Looking back at my 2016 reading list….

I like to take a moment or two at the beginning of each year and look back at the books I read during the past year and think about what I would recommend (and maybe what I wouldn’t). I felt like 2016 was a little bit better year than 2015 had been, but I am not concretely sure of that. But the MamaT awards for 2016 are:

1. Book I would recommend to my book club:

The One in a Million Boy by Monica Wood. I was completely sucked into this story about a 104 year old woman, an odd little boy who becomes her friend, and his mother and father. It’s death, it’s life. Joy and sorrow. This book would be such a hit with my book club girlies.

2. Book I recommended to Micki, who loves horror and suspense:

The Bird Box by Josh Malerman. This book grabbed me by the front of my shirt and forced me to read it as fast as I could. Stayed up late one night, finished at lunch the next day. This book has energy to spare. It’s not perfect, but Lordy it’s creepy and frightening and claustrophobic and creepy (again!). If you don’t like dystopian/end of the world stuff, this is not for you. But it really was one of the surprises of the year.

3. Best author I had never read any of before and am now ready to read everything:

Michael Perry. This year I read his Population 485, Truck, Visiting Tom, and From the Top. Yes, I’d say I like his style.

4. Best non-fiction not written by Michael Perry:

Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee. Frost and Steketee have done major work on hoarders and hoarding. Interesting look at how we invest our feelings in our things and how that can make it difficult to deal with them. Really, really good. And no, I’m not a hoarder. It’s just interesting. I read it while I was doing my Lenten purge/organization project.

Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books by Nick Hornby. A collection of the essays he wrote over a ten year period for The Believer magazine, all about books, both purchased and read, and a million other things. Completely enjoyable and sometimes laugh out loud funny.

5. Best books that I normally wouldn’t read:

Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry (yes, that Dave Barry) and Ridley Pearson. A clever origin story for the Disney type Peter Pan. A kid’s book, I was reading to see if it would be a good thing to add to the kids’ bookshelves. I thoroughly enjoyed it – taking into consideration its target audience. Held my attention. Special shout out to the illustrator, Greg Call, who did a fantastic series of black and white drawings for the book.

Unwind by Neal Shusterman. My granddaughter (who is 14) and I share a love for dystopian future type novels. I read this because she recommended it and one of my challenges this year was to read a book someone else had recommended. This is another one of those novels with great narrative drive – a trait I find lacking in many modern novels. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good character study. But sometimes you want a book where things start happening and just keep on happening. This is one of those books. Oddly pro-life, to my way of thinking. Doesn’t tie up completely at the end of the book – but I assume that the author knew he was writing a series, so it wasn’t necessary. I liked this a LOT better than I anticipated.

6. Other recommendations for book club:

I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh – my favorite kind of narrator – unreliable.

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell – both frustrating and memorable. About half way through I was ready to throw the book against the wall, but the characters made me keep on reading. Those poor, damaged, vulnerable, grieving, sad people. It would make for some good discussions, I think.

7. Most disappointing book of the year:

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald. I wanted to like this so much. It’s a book about books, for heaven’s sake! But it was simply too predictable and pat. I love a happy ending, but you could see this one coming from page 1.

Here’s hoping for good reading in 2017!

 

 

 

 

The Immediate Book Meme

Mrs Darwin over at Darwin Catholic is doing her Immediate Book Meme again, and I want to do it, too. So here are my answers:

1. What book are you reading right now?

I am reading Liane Moriarty’s The Last Anniversary. Not quite halfway through. I think this was one of her first novels, maybe the second? It skips around in time and viewpoint – which is a favorite style of mine. I am ready for something to happen, though. We’ve been skipping around and around and around and I don’t see where this is going. I am reading the book because this author is a favorite of women’s book clubs, and I’m kind of looking for something to recommend for my club.

2. What book did you just finish?

Just finished Ellis Peter’s Brother Cadfael mystery The Sanctuary Sparrow. Got this book on my Kindle for $1.99 and it had been there for awhile. I like the Cadfael series – though I haven’t read as many as I have seen, via the marvelous BBC adaptations starring Derek Jacobi. I think that those are actually a wonderful evocation of the character from the book. The mystery this time revolved around the women, which was interesting. I almost figured the whole thing out – closer than I normally come to solving the mystery.

