Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Thinking About Books for 2021 Yet? Tracking What I Read - Reading Logs

As an avid reader I've been tracking the books I've read for almost 20 years.  I only starting reviewing books about 12 years ago and, I must admit that although I start each new year out with a new journal, usually a Moleskine (expensive but a quality product) if you compared one year to the next, I'm never consistent. Quite frankly by mid-year my journals are pretty messy.  Most times I've reviewed chronologically and then have sections for fiction and non fiction, eBooks, print books, audio books, library books and books read off my shelves but, that's usually been a pain to keep up. 

This coming year my goal is simplicity and consistency and, I just found a new, inexpensive reading log on Amazon that has everything I really need. I like the idea of turning the pages and seeing the same format for my reviews.  This one that I purchased has room for 120 books to review and it's 8x10" which I love as well.  It's a soft cover but it was only $4.99 as well. I'm not sure what the bleed through factor will be but, I'm planning on using a fine point pen or pencil. Take a look.

Here's one that is more expensive but I like the wire rings, hardcover and format for 200 books.

There are also several reading logs with cute covers to get younger children interested in book journaling as well.

Do you have a favorite hand written system or journal that you enjoy using for tracking your books  and writing reviews? If so, please share.

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Good Morning, Monster; Catherine Gildiner

Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, now hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book ReviewsEach week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book they are reading or that they plan to read soon.

Good Morning, Monster; Catherine Gildiner
St. Martin's Press - 2020

The day I opened my private practice as a psychologist, I sat smugly in my office. Fortified with the knowledge I'd acquired, taking comfort in the rules I'd learned, I looked forward to having patients I could "cure."

I was deluded.

What do you think? I generally like reading about case studies such as these; hope to start this one later this week.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Book Review - The Yellow Bird Sings; Jennifer Rosner


The Yellow Bird Sings; Jennifer Rosner
Macmillan Audio - 2020

World War II, Poland -- Roza is a young mother who is forced to hide along with her gifted, 5 year old daughter Shira, a musical prodigy. Mother and daughter are given shelter by a farm family where they are hidden away in a hayloft as Nazis round up Jews in the area.  The beautiful child is forbidden from making a sound and Roza expected to pay for their safety with sexual favors. Never giving up, Roza creates games for Shira with images of a little girl. There is a secret magic garden and a yellow bird with a beautiful voice, beautiful flowers and other imagery to help distract Shira from the fear and commotion all around.

When things become too dangerous, mother and child are forced to separate and the story takes a darker turn but, the two never give up their dream of reconnecting. Will they ever see each other again?

I loved how Roza, even faced with guilt and shame, never fails to protect her young child. There is a lot of imagery and symbolism, some is painful but, the beautiful images are the ones that stand out.  Although the beginning seemed a little repetitive, once the story got going, I was pleased. I needed something a bit different from my normal reads and, this wartime story was very satisfying. The bond between the two characters was so well portrayed. The audio was read by Anna Koval who did a nice job.

Rating - 4/5 stars

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Sunday Update - Week in Review


Deb Nance at Readerbuzz  hosts The Sunday Salon. 

Weather-wise this was a great a great mix of cooler temps, where we had to turn the heat on briefly to get the 63 degree chill out of the house (2) mornings. That was short-lived though as the last 3 days temps have ranged from 72-80 degrees and, the whole week has been sunny.

We went for a few drives to a couple of apple orchards and with my sore knee and the hubs sore back we opted to just buy (not pick) the apples. It's no longer fun to step in smooshed apples and risk falling LOL I've been baking apples and making crisps and boy the house sure smells delightful.

This week our book group met Wednesday outdoors in the park on a lovely, breezy 75 degree day to discuss Unsheltered, Barbara Kingsolver. I read it in 2018, you can find my review HERE. Everyone liked it to some degree except 1 person. Next month is our last meeting for 2020 and we want to try to meet in the park again even if it means heavy sweaters/jackets. Our book is Two-Family House which I loved and have also read when it first came out in 2016 LOL

School is going well for the (3) granddaughters (1) in person classes and the sisters at home remote. The 6 year old was sad as there was no classes on Sat and Sunday (LOL) , although, I'm sure mom had a different feeling about the weekend.

