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Recent Reading Roundup

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I’ve read a few books lately, but haven’t had time to do individual posts on each one so I’m just sharing my brief thoughts on them here:

The Good People by Hannah Kent – I read this for one of my library’s book clubs and though I found it riveting, it didn’t inspire a very good discussion. And I’m not sure why. It takes as its subject the conflict between folk superstition and Catholicism in a rural village in Ireland during the early nineteenth century. The writing flows really well, the historical details are rich and descriptive and the central conflict is truly complex. But the book club members didn’t have much to say about it. This might have colored my enjoyment a bit, but it is well worth a read.

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson – This is another library book club choice (I now lead two book discussions a month at my library) and was one of the most praised books of last year. Alas, I didn’t care for it very much. The writing is poetic and the story is told in vignettes, which I quite like, but the characters were almost solely depicted in terms of their sexuality and physical desires and that put me off. Not the descriptions of sex, but the fact that the characters aren’t defined by much else.

The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel – Like many readers I loved Station Eleven by this author and was so excited when I saw that a new title by her was to be published this year. I was fortunate to get a review copy and spent a lovely few days savoring it. This book is not a disappointment at all but it is a very different sort of book from Station Eleven. It centers on the fall-out from a Ponzi scheme collapse and how it affects different people who’ve invested in the scheme and who’ve been involved in it. I loved the interconnectedness of their stories and St. John Mandel’s quiet writing style. It really is a book to linger over.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell – This is one of the “hot” books of spring and is another review copy I gobbled up. But not comfortably.  It depicts the abuse of a fifteen year old girl by her forty-something teacher. And it is very hard to read at times. It is very nuanced and the author does an admirable job of making us see how sick these attachments are. They are not love stories. They are full of manipulation, gaslighting and abuse of authority. A very unsettling yet timely novel.

On Wednesday I am going to Nashville for the Public Library Association conference and am really excited to get lots of review copies from all the major publishers who will be there. I’ll share what I am able to snag next week!

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Happy 2020!

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Hello and happy new year to anyone who is still reading this blog! How is the year treating you so far? Mine is off to a busy start, mostly at work, but I now have this week off and no reading obligations for the library so I am able to read anything I want for a blessed week. It feels exciting yet almost uncomfortable at the same time. And I can’t decide what to read! But I’m sure I’ll sort that out soon and find a book to lead me into my lovely vacation week.

Yesterday I presented my “New Year, New Reads” program to library patrons, recommending 10 books for them to consider reading in the next few months plus sharing three of my favorite books from the last decade. We had 40 people attend once again and the room was full and buzzing with happy readers and book lovers. This is the 5th year I have been presenting these programs at my library and it has slowly become one of our most successful adult programs throughout the entire system. The first time we gave the program I think we had 8 people show up. So to now regularly have an attendance of 40 people who love us and our recommendations is very gratifying.

Because of this I will continue to read buzzy contemporary literature in 2020 in order to fulfill my work obligations, but I also want to read more books just for me this year. Without guilt! And I know I say this every year but please indulge me – I also want to start blogging more regularly in 2020.

What reading or blogging goals have you set for this year?

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Sunday Bulletin – September 22

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Hill Top – the home of Beatrix Potter in the Lake District

Hello, friends! I hope you are all having a great September. Mine has been busy – it seems to have gone so quickly. There hasn’t been anything exciting going on, just the usual day-to-day of living. Sadly, though, I haven’t been reading as much as I would like to. I think our continuing heat has addled my brain and made me too lethargic to even read books I have been excited about for months. Such is the reading life. Sometimes we are ravenous, sometimes we can barely swallow a morsel.

So, I don’t have any books to chat about but I would like to know – what is the best book that you’ve read recently? Though I’m not reading much right now, I still love to hear about what others are loving.

Have a wonderful week!

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Sunday Bulletin (on a Monday) – July 22

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Sheep in Haworth

Hello, everyone! I hope you’ve had a lovely couple of weeks. Our weather has been unrelentingly hot and oppressive. Usually by this time in the summer we have had a couple of monsoon storms, but there has been nary a drop of rain yet. It is so unusual and a bit frightening, especially as we have a large forest fire blazing near Flagstaff. We are supposed to get rain tonight so I’m crossing my fingers it really happens.

I’ve not been reading much lately and I never do in the summer. Life seems more hectic and work is definitely all- consuming. We’re busier and staff naturally want to take vacation so I am usually left behind. Plus, I think I am a bit weary of contemporary fiction though I keep trying to find something that will click. And when I turn to classics my old guilt creeps in. So I end up reading nothing. One day I hope I figure this out!

