Halftime Reading Goals Progress

Can you believe it? 2016 is half over. Any resolutions I made to improve myself in January have been long abandoned, except for the ones related to reading. I'm still trying to meet my 2016 reading goals for non-fiction, reading out loud, and classics.

Goal #1:

Read 50 non-fiction books, at least 40 from a list I curated from my TBR.

Progress: I have read 28 non-fiction books so far this year, but only ten are from my list. I'm in the middle of a huge book from my list now, so progress will be made this summer.

Goal #2:

Read the 5 chapter books on this list out loud to my kids.

Progress: I have read three chapter books out loud to my kids (plus numerous story books), but none were from my list. Not to fear, we have started two books from the list, so this shouldn't be a total shut out.

Goal #3:

Read these 8 classics in 2016.

I've read 3/8, almost half of my list. I would have read Grapes of Wrath too, but for some reason I've been waiting for weeks for my library hold.

Reading Challenges:

Modern Mrs. Darcy's reading challenge:

I only have 2 books left for this one -- "A book chosen by your sibling, spouse, child, or BFF", and "A book that was banned at some point".

BookRiot's Read Harder Challenge:

I've read 10/24 books for this challenge. Time to step it up! I'm starting with my selection for 500+ pages - City on Fire.

Books on the Nightstand Summer Reading BINGO:

I am super excited for my BINGO card - this is my 3rd year doing this, and I think it's my best yet.  I usually try to read the whole square, and I usually get pretty close.


I started the year with 400 books on my TBR, and am down to 383. Not bad, since I feel like I've added about a thousand books since summer reading lists started coming out.

Happy reading!

REVIEW: A Fine Imitation by Amber Brock

A Fine Imitation by Amber Brock is everything you could want in a beach read, if you happen to be going somewhere warm this weekend. It's the story of Vera, a rich but lonely woman drinking her way through 1920's New York. Vera is so rich she doesn't know how to make tea, but with all her comforts she's never been allowed a bit of fun or self expression. Even when she's tried her very proper mother or socially conscious husband has shut it down. Enter a mysterious European artist, and, well, you know.

This book is not one that will change your life with its prose. It's not The Great Gatsby. This book has characters you can root for, a backstory that keeps you interested, and a satisfying ending. If you're sitting in the sand sipping a drink, isn't that exactly what you're looking for?

Note: I received this book as part of Library Thing's Early Reviewers program in exchange for an honest review. Links to amazon.com are affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

REVIEW: Braving It by James Campbell

I tossed this book into my work bag at the last minute, then almost missed my metro stop because I was so engrossed.

Braving It by James Campell bills itself as "a powerful and affirming story of a father's journey with his teenage daughter to the far reaches of Alaska.". I really appreciated that Campell focused more on the journeys that make up the story than the father/daughter stuff. By making the story about the adventure, and by not trying too hard to make this a memoir about father daughter relationships the relationship stuff shone through naturally. He didn't force it down your throat. He told a really thrilling story made all the better because it was shared by a father and a daughter.

I have a touch of wanderlust in me, and Campbell's vivid descriptions of Alaska turned an itch to visit into something I must scratch soon. The descriptions of the rivers, animals, and mountains were glorious. I also enjoyed that he often used quotes from literature to help tell his story.

I highly recommend this one if you love a good armchair hiking story. It would also be great if you're looking to get your own dear Dad a gift for Father's Day.

Note: I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a honest review.

May 2016 Quick Lit

Each month I link with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit as a way to talk about the books I liked, but didn't review.

I finally got around to reading Northanger Abbey, and liked it a lot. The ending was kind of meh, but the character of Catherine was crazy in an awesome way. I loved all of her wacky scenarios.

I'm still on my travel writing kick, hence, my impulsive use of an audiobook credit on Albert Podell's Around the World In 50 Years. This one grew on me. I didn't agree with all of "Big Al's" opinions, but I was fascinated by the logistics of traveling to every country in the world. I also appreciated that he seemed to spend a fair bit of time in every country. He wasn't just traveling to check things off his list; he really seemed to take time with each country.

