Lazy Summer Reading

I am happy to report I seem to have finally shrugged off my spring reading slump and am enjoying some lovely lazy days reading. I think it helps I’ve been sticking to books about food, romantic comedies and only one “serious” read (but it was so good, it was worth the few tears!). Here are the titles that helped me get back to reading more like myself:

Voracious: A Hungry Reader Cooks Her Way through Great Books by Cara Nicoletti

This was a fun read; as someone who often finds herself hungry for what the characters in her latest book are eating, I enjoyed Nicoletti’s deep dive into literary food. Also, as a book to help one out of a reading slump, this reads fast and easy. But does make you really hungry so maybe avoid if also on a diet. I also found the recipes to be quite complex – nothing I couldn’t do if I tried but during the summer…who really wants to be cooking and baking all that much?

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum

This was the book Anne Bogel (aka Modern Mrs. Darcy) recommended to me (well, the third book since the first two were already out of stock). But it did not disappoint. This book is delightful. A bit You’ve Got Mail meets Clueless, it’s fairly predictable but that’s the beauty of it. It has characters you’re rooting for the whole time even when they are in the dark about what is going to happen next but you definitely know. And you just need books like that sometimes; they are comforting and wonderful to devour in one seating. This would be a perfect beach read if you’re in need of one. (and I gushed on this at book club so much it’s the first book we’re reading in the fall!)

Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

After easing myself back on the reading train, I hit up this title which I picked up at the local indie bookstore on sale a few months back. This was such a bittersweet and beautiful book to read. I took it slow; it was a story I both wanted to savor and also slightly dreaded what would happen next. June is such a fantastic and heartwarming character – both still so young and naive while being an old soul at the same time. She’s a teenager so she also has her annoying moments but her relationships are fascinating to watch develop, crumble and rebuild over the course of the novel. The book also made me tear up, which not many books achieve, so kudos to the author for that. Seriously though, one of the best I’ve read in a long time. Highly recommend.

Girls Who Travel by Nicole Trilivas

Really quick (re: one sitting) book to read. Fun, cute (but predictable) rom-com read that just really makes me miss traveling and England…a lot. The main character manages to be less annoying than some in this genre can be so kudos for that. It did take be a bit to get into the book though – I almost DNF’d before it really caught my attention and then I flew through the rest.

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A Slow Reading Season

I will admit, I have not been living up to my reading fiend reputation this spring. See my post over the weekend in which I admit to a major reading slump. But, there may be light at the end of the tunnel!

I have been doing what I call the Romance Weed of 2018 this spring where I am re-reading (and getting rid of a lot) of my romance books. I am a sucker for a historical romance but I find I re-read the same ones a lot so no reason to hang onto all of them. I am less in love with most of the contemporary romances I still had – most of them have been sent on their way to make room for ones I actually enjoy reading.

But what else have I managed to read this spring? I finished up the Annotated Northanger Abbey, a birthday gift this year. Jane is always a good read and the annotated editions are my favorites. I am a nerd when it comes to Austen and context! I next read John Green’s latest title, Turtles All The Way Down for book club. I really enjoyed this, if that’s the right wording. I found the character study of a teenager dealing with her first relationship while suffering from severe OCD and anxiety fascinating. The mystery plot and the fun best friends and their drama that surrounds the main character were engaging but sort of beside the point. The book shines as a character study and as a way to glimpse into a brain that just cannot shut off once it gets started down a thought path.

I have also been trying to read the “oldest” books on my Kindle. I read two of those this spring, Confessions of a Public Speaker (which was interesting with some good tips for someone like me, who does public speaking only when it’s absolutely necessary and still loathes it) and Georgeanne Brennan’s memoir, A Pig in Provence: Good Food and Simple Pleasures in the South of France. This wasn’t quite what I was expecting; it’s more a series of essays around a recipe rather than a linear memoir. Beautifully written, Brennan has a talent for evoking the time and place in Provence that she is writing about and making me want to give the south of France a second chance someday (I was not impressed my first visit in high school).

