Unruly Reader's new URL

Greetings from the WordPress trenches!

I continue to toil away at the WordPress conversion, and today's big switch is this:
We've got ourselves a new URL here, my friends.

So, if you're kind enough to include Unruly Reader on your blogroll (thank you, good people!)...

Here's the new address:

I'll keep the Blogspot URL in place through January 31, 2017, and then I'll retire it after many years of good service.

Unruly Reader -- the new web address

Greetings from the WordPress trenches!

I continue to toil away at the WordPress conversion, and today's big switch is this:
We've got ourselves a new URL here, my friends.

So, if you're kind enough to include Unruly Reader on your blogroll (thank you, good people!)...

Here's the new address:

I'll keep the Blogspot URL in place through January 31, 2017, and then I'll retire it after many years of good service.

Currently... WordPress conversion

We’re right in the middle of the holiday season (Happy holidays, everyone!) …so what better time to convert a blog from Blogger to WordPress, right?

It’s not like there’s anything else going on.

It actually wasn’t supposed to be like this. But I just finished a WordPress class, and part 2 begins in mid-January, and I wanted a WordPress site up and running so I could tinker with it. I learn better that way.

And then one day I thought, “I’ll set up web hosting this evening and then move my blog over at a convenient time.” [nods head with satisfaction]

But various things led to my transferring it that very night, and man did it ever look ugly.
(If you stopped by last week, you know what I’m talking about. [If you’re here right now, you know what I’m talking about.])

So: my free time (when not wrapping gifts and making holiday preparations) has been gobbled up by the WordPress Learning Curve.

Thank goodness I took that class, or I’d be completely lost.

But still, guys? I’m still pretty lost.

So… here’s my Big Ask:

Bloggers using WordPress… What tips can you offer me?

What plugins are essential for my happiness and well-being?

If you see weird things on my blog that are ridiculously easy fixes, please tell me about it.

If you’ve got WordPress hacks, I am all ears.

Thank you, my friends.

Best Books of 2016 - new to me

It's that wonderful time of year, guys... the year-end "best" lists. 

I love this time of year. 

Earlier in the week, I posted my list of the best books of 2016, published in 2016.

Today we're looking at the best books I read in 2016 that were published earlier. 

Here are my favorites... 
Best Fiction
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Best Nonfiction
Quiet by Susan Cain

Best Mystery
Stillwater by Melissa Lenhardt

Best YA Fiction

Best Children’s Fiction

Best Biography

Best Memoir

Best Self-Improvement Book

Best Fantasy
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Best Essay Collection

Best Book I Won't Finish Until Next Year
Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

So, dear readers... what were your favorite books of the year? 

Best books of 2016

It's time for #libfaves16 on Twitter, my friends, and that means making some hard choices. 

The idea is to list your top 10 favorite books that were published in 2016. 

And then rank them. 

This is difficult

So I basically went with my gut. 

A Gentleman in Moscow was this year's clear winner, but the other rankings could shuffle around if you asked me on a different day. But the top 5 would remain the top 5. 

Here goes...

Gracious, engaging, triumphant 

Personal, informative, domestic

Introspective, unflinching, surprising

Lyrical, brutal, magical realism

Exuberant, collaborative, insider info

Unflinching, personal, troubling

7. The Clancys of Queens by Tara Clancy
Sharp, conversational, unexpected  

Rollicking, informative, conversational

Lyrical, poignant, personal

10. The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King
Layered, innovative, historical

Her hard-working honor

My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor

3 words: smart, introspective, revealing

I’m in serious audiobook withdrawal these days. I just finished listening to Sonia Sotomayor’s marvelous memoir, and I completely fell into it.

Way back in my pre-blogging days, I read Lazy B: Growing up on a Cattle Ranch in the American Southwest by Sandra Day O’Connor and H. Alan Day, and it had a similar effect. Though, as I recall that book, it focused primarily on Sandra Day O’Connor’s youth.

Sotomayor’s book covers her childhood, but it also brings her story into her middle adult years, concluding shortly after she became a judge. And, as in Jill Ker Conway’s first two books (The Road from Coorain and True North), I loved reading about the arc of her life and education. I’m a total sucker for that kind of story.