Ever wondered what it's like to be Mormon in New York City? The New York Regional Singles Halloween Dance by Elna Baker was an interesting account of what seems to be a pretty big struggle. It was sometimes shallow, but also very sincere, and seemed very honest. I recommend it, but don't expect to find any life altering truths here.

I finally finished The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo, and now I finally know what everyone was talking about last year. This method is not really for me, but it did make me think about all the stuff we have. Some spring cleaning may be in order.

I listened The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury in my car. It was perfect for that. I found it entertaining enough to listen to, but didn't feel that I had to shut it off the second I picked up my kids. In fact my 8 year old even enjoyed a few of the stories while we waited for his bus. These are all short stories that are about the same things. It's kind of hard to explain, but very enjoyable, light science fiction. The only depressing thing was the astronauts from the future were born in 1986 - a full 9 years after me. I don't know when I got so old.

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Three Heroines Who Compare Real Life To Romance in Popular Culture, and Find It Lacking

I love the idea of flights of books (TM Modern Mrs. Darcy.) It's like wine flights only with reading. You don't do a deep dive on a subject, you take a small taste of several different varietals and compare and contrast the tastes.

I've stumbled upon an unintentional book flight this week:

Three Heroines Who Compare Real Life To Romance in Popular Culture, and Find It Lacking:

I haven't even finished two of these books, but I can tell you that if you, like me, are stuck in a seemingly never ending cycle of rainy days and public transportation delays you could do much, much worse.

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REVIEW: The Road Not Taken by David Orr

I first read about The Road Not Taken: Finding America in the Poem Everyone Loves and Almost Everyone Gets Wrong in a review last year, and loved the sound of it. I added it to my TBR, and then added it to my 2016 non-fiction reading list. then I took it out from the library twice, and returned it unread. I was a bit intimidated. Finally on my third check out, on my third renewal I had a deadline to either read the book, or return it unread again. Well, third time's a charm. I picked this up earlier this week, and blew through it in two days.

I wouldn't consider myself a poetry fan, but do like to read Frost's poems, especially before I go on a trip to New England. Other than that I didn't really know much about him. Then I read this: "...one should bear in mind that Frost was the kind of man who, first, courts the woman he loves by printing up a volume of his own writing and, second upon feeling himself rejected by that woman, travels over five hundred miles in order to walk into a swamp." Oh Mr. Frost, you are interesting, aren't you?

After a brief biography Orr goes on to consider the poem line by line, the legend of Robert Frost, common misinterpretations, and their connection with the American psyche. This is one of those books where you learn a ton without feeling like you're doing it. Even if you don't like poetry, I think you should read this book. If nothing else it makes for good conversation when you're stuck in an awkward conversation with your boss.

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It would have never happened without a reading challenge

I can't resist a reading challenge. Every time I do one I read at least one amazing book that I would have never picked up on my own. Right now I am obsessed with The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin, my entry for "The First Book In A Series By A Person of Color" in Book Riot's Read Harder challenge.

It makes my little bookworm heart anxious that I would have lived my life never reading this amazing book if not for the challenge.

Summer reading challenges should be coming out soon, and I can't wait. If I read just one book as amazing as The Fifth Season this summer, it will be a summer well spent.

What's your favorite reading challenge?

Other books I discovered during reading challenges:

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Books I'm actually going to buy

I'm a heavy library user - both out of cheapness, and out of a strong desire not to have my house collapse under the weight of all the books I would own if I had to buy everything I read. That said, there are two books I've decided to pre-order this summer, because I just can't wait for the library.

Just like every other Muggle around I'll be reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child this summer. I'm sure there will be spoilers galore, and I want to binge on this one before I read all about it on Twitter.
I LOVED The Fifth Season when I read it last week, and NEED to read the next installment, The Obelisk Gate, when it comes out in August. It comes out two days after my birthday, so this won't be hard to justify!

