Thursday, February 23, 2017

TOB 2017 - Thoughts, Progress & Updates

Tournament of Books 2017

Thoughts - Progress - Updates

Hello everyone!! I've missed you. I think Arianna has mentioned our hiatus and I think this was a much-needed break for both of us. It's kinda funny that we both had so much going on at the same time but you can never predict where life takes you.

So... I'm not going to lie... I've been pretty bad about reading as well as blogging during this time away. My reading lately has been all for the Tournament of Books. Yep, it's that time of year again and I'm SO behind. Normally, when the shortlist comes out I've read at least a few of the books on that list. This year? Only ONE. Ugh....

Okay, so I've been slacking BUT I have been catching up a bit. I finished "We Love You, Charlie Freeman". This book is going to elicit quite a conversation during the Tournament and I think with everything going on right now in the media, it'll be quite interesting to see where that discussion goes. If you haven't heard anything about this book yet, the basic premise is a family recruited to teach sign language to a chimp. This Institute that hires this family holds a secret past that is slowly revealed over time. One of the craziest things I learned while reading this was that back in the day people were afraid to let deaf people use sign language in schools, they thought that it would encourage the deaf community to marry only each other and "create a perpetuating race of non-hearers". They would actually force them to wear mittens so they couldn't communicate that way. Anyways, this book was a solid 3-Star read for me. It didn't come together the way I was hoping but I appreciate what the Author was doing.

What else? I read "The Vegetarian" by Kang Han earlier in the year. That was a solid 4-Star read but I'll admit that it's been too long for me to elaborate on what I liked about it. I am looking forward to revisiting it during the ToB.

Oh, and "Moonglow" by Michael Chabon, which I am sad to admit is the first I've read from him. Parts of it punched me and other bored me to death. The Grandfather and his existential angst told through his war experiences as well as his love for space - positively brilliant. The family stuff, the Grandmother... most of that didn't come together for me. I want to write more about this and perhaps I'll come back later for a fully formed review but my initial gut reaction was to give this 3 Stars... a few days later 4 Stars. That one part of the book - when he finds the rocket and talks about life, this planet, and the fragility of the human race - I felt so moved... I wish Chabon focused entirely on THAT. However, to be fair, this book was based on stories from his father on his deathbed. I did see glimpses of "The Tsar of Love and Techno" with this one and maybe that's my biggest disappointment... the stories didn't come together like they did for that book. I am a huge fan of that contender. However, the brilliance of this book can be seen in one of my favorite quotes from the book:
"The rocket was beautiful. In conception it had been shaped by an artist to break a chain that had bound the human race ever since we first gained consciousness of earth's gravity and all it's analogs in suffering, failure and pain. It was at once a prayer sent heavenward and the answer to that prayer: Bear me away from this awful place."
I have read a few more from the list and would love to get into that but I think that'll have to wait until next time. Stay tuned for my thoughts on a few of my LEAST favorite ToB picks so far.  

Happy Reading,

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Tuesday Check-In

Dear Reader,

Hi, gang! This one's gonna be a short post, because I don't have much to report - I'm still in the middle of a bunch of books:

Making steady progress on all, but nothing much to report. I did love The Color Purple, which I flew through. Celie is an amazing character, and one I won't soon forget. I wish I had been older to see the talk about this book when it was first released.

I'd love to say more, but I just don't have the time today. Sorry this is such a lame post! I hope to have more (or at least better!) updates next week. Until then, happy reading!


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Tuesday Check-In

Dear Reader,

Over the weekend, I finally finished City on Fire. I'd give it a solid 4 stars. Hallberg is a fantastic writer, and I'd like to see more from him. I thought the book was really ambitious and so many times it lived up to its accolades (well, pre-release), but it got a bit too wrapped up in itself and ended up being a bit disappointing, although overall very satisfying. Which is a shame, because that first chapter really shone with such promise. But it was such a great homage to the NYC of the 1970s - I was able to feel like I had been there, myself.

I had to admit, though, I was a bit frustrated by this author who seemed to really know SO MUCH (I loved how many casual references he threw into the book - I learned a lot!) and probably researched everything, but he didn't bother to find out that Vassar doesn't have sororities. Never has. That irked me. But, I know, such a small part in the grand scheme of things...

Anyway, with that behemoth under my belt, that means I'm only in the middle of TWO huge books now: Anna Karenina and The Goldfinch. Making slow but steady progress on both.