3. What do you plan to read next?

Not sure. I have several in my challenge list over on Goodreads. Trollope’s The Small House at Allington is one. Twain’s The Innocents Abroad is another. And then there is Solzhenitsyn’s Cancer Ward to think about.

4. What book do you keep meaning to finish?

George Eliot’s Middlemarch is staring at me from my bedside table. As it has been for the past 6 months. I’ve read some, but it keeps getting pushed to the end of the line. Make it stop staring at me!!!!

5. What book do you keep meaning to start?

Quo Vadis by Henryk Sienkiewicz. Everyone tells me it is a must read. Bought at the friends of the library sale for a song. There it still sits. Sigh.

6. What is your current reading trend?

Reading the books that are already on my shelves or in my Kindle. No point in having them if I’m not going to ever read them. And I’m serious about that. 2017 is the year of reading my shelves. I also want to read some history this year. I don’t know exactly how to approach that, but I’m trying to figure it out.

One thing about it. I’ll never run out of interesting stuff to read. And that makes me happy.

 

Whatcha Reading? Wednesday

stack-of-books

 

This week I finished up Throne of the World by Louis deWohl. Though I am a fan of his, this was not my favorite. Largely about Atilla the Hun, only tangentially about Pope Leo. I wanted more of the second. It did interest me enough to want to read more history.

Currently reading? The Paris Wife by Paula McLain. It’s a fictionalized account of the romance and marriage of Hadley Richardson and Ernest Hemingway and their years in 1920’s Paris. I got this out of the Little Free Library in our park, without knowing anything about it really. But I am interested in the setting, and while I am not a fan of Ernest Hemingway, he was (and is) a towering figure in American literature. About 20% in, it is certainly holding my attention .

In the on deck circle? Visiting Tom by Michael Perry. We have met the Tom of the title briefly in other Perry books, but this one revolves around him – an 80 year old farmer – and his way of life.

Thinking a lot about reading plans for next year. Does anyone else ever think about reading plans? Does anyone ever stick to them? In the past I have used Modern Mrs. Darcy’s annual reading plan, just for grins. Some years with success, other years with none. 2016 was one of the “no success” years. Her plan for next year just came out – but it doesn’t tickle my fancy.

What does tickle my fancy for next year is reading the books on my shelves that I have collected but not yet read. I just went and counted. Not including the ones I am sure are in the bedroom stacked up on the nightstand and on the floor by the chair, I have 105 books unread in this house. And those are the ones I kept after my big Lenten purge – meaning they are all books that I am truly interested in reading. So my goal for this year is to get between 20 and 30 of those books off my “to read” shelves and into my “read” shelves  or into the bag going to the Little Free Library or the public library friends sale. I also have a sneaking suspicion that a few more of these will migrate out of here unread – that I will find that I didn’t want to read them so much after all. It happens.

The other thing that I’m feeling called toward is reading history. I feel so woefully uneducated in that area and would like to know so much more. The problem is the vastness of the subject. How do you “read history” when there is so darn much of it? How do you know what’s good? There is a part of me, that organized, rational part, that wants a timeline, an overview, a general history, followed by deeper readings in smaller areas. But then that sounds like school and I can’t even face that.

The other part of me thinks I ought to jump in just anywhere and start – and then branch out and branch out and eventually things will start kind of coming together. I think this is a plan that could work, or at least be more enjoyable. So, we’ll see. I’m still mulling it over.

So, how about you?

 

Whatcha Reading? Wednesday

Finished 2 books since the last WRW:

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart, the book I picked up at the Little Free Library. I actually enjoyed the book pretty much, though I’m not a general reader of YA. I enjoyed the look inside what it must be like to be so well off that you summer at your house on the island. But about 1/3 of the way through I began wondering just what the point of all this was – are we going to spend 200 pages on rich people’s summer plans and family machinations over money? But I still didn’t really work out the twist. My only problem was that I think I would have been smarter about how to handle the pivotal action than these supposedly bright kids were. It was a good enough book.