Books finished this week: NONE, sadly. What have you read lately?

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Sunday Bulletin – June 23

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On my second day in Manchester we visited Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, another place that had been on my “want to see” list since my last trip to England. It is in a busy residential area of Manchester with houses and apartments and a big park with basketball courts surrounding the pretty Victorian dwelling. Despite the encroachment of the modern world, once you step into the house, you step back in time into a comfortable, high ceilinged-friendly space that is a good representation of what the house would have been like when Gaskell, her husband and four daughters lived there in the nineteenth century.

I really enjoyed my visit to this house where Mrs. Gaskell wrote most of her novels and stories and where she entertained many friends including Charles Dickens, Charlotte Bronte and John Ruskin. It is a very “go at your own pace” type of museum where no one hassles you or bombards you with information. I felt more like one of Gaskell’s welcomed friends than a tourist. And there is a lovely tearoom and second-hand bookshop in the basement. I had a cup of tea and a delicious slice of pear tart while deciding which gifts and books to buy. If you are a fan of Gaskell or of Victorian fiction this is a great place to visit if you are in Manchester.

Here are a few more photos:

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Books finished this week: 

Only one! I finished the very short Let Us Now Praise Famous Gardens by Vita-Sackville West which is a monthly compilation of some of the gardening articles she wrote for The Observer newspaper in the forties and fifties. As I am now obsessed with gardens after my visit to England I devoured her advice and tips though I can’t grow any of the plants she mentions or even really go outside right now without getting heatstroke!

Have a great week!

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Sunday Bulletin – June 9

IMG_0941.JPGHello! How was your week? It was a busy one for me as I spent it preparing for my Sizzlin’ Summer Reads program at the library, which took place yesterday. We got 40 people – our biggest crowd yet! We had planned for 15 so I had to re-print my handout several times and we ran out of refreshments. It was heartening to have so many library patrons eager to hear about our summer recommendations (which I will share with you later) and to chat about books to each other. It was worth the hard work.

The above photo is of one of the places I visited in England, Biddulph Grange Garden in Stoke. When I was in London in 2014 I stayed up late one night not able to sleep and watched a program called “British Gardens in Time” on TV. Biddulph Grange was the garden featured on the program that evening and I knew that I needed to go someday as it looked so beautiful and peaceful. It wasn’t realistic on that trip, but since Stoke is only about an hour from Manchester I was able to realize my dream when I was there in May.  And it exceeded expectations! It is such a varied, rambling, yet well-planned Victorian garden. There are different areas of the garden: the Italian garden, the Chinese garden, the Pinetum, Lime Walk, Woodland Walk, etc. It is really like seeing several gardens in one. The weather the day we went was cool and refreshing and there weren’t many visitors. It was so calming and restorative. It was the height of tulip season when I was there so I saw lots of different varieties and was also able to see bluebells and wisteria. Absolute heaven!

Here are a few more photos of Biddulph Grange:

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Books finished this week:

Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield – I read this really quickly over the first part of the week as I had to lead a discussion on it in one of the library’s book clubs. At first, I wasn’t enjoying it because it seemed too slow, too whimsical. But as I continued on I really grew to love it. Setterfield keeps the story moving and flowing like the river that is central to the novel and all of the secondary stories end up making sense as a whole. The characters were good-hearted (for the most part) and I loved the contrast of the modern concepts such as photography and evolution against the superstitions surrounding the river. All in all, this is a beautifully told and well-written old-fashioned story.

What did you read this week?

 

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Sunday Bulletin – June 2

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Hello all! How have you been? It’s been three months since I posted here and I have no good excuse for my absence. Life just got in the way.

I did go to the UK for two weeks the first part of May and it was heavenly. Everything was so green and shining and the tulips, wisteria and bluebells were blooming in every garden I went to. I stayed in Manchester this trip and adventured around Northwest England, which I absolutely loved. It is gloriously beautiful and the people are so friendly and genuine. I visited some literary locations (Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, the Bronte Parsonage) –  I’d love to share my impressions with you so I will plan some travelogue posts in the coming weeks.

This week I’ll be furiously preparing for the Sizzlin’ Summer Reads program I do at my library every year where I recommend my summer picks to library patrons. I’m really behind in making my PowerPoint, creating my handout and writing my blurbs so wish me luck getting it all done before Saturday!

Books finished this week:

Circe by Madeline Miller – I flew through this lyrical retelling of the story of Circe, a witch in Greek legend, who was apparently a “minor” goddess. Miller takes her scant story and turns it into a fierce tale of a woman living life on her own terms. I really enjoyed this take on a character from mythology who I didn’t know much about (not that I know much about mythology in general) just as much as I enjoyed The Song of Achilles, her debut novel.

