Book Review: The Goldfinch

The GoldfinchThe Goldfinch

by Donna Tartt

This book, the 2014 Pulitzer Prize winner, has been on my To Read List for a while and I kept putting it off because it’s so long, plus, if you’ve read my blog, you know about previous Pulitzer experiences with Pulitzers and a bad taste they’ve left in my mouth (See A Visit From the Goon Squad and Angela’s Ashes).  I should keep a score somewhere of the Pulitzer likes and dislikes that are kindof becoming a thing for me.

I listened to The Goldfinch as an audiobook. It was wonderfully narrated by actor and director, David Pittu, who won an Audie award for his voice talent on this book. He voiced foreign accents and different characters so wonderfully.  You could easily tell one from the other and weren’t distracted by the changes. It was 32 hours but I listened to it at 1.8 times the normal speed and finished it in a week. It had some really dark parts and the characters, especially the main character, struggles with heavy issues, drug addiction, and devastating loss.

It was 32 hours long (that’s over 800 pages), but I listened to it at 1.8 times the normal speed and finished it in a week. I started it at 1.2, then ramped it up slowly to 1.5, then 1.8.  After listening to it for a while, it seemed like normal speed to me and normal seemed like molasses dripping on a turtle in a rush hour traffic jam.

It had some really dark parts and the characters, especially the main character, struggles with heavy issues, drug addiction, and devastating loss. Theo Decker loses his mother in a museum bombing in New York when he is thirteen years old. During the bombing, he meets a man and a girl and steals a painting, The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius.  This brief encounter has resounding repercussions. It’s a terrible age to lose a parent, especially when his father is a jerk and is nowhere to be found. The story travels through Theo’s adolescence spent struggling with this loss and loneliness, self-identity and choices. Fascinating people enter his life during this time and are with him for the rest of his life, for good and bad. Andy is his childhood friend, wealthy, nerdy and knowing.  Boris is a charming, reckless nomad.  These two vastly different boys have a powerful

The story travels through Theo’s adolescence, spent struggling with this loss and loneliness, self-identity and choices. Fascinating people enter his life during this time and are with him for the rest of his life, for good and bad. Andy is his childhood friend, wealthy, nerdy and knowing.  Boris is a charming, reckless nomad.  These two vastly different boys have a powerful effect on Theo.

Through the worlds of New York socialites, art dealers, and international criminals, from New York, so important, it’s a character in itself, to Las Vegas, to Amsterdam. The painting really exists.  In fact, many works of art are mentioned in this book.  Here is a wonderful article about the works mentioned in the novel.  There’s also a Pinterest board.

I loved the characters.  Boris is fascinating, the bad boy, bad influence that you love anyway and trust, though you don’t want to. And Hobie, so dear and wise. The story made me cry. It held me in suspense.  I couldn’t stop listening. I was fully immersed.

I think it would make a GREAT movie, which is already in the works from Warner Brothers. It will be directed by John Crowley, the director of  Academy Award nominee Brooklyn, also a great book. It needs the right script, of course.  Someone suggested Nicholas Hoult should play Theo, and, wow, that seems exactly right.  He’s got a good mix of vulnerable, attractive, young yet worldly, naive but addicted.

I don’t know why I think if someone is an addict, they have more world experience… more grittiness. This is a flawed view.  Addicts can be naive emotionally. Addicts can even be wholesome as Theo sometimes seems. In essence, addicts are no different than anyone else except they are controlled by a terrible need. And sometimes that need makes them do terrible things.

So anyway…Nicholas Hoult??

    

PopSugar has some fun suggestions for casting, too. Jeff Bridges as Hobie? I don’t know about that.  I was picturing more tall and skinny but Bridges is a master.  There are some actors who can be anyone. The most interesting suggestion is Ezra Miller as Boris.  While, I’m not sure about that…  He’s definitely got the not dirty/dirty hair thing going on.

Ezra-Miller

This book really made me think. I’m still thinking.  I probably will for a long time. The ending was cathartic in that it wrapped up well for Theo but it wasn’t all roses and puppies.  It was a dark view of life, that we’re just here to suffer through it.  I don’t believe that at all but I respect that someone who has had a different experience than me, someone like Theo, feels that way. It makes me wonder what happened to Donna Tartt.  I will definitely read some of her other books.  Have you read any of them?

A great sorrow, and one that I am only beginning to understand: we don’t get to choose our own hearts. We can’t make ourselves want what’s good for us or what’s good for other people. We don’t get to choose the people we are.”

This really struck me.  The whole book culminates to this point. We can choose how we act, how we respond, what we show the world, but we can’t choose what we love, what drives us deep down or what we desire. Sometimes those things are not the best thing for us, or the good thing or the right thing.

