Sunday Bulletin – December 28

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Now Christmas is over and the New Year is upon us and plans are swimming in my head for resolutions, goals and improvements for 2015. I never really keep my resolutions or meet all of my goals, but it’s still worthwhile to think about the changes I want to make. There’s power in just thinking about change, I think – maybe one day those thoughts will galvanize and turn into something substantial with real meaning for my life.

Speaking of goals, it was a goal when I got back from England to post a Sunday Bulletin every week through the end of the year and I did meet that goal. But now I am ready to start posting about individual books again so this will be the last Sunday Bulletin (unless something goes awry and I need to employ them again). I enjoyed writing them, but I’d like to focus more here on the books I am reading and return the blog to a literature based endeavor.

Books finished this week:

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr – Excellent, excellent book that I will post about this week sometime.

Are you thinking of goals for 2015 yet?

Have a wonderful Sunday!

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Sunday Bulletin – December 21

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When it comes to Christmas music I prefer a mixture of vintage classics and unique contemporary artists. This year when I finally got into the Christmas music mood I organized my CDs (yes I still listen to CDs!) and found these four on the top of my favorites. Doris Day is just the best. I love the mid-century arrangements of her songs, with the swoony strings and breathy vocals. Instant nostalgia. David Archuleta has such a pure, clean, beautiful voice and this CD, a collaboration with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, always makes me cry. You can feel the passion in his singing and it is very heartwarming. Mindy Gledhill is one of my favorite indie artists and her interpretation of holiday standards is just as quirky and loveable as her regular music. Christmas would not be Christmas without Bing Crosby, would it? His version of ‘White Christmas’ will never be surpassed and I adore listening to this CD early in the mornings on my way to work. It makes me happy all day.

You can see some of my other favorites here.

What are you listening to this year?

Books finished this week:

West of the Moon by Margi Preus – I read this great middle-grade book for the reading challenge at work. It is a fairy-tale influenced story of a girl named Astri who only wants to join her father in America. He’s left her behind in Norway until he can earn money to pay for her passage. Things don’t quite go according to plan – she has an evil aunt who sells her to a crass old man as his goat girl. When she decides to escape the adventure begins and it is riveting. I never thought I’d stay up late to read a juvenile fiction novel, but this one is very good and intelligent. The writing is thoughtful and the author doesn’t talk down to her intended audience. I’d recommend this for kids 10 years old and up.

Parallel Lives by Phyllis Rose – I absolutely loved Rose’s The Shelf, a great book about reading and libraries. This is a very different book. Parallel Lives chronicles the marriage woes of five Victorian couples: Effie Grey and John Ruskin, Thomas and Jane Carlyle, John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor, George Eliot and George Henry Lewes and Charles and Catherine Dickens. The preface to the book is brilliant and set the stage for a fantastic book. However, I didn’t much like the rest of the narrative. I think it is more to do with my own feelings than any flaw in the book – I felt like I was reading a load of gossip about a very private and intimate subject and it made me squeamish after a while. I struggled to finish, especially after reading about the Dickens marriage (what a jerk!), and I just didn’t enjoy observing these couples and their troubles. It does make me grateful, though, that I wasn’t born in the Victorian era.

Have a wonderful Sunday!

Sunday Bulletin – December 14

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I’m a bit late with this week’s bulletin as I’ve had a busy weekend and haven’t had much time to sit down at the computer. Yesterday I went in to work for a few hours to run our knit and crochet group then I went shopping and out to dinner with a friend. Today I spent at my parents’ house as we celebrated a couple of December birthdays. I now have a niece and a nephew who are 18 (cousins) – how in the world did that happen?

I haven’t been much in the Christmas spirit so far this year. I’m not taking my usual enjoyment from listening to holiday music, I haven’t decorated (except for a wreath on my front door) and I haven’t yet watched any of my favorite Christmas films. I’m not sure why this year is feeling so different to me, but I’m just not that excited about the holiday. Attempting to remedy this malaise I drove through a ritzy neighborhood on the way back from my parents’ house tonight to look at the extravagant Christmas lights shining from every house. It did make me feel a tinge of that old magic so maybe it is just all about keeping up with traditions. How do you get in the Christmas spirit and have you ever felt like a Scrooge?

Books finished this week:

We Were Liars by E Lockhart – I would say that this book was the most talked about, popular and most frequently checked out YA book of 2014. I meant to read it back when it came out , but wasn’t really in the mood to read YA much this year. This week I needed something quick and attention grabbing so I placed a hold on it and was delighted when it came in sooner than I expected. As the book begins we learn about a group of cousins and one friend who call themselves the ‘Liars’. Every year they meet on Beechwood, a private island where the extended Sinclair family spend every summer. During their fifteenth year on the island something happens that destroys their friendship forever. Told from the viewpoint of Cadence, one of the cousins, we are left in suspense as Cadence tries to piece together the details of that fateful summer from a memory that is damaged by a head injury. I figured out what had happened pretty early on in the novel so for me the enjoyment was observing how the author structured the book to prolong the suspense and mystery. I wasn’t as enamored of the outcome as some have been, but I thought it was a decent YA novel and I can definitely see why it was so talked about.