I didn't do a Sunday post last week but, we took a trip to the Berkshire Botanical Gardens on another glorious sunny fall day the week before.  
I'd like to return again in summer when other types of plants are in bloom.  Here are some pics, some of which have been posted on Instagram. The topiaries are part of The Martha Stewart Cottage Gardens on the grounds.

NOTE: Blogger was not cooperating as I tired to post these pictures. A most frustrating experience -- sorry for the randomness here.

My reading has been up and down but I did manage to read/finish (2) books this week and start (2) more.

Finished: Ghosts of Harvard (so so) and The Yellow Bird Sings; Jenifer Rosner (review coming soon - I liked it). I started: Hieroglyphics; Jill McCorkle (print) and The Death of Vivek Oji A. Emezi (audio). I am enjoying both a lot.

Lastly, I didn't have it in me to write about about anything sad today but, I just wanted to post something about Ruth Bader Ginsburg. I find it heartbreaking to think about all that she has done for equal rights for all can so easily be reversed.  (Do we really want to go back 50 years?)

(and thank you)

Friday, September 25, 2020

Book Review - The Ghosts of Harvard; Francesca Serritella


The Ghosts of Harvard; Francesca Serritella

Random House - 2020

As a student at Harvard, Eric Archer was a brilliant young man destined to do great things in the sciences.  He was also paranoid schizophrenic and was known to sometimes go off his meds.  When Eric ends up committing suicide as a student, there is a huge void. behind  What drove Eric to commit suicide?

Now Candace (Cady), Eric's younger sister, is a freshman at Harvard despite the fact her mother did not want her to return to the place of her brother's death.  On campus Cady is determined to find out more about her brother's final weeks at Harvard.  Yet, almost immediately she begins hearing voices from the past. It's not her brother's voice so, who are these people she hears? Or, is mental illness something she is experiencing as well resulting from the loss of her brother? 

I love a campus setting and, the old buildings of Harvard, steeped in history of those who walked the halls in days gone by, made for a terrific, creepy setting.  The dark winding corners, unexplored grounds added to chilling effect as I read.  I liked that Cady used old notebooks of her brother to try and decipher clues that lead to his death. The author did a good job showing how different members of the same family deal with suicide and the grief which results. 

I had some issues with the Cady character and the way she reacted in a few situations; it did not feel genuine. I also thought some of the dialogue, by college-aged students, seemed weird and not the way a college student would talk. There was a ghost/paranormal element to the story that didn't work well IMO. There were far too many conversations with ghosts that served very little purpose.  This novel might been more effective had it been written as a shorter psychological thriller without the paranormal bend. The Ghosts of Harvard is nearly 500 pages and, I admit to glossing over many of the ghostly conversations.

Rating - 3.5/5 stars

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - Hieroglyphics; Jill McCorkle

Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, now hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book ReviewsEach week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book they are reading or that they plan to read soon.

Hieroglyphics; Jill McCorkle
Algonquin - 2020


"Lately, Shelley hears things in the middle night, hinges creaking and papers rustling, but it could be anything-- the dog, her son, a mouse, the wind --and she forces her mind to stop right there so she doesn't imagine possibilities that would terrify her, like a killer or a ghost. It doesn't help that old man rides by so often now, his green Toyota slowing in front of the house and then circling the block."

What do you think, read more or pass?

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - The Ghosts of Harvard; Francesca Serritella

Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, now hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book Reviews. Each week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book they are reading or that they plan to read soon.

The Ghosts of Harvard; Francesca Serritella

Random House - 2020


"It was silly to be afraid of falling, considering her intent, but Cady hadn't anticipated how windy it would be on the bridge. She crouched on the balustrade, her hands gripping it so tightly that which crescent moons shown on her fingernails.  A gust blew her hair into her face, but she didn't dare move her hand to move it aside.

She didn't want to fall, she wanted to jump."

I've been meaning to try this one. The debut author is the daughter of author, Lisa Scottoline. What do you think? Have you read it?