In other news, I've started to read The Color Purple for Black History Month, because that's been on my to-read for what feels like ever! So far (maybe 80 pages in) it's fantastic. A bit difficult to get used to Celie's writing, but once you do, the book flows wonderfully. I think this will be a pretty quick read for me, despite some difficult subject matter. I'm so glad I've finally gotten around to it. And, I'm looking forward to seeing Whoopi's portrayal after I finish reading!

I also picked up an ebook I'd let languish for a while while trying to get through City on Fire by reading it on my phone (originally I'd started with the ARC we received at BEA 2015, but I just don't find as much time for picking up books these days, unfortunately!). So my current phone read (started last November!) is The House We Grew Up In, which I received as an ARC via Netgalley ages ago - I'm trying to get through some Netgalley backlog before I request any more materials there. (I mean, the book was published at the start of 2013! That's how behind I am.) It's an intriguing British family story that revolves around this fascinating, perpetually childish matriarch who is a hoarder, and the effect that her problem has on her family - which includes the tight-laced eldest daughter with her reactionary cleanliness bug, the defeated husband who's divorced her but lives next door, and the lost-at-sea younger siblings. I am also really flying through this book; it's a nice break from the denser stuff I've been reading, but it's no fluffy novel, either. I do enjoy these close examinations of families and how these people - who might not have otherwise connected, but are forced into closeness because they were born into the same family - learn to grow together.

I hope you all are having lovely reading lives, these days. I feel like mine is really starting to pick back up!


Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Harry Potter, #4)

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Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Tuesday Check-In

Dear Reader,

Hi! I unfortunately haven't finished a book since my last post, but I wanted to check in anyway, as part of a new style of posting we're experimenting with.

Oh, wait! I have finished a book: Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians! That was a fun YA adventure. I don't think I'll continue with the series, but it definitely might be something I recommend to my daughter when she is older. It was a great divergence from regular YA, and I do love that there was a strong female character (a warrior, who protected the protagonist). Again, the "Evil Librarians" part had me loving the book more than I might have otherwise, I must admit. But definitely a worthwhile read; I'll have to check out more BranSan, but now I'm thinking more The Way of Kings.

And what has replaced my morning commute audiobook, then, you might ask? Well, The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. This is an audiobook borrowed from my
sister, although I had been wanting to read it. I have a soft spot for pop psychology books! (I'm not huge into business advice books, but this one doesn't tread that much into that sort of territory, so I think it's safe.) I'm fascinated by the stories Duhigg tells of people who have changed their lives significantly by simply altering a habit (it all seems very Pavlovian to me, really), as well as the stories he told of those with brain damage who were able to maintain somewhat normal lives through the power of habit. I am about 1/3 of the way through right now, and reading about football - which normally would bore me to tears, but I'm eagerly reading about it in this book!

Otherwise, I'm just chugging along through the other books I mentioned in my last update post. City on Fire is actually becoming really engaging again during the last 100 pages, so I hope it holds up through the end! And I still can't put The Goldfinch down. I hope soon I'll have some more finished-book updates for you. Until then, happy reading!


Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train
Paula Hawkins
3.5 / 5

Published 2015

First Sentence
"She's buried beneath a silver birch tree, down towards the old train tracks, her grave marked with a cairn."
Publisher's Description:
A debut psychological thriller that will forever change the way you look at other people's lives.

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

A compulsively readable, emotionally immersive, Hitchcockian thriller that draws comparisons to Gone GirlThe Silent Wife, or Before I Go to Sleep, this is an electrifying debut embraced by readers across markets and categories.

Dear Reader,

Augh, another too-hyped book that I found to be a letdown! I have to stop getting myself so excited for these books! Ninety-nine percent of the time, they don't live up to their accolades. (But at least there are those who do, and they often make up for the others.)

Don't get me wrong - Troy can attest, I couldn't put this book down all weekend, nor could I stop talking about it. But! I felt like the "big reveal" was rather predictable much earlier on, and that the whole rest of the book was kind of...pointless. I didn't need to know that much about how everything wrapped up. I just needed to know the how & the why.

I loved the premise of this book - hearing about it on a webinar last November, I was eager to pick it up, imagining a modern-day Rear Window (one of my favorite Jimmy Stewarts). And it started off with a ton of promise, as the reader got to know Rachel's sad life (and indulge in a little schadenfreude). We could understand the frustration & helplessness she felt (especially those of us who had been through that situation, in one form or another). We sympathized with the situation she found herself in, and could see why she would want to allow herself the escape of becoming a bit too nosy about the life of  another couple ("the perfect couple"). That she didn't know them at all just made it easier for her to invent perfection. So when things go downhill quickly for "Jess & Jason", it makes sense that Rachel feels a connection to them, a responsibility to help out where she can.

