Author: priscilla

Ten Books I Picked up on a Whim (Or Every Book I Ever Picked Up, Ever)

The thing about being a reader who has a (mostly neglected) book blog and a Twitter account where I follow all sorts of bookish accounts (book bloggers, critics, authors, publishers) is that it’s very, very difficult to avoid being influenced in some way when it comes to what I read. Everything on my TBR is something I’ve seen recommended somewhere else, however fleeting the recommendation might be. But almost everything I buy or pick up next is based on a whim (well, a whim based on a list). I rarely plan or schedule or commit (as evidenced by the blog) to anything except the very few authors whose books I will pre-order without question (Alice Munro, Tana French, Donna Tartt, and so on and so forth), and even the arrival of one of these titles doesn’t guarantee it will be my automatic choice for what to read next. Couple this tendency with my willingness to set any book aside that doesn’t grip me at the moment, and you can see, whim is where I live.

Let’s face it: I’m a freewheeling reader. Perhaps I should consider changing the blog name.

Instead of listing every book on my shelf (because that would be way more than 10), for today’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish), I thought I’d list the last ten books I bought, and the reason why (if I can remember it). Here goes:

Late One Night

Late One Night, Lee Martin. You may or may not have heard me sing the praises of Martin’s Pultizer-nominated novel, The Bright Forever. Martin has a way with quiet moments in small-town America that renders them both universal and unforgettable.

Mongrels

Mongrels, Stephen Graham Jones. Okay, I’m not even going to pretend that horror is up my alley, or that I’m very well-versed in werewolf tales much beyond An American Werewolf in London. I read Jones’s Not for Nothing back in 2014, and let’s just say he has a way with story that makes me think this will be one of those genre-busting books for hardcore horror and literary fiction fans alike.

Mr. Splitfoot

Mr. Splitfoot, Samantha Hunt. It was on my TBR, and it was on sale for $2.99 on Kindle. That said, I don’t purchase every book on my TBR that comes up for sale, and I have to say this one was going to end up in my hands one way or another. It just sounds too deliciously unusual to ignore.

Wilde Lake

Wilde Lake, Laura Lippman. I have at least three unread Laura Lippman titles that I could have picked up to read, but instead I had to have Wilde Lake. Why? I read an interview where she mentioned that someone at a reading asked a question about her choice to write the book in alternating first and third person. I’ve been thinking a lot about novelistic structure lately and was so intrigued I felt like I had to read it. Right. Now. So I bought it and I read it and I still don’t know the answer to that question….but this is probably the best Lippman I’ve read, maybe ever.

Into the Darkest Corner

Into the Darkest Corner, Elizabeth Haynes. One of you told me to check out Elizabeth Haynes. It was Wendy at Musings of a Bookish Kitty, as a matter of fact! And this one was on sale and occasionally I do what I am told, so I bought it and will be checking it out. Eventually.

The Round House

The Round House, Louise Erdrich. I have been meaning to read this book for ages. Every time I read an interview with her, I am left with the feeling that I want to read all of her books. Maybe someday I will.

The Circular Staircase

The Circular Staircase, Mary Roberts Rinehart. Sarah Waters said this was one of her influences for writing The Little Stranger. Oh, when are we getting new Sarah Waters?

During the Reign of the Queen of Persia

During the Reign of the Queen of Persia, Joan Chase. Okay, rare instance where I cannot remember where I heard about a book, but it was one of those “I have to have this NOW” purchases through Better World Books. And of course I haven’t read it yet, but I hope to, very soon.

Wild Life

Wild Life, Molly Gloss. Because I loved The Jump-Off Creek, and also was interested in reading more books set in the American West just after I finished Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose.

The Last Child

The Last Child, John Hart. Um…I can’t remember why I bought this. Another used purchase from Better World Books. I have three of Hart’s titles on my TBR wishlist, so I picked one at random. Ta DAH!

So there you have it. What about you: do you plan your purchases? Is reading on a whim unusual for you?