But the thing I loved most about Sotomayor’s memoir was her honesty. And also her humanity. 

Here she is, having risen from a childhood in the projects to a seat on the high court, and she’s comfortable enough with herself to reveal the self-doubt she feels whenever she tackles something new. It makes her so relatable, even though her extraordinary work ethic makes her seem super-human.

And she describes how those two things go hand in hand: her insecurity about her ability to perform well drives her to work even harder to make sure she’s prepared.

It’s a heck of a good formula.

When I read reviews of this book earlier, I focused on the hard parts: her alcoholic father’s death when she was young, her childhood diagnosis of diabetes, and her family’s financial hardship. And I thought: sad.

And she’s candid about all of these things, but people, she turns them into a triumph

And she’s so darn likeable while she’s doing so. Oh my gosh.

Thank you -- very much! -- to JoAnn of Lakeside Musing for recommending this book in her Nonfiction November Supreme Court reading list. Your suggestion spurred me to read this book, and I am seriously hugely grateful. 

So my friends… What’s the most inspiring true story you’ve read this year?

Eleanor and Park

Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

3 words: poignant, romantic, painfully humorous

You know how we all want to forget those painfully awkward teenage years? (At least I sure do.)
Well, this book puts you right back into that frame of mind, but in the best way possible.
Rainbow Rowell is seriously skilled at making a reader care about her characters, and she’s also really good at remembering and evoking the feelings of being a teenager. And she’s smart and funny, and so are her characters.

The only thing that almost made me want to stop reading this book is that Eleanor’s home life is so freakin’ horrible, I almost couldn’t stand it. But I wanted so much to stay with her through her story that I stuck it out, and later I couldn’t believe I almost had to quit reading.

(But truly: her home life is horrible.

And I was reading this book at the same time as Hillbilly Elegy. And there were times when I had to remind myself which person’s horrible home life--with a mom making terrible life choices that had severe consequences for her children--was which.)

Eleanor and Park is a love story, but a quirky one. Both Eleanor and Park feel like misfits, and when they’re thrown together as seatmates on the school bus, they don’t like each other at first. But then they bond over graphic novels and music, and they gradually become friends and then they realize they love each other.

So yes, this is a book a about teen romance, but it's smarter and sharper and savvier than you'd expect.

I found myself recommending this book to lots of friends -- to anyone who even might consider reading a YA book, and to some who aren't usually so inclined.

What's the best YA book you've read lately?

Bonfire of the Vanities

Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe

3 words: cynical, absorbing, storytelling

I gotta tell you: I wasn't all that jazzed about reading this book. 
But my book club selected it, so there we were.

My thoughts before reading it went something like this…
  • Darn long book
  • 1980s touchstone, so do we really need to care anymore?
Yes. I was exactly that cynical, even though Tom Wolfe and I have long dwelt happily together in the Magical Land of Re-Reading. (The Right Stuff makes me happy just thinking about it.)

Suffice it to say, once again, your girl Unruly got it wrong. 

This book is magnificent.

Even though I didn't like a single character within its pages.

(That's some seriously high praise, because I'm one of those readers who absolutely must like at least someone.)

And the thing that really knocked my socks off is how timely this book is today.

It deals with race and privilege and wealth and the media and the justice system. And nobody comes out of it looking good.

While this book has a big cast, there are a few of the central figures:
  • a wealthy bond trader who hits a young African-American man with his car (while The Other Woman is with him)
  • the struggling district attorney who argues the case against him
  • the free-loading, alcoholic journalist who breaks the story
There’s enough egotism in this book to sink a ship.  

And yet I kept reading… and wanted to.

Wolfe is such a fine writer, he carried me through these pages despite my intense dislike of the characters.

And now that I’ve read this book, I keep finding ways it connects to other novels I’ve recently read. It seriously is one of those touchstone books that’s bigger than itself.

I’m so glad I read it.

So, now I’m wondering… What book surprised you by its current relevance?

Hillbilly Elegy... but is it hopeful?