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Book Review - The Answer Is...Reflections on My Life; Alex Trebek


                                           The Answer Is...Reflections on My Life; Alex Trebek                                                                                             Simon & Schuster Audio - 2020

I listened to this audio (4.5 hours) twice, alone and then on a road trip with the hub. We both enjoyed it as we are long time Jeopardy fans who were saddened to learn in March of 2019 that Alex Trebek had been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

The memoir is read mostly by Ken Jennings, an all-time champ (winning 2 million plus) from the show. He is now close friend of Trebek.  Alex does read the intro and wrap up as well as a few smaller parts in between.  All of the chapters about his life start out in the form of a question, much like the game show. 

Trebek was raised along with his younger sister in a working class Canadian household. He's a Mr. Fix-it type who always liked to putter around the house and admits that he has a 3-car garage full of tools and gadgets, some he was never quite sure how to use.  He's also a charitable man, a real humanitarian who believes deeply in helping the less fortunate, humans and animals alike. He doesn't feel that wealthy people, including himself, need a tax break and that they should pay their fair share so that more of less fortunate can be helped.  Married to his second wife, Jeanie, for 30 years, (she is 24 years younger) the couple has 2 adult children together. Although they've traveled quite a bit, Alex also admits to enjoying a simple life: home, family and relaxing outdoors.

Trebek admits that he never wanted to write a memoir and had been approached many times earlier. However, after his cancer diagnosis, he agreed as he didn't want an unauthorized bio written after he passes away.  100% of the proceeds of this book will be donated to a variety of organizations important to Trebek.  

Although we enjoyed listening to this memoir, at times it didn't feel like a lot of thought was put into it. Perhaps the book was a bit rushed because of the seriousness of his illness. 

Rating - 4/5 stars

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Book Review - The Lying Life of Adults; Elena Ferrante


The Lying Life of Adults; Elena Ferrante

Random House Audio - Europa - 2020

It's the 1990s when 12 year old  Giovanna, an only child,  overhears her father tell her mother, that she is getting the ugly face of his sister Vittoria. The comment shocks her and is more than she can bear,  Who is this Aunt Vittoria and why have they never even met? Why doesn't her father speak to his own sister?  Giovanna becomes obsessed with finding out more about her ugly aunt. When her parents see that she has found the aunt's number in an old address book, they encourage her to look her up.

Giovanna and her well-educated professor parents live in a more affluent area of Naples. Vittoria lives in a lower class, industrial area. Her apartment is filthy, she's rough around the edges yet she is very welcoming and even insists on squeezing fresh oranges for juice for her niece.  Over a period of time Giovanna learns much about her aunt, even about her dead former lover, Enzo. She even gets to know Enzo's adult children in the process. Vittoria pulls no punches, not only does she teach Giovanna about the importance of loving her body and the powers it possesses, she also tells her a few things about her father and instructs her to watch, rather spy on, her own parents as well.  She learns a few disturbing things in the process including the fact that their marriage is on shaky grounds.

With familiar themes, as in earlier Ferrante novels like, social class, relationships, self-doubt, womanhood and sexual awakening, I was disappointed that this story lacked a real plot line.  I also did not care for how abusive some of the male characters had been crafted. There were some blunt sex scenes inserted as well which seemed unnecessary.   I do expected that Giovanna will reappear in another novel in the future.

The audio book was read by Marisa Tomei and even though she did a terrific job, overall, I didn't really care for this one. 

Rating 3/5 stars

Friday, September 11, 2020

Book Review - One By One; Ruth Ware


One By One; Ruth Ware
Gallery/Scout Press - 2020

A company retreat for 5 employees and 5 stockholders of Snoop, a London start up company, is taking place at a luxury chalet in the French Alps. Between meetings, a skiing bonding outing and a surprise twist initiated on whether or not to sell the start up company, havoc has begun.  When an avalanche has left the chalet without power and phone/cell service and one skier has gone missing, later presumed dead, tensions rise, panic sets in and food becomes scarce as well. Suddenly, "one by one," a few more from the group end up dead.  Of the guests and the (2) chalet staff members, there is a killer in the mix.