Did They Really Deserve It?: Ten of My Most Recent Five (and Four) Star Reads

Today’s Top Ten, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, has put me into a bit of an existential crisis as a reader. Today’s topic: our top ten most recent five-star reads. That’s easy enough to track—all I had to do was open Goodreads, and there they are. But as I was scrolling through the list and wondering why I failed to give five stars to some of the books I’ve thought about and recommended and mentioned as references in other reviews again and again, I thought about something I heard said about the Academy Awards (attributed to Matt Damon, I believe), that the Academy of Motion Pictures should wait ten years after a film’s release before it can be considered for any awards. That way, its real impact and influence can be assessed, rather than having the award being driven by hype and publicity or some other political or social circumstance that momentarily pushed the film into the foreground.

With the Tournament of Books going on right now—a tournament that always features the previous year’s most popular and critically well-received books (and a few underdogs)—this idea seems even more relevant. Yesterday one book, The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra, was knocked out of the tournament, and I saw a fair bit of tearing of hair and gnashing of teeth over that fact on Twitter. In the last couple of months it seems that everyone on Twitter or in my Goodreads feed has read this book, and almost everyone has given it five stars. I haven’t read Marra’s book myself, nor have I read the book, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout, that knocked it out of the tournament, so consider me impartial. The judge for that round was Jeff VanderMeer, the author of the Southern Reach trilogy, and I did read his explanation, and here’s what I thought: he’s a writer, and maybe he’s a naturally “close” reader, so he’s going pay more attention to the mechanics of the writing, little tricks and things that the writer has employed, and judge them. I also thought he might be unaware of the hype wheel. Yes, the book has been nominated for prizes and praised by critics, but lots of books get praised by critics and nominated for prizes that don’t generate a lot of hype or love among readers and bloggers the way Marra’s book has. I’m not at all questioning the legitimacy of this love (please do not leave a lengthy defense in the comments), but I am asking: what if VanderMeer is right? What if time would have taken a little of the shine off that book anyway and Beatty’s book holds up better over time? What if it were up against a ToB winner from three years ago? (I’m too lazy to look it up.) The point is, immediacy skews our judgement in a lot of cases, and so does our peer group. It happens to all of us.

Okay, enough blathering. I give you my most recent five-star books, and some four-star books that probably deserved five stars.

Girl Waits with Gun (Kopp Sisters, #1)

Girl Waits with Gun, Amy Kopp. I gave this a very enthusiastic five stars as soon as I finished the book because I was completely charmed by its main character. I admit, though, that it took me some time to get into it, and in the beginning I wasn’t sure I was going to like it. Its possible it only deserved four stars, but only time will tell. I still highly recommend it and am looking forward to the next book in the series.

Our Endless Numbered Days

Our Endless Numbered Days, Claire Fuller. This was a book I suspected would be five stars when I was about halfway through it. It’s a beautiful but difficult book to read, and Fuller presents the reader with one of the most compelling unreliable narrators. I think this one will hold up.

Our Souls at Night

Our Souls at Night, Kent Haruf. This was Haruf’s last book, he’s one of my favorite authors, and it’s a little gem of a story about two lonely people forming a very sweet and surprising love. But it isn’t Haruf’s best book by a long shot (in my opinion, it’s Plainsong or Benediction), and as stories go it’s fairly simple. I gave it five stars but would submit it’s only four stars if called on it—that fifth star is there out of sheer devotion.

Landfalls

Landfalls, Naomi J. Williams. I gave this one four stars, yet I find myself thinking about it, remembering scenes from it, and recommending it to everyone. I could not tell you why I knocked off a star. I’ll have to read it again to find out, but I suspect my first rating was wrong.

Cloud Atlas

Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell. Another one I gave four stars. Why? I read the first five sections of this book in mere days. I could not put it down. And then I got to “Sloosha’s Crossing,” and it lost me a little, and then I went on vacation so I set it down for a bit, and then I was still in Sloosha’s Crossing when I picked it back up, and I never regained that initial momentum. Again, I find myself thinking about this book all the time. It’s probably a five-star book that I screwed up reading.

M Train

M Train, Patti Smith. Five stars. I absolutely love the way she writes, but admit that this is a purely subjective five stars. It’s a much different book than Just Kids (also five stars, in my opinion), probably not as “good” in terms of literary merit, but I’m not questioning my loyalty here.

Possession

Possession, A.S. Byatt. A very solid five-star book that could probably take out a lot of contenders in the past ten years. Why do I trust my judgement on this one? Because Byatt is such a wonderful writer that she made me willingly read not just about two Victorian poets, but their poetry as well, and I enjoyed every second. A testament indeed.