Also finished An Unsuitable Job For a Woman by P.D. James. Again, another decent enough book, but not something I’ll keep on my shelves. I’ve come to the conclusion that I just don’t like P.D. James as much as other people do. I never seem to get very emotionally involved with her characters. But then I’ve never spent time with her long-term creation, Inspector Dalgliesh. Perhaps I would like those better?

Now on the nightstand, Throne of the World by Louis deWohl. I have a soft spot for deWohl novelizations of the saints’ lives and I have read many of them. I think this one must be one of his lesser known works. This one is about Attila the Hun and ends with his dramatic confrontation with Pope Leo at the gates of Rome. While I don’t think deWohl’s work constitutes “great literature” it usually is a good story that moves right along. And I think they are often engaging introductions to saints – that aren’t sappy or preachy. I hope that holds true of this one.

In the on deck circle, either The Paris Wife by Paula McLain, another of my Little Free Library pickups, or Longbourn by Jo Baker. The first is about Ernest Hemingway and his wife Hadley. The second is the story of the servants in the Pride and Prejudice household. Reviews are quite mixed on this one, but my sweet daughter in love loaned it to me, saying she liked it. We’ll see.

I’m still in the quest to empty some of my TBR piles of books. I’m tired of things sitting for years, staring at me. All these books have come from that pile. There’s a good bit of Dickens and Trollope on that pile, and a lot of Richard Russo. I’m kind of picking around the edges, saving what I think is best for last. Maybe. I’d love to get through most of my TBR stack that is physically in my house in 2017, but I’m not sure that’s possible. I don’t know why I feel such compulsion to read those things, but feel it I do. Best laid plans, etc. etc.

How about you?

Fine Art Friday – Quilters’ Edition

We are NOT going to quibble about whether quilting is a fine art or not. The things I have seen at the International Quilt Show in Houston were enough to convince me.

Here is the 2016 winner, a quilt titled Reflections of Cape Town by Cynthia England of Dickinson, TX. The first picture shows the quilt in full. The second picture is to convince you that yes, indeed, it is a quilt made of fabric. I cannot even fathom the amount of time and effort that this beauty took.

reflections1

And here is the detail shot:

reflections2

I stand in awe of this.

If you want to see some more fabulous award winning quilts, check out the IQA’s website, where all the winners are featured. And be sure to take a gander at the one that won the award for thread work. Unbelievable.

 

Advent and me

Look, I’m a lover of most of the seasons of the Church. Lent? I’m your girl. Eastertide? Hurrah! Christmas and Epiphany? Joyful! And the long, green tunnel of Ordinary Time? Love it.

But Advent? Oh, Advent. Not you.

That’s almost a shameful admission from me, I think. I have hesitated to put it out there, because it seems like such a failing on my part. But there it is. I don’t like Advent. Not even a little.

I know, I know, I know. Advent is Advent. Christmas is Christmas. Keep both. Yes. But what I know is that in MY house and MY life, this is incredibly difficult to do. In past years when I’ve been very strict about my observances, it seems like a crazy, mad rush all at the end and I never get to enjoy the PROCESS as well as the outcome. Yes, I’ll enjoy my decorated tree from the 24th right through to the Epiphany – and we’ll be the only house on the block with the lights still shining in the darkness. But a Christmas tree that is put up in a hurry on the 24th, while also trying to make supper and get kids dressed for church and by the way isn’t there something that needs doing for tomorrow’s celebratory lunch……is just NOT JOYOUS. And I want it to be joyous.

One year when I was being so strict, we completely ran out of time for putting up a tree at all. I was tired and stressed from getting the church ready and cranky about the lack of help that year (it goes in waves, you know), and I just couldn’t do it. Unlike some other lucky folks, I didn’t have an army of help. One husband, one little boy.  So we went without. And Christmas still arrived, and we still went to mass, and we were still glad that Jesus was born. But let me be clear: It wasn’t the Christmas it should have been. Could we have put up the tree on Christmas day? Sure. But by then there were too many tears spilled and too many headaches to even conceive of that.

