting bond based on a shared disillusionment with their parents and the strange and genuine affection that grows between them.

When in her twenties Franny begins an affair with the legendary author Leon Posen and tells him about her family, the story of her siblings is no longer hers to control. Their childhood becomes the basis for his wildly successful book, ultimately forcing them to come to terms with their losses, guilty, and the deeply loyal connection they feel for one another. 

Told with equal measures of humor and heartbreak, Commonwealth is a mediation on inspiration, interpretation, and the ownership of stories. It is a brilliant and tender tale of the far-reaching ties of love and responsibility that bind us together. 

I liked Patchett's novel The Magician's Assistant, loved Bel Canto (a full review here, back in the day when I actually reviewed the books I read!), and have State of Wonder (yes, an ARC) lurking on a shelf somewhere. I think this may be a winner. What do you think?

What arrived in your mailbox this week?

Click on the title for more information.

Find more Mailbox Monday posts here.

July 21, 2016

Looking Back - The Wedding

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 Wedding by Dorothy West
1996 Anchor
Finished on July 13, 1996
Rating: 2/5 (OK)

Publisher's Blurb:

In her last novel, Dorothy West, an iconic member of the Harlem Renaissance, offers an intimate glimpse into African American middle class. Set on bucolic Martha's Vineyard in the 1950s, The Wedding tells the story of life in the Oval, a proud, insular community made up of the best and brightest of the East Coast's black bourgeoisie. Within this inner circle of "blue-vein society," we witness the prominent Coles family gather for the wedding of the loveliest daughter, Shelby, who could have chosen from "a whole area of eligible men of the right colors and the right professions." Instead, she has fallen in love with and is about to be married to Meade Wyler, a white jazz musician from New York. A shock wave breaks over the Oval as its longtime members grapple with the changing face of its community.

With elegant, luminous prose, Dorothy West crowns her literary career by illustrating one family's struggle to break the shackles of race and class.

My Original Notes (1996):

Confusing! Hard to follow the characters. I really was ready to quit reading it after about 100 pages, but kept at it. It got a little better - enough to hold my attention - but certainly not great.

My Current Thoughts:

I have absolutely no recollection of this book and I'm not sure why I chose to read it. It wasn't a book group choice, so maybe I just stumbled upon it in a bookstore and thought it sounded interesting.

July 20, 2016

Wordless Wednesday

Now available for purchase!

For more Wordless Wednesday, click here.

July 10, 2016

The Season of Second Chances

The Season of Second Chances by Diane Meier
2010 Henry Holt and Company
Finished on February 22, 2016
Rating: 3.5/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Every once in a while, when we least expect it, change comes into our lives and, if we let it, can set us free.

Sometimes, everything seems perfect on the surface. But her tenure at an Ivy League university, the publishing of her books, and an apartment with a view of the Hudson--if she hung out the window--never met the promise Joy Harkness had anticipated a life in New York might bring. When change knocked at her door, Joy jumped a the chance. Still, what was she thinking when she said yes to a teaching opportunity that required leaving New York City and moving to western Massachusetts? And really, what was she thinking when she bought a run-down Victorian house she could have fit five of her old apartment into? It's like some other Joy Harkness temporarily took over her life. This life, complete with women who want to be her friends, men who want to date her, children and animals who seem to need her, and a talented, emotionally stunted handyman who wants to turn her white elephant into a real home, this life doesn't seem to fit Joy at all. Or is it that Joy's been searching for this without knowing it--until it found her?

This book. I loved the descriptions of Joy's home and the details of the decor, as well as the meals prepared (and yet, I have no passages marked to share), but I wanted to take her by the arms and shake some sense into her. I couldn't understand her attraction to Teddy, a mama's boy with an over-domineering mother, nor her need to try to mold him into something he wasn't. At times, the scenes and the actions of the characters were so implausible, they came across like a parody of a sappy southern novel. And yet, I couldn't stop reading, hoping for a happily-ever-after.