Lastly, I’ve already finished my book club book for June. I wanted to send the club off with a nice fluffy beach read (we will be on hiatus until September after this meeting) so I went to a current favorite, Jenny Colgan. Despite a slump, Colgan’s books were ones I devoured this winter and into spring whenever a new one fell in my lap. Every time I read one of her books, I want to run off and start some business that will improbably somehow be a success and lead me to meet a delightful cast of characters. Meet Me at the Cupcake Cafe did not disappoint. If someday I suddenly buy a book truck or bakery in the middle of nowhere, you can blame Jenny Colgan.

I also finished a book I picked up at a reading last summer (don’t judge me). A bit Southern gothic, a bit just odd but delightful, Gradle Bird has a cast of characters that are all damaged and just looking for someone, anyone, to love them. That love, however, comes at a cost for some of the characters. While there are tragic elements to this story, it is ultimately uplifting and a perfect summer read. You can practically feel the humidity coming off these pages as J.C. Sasser evokes the typical summer weather of Georgia perfectly to compliment her story.

I am, in the spirit of my newfound reading zeal, DNF’ing my current read. It was my second time trying to read The Golem and the Jinni and clearly, this book and I are just not meant to be. I made it further into the book this time but it’s just not grabbing me and nothing really seems to be happening. I mean, things are happening, but they just don’t seem to be moving anything ahead in the story so I’m moving on to the next titles in my stack and hope for better success as I go!

Remembering it’s OK to DNF

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Annie (left) and Anne (right) during the Q&A

I had a lovely time at Shelf Help with Anne Bogel (Modern Mrs. Darcy) last night at The Bookshelf in Thomasville, GA. I only get up there it seems when The Bookshelf has an event I can’t pass up. Modern Mrs. Darcy has long been one of those blogs I never skip in my Feedly. Bogel is a true book lover and it shows in her care and thoughtfulness in book recommendations for her readers. The event included a personal book recommendation from Anne (the third book was the charm for me and I will be diving into Tell me Three Things sooner rather than later but the first two books are also on the list to acquire!) as well as a live podcast recording and Q&A with Annie, owner of The Bookshelf and host of From the Front Porch and Anne. One of the things they discussed was reading slumps, something I will admit I have been in all spring (it’s been bad – I think it really started last fall – and I’m just now starting to pull myself out of it). Something that came up during the slumps conversation is how do you decide to stop reading a book. Do you stop because the title is not your cup of tea, it’s not engaging you for some reason or it’s just the wrong time/place/moment to try to read that title? Annie admitted to being a “completionist” while Anne said she’s fine to put a book down with the idea she’ll come back to it later. Annie asked though, do you ever go back?

For me, no and I think that’s OK. What is less ok is that I’ve reverted to my old completionist ways. I was that girl who slugged through any book she started. I spent an entire summer in college painstakingly making my way through classics I thought I should have read by then and hating every minute. But I finished them. Then, during my first job out west, where I lived in a small town with nothing much to do and read more books per week that I ever have in my life (before or since), I started to realize I was wasting time on books I didn’t care about while my to-read list was growing by leaps and bounds. If I ever wanted a chance to read all these titles I said I wanted to read, I was going to have to get tough. So, I gave myself a page limit. 50 pages. If a book didn’t have me in 50 pages, it was going on the DNF (Did Not Finish) shelf on GoodReads and I was moving on. This was one of the most liberating decisions I had ever made as a reader. It was OK to not finish a book. To admit that some books and I just weren’t meant to be and to move on to the next one. I could have skipped for joy. And yet somehow, I forgot that feeling.

I think this current reading slump started because I was having to make my way through books I didn’t particularly care about, or even sometimes like, for my book club. That need to finish so I could lead discussions for the club spilled over to books I then was reading for myself. I found myself resenting having to read. I have NEVER felt like that in my life and I got really frustrated, angry and sort of scared. What was happening to me?! Every title was suddenly one I had to finish again and I hated it. People, this was no fun.

