Friday, April 18, 2014

Book Club Bingo!

Our book club is playing bingo, and you can play, too.

Here's the card:

Retreat by Random House cooked this thing up, and yes, it's a reading challenge.

We ladies of the book club are being purists about it: each book can count for only one square.

Otherwise, I'd've done one of those ninja bingo moves with The Sign of Four: set on a different continent, forgotten classic, mystery, number in the title, became a movie, second book in a series, more than 10 years old. (Man, that wipes out nearly half the board!)

But here's where we are allowing wiggle room: We can re-assign a book to a different category if we wish. So right now I've specified that The Sign of Four is my book with a number in the title. But if I read another book with a number in the title, I could re-assign The Sign of Four as a book that's more than 10 years old or whatever other category that fits.

I'm practically giddy. A good reading challenge'll do that to a person.

Here's my line-up thus far:

A book with more than 500 pages

A book written by someone under thirty

A book with a one-word title                   Night by Elie Wiesel

The first book by a favorite author

A book your friend loves

A forgotten classic

A book with non-human characters     

A book of short stories

A book you heard about online

A book that scares you                        Killshot by Elmore Leonard

A book that became a movie               The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

A funny book                                      The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz

A best-selling book

A book that is more than 10 years old  The Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie

A book published this year                  

A book by a female author                  Park Lane by Frances Osborne

A book set on a different continent     The Dinner by Herman Koch

A book based on a true story

The second book of a series

A book with a number in the title        The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A book with a mystery     The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

A book of nonfiction

A book at the bottom of your to be read pile

A book with a blue cover                    Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Another darn list. Another darn failure.

Yeah, I love lists, even when they're bad ones, so when some bookish group on Facebook posted this "How Well-Read Are You?" quiz, I got sucked in.

And, as we know from previous similar experiences, I didn't do so hot.

38 out of 155 titles.

Of course, some of the titles were downright weird. And others are books I hope to avoid the rest of my natural life (Ulysses by James Joyce, anyone?)

But the list included Pippi Longstocking, which made me rather happy. Pippi and I go way back.

So, if you're in the mood for some bookish horror, you, too, can take the quiz.

Friday, April 11, 2014

I'm all ears

An audiobook renaissance is happening, and it’s happening in my car.

I’ve been listening up a storm.

It is, quite simply, fantastic.

My long audiobook drought has ended, and it’s ended in a flood. 

I’ve got audiobooks queued up far beyond my capacity to listen to them; I’ve got a TBR (TBL?) list as long as my arm, and man, it feels good.

And it’s arrived just in time: the assigned reading has gotten out of control around here, so using the commute is proving crucial.

I’ve been listening to it all: mysteries, memoirs, classics, nonfiction:
The Spellman Files
Yes, Chef
The Great Gatsby
You Are Not So Smart

If it’s been released as an audiobook, I’m game.

You know that feeling when you’ve lost something and then you finally find it? That’s how I feel these days.

I'm feasting. 

And contentment reigns. 

Friday, April 4, 2014

Second time around, Part 1

The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz

Recently a genre study has compelled me to finish two books I’d started and discarded (not literally; I returned them to the library). And in both cases, reading them was a happy experience.

I'd had a feeling I’d like The Spellman Files, but I must not’ve been in the mood the first time I started reading it. This time, though, I was only ornery during the first few chapters, during which Izzy Spellman, the 20-something narrator, talks about her badass misbehaving petty crime days. I kind of wanted to slap her.

But then the book improved, as her family became more of the story and as Izzy seemed to start to grow up.

Hers is a family of private detectives, and everyone’s in on the act, even her little sister Rae, who was bit with the bug as a child and conducted her first surveillance at age 6. I adore that girl.

So her family is enchantingly offbeat, and that’s always a plus.

And the structure of the book appealed to me. Each chapter had a theme—such as her ex-boyfriends or her uncle Ray’s lost weekends—yet the story moved forward nicely even with these side excursions (which actually provided some great background information about the characters).

And Izzy is a Get Smart addict, and there’s lots to like about that.

So, yeah. I liked it enough that I have book 2, Curse of the Spellmans, riding around with me in the car, queued up as my next audiobook. I don’t dive willy nilly into a series, so this is a meaningful step, guys.

Also -- I got all the way through the book without realizing it doesn't exactly contain a mystery. In fact, no substantial mystery whatsoever. But the book still works. It's really quite something.

Friday, March 28, 2014

More Elmore

Killshot by Elmore Leonard

When anyone says the words "Elmore Leonard," I get a dreamy look in my eye. I adore that guy.

So when a friend chose one of his books for our book club, I was a happy girl.

Then I got partway through the audiobook, and my happiness began to wane a bit. And I know exactly why.

This book gave me a feeling of dread, and I thought, "This thing's a horror novel!"*

Because here's the premise: A nice, ordinary couple, through no fault of their own, find themselves pursued by a professional hit man and his sociopathic sidekick. So they enter the witness protection program, and that's a whole new nightmare. 

And meanwhile, during at least half of the book, we're hanging out with the bad guys. And I've basically decided life is too short to waste on such stuff, so I would've bailed on the book had it not been assigned for book club.

Also, I knew Elmore wouldn't let me down. And sure enough, he brought it home in style. But still, I think I'll be spending more time on the sunny side of the street. 

*It's not. 