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance 

3 words: unflinching, troubling, personal

OK, this one’s really something. I just keep thinking about it, and that probably isn’t gonna stop anytime soon.

Vance grew up in poverty in Appalachia, and he tells his story with some serious candor. 

His family had it all going on: drug addiction, mental illness, abuse…  you name it, they had it. He grew up bearing close-range witness to a boatload of dysfunction.

And somehow, he got himself out and attended Yale Law School.

So the big question that pulls you through the book is: How did he do it?
(Answer: A dedicated grandma, plus the military)

This book’s primarily Vance's personal story, but he interlaces it with some fascinating sociological facts and studies that give the bigger picture, as well. 

(Every time I write the name "Vance," I remember that he had to choose that name for himself, after years of surname changes due to his mother's many marriages, his father's giving him up for adoption, and oh my gosh this is a sad story in so many ways. Yet: then he claims a surname for himself that carries meaning, and that's triumphant. So many feels to feel!)

I am decidedly not one of those people who loves to read the memoirs of dysfunctional families (my heart can't take it), but I was able to stay with this one easily. I think it's cuz we know Vance's story has a mostly happy ending (though he still bears the emotional scars of his abusive childhood).

And it also strongly appealed to me because of the sociological/narrative nonfiction nature of the book. He makes this book about more than just himself, and that elevates it. Though, for some readers, this might be where the wheels come off. Citizen Reader conveys this nuance really well in her fine review.

Vance narrates the audiobook himself, and that worked out well. (It's not always that way, when an author reads his/her own work.) Hearing the story in his own voice, with the emphasis placed exactly where he intended, added another dimension that enriched the reading experience.  
Searing, stark, and extremely cautiously hopeful. A remarkable book that makes a person think.

Book Bingo 2017

OK, good people. Here it is.

Book Bingo Blackout 2017… revealed!

Again this year, my good friend and I compiled ideas, then narrowed the list down to these 25 categories.

The planning session is tremendous. (It's one of my favorite annual events.)

Then the Dear Man made our categories look terrific by creating this fabulous bingo card. (We said, “Wild West theme, please!” and he did it up right.)

Here’s more...

How to Play
  • Read a book that fits the category. Each book can qualify for only one category.
  • Complete just one row or column, or go for blackout by reading a book in every category.
  • All books must be finished in 2017. Books started in 2016 but finished in 2017 count.
  • We've provided some definitions, but you can free-style it if you like—as long as you can make a case that the book fits the category.
  • All categories can be fiction or nonfiction (your choice), unless otherwise specified.

About the Categories

Pop Psychology
Nonfiction books about why we do the things we do

A book about person who lives by his/her own code

Doom and Gloom
When things go terribly wrong

Guilty Pleasure   
Something you shouldn’t like, but you like it anyway  

Water is a key element of the story, whether it be setting, activity, or natural phenomenon

Indigenous Peoples
A book about Native Americans, First Nations, the Inuit, or Aborigines

The Journey
­­A transformative experience or a literal journey

A Book I Own
Read something from your own shelf

Literary, scholarly, or classic

Boomer Lit
Written by Baby Boomers, for Baby Boomers

Where I Grew Up
A book set in a place where you spent your childhood

A book about someone breaking free—either literally or metaphorically—or a book that is a true escape for you as a reader

Assigned Reading
A book you need to read

Exploring the creative process

A book with an Asian author, character, or setting

Library of Congress Fiction Prize
A book written by an author who won this honor

Bookstore Discovery
A book you found at a bookstore

Bad Title
The title doesn’t fit the book. Or the book sounds good, but you hate the title.

Occupational Hazards
A book about a job or workplace. Or a book that helps you become better at your work

Midcentury Modern
Pick your century, then find a book written in the midst of that century, that has a progressive or modern outlook

Author’s Name Begins With M
The author’s first or last name begins with the letter “M”

Best in Class
One of the best examples of its genre

The Outdoors
A book about, or set in, the natural world

A trending book or author, a steamy romance, or a book set in a hot climate

Up in the Air
Planes, planets, astronauts, birds, pollution, clouds, uncertainty, uprootedness -- anything that’s up in the air

Join the fun!