So, I’m bringing DNF back into practice. I perhaps won’t be quite so rigid with the page count this time around but I’m thinking if I’m 25%-ish in and I’m struggling to connect, the book is DNF and I’m moving on. I’m hoping this will bring me out of this slump of mine. I found other suggestions from Annie and Anne to be helpful as well. Anne also suggested talking to other book lovers and admitting to a slump and seeing what they recommend or just asking them to talk about what they’re reading. Hearing someone else’s enthusiasm, even for a book you think sounds like nothing you ever want to read, will help you remember why you love the act of reading. I think Anne also recommended reading some old favorites on your shelves as a way to get back into reading. My one concern with that is I am a major re-reader and once I start down that rabbit hole, I’d just keep re-reading and never start something new. It would be a different kind of slump in a sense (sort of like how I keep adding new shows to my Netflix List but all I do is keep re-watching episodes of Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and West Wing…).

The event last night was perfectly timed to help with this slump of mine. I’m DNF’ing my current book (it was my second time trying to read it…I think we’re really not meant to be) and moving onto to something new and hopefully, this will be the right book and the right time to push me into a summer of getting back to my old reading self. Thanks Annie and Anne!

 

End of Year Book Reviews

I am, of course, still reading but wrapping up reading for the year as I head into a busy holiday season with my family. It will be my first holiday celebrated entirely in Florida (or without snow!) so I’m both excited to be avoiding the airport and bummed to be missing what is a guaranteed white Christmas up north.

I finished my GoodReads Reading Challenge for the year a few weeks back actually. I am now five books over on the year for an even 80. I will probably add another 2 to that before we hit January 1. I kind of did abysmally on my reading goals for the year so I’m re-thinking how I want to structure next year! I know the first goal out of the gate is to read all the books in both my to-read drawer AND on my Kindle. I am not allowed to get a book from the library until those are read. That will probably take me a few months, to be honest, so maybe by March, I can trust myself in the public library again!

I’m also woefully behind in sharing out reviews of the books I have read so I’m just going to hit the highlights of my fall reading:

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart: I had forgotten how much I love E. Lockhart and her ability to make me care so much about such flawed, and sometimes really unlikable, characters. This book plays with a great unreliable narrator. Definitely a lot sadder than Frankie’s story, I still enjoyed the gray space this story occupied in who was right and wrong in what happens.

The Girl in the Clockwork Collar by Kady Cross: I started out my year with the first book in the series and really enjoyed it. This one was less memorable to me. I did enjoy reading it but I don’t really feel compelled to read the next book in the series and since I have enough other things to read, it’s not getting added to the reading list anytime soon.

Dark Witch by Nora Roberts: This was recommended as a great fall read to me and it did not disappoint. The atmosphere of this book was key to me pretending it was fall in sweltering Tallahassee. The main character was a tad annoying at times but I liked her enough to enjoy the story and also to want to know what happens to the other characters introduced in the book so this series got added to the reading list.

starsaboveStars Above by Marissa Meyer: I really miss this series. I mean, I am glad she brought it to a satisfying conclusion but I really love these characters. This book is a series of short stories discussing the characters either before or after the action in the main three books. It was fun to get some of the backstories of my favorites and I adored the final story where we get a “where are they now?” type story with everyone. I am a sucker for that type of story with characters I love.

Books for Living by Will Schwalbe: I picked up a signed copy of this at his book reading here in Tallahassee a long time back so I was happy to finally take the time to read the book. Books about books are the best. Particularly this type where it’s just like a long conversation with a good friend over tea about books. This was also surprising tear-jerking in parts. The chapter where Schwalbe discusses his experience as a gay man in NYC during the height of the AIDS epidemic required multiple tissues.

Pride and Prejudice and Mistletoe by Melissa de la Cruz: This was sadly disappointing at the end of the day. I got annoyed with Darcy. She swung from one extreme to the next too quickly. I also found it hard to believe the character we’re presented with is as successful as she is supposed to when she goes to pieces immediately the second something makes her uncomfortable. The swings were just too much to buy, to the point where she was just really unlikable and annoying. Bingley, however, is delightful as Darcy’s best friend and I liked his romance with Jim Bennet.