My Antonia

My Antonia, Willa Cather. Five stars for this one, not given automatically because it’s a classic but because I love her writing and her characters the same way I loved Kent Haruf. Her characters are a part of the landscape in which they live, they are inextricable, and her prose is graceful and simple.

The Signature of All Things

The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert. I gave this four stars? Why? I loved this book and never wanted it to end. Classic reader mistake: because I was annoyed with Alma for how she acted over Ambrose, and I went and blamed it on Gilbert, when in fact it’s a sign of a really good book. To be that invested in a character—that’s five stars.

Skippy Dies

Skippy Dies, Paul Murray. Five stars. Oh, this book! A classic campus novel, an interesting look at Ireland during the bubble, a coming-of-age story with tragic consequences. Published in 2010, this is another novel that I believe could knock out a lot of ToB contenders from the last couple of years.

Do you ever go back and question the ratings you’ve given to books? Do you think it would be better to wait before awards are given out? Should new books be pitted against past winners?

Have a great Tuesday!

Better Late than Never: A Day in the Life

I’m not sure what I was thinking when I signed up to participate in “A Day in the Life” hosted by Trish at Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity. I love reading these kinds of posts when they involve other people. I definitely don’t feel bored with my life, but on paper it certainly seems…quiet. Better late than never (I hope)—here’s what my day was like on Tuesday, March 22.

A Day in the Life

6:10 AM – Alarm goes of. Hit snooze several times.
6:45 AM – Awake, decide to get up and write some. Drink a glass of water and put on long-sleeved tee and pajama bottoms and UGG slippers. I think their boots are a travesty, but nothing beats their slippers.
6:50 AM – Go downstairs and give Moxie her treats. She has to take Lysine because she has a dormant viral infection that could pop up at any time. So far the Lysine has worked. As a bribe, she also gets two Greenies.
6:52 AM – Other kitty Chloe makes her sleepy way downstairs. Give her two Greenies, play keep-away with Moxie while she eats them.

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Gratuitous cat picture. Not from actual day. Moxie is on left, Chloe on right.

6:53 AM – Get coffee mugs out and fill with hot water to warm them up—a cold mug makes coffee get cold faster! Hopefully will only have to do this for a few more mornings.
6:55 AM – Get coffee and head to desk. Planning to work on either a Top Ten post or a review for Head Full of Ghosts for #weirdathon, but get distracted by news of terrorist attacks in Brussels. Check Facebook, Goodreads, and Twitter.

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My desk, so very early in the morning. The light is because of that asshat Daylight Savings Time. This time a few weeks ago, it was much lighter.

7:50 AM – 8:30 AM – Head downstairs to hang out with husband and have breakfast (and second cup of coffee). I am going to spare you pictures of my food, but lately breakfast has been Coach’s Oats with banana, blueberries, flax, chia, and cinnamon. Pretty soon it’ll be too warm for oatmeal, so we’ll switch between green smoothies and Ezekiel toast with hummus and avocado. (Okay, sorry for the food details, but people, I have to fill this space somehow. I am dull, I tell you. Frightfully so.)
8:30 AM – 11:00 AM – Head back upstairs to the desk to work a bit. That’s my commute, because I work from home. Don’t hate me. I love it but it does get lonely at times. Answer some email, write a bit of content for an ebook. My job is creating marketing and sales support content and tools for Microsoft. Here’s a little peek at my typical work attire, at least on chilly mornings (obviously, fashion blogging is just around the corner for me, the way I rule at pattern mixing):

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My foot. Make of it what you will.

11:00 AM – 11:30 AM – Shower and get dressed. We usually go out to lunch on Tuesdays, so I even put on makeup! As a side note, I’ve been trying to convert to using more natural products that are also good for the environment. This might sound like a granola-hippie snoozefest (like I just slather my face in organic coconut oil and then dab on a little patchouli and call it done…not that there’s anything wrong with that, and I happen to like patchouli). The thing is, even though I don’t wear a lot of makeup, I really love buying products, and I’ve had terrific luck with 100% Pure. I started with their mascara, which no joke is actually pigmented using dark chocolate—and even smells like chocolate! (They also have one made from black tea that I haven’t tried.) My lashes have never been healthier, so I decided to try a few more of their products, so I got this palette, some lipstick, and even their nail products which have no formaldehyde or other nasty things and work incredibly well.