Do you still read actual books (not in electronic format?) Are there any you're planning on adding to your shelves this summer?

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REVIEW: The Happiness of Pursuit by Chris Guillebeau

Have you ever set out to meet a challenging and clear goal that has a specific end point? I know I have. Turns out I may be on a quest, which sounds a lot more exciting than "crazy hobby".

In his book The Happiness of Pursuit Chris Guillebeau not only defines modern day quests (no tilting at windmills here), he provides tips for completing them, and illustrates his points with interesting vignettes from his own travels, and from interviews with other hopeful questers.

I'm in the middle of my quest to visit the highest natural point in each of the 50 states plus DC right now, and this book provided me with some motivation to keep going. (It also gave me plenty of ideas on what to pursue when I'm done!)

Note: I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a honest review.

Can we all take a minute to remember Shel Silverstein?

I went to a poetry reading at my son's school a few weeks ago. It was a great event. There were several rooms where community VIPs like firefighters, members of the Town Council, and local authors read some pretty fun poems. Of course you can't have fun poems without Shel Silverstein.

Where the Sidewalk Ends was always the book kids fought over during silent reading time in my school, and the kids are still doing it in my son's school. That's some good writing - and it's poetry! Poetry is supposed to be boring!

Thank you Shel Silverstein.

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REVIEW: Brooklyn by Colm Toibin

I've been missing lately, but I have a good excuse. Extended jury duty + trying to do my share at work during off work hours + a family crisis have had me on the brink of insanity. The good news is Brooklyn by Colm Toibin was a lovely book to read while the world was crashing down over the past few weeks.

It's the story of an Irish girl who comes to New York to seek her fortune, or a better job at least. Nothing too gruesome or spectacular happens here. There's a tragedy, and some love angst, but this isn't Angela's Ashes. She just makes her way, and in this book that is enough.

Have you Read Brooklyn and seen the movie? I'm astounded that this calm little book was made into a movie. How did it translate to the big screen?

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April 2016 Quick Lit

Each month I link with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit as a way to talk about the books I liked, but didn't review.

I read Commencement by J. Courtney Sullivan because someone told me that if I went to a liberal arts school I would relate to it. I think whoever made that recommendation confused liberal arts colleges with all women's colleges (not the same thing btw.) I still liked the book, but the ending was a bit abrupt.

When I was searching my library for Commencement I ran across Maine also by J. Courtney Sullivan. I checked it out right away because I'm going to Maine later this year. I feel like that's a pretty good rule of thumb - if you run across a book about a place you're visiting, check it out. I liked this book. It's told by three narrators. Each one seems sympathetic when you read their chapters, but unbearable when you read about them in other chapters. Of the three books I've read by Sullivan, this was my favorite (I read The Engagements a year or two ago, and thought it was OK.)

I was a little frustrated with The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson. This 14 hour audio book mostly seemed to be about how Britain is so much better than America, and how everyone who isn't him is stupid. However there were descriptions of walking through random places that appealed to my wanderlust enough to keep me listening.

My son and I read Escape From Mr. Lemoncello's Library by Chris Grabenstein together and loved it. This is my son who "hates reading", barely tolerated me reading him Harry Potter, and thought THE MOVIES WERE BETTER. He begged me each night to read until my voice gave out, and when we finished he demanded we buy the next one immediately. If you have a reluctant reader who strengths lie more in the field of puzzles and math, give this book a try. (I was so relieved that Captain Underpants isn't the only solution when kids hate reading. I get that suggestion all the time, and while I have nothing against potty humor, I just can't read it out loud night after night.)

Since I've been in kind of a reading slump, I've been catching up on my back issues of One Story. My favorite was When in Dordogne by Lily King. I liked the uplifting coming of age story. This is a journal worth subscribing to if you like short stories. The stories are good, and the issues are great for tucking in your purse when you run into reading emergencies.