The Bookshop on the Corner and The Loveliest Chocolate Shop in Paris by Jenny Colgan: A friend who knows me very well gave me these books for our early Christmas gift exchange. Colgan’s heroines take me awhile to warm up too but they always develop so wonderfully into women I want to be best friends with, I know I need to just stick through the tough bits. Bookshop was such a cozy read! Delightful characters too and gave me the urge to sell everything and buy a book truck (oh, and move to Scotland). In Chocolate,  Anna Trent very much fits into that category of Colgan heroine but is also so determined, you’re rooting for her to succeed before you know it. This book also makes me want to suddenly become brilliant at making chocolate. And move to France to live in a garret to do so. Clearly, Colgan mostly just makes me want to quit my job, move to Europe and do some job I’m not really qualified to do…

52 Cups of Coffee by Megan Gebhart: I enjoyed this read. The audience is supposed to be recent or so-to-be-recent college graduates but I think there is something for everyone whether you don’t know what you want to be when you grow up yet or if you’ve always known and are hitting some bumps on the road.

newsworldNews of the World by Paulette Jiles: A very subtle read. It’s a classic western in many ways but the language really elevates this book. The writing is beautiful in its simplicity and evokes a world that is long gone and we only think we know from the movies. Captain Kidd and Johanna are incredible characters to watch grow to trust each other over their treacherous drive from North Texas to San Antonio.

Belle’s Library by Belle (aka the Walt Disney Company): This was a divine little read that was basically like have a long conversation with Belle about books. So, pretty much perfect!

Jackaby

It is always sad to say goodbye to a good book series. Not that it’s ever really goodbye. The books are always waiting there for you on the shelf or on the Kindle for you to re-visit. Books are comforting that way; they are always just patiently waiting for the next reading.

Things got a little crazy for me to write about this series when I finished the last book (the same day I started reading it; it’s one of those up until 2am because you have to know how it finishes kind of books). This is also the first series since Harry Potter that I pre-ordered the book. Of course, a little differently these days. I ordered the Kindle version so I wake up on release day and there it was, just waiting for me! A bit easier on your day that the agonizing wait for the mailman to show up. So, that should give you some idea of how excited, and devastated, I was for this last book. Last books are nerve-wracking. Will the author answer all the questions? Will they kill off a beloved character? Will they kill off more than one? What new characters will they throw into the mix at the eleventh hour? And as those questions race through your mind, there is one ever-present chant: please don’t screw it up. As a reader, it’s stressful. I can’t imagine being a writer and having to deal with it.

So, to the series at hand. Jackaby. From the start, I adored the idea of this book long before I read it. R.F. Jackaby, a supernatural detective in an alternative Boston-like town takes on an intrepid young woman who’s escaped conformity in Britain for the New World as his assistant.  Jackaby was, as I believe I described in him a previous blog post, a cross between the brothers from Supernatural and the Doctor with a dash of Sherlock. He was delightful. But, and I think this is the coolest part of this series, he was misleading. In fact, the series being called Jackaby is misleading because this is very much a series of books more about his assistant, Abigail Rook, the aforementioned intrepid young woman. Rook is who writes down the stories so they are told from her perspective, Jackaby’s Watson if you like. Unlike Watson though, Rook is very much a leading lady of her own story. She’s the one who likes the detecting work; Jackaby just happens to be the Seer, the person who can see and knows about the supernatural world. Over four books, their partnership is lovely to watch grow but from the start, it is an equal partnership and that is rare even in fiction.

To the last installment of the series, The Dire King. For three books we’ve been leading up to the idea that a single intelligence has been causing all the mayhem in the first three books and now the final goal and villain are revealed. The author did not disappoint. He answered pretty much everything, including some last minute questions he threw in there. He certainly killed off a lot of characters; there were tears. However, as there is a supernatural bent to the story, a few came back, in the end, to make sure there was at least a happier ending that might be expected. As I noted in my review right after finishing reading: In many ways, I could often see the twists coming in this book – subtlety isn’t the point of the plot. These books have always shone because of their characters. These are people I want to be friends with, fight alongside with, have daring, unbelievable adventures with. I am only too sorry to find, as usual, some of the best people I know are fictional. I shall miss Jackaby, Abigail, Jenny, and Charlie.

So, I bid adieu (for now) to this series as I move on to others on my list but I recommend you make the acquaintance of Jackaby and Co. You won’t be disappointed.