Fruit Pigmented Pretty Naked PaletteMaracuja Mascara: Dark Chocolate
Their packaging is so great, too. I’ve loved everything, so if you want the lowdown in a separate post, let me know in the comments.
11:30 AM – 12:15 PM – Go to lunch. Lately, Bob has been going to a beginning yoga class at noon, but he wasn’t feeling well early this week, so we headed out to get something to eat. Usually I would spend that time doing some work, and we’d head out later, around 2:00. On Tuesdays we typically go to a local Mediterranean restaurant called Hovan that makes everything from scratch and has a lot of great vegan and vegetarian options. Today I get lentil salad, lentil spinach soup, and tabbouleh. That’s right, doubling up on the lentils.
12:30 PM – 1:30 PM Update cost savings calculations for a slide deck we’ve been working on. Have a quick Skype call with co-worker about updates.
1:30 PM – 3:00 PM Work on content for ebook. I usually listen to music while I work. Sometimes it’s Spotify radio, but this week I’ve been on a Modest Mouse kick.

spotify
3:00 PM – 3:15 PM Coffee break with Bob. Stand out on the deck and watch cats go crazy over beautiful spring weather. The trees behind our house get more leafy by the hour, it seems.

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View from our deck. That haze is pollen, not an interesting photo filter.

3:15 PM – 3:30 PM Go upstairs to finish coffee and look at social sites and blogs.
3:30 PM – 5:25 PM More work. Some editing, some chasing down drafts in review, some correspondence about final copy that needs to be published.
5:25 PM – 5:55 PM Realize the time and frantically get ready to go to yoga class. We are both taking Ashtanga yoga classes, but I go to the more advanced class for the full primary series. I never thought I could get into yoga, but I found Ashtanga and I’ve pretty much dropped everything else to commit to it. I could go on and on about it (ask my husband). I won’t. Unless you want me to. I sincerely promise that even though I am now yoga-obsessed, you will never, ever see me post yoga selfies. Not. Ever.

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Mat and bible.

5:55 PM – 7:30 PM Arrive at yoga class happy to see the room is almost empty and my favorite spot has not been taken. The room is empty because traffic is so bad, but it fills in quickly. We start class with the opening chant and the rest goes by in a sweaty haze. I’ve been a runner, I’ve done heavy lifting with a trainer, and I’ve taken kickboxing classes and HIIT classes—nothing has ever felt as demanding or rewarding as Ashtanga yoga.
7:30 PM – 8:00 PM Go home. Wash yoga mat and then get cleaned up to go out to dinner.
8:00 PM – 9:30 PM Tuesday nights are sushi nights, so we head to our local sushi place. We have edamame, miso soup, a lightly fried tofu dish, miso eggplant, and vegetable rolls. Light but filling.
9:30 PM – 10:30 PM Drink some water, wash face, and brush teeth, play with cats. General getting ready for bed stuff.
10:30 PM – 11:00 PM – Get in bed and read. I just started Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose.
11:00 PM – Lights out! Good night!

Top Ten Books on My TBR This Spring

This week’s Top Ten (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish) asks us about the top ten books on our TBR. While many people might list new books being published this spring, I have an eye on my backlog of books. Of course, the slightest shift of the wind will change my reading mood, so take this list with a grain of salt. You may or may not see reviews for these books in the coming months…and given that I am officially FIVE books behind in reviews this year, even if I read them, you may still not see reviews. Ahem. Anyway.

Today I’m in the mood for deep books, even some rather big books, and I know that as slowly as I read that this list also an ambitious one I’d be lucky to finish by the end of summer. I’ve included two books I started but never finished (The Plot Against America, which should be interesting in context of what’s happening politically these days, and The Blind Assassin), and the only remaining book left to read by one of my favorite authors, Kent Haruf (Where You Once Belonged). Without further ado, here’s my full list:

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

Crossing to Safety

Angle of Repose

Atonement

The Plot Against America

An Instance of the Fingerpost

East of Eden

The Blind Assassin

Tell the Wolves I'm Home

Where You Once Belonged

Jumping on That #Weirdathon Bandwagon

I think everyone is probably well aware of this by now, but Julianne from Outlandish Lit is hosting a month-long Weirdathon. After seeing all the chatter in my Twitter feed (and seeing all the fun books people are choosing), I decided to hop on the bandwagon and get my weird on. o what, you may ask, constitutes a “weird” book? Let’s see what Julianne has to say:

What counts as weird? Anything that’s weird to you. Maybe that’s aliens. But for others maybe it’s bizarro fiction written in a created dialect starring a talking fruit. Click here to see my lists of weird books for inspiration and TBR padding!