I've read everything this author has written and, for me, this one was a miss.  Although I liked the snowy remote locale and luxury chalet, cozy fire etc, the atmosphere just wasn't enough. This mystery took me way longer to get through than expected. It was easy to put down and harder to pick up and never really picked up until the last 30% for me. I felt there were too many forgettable, undeveloped characters and, the (2) characters, Liz and Erin, who were more fully explored felt forced at times.  The story is told from the POV of Liz (former employee) and Erin's (chalet hostess). I'm not sorry I tried this one but, overall, I was disappointed. I was able to predict the killer early on as well.

Rating - 3/5

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Book Review - The Vanishing Half; Brit Bennett


The Vanishing Half; Brit Bennett
Riverhead Books - 2020

The Vanishing Half is a stunning novel about family, community and racial identity.

The Vignes sisters: Desiree and Stella are identical twins, light-skinned black girls who grew up poor in the deep South.  Their father was shot and killed by white men in the 1950s.  As teens the sisters had dreamed of a different life for themselves and at the age of 16 they decide to leave home.  

It isn't long before their lives take separate paths. Stella leaves Desiree in New Orleans in hopes of a more perfect life and, although initially unintended, Stella lives life as a white woman, a life built on secrets about her past.  She marries a white man and has a white-skinned daughter. Meanwhile, Desiree, never stops missing her twin sister, losing contact with her but hoping that they will somehow, sometime reconnect.  Desiree marries as well, to a black man, and despite a bad marriage to a violent man, feels blessed to have a daughter, Jude, a very dark-skinned girl. 

The story which spans several decades is told from the POV of the twin sisters and later the POV of their 2 daughters, Jude and Kennedy.  A multi-layered, character driven novel about sibling relationships, identity, race, class, transgender sexuality, prejudice and more.  The author does an amazing job with her characters, who are difficult to forget.  This is one of those books that will stay with me a long time. So much to discuss; be sure to recommend it for a book discussion. I loved it.

5 star read

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Book Review - Grow: The Secrets of Our DNA; Nicola Davies and Gustavo: The Shy Ghost; Flavia Z. Drago

(Illustrated: Emily Sutton) - Candlewick 2020
Grades (K-4)

Grow: The Secrets of Our DNA is a gem of a book which introduces young children to the magic of DNA, genes, heredity etc by showing how all living things grow (some fast, others slow): plants, animals and humans. Did you know a quahog takes 100+ years to reach palm size?  But then growing is not just about a change in size and shape.

In this book there is a DNA spiral to show steps, pairs and genes that determine our nose shape, hair color and texture, eye color, height etc. It further explains how 1/2 comes from each biological parent and how differences occur among siblings, even those with the same parents, creating a unique, yet similar genetic code to other family members.  There is even an "Afterward" titled: "How Did You Grow?"

Such a wonderful intro for children with vivid, colorful illustrations; some are light and fun as well making a serious book fun to read and absorb.

Rating - 5 stars

Candlewick -2020 

Gustavo: The Shy Ghost is a sweet story from a Mexican author full of lovely details that show us some Mexican traditions.  The story is about a shy ghost with a problem. He wants to make friends but, he is too shy to speak. With the Day of the Dead fast approaching he doesn't want to be left out. What will he do? He loves the violin and is secretly in love with Alma, a pretty monster, he'll send out invitations to a Day of the Dead concert, but, will anyone attend?  I think we all know that this book does have a happy ending.

I loved the spooky, colorful illustrations and the story about taking chances.

Grades Pre-2

Rating 4.5/5 

Tuesday, September 8, 2020

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros - The Lying Life of Adults; Elena Ferrante

Welcome to First Chapter/Intros, now hosted by Yvonne @ Socrates Book Reviews. Each week readers post the first paragraph (or 2) of a book they are reading or that they plan to read soon.