I’m so lucky and blessed that I’ve had the life I have and, more than anything, have the outlook I have – to always choose to be happy and make the best of everything.  I’m so lucky I never became addicted to anything worse than chocolate and cycling (that should have been the name of my blog).  I have friends and family members who are alcoholics and addicts who make terrible decisions. It’s so frustrating to watch, yet it’s so human of them.  I’m not saying I’m perfect, I’m certainly not, but I’ve made a lot of safe choices, taken another path when friends jumped off the cliff. This book made me appreciate those choices for myself and also understand the choices they made.

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

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Book Review: Daring Greatly

Daring Greatly book cover

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead

by Brené Brown.

Daring Greatly is our book club selection for February.  I read this book a few months ago and was so inspired.

I am generally an extrovert and don’t have problems with vulnerability and sharing but this book spoke to me on so many levels.Ours is a world filled with situations and messages that make us ashamed of our bodies, our imperfections and of not living up to the expectations of others and of ourselves.

Quite simply this book helps give reasons to believe we are enough. It’s a guide for overcoming fear and living whole-heartedly. It is based on a solid foundation of research by Brown because of her own personal struggles with shame and vulnerability.

For the first few chapters, I was a little skeptictical, as I usually am of self-help books like this. I thought I had read something by Brene Brown years ago – around the same time Oprah was recommending books and world views from authors like Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) and Sarah Ban Breathnach (Simple Abundance). I soon realized I had not read her work.

At first, I argued that some shame is necessary to know we’re doing something that is at odds with our moral or ethical beliefs. She quickly defined that feeling as guilt, which can be good, and is different from shame.

I recommend this book to everyone. I think there is some nugget that will speak to every point of view. Her early research only involved women because she thought shame was more of a female issue, then she realized the differences between male and female shame. Women’s is multifaceted, shame over weight and appearance and not being a good mother. Men’s shame tends to come down to one thing – not being a p#ssy.

I thought about skipping the chapter on parenting because I have no children, then found myself weeping as I realized what a wonderful job my mother did – even in the things she did wrong. She had me at 17, how did she know how to do it all so right when she was so young? She gave so much love and support and allowed me room to fail and take risks and be creative. Things Brown says are key.

I will definitely reread this. If you haven’t already, at the very least, watch this Ted Talk she did in 2010 about vulnerability.

Our book club has never read nonfiction, other than biographies, as a group. It can touch on deeply personal issues, something some will be uncomfortable with but as Brown says,

Connection is why we’re here; it is what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. The power that connection holds in our lives was confirmed when the main concern about connection emerged as the fear of disconnection; the fear that something we have done or failed to do, something about who we are or where we come from, has made us unlovable and unworthy of connection.”

Read more on her web site brenebrown.com. I can’t wait to read this book with my book club and discuss it with my friends.  Join us virtually on social media and share your thoughts!

Rating: 5 of 5 stars

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The Night Circus Book Club Ideas

The Night Circus Book Club Ideas from sweettnbooks.com

 Book Club Recipes

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern was an inspiring book for book club!  Our lovely hostess, Angela, was amazing. The whimsical food and decor were so much fun! Of course, everyone dressed in the Reveur’s black and white with a splash of red! The food was inspired by the circus concessions and the black and white and red theme.  We had caramel corn and chocolate covered popcorn, black and white cookies, brownies with icing, apples with salted caramel dip and the highlight of the night, Heather’s homemade chocolate mice!!!  Squeeee!!!  She made them with Hershey’s kisses, cherries and almond slivers for ears!

Note to authors, when you write a book, include something unique and fun like chocolate mice in your story so readers can squeal in delight when someone brings them to book club! You can special order them from L. A. Burdick’s Gourmet but I like Heather’s better!  I spent way too much time looking at #chocolatemice on Instagram.  Click on that link if you have a little time to kill….a lot of time to kill?  There are a couple of entertaining mouse fails (really disturbing!) and a hilarious derp mouse with big ol’ crazy eyes! So funny!

There were also delicious pulled pork sandwiches with two kinds of cole slaw, kale and brussels sprouts salad with bacon and pecorino (here’s the recipe),  a center ring of brie and french bread, veggies and dip, cookies, guacamole, an herb and cheese baked bread amazement, and sauteed beet noodles with goat cheese and cranberries – for the touch of red!

Magic Tricks

Our hostess’s ten-year-old son performed magic tricks for us with assistance from Bebe, the dog (though I failed miserably at catching them on video!)

Quotes

Another of our book club rituals is Quotes!  Each person selects a quote (or two) from the book and attaches it to her wine glass.  Near the end of our discussion, we read them, and talk about what it means to us or why it was important in the book. I usually prepare them by going to the quotes section for a book on GoodReads.com.

Here are a few quotes from The Night Circus

Wine is bottled poetry, he thinks.”

 

The past stays on you the way powdered sugar stays on your fingers. Some people can get rid of it but it’s still there, the events and things that pushed you to where you are now.”