Have a fantastic week!

Sunday Bulletin – December 7

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Last week was very mellow and uneventful. December is the slowest time of the year in the library business. We’ll have a flurry of activity as local high school students come in to study for finals, but other than that the library is quite calm. It is nice to have work so quiet when the rest of the world is not. All of the hustle and bustle of the holidays is here in full force. There’s lots more traffic on the roads, the shops are bursting and I have to stand in long lines just to buy cat food and toothpaste. Ah, Christmas.

Books finished this week:

Euphoria by Lily King – After seeing this book on multiple ‘Best Books of 2014’ lists I decided to give it a try. I brought it home from work last Sunday and almost immediately started reading it. I didn’t stop until I went to bed several hours later. It is one of those stories that you fall into very easily because the writing is so vivid and intense. It is set in the thirties in New Guinea and centers on the love triangle between three anthropologists. Two of them, Nell and Fen, are married. When their rival anthropologist, Bankson, helps them out of a rough spot a tense and invigorating relationship forms among the three of them that can only end badly. King used an incident in the life of Margaret Meade as her inspiration for this tale and the anthropological aspects of the novel are fascinating. Unfortunately, about 3/4 of the way through the book I started to lose interest as the characters melted into caricature and melodrama set in. The ending was incredibly disappointing, as well, and I can only say that this book was just mediocre, though I wanted to like it so much more.

I hope to have more luck with my reading this week as I am joining in the Willa Cather Reading Week and you usually can’t go wrong with her. Is anyone else planning to read Cather this week?

Have a lovely Sunday!

Sunday Bulletin – November 30

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I had a great Thanksgiving with my family on Thursday. I hadn’t seen a few of my siblings (I have 5) for a couple of months so it was good to catch up with them and to spend time with my nieces and nephews. My mom asked me to bring a dessert so I made a pumpkin pie crumble (pictured above) that I saw on Miranda’s Notebook. I am not a fan of traditional pumpkin pie so this seemed a perfect alternative. It was a big hit with my family and I look forward to making it again soon.

A few weeks ago I chose to go on a social media fast. I’ve given up Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and Instagram until the new year when I’ll reevaluate if and how I want to continue with these sites. The reasons I’ve chosen to avoid them for a while are complex, but it is mostly because they are a huge time suck and I was unhappy with the level of narcissism and attention seeking (mostly on Facebook and none of you, of course) that people just can’t help but exhibit on such a public forum. I do still have to go on Facebook occasionally as I help out with my library’s FB page and I have also logged on to Twitter and Instagram out of habit. But for the most part I’ve avoided them and I am somewhat surprised at how little I miss social media. I thought it would be supremely hard to stay away, but it has honestly been nice to keep to myself except for LibraryThing and blogging, which I seem to enjoy more now that I am off of social media. Funny.  How do you feel about social networking?

Books finished this week:

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel – After my fourth try with this sequel to Wolf Hall, I almost thought that this book was just not meant to be for me. With a weary heart I considered giving my copy away to the library book sale, but reluctantly decided to give it another go before escorting it out of my house. And the fifth time was the charm. I finally got past the somewhat slow start and really fell into the story of Henry VIII’s desire to rid himself of La Ana and Thomas Cromwell’s efforts to make that happen. Once again, Mantel works her magic and makes this familiar story feel real and immediate, though we all know how it ends. I don’t think it was quite as cohesive as Wolf Hall – it stuttered several times and almost crumbled into implausibility at a few points, but the overall effect was stunning and left me wanting more of Thomas Cromwell. I shall look forward to the third and final installment in the series, which I’ve heard will be published in 2016.

I did break my Twitter fast yesterday to tweet about being on Simon’s ‘My Life in Books‘ series because it was so darn exciting. I enjoyed having to think about the books that have influenced my reading tastes over the years – after sending off the email I realized I have a slight fondness for over-the-top drama and stubborn female characters!

I was saddened to hear of the death of P.D. James. She was one of the first mystery authors that I loved and I’ve read many of her Adam Dalgliesh novels. My favorite of her novels, however, are her two Cordelia Gray mysteries, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman and The Skull Beneath the Skin. I’ve read both of them a few times and they are just astonishingly good. I highly recommend them.

On my next trip to England I want to go here.