Admittedly, when I first heard everyone talking about this a few weeks ago, my initial thought was simply that I couldn’t join because I don’t read weird books. But Julianne is giving people a lot of room to decide what’s weird for them. I highly recommend taking a look at her lists, I found a couple of books that were on my shelf and my TBR and that got my creative juices flowing. I also realized that I had read far more “weird” books than I realized. In fact, I was able to tweet out a few suggestions based on my own reading the last few years:

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The challenge for me was going through my current books and trying to figure out what was “weird” enough for the challenge. Here’s what I selected:

A Head Full of Ghosts

Head Full of Ghosts, Paul Tremblay. I put this on my TBR when I first heard about it last year, and I just happened to snag it for $1.99 on Kindle (deal still happening as of March 3!). And guess what? It was on Julianne’s list of recommendations, so there you go! “The lives of the Barretts, a normal suburban New England family, are torn apart when fourteen-year-old Marjorie begins to display signs of acute schizophrenia. To her parents’ despair, the doctors are unable to stop Marjorie’s descent into madness. As their stable home devolves into a house of horrors, they reluctantly turn to a local Catholic priest for help…Fifteen years later, a bestselling writer interviews Marjorie’s younger sister, Merry. As she recalls those long ago events that took place when she was just eight years old, long-buried secrets and painful memories that clash with what was broadcast on television begin to surface–and a mind-bending tale of psychological horror is unleashed, raising vexing questions about memory and reality, science and religion, and the very nature of evil.”

Travelers Rest

Traveler’s Rest, Keith Lee Morris. You all know how much I loved The Dart League King, and I also loved Morris’s surreal short story collection, Call It What You Want. Traveler’s Rest is his latest effort, and it fits the weird bill to a T: a family stranded in a blizzard decides to spend the night at the Traveler’s Rest hotel, where “Once inside the hotel, the family is separated. As Julia and Tonio drift through the maze of the hotel’s spectral interiors, struggling to make sense of the building’s alluring powers, Dewey ventures outward to a secret-filled diner across the street. Meanwhile, a desperate Robbie quickly succumbs to his old vices, drifting ever further from the ones who love him most. With each passing hour, dreams and memories blur, tearing a hole in the fabric of our perceived reality and leaving the Addisons in a ceaseless search for one another. At each turn a mysterious force prevents them from reuniting, until at last Julia is faced with an impossible choice. Can this mother save her family from the fate of becoming Souvenirs-those citizens trapped forever in magnetic Good Night-or, worse, from disappearing entirely?” Creepy, right? [Updated to add: Morris also put together an awesome 70s playlist for the novel on Largehearted Boy.]

Stay Awake

Stay Awake, Dan Chaon. Dan Chaon is one of those writers who simply doesn’t get the attention he deserves. I loved both of his novels, You Remind Me of Me and Await Your Reply, and I’ve had this book of his short stories sitting on my shelf for years. I’ve been wanting to get back to reading more short stories, and this collection is said to be “haunting, suspenseful stories, lost, fragile, searching characters wander between ordinary life and a psychological shadowland. They have experienced intense love or loss, grief or loneliness, displacement or disconnection—and find themselves in unexpected, dire, and sometimes unfathomable situations.” Fit the bill? Yep.

Undermajordomo Minor

Undermajordomo Minor, Patrick deWitt. I honestly think The Sisters Brothers is one of the best books I’ve read in the last decade, so I snatched up a hardcover of deWitt’s latest novel only a few weeks after it was published. The last novel was a Western, but this one is more of a strange fairy tale: Lucy Minor is the resident odd duck in the hamlet of Bury. He is a compulsive liar, a sickly weakling in a town famous for begetting brutish giants. Then Lucy accepts employment assisting the majordomo of the remote, foreboding Castle Von Aux. While tending to his new post as undermajordomo, he soon discovers the place harbours many dark secrets, not least of which is the whereabouts of the castle’s master, Baron Von Aux. Thus begins a tale of polite theft, bitter heartbreak, domestic mystery, and cold-blooded murder. Undermajordomo Minor is an ink-black comedy of manners, an adventure, and a mystery, and a searing portrayal of rural Alpine bad behaviour, but above all it is a love story. And Lucy must be careful, for love is a violent thing.” A little more lighthearted weirdness is never a bad thing.