I enjoyed how the book flipped between the narration of three women, all of whom were tied together through Rachel. Their unique voices helped shape the story, and seeing things from their perspectives really changed my sympathies and alignments as time went on. I was solidly pro-Rachel the whole book, but felt various amounts of sympathy for the other two.

I think this book is great for those who enjoyed Gone Girl and Before I Go to Sleep and other similar thrillers; it certainly is engrossing and a great weekend read! I just...wasn't all that won over by it, in the end. Unfortunately!


The Girl on the Train

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Monday, January 30, 2017

My current reading life.

Dear Reader,

Hi! Been a while, eh? Amber & I both needed a break from blogging for various reasons, but we're hoping to revive Shelfnotes and see where things go. Perhaps we'll be working in a different format; we're not sure! But we hope we can breathe some new life into our beloved book site.

So, I suppose an update is in order, first. Since having a baby in March of 2016, my reading life has changed significantly. For a while - during those first few heady months - I was barely reading anything, of course. But eventually I was able to establish some new reading habits - totally different from my old ones. I haven't had a chance to pick up many physical books for several reasons, mostly due to time constraints and baby's interest in putting everything under the sun in her mouth. But I do get a lot of opportunity to read on my phone, and plenty of audiobooking time when I am driving to and from work (another recent change: a commute to go with a new house).

So, a bit unorthodox for me (I do so miss my books, which still haven't been totally unpacked), but I'm happy to be reading. What am I reading, then, you might ask? I'm glad to share! I'm in the middle of a bunch of books and have only finished two so far this year:


TransAtlantic (Colum McCann)
This one was pretty good but not great...I definitely preferred Let the Great World Spin, which I actually just read this past summer (getting my Colum McCann on all at once, apparently!). I picked up TransAtlantic because I've had it on my shelf for a while - we got copies signed by the author at one of the BEAs, and it's languished on my shelf ever since. (Despite that McCann was a charming Irishman in person!) The story was fascinating, and there's no denying McCann is a great writer, but I'd love to see him focus on one storyline for the entirety of a book. While I do love the concept of overlapping lives (and how everything ties together), I think he'd do so great focusing on just one. Some of the vignettes were certainly better than others, too - I was just about snoozing through the senator's story, but I did love the one that focused on Lily building her second family, and then her empire. McCann's characters are memorable and so achingly human.

Into the Beautiful North (Luis Alberto Urrea)
This book was the Big Read selection for the Poughkeepsie Public Library in 2016; I was late getting to it, but still wanted to read it. It was a really well done YA adventure - I'd give it 3.5 stars.  I feel it was definitely an important read for many to encounter especially right now, in such polarizing times. Urrea humanizes the "other" so well: he shows the reader all sides and situations, investigating the many shades of grey anyone's story can be. If everyone would just read about Nayeli and her friends, they might be more empathetic. Urrea created an unforgettable cast of characters who you wanted to cry along with in their frustrations and cheer with in their triumphs. 


City on Fire (Garth Risk Hallberg)
This book is so difficult for me to write about, especially being 600+ pages in. Hallberg is an absolutely amazing writer - I am continually struck by his turns of phrase, and it's so easy to see why this book was the subject of a high-stakes bidding war. However, I also understand why its Goodreads ratings aren't as high as was expected of the book's performance, and why it didn't end up being the bestseller it might have been. I'm going to struggle to really review this book once I'm done with it, but I am really engaged with it, if not wholly enjoying it. It hasn't fully drawn me in, even though it's hooked me - does that make sense? I'm eager to see the resolution of the epic story, though!

Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians (Brandon Sanderson)
I'm almost done with this one - I've been audiobooking it on my commute. It's fun and hilarious, and I see why BranSan (that's what my husband and I call Sanderson - his favorite author - for short) is so popular! But, this is clearly geared towards kids, and I think I next need to read one of his non-YA books to truly catch the BranSan bug. While Alcatraz's breaking-the-fourth-wall wit is great, the book's self-consciousness can get kind of annoying after a while. I think, though, that for a kid, it would be really fun, and a nice change from the classics one might be forced to read in school. Also - the whole reason I am reading this at all? The evil librarians! So it gets bonus points just for that.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus (Charles C. Mann)
Slowww going on this one - I think I've been picking through it for over a year! But it's pretty fantastic. I'm learning so much about the pre-Columbian Americas, and how we've interpreted and revisited many of our assumptions about the continents before the arrival of the Europeans. I think this is an important text for any high school U.S. History teacher to read and share with their students.