Have a great Sunday!

Sunday Bulletin – November 23

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Yesterday I went in to work for a few hours to set-up a program on container gardening. We have an entire sustainability series at my library which I normally don’t have much to do with, but our two staff members who run the series were both on vacation so I was asked to fill in. And I’m so glad I did. My new found love of plants and gardening was really enhanced by learning about creating a beautiful garden using containers. As I don’t have a yard this is perfect for me. The class was taught by Master Gardener Cherie Czaplicki and she was wonderful. We learned all about the challenges to gardening in Phoenix and how to overcome them. And I left the class with my own starter plant – an elephant’s foot succulent. I can’t wait to buy some pots, plants and soil and start gardening!

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This was probably the highlight of my week as I had some unpleasant things going on otherwise such as a heated argument in my book club that almost led to a member quitting, horrible allergies and an incredibly painful tailbone situation.

Books finished this week:

The Solitary Summer by Elizabeth Von Arnim – In this sequel to Elizabeth and Her German Garden, Elizabeth decides to spend a whole summer alone with her family and her garden – no visitors, no house parties. Her husband, The Man of Wrath, doesn’t think she can last a whole summer without people, but she manages to get along just fine even though she does have a few unwanted visitors who interrupt her peaceful idyll. I enjoyed this book, though it is quite thin on plot. Most of the book is Elizabeth’s musings on plants, books and reading, her children and philosophy. It is very amusing and very lovely – just the kind of book for a week when you are feeling low. Von Arnim always makes me laugh and makes me think – two things I highly esteem.

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Is anyone else on Librarything? I noticed that the Persephone group there is not very active. If anyone wants to join the group to discuss all things Persephone you can go here.

Have a great Sunday!

Sunday Bulletin – November 9

Old Filth

I was right about the correlation between watching less TV and finishing more books. In the evenings I now settle down with my book after dinner rather than flipping through the channels all night long and it has been wonderful. I love the quiet, the concentration and the joy of slipping into a story rather than reading snippets of chapters during commercials. I’m enjoying what I read and I’m also remembering more.

When I was younger I could watch TV, listen to music and read at the same time, remember everything and take it all in. Not so any longer. I have an older brain and it needs coddling and assistance in order to work decently. If I try to do multiple tasks now I feel like I’m on the brink of a mental breakdown and I berate myself for eating too much sugar and rotting my brain (I always blame my fogginess on sugar). Now I know I just need to do one thing at a time and I’ll be fine. But I can always stand to eat less sugar.

Books finished last week:

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro – I read this for my November book club meeting. I found the first person narrative rather trivial at first and hard to grasp, but the second half of the book moved more quickly. A group of students grow up at mysterious Hailsham school and are groomed for a special purpose (I won’t say what in case you want to read it yourself). There are definite moral and ethical issues here and heartbreaking choices, but in the end I was unsatisfied. I think it will be a good book to discuss, though.

Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth Von Arnim – When I first started reading this I thought it was going to be a nice, charming little story about a woman’s love for flowers and solitude and communing with nature. It is certainly about all of those things, but it has an undercurrent of acidity that is quite funny and sometimes alarmingly mean and a wise and insightful tone that made me stop to think about what the author was really saying under all this talk about roses. I read a few passages to a co-worker and she was instantly intrigued and wanted to know what this wonderful book was. When I told her she wasn’t necessarily turned off, but she didn’t want to borrow it from me either. Her loss, really, as this is so amazingly good with gorgeous writing about gardens (my new passion) and devastating opinions on marriage and the relations between the sexes. I’m so glad that I already have The Solitary Summer on my shelves and will be reading it soon.

Old Filth by Jane Gardam – This book is very hard to describe because it has a seemingly slight plot: elderly ex-judge mourns the loss of his wife Betty while remembering his early childhood in Malay, his brutal time spent as a foster child in Wales, his golden school years and the ocean voyage that nearly killed him in WWII. However, this very layered novel takes the reader on a journey that, to me, is always more interesting than a book full of plot twists – a novel that examines the growth of a character from childhood to dotage. Edward Feathers (also known as Filth for Failed in London, Try Hong Kong) is an old man living in retirement in the country. His wife has just died and his mind is slipping back into his past, into the events and choices that shaped his personality and his fate. He’s a rather reserved and cold man, but he does have a streak of romanticism that runs through his soul and colors his memories. I found this book to be very stirring as it says so much in a very simple and sometimes really amusing way about love, death, survival, friendship, loss and grief. It’s about an ordinary man who weathers the storm the best way he knows how. And I loved it.

So, two great books and one so-so book finished last week and two started: One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes and H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. Cutting down on my TV time is one of the best decisions I’ve made lately.

Have a wonderful Sunday!