So, I’ve lightened the reins on the whole Advent/Christmas either/or dilemma. This year, I’m planning out my preparation a little better, and trying not to be so crazy about it. The Christmas tree will go up on Gaudete Sunday – but we won’t light the lights. I’ll bake my Christmas cookies while listening to (gasp!) Christmas carols on the radio. And I’ll listen to my CDs of Christmas music starting the 26th when the rest of the world goes back to “normal.” I will joyfully drive around and show my grandkids the Christmas lights – because they will be gone after Christmas and why miss a chance to see something beautiful just because the world will not fit into my Advent mold? And I’m going to have fun at the Christmas-parties-during-Advent that I’m invited to, without even one thought about how it’s not the “right” time.

I’m not talking about chucking Advent into the dustbin. I’m using my Advent Magnificat daily. As I prepare, I try to remember WHY I’m preparing. To offer up prayers of anticipation and thanksgiving.  But when there is joy to be had, I’m taking it.

We wait for the greatest Joy that mankind has ever known. We wait for the Baby, yet again. We wait for the gift that is beyond our comprehension. And I intend to wait in joy-without guilt. That’s what I’m giving up.

So, hello Advent. Let’s do this.

 

Whatcha Reading? Wednesday

Let’s see.

Just finished Michael Perry’s From the Top: Brief Transmissions from Tent Show Radio. A series of very short essays – like 2 pages or less per essay – this book is best read in small snippets throughout the weeks. Not in one big gulp. I enjoyed it thoroughly – 4 stars on Goodreads. Not as thoroughly, perhaps as Population 485, which I recommend wholeheartedly, or Truck, which I adored. Still, if you find you like Michael Perry, this is definitely worth the read.

Since last WRW entry, I finished Peter and the Starcatchers by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson. It’s an imaginative origin story for Peter Pan, aimed mostly at middle grade kids. Maybe particularly boys. I read this with an eye to adding it to the family kid book shelves, and I think it makes the cut. Narrative drive that will not quit. Ships, pirates, magic dust, and the most delightful idea about Tinkerbell I have come across. This is more a prequel to the Peter Pan envisioned in the Disney movie, so if you are a book purist you might not care for this. But I enjoyed it and I’m not even the target audience.

I also finished John Grisham’s Skipping Christmas, a quick little book that my book group selected for December. This was a 2 star book for me. Cute enough, but infuriating to me in a way. The Kranks (nothing like foreshadowing in bold, there Mr. Grisham. You are not Charles Dickens. Leave it alone.) decide to give Christmas a pass when their only child moves to Peru to work with the Peace Corps. Now, to me? That would be understandable. They decide to use the money to go on a cruise instead. But their neighbors cannot believe they will not participate in all things Christmas and give them such grief over it. Come on, surely your friends would understand better. Wouldn’t they? Things only get better when a monkey wrench is thrown into the cruise plans. Read it if you want, but it’s going in my give away pile.

On the nightstand, two books alternating. I seem to be incapable of reading only one at a time.

Nation by Terry Pratchett. Recommended via Goodreads in a review posted there by a friend, I decided to try it. About 1/3 way in so far. Good. Will say more when I finish. I have wanted to read something by Pratchett and this stand alone novel seemed a good place to start. The whole Discworld thing is tempting, but there is just SO DARN MUCH of it. And where to start? I know there are lists out there, but gosh, what a lot of books.

Second on the nightstand is We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. I picked this one up from the Little Free Library in the park. Didn’t know anything about it. When I looked it up on Goodreads I found out it was YA, which is not a genre I usually read. (Wait! Is Nation classified as YA, too? I don’t know.) But one of my friends had given it 5 stars and another, who is a fairly tough critic, 3 stars so I figured it was worth the attempt. About 1/2 way through. Very fast read. Some reviewers are irritated by the style of writing (short, choppy sentences and use of nouns as adjectives) but that doesn’t bother me. It’s just different. Should be finished with this one by next week. I’ll let you know.

In the on deck circle?

Probably P.D. James’ An Unsuitable Job for a Woman. I am trying to read mostly off my shelves until Epiphany (I’m doing a challenge in one of my groups over at Goodreads that is aimed at clearing out some of my TBR pile o’ books.)  This is one of those books that has been hanging around for years.

How ’bout you?