 

Collecting at WDW

I am behind, so behind, on listening to the three podcasts I haven’t abandoned because…time. So, this is a response to a month old WDWRadio podcast about things to collect at Walt Disney World. I am a collector, less so now than when I was a kid. As a kid, I may have been more a borderline hoarder. I am more selective these days but the collections I still have almost all have a Disney tie. Exhibits A-D:

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A recent snapshot of my WDW pin collection; still have room to grow!

1) Pins. Let’s start with the obvious one when it comes to me. Mom and Dad had no idea what they were starting when they brought me that first lanyard with four tiny little pins from each park back in 2000. I outgrew the lanyards a long time ago and display my collection on a pegboard now. I know, I know. You’re supposed to wear and trade them but I put a lot of thought into my pins. I pick characters or movies to hunt out each trip or buy pins to commemorate certain events I attend in the parks or even certain trips. These are touchstones for me, not something to trade away. I bought a Cinderella pin the year I did WDW with my best friend from high school and that’s her favorite character. I hunted an entire trip to find a Hunchback of Notre Dame pin one year (I finally hunted it up in the Animation store at DHS – I really miss that store). I have pins from all the festivals I’ve gotten to (Flower & Garden, Food & Wine). Each party I’ve gotten to attend has a pin; I have pins for things that don’t exist anymore (Osborne Spectacular of Lights is one of my favorite pins). I expanded my collection to include Disneyland pins for my first trip back to the original parks in 2012 and then for my trip last year in 2016. I love looking on my board and remembering where all the pins came from and which trip they belong to.

2) Maps. In re-organizing my giant memory chest a year or so ago, I found I’d stopped collecting these (I hadn’t really realized I was collecting them). I meant to start back up this year but I rely so much on the app now, I never think to grab a map as a souvenir. I’ll go again at least once this year so I need to get maps! As a kid though, I was religious in keeping a map from each park for each trip and they are a blast to look through now. To watch the parks grow and change over time is a true Disney Nerd moment.

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I am especially proud of that bottom middle one! RIP Discovery Island

3) Postcards. These are something else I often buy but don’t think that I’m collecting them per say. However, I have postcards everywhere – whether it’s a postcard of the parks or a postcard version of a piece of art I couldn’t afford – I have tons of these, some out for display but most stored away. I always had in the back of my mind I would frame and display all these eventually. Maybe someday I will. I really should just go for a “Disney Wall” some place in my apartment and see what I end up with.

 

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Apparently, I really liked that one that I bought it twice LOL

 

4) Books. Disney, hear me out. Give me a bookstore in Disney Springs already. Just take my money! I will give it to you. I have to hunt for books in the parks these days. There used to be some guarantee go-to spots to find them but even most of those are gone now (The Writer’s Stop, The Animation Shop (we lost so much when this went away clearly), the book wall in World of Disney). As a bookworm, I love to pick up books when I travel. As a kid, I collected the Disney history books in the parks including the coveted Since the World Began by Jeff Kurtti which I lugged all over the Magic Kingdom one trip (I just had to buy it early in the day). These days I pick up books wherever I can find them on property. The gift shop tucked back in Fantasyland often has some of the Beauty and the Beast books being published (though not all of them, Belle is disappointed in you Disney). You can also usually hunt out the Figment comics in the gift shop after the ride and, oddly enough, I have good luck finding them at the Contemporary Resort. I may have swooned on my last Disneyland trip when I found an ENTIRE WALL of books in the shop attached to their Animation area. Seriously Disney, take all the books (your publishing arm pushes out enough of them) and put them in a small shop in Disney Springs. I could probably single-handedly keep it open for you.

A Tale as Old as Time

The first movie I can really remember seeing in the movie theater was Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. Belle was my hero. I wanted to be just like her. Adventurous, loyal, smart, kind, able to walk and read at the same time. Bonus? She got that library in the end too! This was before princess culture took over the toy aisles and before Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique was a thing. This was just a heroine who saved the day. I am who I am because I had Belle as a role model and never once has that been a bad thing. I didn’t even realize it could be until college.