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Happy birthday, Gatsby

Last weekend The Great Gatsby turned 90. Now I don't pick favorite books, but if I had to Gatsby would be in consideration for top dog. I love the concise descriptions -  they tell you so much with just a few words.

Here are a few of my favorite quotes:

Let us learn to show our friendship for a man when he is alive and not after he is dead.
In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.
”Whenever you feel like criticizing any one,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.
They’re a rotten crowd’, I shouted across the lawn. ‘You’re worth the whole damn bunch put together.
I couldn’t forgive him or like him, but I saw that what he had done was, to him, entirely justified. It was all very careless and confused. They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.
It takes two to make an accident.

What Should I Read Next?

Have you ever played with the site What Should I Read Next? I just heard about it today, and spent some time exploring. I added a few books to my TBR - Push Not The River was recommended when I entered The Tea Rose, and Bread and Roses, Too was recommended when I entered A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I plan on giving these two new to me books a try, and will report back when I do.

I always think it's difficult to recommend books based only on the title - how does a database know if I liked the characters, the story, the setting, or what? Worth a try though. What's a few more books to read over the course of a lifetime?

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The Thorn Birds: 1970's drama just like Nana used to love

I decided to re-read The Thorn Birds because of the "read a book from the decade you were born" category in the Bookriot Read Harder Challenge. It came down to a choice between The Thorn Birds and John Le Carre's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. I probably should have picked the book I hadn't read before, but the sure thing won out.

I love The Thorn Birds because it reminds me of the soaps that always used to be on at my Nana's house growing up. I highly suggest this (long, multigenerational, sweeping) book if you were born in the 70's and are feeling nostalgic. You can even watch the made for TV mini series which actually just may be a bit better than the book due to the awesome portrayal of Mary Carson.

If you like sweeping melodrama you may also enjoy this trilogy:

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How To Escape A Reading Slump

When I go on vacation I usually pack books before clothes. So when I didn't have any ideas of what I should read on my last vacation, and ended up reading The Thorn Birds just because it was part of a reading challenge and long enough to occupy me all week I knew something was off. I was entering a reading slump. I've been back a week, and it's still going on. I haven't had one this bad since I was pregnant, and it took all my brain power just to remember my PIN.

I'm trying not to fret. I'm trying not to push it. But the truth is I can't engage in anything, and I've been abandoning books like no one's business.

This too shall pass. In the mean time, here are a few strategies I use when I'm in a reading slump:

  • Read magazines
  • Read cookbooks
  • Read short stories
  • Listen to podcasts
  • Reading just my favorite parts of my favorite books

What do you do when you're in a reading slump?


REVIEW: Shylock Is My Name

Shylock Is My Name is beautifully written, with concise descriptions that made me laugh. Despite all that, I just couldn't get through it. I stopped about 1/3 of the way through. Maybe if I were a regular reader of Shakespeare, or if I knew the original story line of Merchant of Venice I would have been able to stick it out. But, I'm not, and I don't, and I'm a grown up so no one can force me to read a book I don't really understand. I'm going to stick with Jane Austen re-telling from now on.

Note: I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for a honest review.

REVIEW: Everyone is Italian on Sunday

If you love vegetables and Italian food this book is for you. For anyone who is stuck on the 30 minute gimmick and the cutesy sayings Rachel Ray is known for, put those aside and get ready to cook from this book all summer long.

This is not your usual spaghetti, meatballs, and chicken parm Italian cookbook. You'll find those things, but you'll also find dozens of recipes for eggplant, a whole chapter on using up garden veggies, and no less than three variations of mashed potatoes. (There's also a whole chapter devoted to cocktails, and some pretty damn good looking desserts.)

I read this book right after my herb garden started producing, so the first recipe I made was Savory Fennel, Rosemary, and Honey Oatmeal. It was amazing! The oatmeal was just the right mix of hearty food and tasty flavor. I can't wait to request this book again once the full garden starts producing, and cook through the vegetable section.

Other cookbooks that make you want to eat all your veggies:

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