The City & the City

The City & the City, China Miéville. Okay, I’ve had a copy of this book on my Kindle since 2011, so I think it’s high time I read it. This is a backup pick for me. I don’t read that quickly and will be lucky to get through four books, let alone five, but I’ve heard so many bloggers praise Miéville that I thought this would be a terrific choice. I may be continuing #weirdathon on my own in April just to mark it off my list and see what all the fuss is about. “Inspector Tyador Borlú of the Extreme Crime Squad finds deadly conspiracies beneath a seemingly routine murder. From the decaying Beszel, he joins detective Qussim Dhatt in rich vibrant Ul Qoma, and both are enmeshed in a sordid underworld. Rabid nationalists are intent on destroying their neighboring city, and unificationists dream of dissolving the two into one.”

Are any of these on your #weirdathon lists? I can’t wait to read everyone’s updates this month—not that my (virtually) creaking TBR shelf needs any more books added to it!

Top Ten…Er, Top Eight Tuesday: Reading Outside My Comfort Zone

Today’s Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, asks us to list ten books we read in the last year or so that are outside our comfort zone. A simple enough question, but looking at the list of books I read over the past 15 months or so, not an easy one to answer. I don’t spend a lot of time reading outside my comfort zone, probably because the last few years reading has seemed like a struggle, so when I read, I don’t want it to be a challenge. Whatever book I pick up, I want it to be THE book.

That said, I do try to get outside my comfort zone now and again. None of these books are a huge stretch, but they are outside what’s been my more typical fare lately, which I guess I’d call modern literary fiction with a twist.

Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mount Everest Disaster

Assassination Vacation

Unfamiliar Fishes

Nonfiction. I read very little nonfiction, but in 2015 I read three books I’d normally not pick up: I read Into Thin Air because my mother (cough**book pusher**cough) kept insisting that I read it. She said it was terrific. In this, she was correct. I read Assassination Vacation as part of an effort to read from the TBR pile. I picked it because I bought it in 2005 and you know, figured it was time. I loved the way Sarah Vowell writes so much that I immediately bought two more of her books (thereby thwarting my efforts to read what I already had) and followed up Assassination Vacation with Unfamiliar Fishes, a book about the colonization and eventual statehood of Hawaii. (And weird aside: I kept picking up books last year that took me to the South Pacific during times of exploration and colonization: this one, The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert, and Landfalls by Naomi J. Williams. I highly recommend all three, and reading them close together gives you a rich experience.) I have Lafayette in the Somewhat United States sitting on my bedside table and am hoping to read it soon.

Big Little Lies

The Husband's Secret

Chick Lit. I don’t know. Maybe the “chick lit” label isn’t completely fair to Liane Moriarty. She’s just this side of writers like Gillian Flynn, Sophie Hannah, or Paula Hawkins, only because she deals more in the domestic space and focuses less on mystery. Either way, she has a razor-sharp way with characterization that makes her books compulsively readable. I liked Big Little Lies the best, but they were both solid efforts and would be perfect travel or beach reads.

The Signature of All Things

Possession

Landfalls

Historical Fiction. Okay, first: look at those covers! So gorgeous! Second: do you ever decide that you just HAVE to read a book RIGHT THIS SECOND? That’s what happened to me last year with The Signature of All Things. The joke was on me, because the used copy I bought turned out to have a whole set of pages missing in the book’s final section. Lucky for me, the people at Viking are wonderful and when I tweeted about the problem, they sent me a new copy immediately. This story of a female botanist in the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth centuries was absolutely captivating–the characters, the narrative, the science all swept me away.

The same thing happened to me with A.S. Byatt’s Possession—I decided I just had to read it so I bought a used copy. I think I should note here that while plenty of things are outside my wheelhouse, probably nothing is further than Victorian poetry. But this story of two modern scholars uncovering the mystery of a relationship between two Victorian poets through their poems, letters, and journals was outstanding.