I was a women’s studies minor in college and I adored it. However, it was the first time I really needed to defend my love of Disney and the movies. Look, they are problematic at times, don’t get me wrong but I know it’s also something we have a lot of control over in how it effects us thanks to how our world shares it with us. [See my rant a while back on Cinderella and princess culture] My parents never told me “look at the pretty princess who gets her prince, you should be just like that!” No, my dad only ever said, “look, Belle likes to read just like you!” I always felt I could go off and have adventures because Belle did. And honestly, while I enjoy the Beast, I never felt he was really all that necessary to Belle’s adventures. A catalyst? sure! But necessary…eh. I am the girl who went onto write one of her best papers on how men are superfluous in 19th century novels so clearly I had an idea from a young age that princes and their elk were around for plot purposes, not because the heroine actually needed them. And hey, look at Disney movies with that lens and suddenly, it’s a whole different ball game.

But, I digress. I’m here to talk about Beauty & The Beast of which I lately read and/or watched a couple of fabulous re-tellings that I wanted to share. I read a lot of Cinderella re-tellings but not so much B&TB so yay for different fairy tale re-visits!

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Seriously, so gorgeous. La belle et la bête (2014)

La Belle et La Bête is an absolute gorgeous film out of France in 2014. It has been on my list for awhile so I requested it through the library recently and then they decided to purchase it. I do have great taste after all. And then, right after I got it from the library, Netflix started streaming it so you should all check it out! This version stays a bit more on the traditional tale side of things. Belle and her family (widowed father, two brothers and two sisters) move to the countryside after her father’s merchant business is ruined by bad storms and the family’s finances are immediately tanked. Belle loves her new life in the countryside though the family is less than pleased. However, miracle! One ship manages to get back to port so Belle’s father and oldest brother head back to the city to reclaim their good fortune but that doesn’t work out so well. The eldest brother is in hock to a very bad guy (why isn’t all that clear) and her father ends up hunted by wolves until he finds his way to an enchanted castle. It goes on from there. Things I really liked about this version were: the visuals – the movie is yummy to look at and the costume design is out of this world. Seriously, Belle’s dresses at the castle are works of art and I am so impressed she could move in them; The backstory to why the Beast is cursed; The little enchanted dogs; Giant walking statues at the climax of the film; the ending. Also, the relationships in this movie are SO stereo-typically French which doesn’t always come across well to an American audience (I hate you! I love you! Save me! Get away from me! all in the span of five minutes) but I enjoyed them. My main issue with this version is the plot has a few holes in it and lot of plot points aren’t explained very well.

2974811Belle: A Retelling of Beauty and the Beast (Once Upon a Time #14) is actually part of me getting back to finishing up series on my reading list. This installment is by Cameron Dokey, one of my all time favorite fairy tale re-tellers (if that’s a thing you can have a favorite in).  This was quite a decent retelling of Beauty & The Beast. I liked the woodcarving Belle in this adventure and the idea that the name is more of a curse than a blessing when her face does not live up to the promise of the name. I liked the evolution of the family here as well; much closer to the original story where Bell has two sisters but this version redeems her sisters in ways the original tale did not.

I had read Robin McKinley’s Beauty a long while back but she wrote another B&TB re-telling and I only just now got around to it. Rose Daughter is a lovely rendition of the original story. I liked the emphasis on description over dialogue; much more in keeping with the original fairy tale tradition. The sisters especially were wonderfully rendered and their relationship very much the core of the story over Beauty’s relationship with her father and even to some extent, the Beast. The only thing missing from this version was a good library but I liked the idea of Beauty as a gardener as something new that made perfect sense. Indeed, this book would have fit perfectly into a widening of my thesis in college – the idea that a fairy tale heroine is much stronger when surrounded by a network of supportive and strong females.

Indeed, you get a glimpse into how we re-imagine our heroines in all these versions. Belle as a bookworm, as a woodcarver, as a gardener. As someone who is brave and strong for her family even when she is placed in impossible situations and asked to do impossible things. I think that is something I appreciate more and more about fairy tales each year; they are infinitely malleable to times and places and never seem to cease having tales to tell us in new versions. And surely, Beauty and the Beast will remain a favorite.