Friday, March 21, 2014

I can't handle the... fiction

So I've actually been reading books lately, though you wouldn't know it by the look of the blog.

I've been reading 'em and not writing about 'em.

And I've also been bailing out before over-investing. Even on an audiobook I was sure I was gonna love.

I checked out The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (whose Secret History blew me away back in library school), after having read rave reviews of the book and audiobook. Plus, there's an art angle, so I got all excited.

And the book starts out in Amsterdam, which I liked, then flashes back to the narrator's childhood in New York, which also made me happy, setting-wise. 

But that's where the wheels started to fall off.

The thing is, the narrator's mom dies when he's a kid. And the whole first two discs are devoted to the endless details of the aftermath of the terrorist attack that injures him and kills his mother. And while he was describing (ad nauseam) the effects of the attack, I got annoyed because this author seriously needs an editor. (The audiobook is 28 discs long, people!) It felt self-indulgent, like when an author goes on forever during a dream sequence. 

But then it got worse. The narrator returns home, where he and his mom had designated as their meeting-up place if anything bad ever happened, and she doesn't come home. And the reader already knows she dies, but the narrator doesn't know yet, and I just couldn't handle it. The kid was only 13, and was about to lose his mom.

I bailed. 

Everybody else on earth, I hope the book is as good as they say it is. I'll be watching from the sidelines on this one. 

Friday, March 14, 2014


iPhone: The Missing Manual by David Pogue

First, here’s the confession. I’ve techno-lusted for an iPhone since way before I bought my Droid a few years back. But the Droid seemed sensible (why? I don’t remember why), so that’s the way I went.

But for last year’s trip to the Netherlands, I needed a 4G phone, and that meant: upgrade.

And earlier that same week, some good people had been telling me about this amazing iPhone-only app, which I realized I needed in order to experience true happiness in life.

So: I got what I’d wanted all along. And I believe it was sweeter for the wait.
The thing is: The iPhone can do everything except wash the windows, but the thing don’t come with a manual.

Hence, this book. It’s a mere 500 pages in length, and it tells you everything the phone can do. And it’s rather mind-boggling, actually. And fully half of the features I’ll probably never use, but it’s nice to know they’re there.             

The stuff I will use: information about how to take better photos, how to edit photos, how to save websites to read even if you’re offline, and how to deal with Siri. (Me: “Set an 8 a.m. alarm.” Siri: “For what time shall I set your ‘damn’ alarm today?”)

And I went through and added photos to some of my favorite contacts, and that was just fun.

So even if you think you know every last thing about your iPhone, I’m guessing you’ll still find some good stuff in this book.

(I’d’ve included a photo of my iPhone, except my iPhone is my camera.)

Friday, March 7, 2014

Self-... what?

The Best Advice I Ever Got: Lessons fron Extraordinary Lives by Katie Couric

OK, so here’s me, reading any self-help book: “Profound! So simple, yet so meaningful…” 

Then, one week later: “...What was that book about, again?”

So yeah. I’m running true to form here.

I listened to the audiobook, and I liked it plenty. Couric contacted a whole passel of famous people and asked them to write a short essay on the best advice they ever received. 

And some of the essays are actually great. And a few of them I had to fast-forward through because they were so self-congratulatory I wanted to hurl. But most of them contained some darn good advice.

Which I promptly forgot.

But here are the few things that I jotted down in time, so they weren’t lost forever.

“Be comfortable with the uncomfortable.”—General David Petraeus 
[I’ll refrain from commenting about his personal ethics, though I’m sorely tempted to do so.] Basically, this one’s about learning new things and taking risks and being OK with the discomfort of trying something unfamiliar. And I've been getting some practice in this realm, and I like it.     

This one made me gasp: “Treat yourself as well as you treat others.”—Gloria Steinem. 
Yeah, some of us have some work to do there.

And here’s my favorite line, from Couric herself: “We have an obligation to find and give joy.” As responsibilities go, that’s one I can happily embrace.

Friday, February 21, 2014

More doom. More gloom.

Five Days in November by Clint Hill with Lisa McCubbin

This was a positive reading experience, guys, even though the book is sad. I picked up this book before bedtime one night, and ended up reading way later (way later) than I’d planned.

Though, as I’ve said before, I know this story.  

I mean, for goodness’ sake, we all do.  

(photo courtesy of the John F. Kennedy
Presidential Library and Museum)

I’d read Clint Hill’s other book Mrs. Kennedy and Me and loved it. So I wondered if this book would feel redundant. But its focus is quite different. While the first book dealt with his working relationship with Jacqueline Kennedy, this book is all about the trip to Texas in November 1963. And it’s filled with photos, many of which I’d never seen.

While I’ve read a lot of books about JFK, I tend not to focus on those days in November. Other than William Manchester’s remarkable The Death of a President, I’ve focused on the president’s life rather than his death.  

But the way Clint Hill’s book brings the behind-the-scenes perspective to the story makes this book different. It feels like someone describing a death in the family. 

And it's heartbreaking. 

Monday, February 17, 2014

Happy Presidents Day!

It's one of my favorite days on the calendar today.

I'll be spouting presidential trivia all the day long, and also asking this fun little question:

Who's the best-read president?

(Hint: this is one presidential contest Lincoln doesn't win.)

Thank you, Daily Beast, for giving us the goods.