Landfalls I bought for two reasons. First I read this post on the author’s blog about the origins of the story (I found the blog via an interview with the author, but I’ve lost that link), which starts with a map she believed was the San Francisco Bay but turned out to be some other place altogether from an Eighteenth century expedition that was ultimately lost. Second, even though I’m terrified of the ocean, I’m completely fascinated by maritime exploration during The Age of Discovery. I was so excited to discover this book that I pre-ordered it, and I was not disappointed. Told from various points of view of people on board the two ships that took that fateful journey, Landfalls is completely absorbing. This was Williams’s first novel, and I can’t wait to see what she does next.

What genres are most outside your wheelhouse? Do you read historical fiction? If so, give me some recommendations!

BBAW Day 5: Keeping It Real, Keeping It Going

Day OneIntroduce yourself (17)Today is the last day of Book Blogger Appreciation Week, and today’s topic is: how do you avoid blogger burnout? The short answer—I don’t.

Okay, so now for the long (winded) answer. The very few of you who have been visiting this blog over the years know that I tend to disappear for long stretches of time. I can think of only one time, back around 2010, when I actually decided to take a break because it seemed like people were fighting a lot over things (some petty, some very serious like plagiarism). Most times, though, I haven’t made a conscious decision to quit, so that’s why I keep coming back.

I stop blogging generally for two reasons: I’m in a reading slump and have nothing to say, or I get behind on reviews because I have BIG IDEAS. But I think about blogging all the time, and I have enough half-written (or even complete) drafts of posts (some reviews, some not) to prove it. I used to do The Sunday Salon and Booking Through Thursday pretty much every week, but somewhere along the line I decided I should “get serious” and only write reviews. But let’s face it: reviews can be boring to write. Plot summary, opinion, wrap-up. Maybe something interesting about the author. Maybe recommendations to similar books. Some people use lists or GIFs or anything to make a review seem less…review-ish. For me the solution was the idea of the bookish essay. I’m pretty sure I decided to do that after finding Lydia Kiesling’s original (now defunct) Widmerpool’s Modern Library Revue (which became The Millions Modern Library Revue). I love the way she writes. And I didn’t want to copy how she writes as much as I wanted to write more deeply/widely about the books I was reading. I have many, many (unpublished) attempts to do this, but they took a lot of effort and were hard to get right. And even when I felt like I got them right, I was terrified to share them. I worried people would think, “Who does she think she is? What does she think she’s trying to do?” So in other words, I did it to myself: I backed myself into a writing corner with a whole lot of “shoulds.”

In these blog revivals, I’ve tried some of my own regular features (Freestyle Friday) or picked up doing memes again (Top Ten Tuesday). But I admit to being wobbly on these as well, especially Freestyle Friday, which was a weekly post where I just wrote about anything on my mind. It got a pretty good response and was fun to write, but I kept wondering if anyone really wanted to read about my nonsensical, non book-related thoughts. (Oh yes, and then there was my ill-conceived The Album Project, where once a week I planned to write little essays about music á la Nick Hornby. Crickets. Probably rightly so.) I’ve also tried joining a challenge here and there, but I suck at sticking to a list (see #10BooksofSummer: Womp Womp).

The other thing I’ve done in the past to try and revive the blog was to jump on the ARC bandwagon and review pretty much only and everything new. This worked well for a while, until I had more requests accepted than I could manage. To this day, I still have unread ARCs waiting for review. I’m sort of ashamed about that, and it was my own fault for getting so overwhelmed, but for the first time in a long time I felt like a relevant blogger. All the popular kids were talking about shiny new books ahead of their pub dates, and I wanted to do that, too! Except…what can blog readers say when they’re reading multiple posts about a brand new book they haven’t read yet? I got more traffic, but it was kind of a conversation stopper. I got a little bored, and then I started to resent the fact that I had to keep reading ARCs when I really wanted to read all the other books I was neglecting.

The truth is, I don’t have any real answers. I may burn out again. I’ll keep trying and probably keep failing. As much as I love to read, I truly keep the blog going because I also love to write, I like to challenge myself every once in a while, and most importantly, I like YOU. I like being part of a community. Even if I only get one Like or one comment, it totally makes my day.

Thanks to all of you who visited this week. I know realistically I may never hear from some of you again (at least until next year’s BBAW…and I hope there will be a next year) as we all retreat back to our corners of the blogosphere and get on with things, but I hope to see most of you now and again, even if just to give a virtual wave!