This is the second book I’ve read from the Women’s Prize Shortlist – have you read any from the list? Any predictions on which book will win the prize this Wednesday?

Have a fantastic week!

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Sunday Bulletin – March 3

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Hello! It’s been a beautifully sunny week here, with warm, bright sunshine, joyous birdsong and a gentle breeze. As much as I love the fall, March in Phoenix is the most beautiful time of the year. By April it will be blazing hot and uncomfortable so I am going to enjoy the loveliness while I can.

As I was typing this the longlist for the Women’s Prize for Fiction was announced. I always love seeing which books make this list and one day I will have time to read them all before it is whittled down to a short list. Not this year, though… I’ve got to start my reading for the summer book buzz program I’m presenting in June for work. I have already read three books from the list, though: Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss, Normal People by Sally Rooney and An American Marriage by Tayari Jones (see my less than favorable thoughts below).

Books finished this week:

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid – I struggled to finish this love story/fantasy/social justice novel, but I ultimately really liked it. Hamid’s writing style is odd – completely unembellished with sentence structures that sometimes reminded me of the Old Testament. But once I got the hang of his writing style, I thought the story was very beautiful. We’re discussing this tomorrow at the first of the two book clubs I facilitate at the library.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones – This is the second book club book I read this month. I’m sad to say that this novel was a disappointment to me. I thought it was slow, boring and the characters were utterly unsympathetic. I love reading novels where nothing really happens as much as the next reader does, but this was too steeped in misery and enjoyed wallowing in it that I had a hard time caring after a while. I’m sorry, Oprah – this was a miss for me. It will be interesting to see if it is chosen for the Women’s Prize short list.

Do you plan to read any books from the Women’s Prize longlist? Have a great week!

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Sunday Bulletin – February 24

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Hello, how have you been? I’m sorry I missed posting last Sunday, but I was feeling under the weather. I’m sure you really missed me, haha.

This week has been full of dramatic weather here in the desert. It rained all day Thursday and Friday and was unusually cold. Some parts of the Phoenix area even had snow! It was so nice to have real February temperatures, but we are on track to have warm days going into March.

Books finished in the past two weeks:

A Long Way from Verona by Jane Gardam – I absolutely adored this book! I listened to an episode of the Backlisted Pod (which I love – do you listen?) where this title was discussed and pulled it off my shelves immediately after. It’s about a young girl, Jessica Vye, and her artistic development during WWII. It’s quirky and funny and has great characters. Jessica is a true heroine. The writing reminded me a bit of Barbara Comyns and that is a good thing!

The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper by Hallie Rubenhold – This is a galley I downloaded to my iPad which will be released in the US in April. It tells the life stories of each of the five women who were victims of Jack the Ripper and is a fascinating social history of working class women’s lives in Victorian London. I love that Rubenhold does not discuss the murders or the identity of Jack the Ripper at all – she purely focuses on the women and how they ended up living on the streets of Whitechapel and makes a point about how we’ve glorified the serial killer and ignored his victims. It made me fairly angry at the lack of choice and power these women had. If you like social histories or books about the Victorian era, you should give this one a go.

This next week I need to finish the two books we’re discussing at the library book clubs on March 4 and I also hope to read my first Persephone of the year. Have a lovely week!

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Sunday Bulletin – February 10

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Hello! Have you all had a great week? Mine was so-so. I found myself in a bit of a reading slump after finishing 7 books in January (which is a lot for me). Nothing is holding my interest at the moment so I decided to go short. Short, powerful books usually do help me break out of funks.

This bulletin is going out later than usual because I am working this weekend (I’m writing this on my lunch break) and didn’t have time last night to work on a post. We open in about 40 minutes and I’m hoping things are mellow after a very busy Saturday. But we shall see.

Books finished this week:

Sleepless Night by Margriet de Moor – This a very short book, a novella really, that I started one day at lunch and finished at dinner. It was recommended by the author Claire Fuller who reviews the most interesting books on her Instagram feed. The book hasn’t been released in the US yet, but I was able to download a review copy. It is told in the first person by a woman who gets up in the middle of the night and bakes the most delicious sounding cakes while she ruminates on her marriage. Her husband died many years ago, but she is still obsessed with finding the truth about him and about their relationship as there is a quiet mystery that surrounds it all. I found the language to be so lovely, the imagery is beautiful and it is a story you will find yourself wanting to hear. I had never heard of Margriet de Moor, but she is one of the most prominent novelists in the Netherlands. I’d love to read more of her work.

Have a good week!