The Goldfinch (Donna Tartt)
I read The Secret History a couple of years ago and was severely unimpressed with Tartt, so I kept putting off reading this one because I didn't have much faith in it, despite the rave reviews! However, I'm now unable to put this one down! It's not terribly riveting in terms of a mystery like Secret History was, but it is really well written and you just want to keep reading to find out how Theo's life turns out.

Anna Karenina (Leo Tolstoy)
I'm about 1/3 of the way through this tome, and reading it piecemeal as it was originally published - about a chapter a day! I am loving doing this, even though it will take me quite a while to complete. But I imagine I am a Russian during Tolstoy's time, eagerly awaiting the next day's installment. As with most thousand-page Russian novels, this one likes to delve quite a bit into the philosophy of the Russian state, but the story still holds up despite the interesting digressions.

The Golden Compass (Philip Pullman)
This one I've been meaning to read for a while, since it's gotten such great reviews. I'm not terribly far into it yet (maybe 1/5 of the way in?), but it's got an engaging setup and a compelling protagonist in Lyra, the orphan who runs amok in the streets of an alternate-universe Oxford, in which everyone has a sort of "spirit animal" and children are disappearing for mysterious reasons.

You'll also note that not a single one of these books is recently published or to-be published: I've decided to take a break for a few months from the, well, breakneck pace of reading we'd been doing to focus more on things I've been wanting to read. So, you may see more classics (or less recently published) books here, but I hope you'll still enjoy hearing about the stories I'm encountering.

I missed you, Shelfnotes! I hope you'll hear more from me this year. xo


Friday, January 20, 2017

A Brief History of Seven Killings

A Brief History of Seven Killings
Marlon James

Published 2014

First Sentence
"Listen. Dead people never stop talking."

Publisher's Description:

From the acclaimed author of The Book of Night Women comes a masterfully written novel that explores the attempted assassination of Bob Marley in the late 1970s.

On December 3, 1976, just before the Jamaican general election and two days before Bob Marley was to play the Smile Jamaica Concert, gunmen stormed his house, machine guns blazing. The attack nearly killed the Reggae superstar, his wife, and his manager, and injured several others. Marley would go on to perform at the free concert on December 5, but he left the country the next day, not to return for two years.

Deftly spanning decades and continents and peopled with a wide range of characters—assassins, journalists, drug dealers, and even ghosts—A Brief History of Seven Killings is the fictional exploration of that dangerous and unstable time and its bloody aftermath, from the streets and slums of Kingston in the 70s, to the crack wars in 80s New York, to a radically altered Jamaica in the 90s. Brilliantly inventive and stunningly ambitious, this novel is a revealing modern epic that will secure Marlon James’ place among the great literary talents of his generation.

Dear Reader,

-What the bombocloth this is?

-A review of this book called "A Brief History of Seven Killings"

-What kinda batty boy business is dat?

-I can assure you, I'm not a batty boy. Although, before reading this book I would have had no idea what that even meant.

-Who the r'asscloth-you-talking-to?

-The readers, they want to know how the book was and if they should read it.

-Tell dem is no business of dem. This too big for you.

-Excuse me? Too big? Now THAT is a challenge, haha.

-Brethren, who the r'asscloth going care, eh?

-Trust me, people will. Now leave and let me get down to it.

Now where was I? Oh yes, the book. Wow, what a giant doorstop filled with an entire world I hardly knew existed. I was scooped right up into the tropical paradise of the ghetto, a great vacation spot. To be honest with you, no review I can do will ever do justice to this book. This must be experienced first hand, you'll have to struggle with the patios just like I did. Surprisingly enough, the first half was my favorite, the second part brought me out of the experience (when everything moved to NY). This would have been a five star read for me if it stayed native and felt closer to that feeling the first half of the book was chock full of.

I'm not going to lie to you, this book is NOT easy... you will struggle BUT this struggle is completely worth the pay out. This book will probably be dropped by many who don't feel like wasting time with immersing themselves in the world/language... and as understandable as that is, it also saddens me. Those of you... will be missing out. So without spoiling things or attempting to review a book that is beyond words for me, I'll leave it up to you. Don't be a bombocloth, try it... you might like it.

Happy Reading,

P.S. - This book is also a contender for the Tournament of Books this year.

A Brief History of Seven Killings

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