Final Thoughts:

Yes, the cover caught my eye, but had I first read the publisher's blurb, I doubt I would've have bothered reading the book. And with a four month lapse between finishing the book and writing this review, I had no recollection of the plot until I read the publisher's blurb. Recommend? Maybe for a weekend at the beach. Forgettable.

July 6, 2016

This One Summer

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (illustrator)
Graphic Novel
2014 First Second
Finished on February 18, 2016
Rating: 3/5 (Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

Rose and Windy are summer friends whose families have visited Awago Beach for as long as they can remember. But this year is different, and they soon find themselves tangled in teen love and family crisis. From the creators of Skim comes an investigation into the mysterious world of adults.

Sure, Rose’s dad is still making cheesy and embarrassing jokes, but her mother is acting like she doesn’t even want to be there. Plus, being at the cottage isn’t just about going to the beach anymore. Now Rose and Windy are spend a lot of their time renting scary movies and spying on the teenagers who work at the corner store, as well as learning stuff about sex no one mentioned in health class.

Pretty soon everything is messed up. Rose’s father leaves the cottage and returns to the city, and her mother becomes more and more withdrawn. While her family is falling to pieces, Rose focuses her attention on Dunc, a teenager working at the local corner store. When Jenny, Dunc’s girlfriend, claims to be pregnant, the girls realize that the teenagers are keeping just as many secrets as the adults in their lives.

Dipping my toes into another graphic novel, I am happy to say that I enjoyed this one better than The Sculptor (which I read shortly before This One Summer). This is a quiet novel with not much of a plot, but the drawings are lovely and I could easily go back and re-read the book, spending time just looking at the intricate details of Jillian's exquisite artwork, all the while skipping the text. I was a little put-off by the constant barrage of profanity, which felt a bit gratuitous, but given our culture and the casual usage of F-bombs in restaurants, stores and parks, I guess I shouldn't be all that surprised.

Final Thoughts:

This One Summer was awarded the Caldecott Honor in 2015. The book contains a fair amount of profanity and sexual content and has thus received some criticism with regard to its target audience. If it were a movie, I'd say it should be rated PG-13. Recommend with reservations.

July 4, 2016

The House at Sea's End

The House at Sea's End by Elly Griffiths
Ruth Galloway series #3
2011 Audible Studios
Read by Jane McDowell
Finished on February 15, 2016
Rating: 4/5 (Very Good)

Publisher's Blurb:

A team of archaeologists, investigating coastal erosion on the north Norfolk coast, unearth six bodies buried at the foot of a cliff. How long have they been there? What could have happened to them? Forensics expert Ruth Galloway and DCI Nelson are drawn together again to unravel the past. Tests reveal that the bodies have lain, preserved in the sand, for sixty years. The mystery of their deaths stretches back to the Second World War, a time when Great Britain was threatened by invasion. But someone wants the truth of the past to stay buried, and will go to any lengths to keep it that way... even murder.

I'm really enjoying this series! The mystery is always fun to try to solve (although I never came close this time!), but the characters are why I keep coming back. Ruth and Nelson's relationship is complicated and I'm interested to see what new developments unfold in the next book. Jane McDowell is an excellent reader, so I'll continue with the audio books.

Final Thoughts:

Highly entertaining series! The ending of this particular installment has quite a cliff-hanger and I can't wait to listen to #4 (A Room Full of Bones). Recommend!

July 2, 2016

A Month in Summary - June

After five great months of reading, I hit a huge slump in June. I picked up and discarded dozens of books, nothing grabbing my attention or calling out to me.  Other than audiobooks, I only finished ONE book!

Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling (Borrowed - Audio) 3/5

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling (Borrowed - Audio) 3/5

Mountain Time by Ivan Doig - (Own) 3/5


Triple Dog Dare Challenge - Well, I guess I stuck to my plan, since the two borrowed books were audios. Still didn't make much progress on my shelves unless you count the three bags of ARCs that I gave to a friend.

3 books
3 novels

2 childrens
1 new-to-me-authors 
1 print
2 audio
2 female
1 male
2 borrowed
1 from my stacks 

Favorite of the Month: Mountain Time by Ivan Doig

Reviews to follow