The Lying Life of Adults; Elena Ferrante
Random House Audio - 2020

"Two years before leaving home my father said to my mother that I was very ugly.  The sentence was uttered under his breath, in the apartment that my parents, newly married, had bought at the top of Via San Giacomo dei Capri, in Rione Alto.  Everything--the spaces in Naples, the blue light of a frigid February, those words--remained fixed.  But I slipped away, and am still slipping away, within these lines that are intended to give me a story, while in fact I am nothing, nothing of my own, nothing that has really begun or really been brought to completion: only a tangled knot, and nobody, not even the one who at this moment is writing, knows if it contains the right thread for a story or is merely a snarled confusion of suffering, without redemption."

I'm listening to the audio version right now, narrated by Marissa Tomei (she's fabulous) but, so far I'm on the fence about what I think of this one.  It's translated from the Italian by Ann Goldberg who did a nice job.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Book Review - 28 Summers; Elin Hilderbrand

28 Summer; Elin Hilderbrand
Hachette Audio & Little Brown - 2020
(combo read - print/audio)

Loosely based on the movie "Same Time Next Year",  28 Summers begins when Mallory Blessing is dying. Mallory asks her son to call a number on a piece of paper in her desk, the number belongs to Jake McCloud whose wife is running for President.  What's the connection?

Flash back to early 1990s, Mallory's brother Cooper was best friends and fraternity brothers with Jake McCloud. Mallory has just inherited a Nantucket cottage from her late aunt and, after one passionate weekend interlude with Jake while visiting for Cooper's bachelor party, Mallory and Jake feel that once in a lifetime connection.  The two agree to meet the following Labor Day weekend, a connection which lasts for nearly three decades.  Of course, making that meeting happen becomes more and more complicated as the years pass especially, when the individuals lead separate lives the rest of the year.

I  really loved this story. All of the characters are flawed and love triangles are always complicated. For some readers, the entire plot line, much of which is built on lies and deceit might be a turnoff but, for me the story worked.  I kept wondering how much longer can this intense affair continue without their secret being uncovered.

Each chapter is devoted to a particular year where the intro offers a bit of nostalgia about pop culture and what was happening in that particular year; I loved that.  I also loved how Jake and Mallory exchanged books they had read over the year with special notes and highlights for the other to enjoy.  There are some politics (liberal slant) infused into this story that might turn off some readers as Jake's wife is a presidential candidate toward the end of the story. This is the type of story that would make for a good discussion: politics, family, secrets, scandals, joy and sadness. The Nantucket setting, once again, added to my enjoyment of this one. Almost perfect; loved it. 

Rating - 4.5/5 stars

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Week in Review - Sunday Salon


Deb Nance at Readerbuzz  hosts The Sunday Salon. 

How was your week?   Another week and the end of summer, at least in my eyes, although we still have a few more weeks to officially ring in fall.  I'm loving the cooler nigh temps; it was 55 last night and we had a high of 78 yesterday - glorious sunny day. A pretty good reading week but, a few days I felt like I was in a bit of a funk.  We're not dining out but, we do get take out 1-2x a week so that's a nice treat.  

Yesterday we took a walk around a private college not far from us and it was so odd not to see any students on campus ground. Instead,  area residents were enjoying the gorgeous grounds.   (2) of my husband's grandchildren are away on campus - Syracuse University and University of Wisconsin - Junior and Freshman years. We'll see how long that lasts with the virus. 

I'm trying to line up a few new projects to change things up a bit when reading just isn't enough. As November gets closer, I'm hating television in general these days, it certainly isn't a mood enhancer.  I won't miss the debates later this month, that I'm looking forward to. but then...enough said about politics.  

Here's something that does make me smile, Lucy is a loyal companion and lap warmer. Her brother Ricky is sweet too but, he is subject to mood swings too - who knew that happens to cats?  LOL


Dare Devil Ricky

So I have been reading, but haven't sat down to write any reviews.  Finished (2) books (loved them both). I have (3) in progress but, many, many, more that I want to read this month. We'll see how that goes.

Books I Finished this Week 
(no reviews yet)

Current Reads

Looking Forward to in September

I'm looking forward to apple picking season, guess that would be something we can do safely with masks and, who doesn't love the smell of fresh-baked apple-anything??  Guessing we need to wait about 3 more weeks for this.