What a fun book club discussion!

I got a Book Clubs to Go kit from our Harford County Public Library.  It’s a set of ten paperback books and discussion guide in a canvas bag. The library also had it on audiobook apps and a Playaway device.  (Here’s my post on free audiobook apps, in case you missed it.) When I returned the Book Clubs To Go bag to the library, the canvas bag had a little wine stain on it.  Whoops!  Maybe every book club should add a different vintage of wine to give it book club authenticity and flavor!

Thumbs

The Night Circus was a great book for Sweet T’s ladies to talk about. Although I loved it and four others loved it, the feeling wasn’t universal. We have a book club ritual of giving the book thumbs up or thumbs down.  The majority of the thumbs were at 3 pm!  It made for great book club discussion, though. Sometimes when everyone loves a book, there’s a lot less to talk about. It’s more like, “Oh, I loved it.” “Yes! I loved it, too!” “You want more wine?”

Everyone agreed that the writing was magnificent, Erin Morgenstern captures moments with rich writing and amazing imagery. You feel like you’re there, breathing the air, smelling the scents, living in that world. And what an amazing, wondrous world! Wow!  It’s a circus that’s more like cirque de soleil than Ringling Brothers.  There are not elephant smells and philosophical animal cruelty questions to ponder.  But there are mysteries behind the scenes.  Mysteries and wonder and magic!

We talked about all the tents and which one we would most want to visit.  I think the Ice Garden and Widget’s scented jars of memory were the most popular. I found the cutest little light up trees at Michael’s to make our own wishing tree!

The Author

Erin Morgenstern is a painter and visual artist as well as a writer, that’s why the writing style is so visual. She studied studio art and theater at Smith College in Massachusetts. She wrote the book as part of three NaNoWriMos – National Novel Writing Month in November. NaNoWriMo is an annual writing contest where participants write 50,000 words in a month. Almost all of the 100,000 words written in Morgenstern’s first two years were rewritten. The first drafts didn’t even include Celia. It was more about the descriptions than a plot.

That makes sense to me because the plot does sometimes seem like an afterthought to the confection that is the circus and the characters. Though I found the story of the young enchanters’ challenge fascinating but slower to develop.  Some of our group didn’t feel like there was much of a plot at all.  But another said the author did a good job of building the characters as pawns in the game

Jen described it was a mix between Romeo and Juliet and X Men’s secret society!  We were not sure what genre to classify it as – fantasy? romance? mystery? literary?

I read the book twice, actually, I listened to the audiobook twice.  I read it last year and wanted to brush up on the finer details.  And quite, frankly, it’s a book that definitely gives you more the second time around (though Elizabeth wouldn’t agree).

My ears were buzzing that night because I listened to the audiobook on the Playaway device with headphones all day long –  literally all day long. I went to the grocery store listening to it. I was at work listening to it. I went to the bathroom listening to it. I fixed lunch listening to it. I ate lunch listening to it. Driving home listening to it, with probably, probably, 15 minutes to go, the battery died. OMG!!!

OMG!! If I hadn’t read it already and if I hadn’t read a synopsis online and prepared the questions I would be so mad.  Actually I was mad.  Fortunately the library was on the way home and I rushed in gasping, “Help me!  I’ve got 15 minutes and book club is in 2 hours and it’s dead!”  The librarian was such a dear, he said, “That’s why we’re here, to heal the books so don’t worry!”  He reached into a drawer and pulled out new batteries (I didn’t realize they ran on AAA’s – der.)  So yay Mr. Librarian! And Thank you!

The Night Circus Discussion Questions

I prepared discussion questions from the publisher’s web site, other book groups online, and my own little head.  Here are some of my favorite questions and some of our (mostly my) thoughts on them.

  1. Who are your favorite characters?
  2. What are your favorite parts of the circus? What tent would you most want to visit?How many tents can you name?
  3. Marco asserts that Alexander H. is a father figure to him (though his paternal instincts aren’t readily noticeable). In what ways does Alexander provide for Marco and in what ways has he failed him? Hector Bowen IS Celia’s father. What do you think of his fatherly prowess and shortcomings?
    1. We felt like Alexander was at least up front with Marco.  He never misrepresented himself.  When Marco asked, “What’s my name. ” He said it doesn’t matter.   And at the end, he seemed more fond of Marco and of the circus in general. He felt more human. Hector Bowen was abusive, self-centered, and obsessive, as it showed in his disappearing himself.
  4. What are the differences between Marco and Celia? Between Marco’s magic and Celia’s magic?
    1. Celia makes true transformations. Marco creates illusions that exist only in the mind of the beholder. Celia has innate talent where Marco has learned skill. Celia is on the inside of the circus, Marco is outside, in London.
  5. Listen to this quote and think about how it applies to both the circus and the competition?“Chandresh relishes reactions. Genuine reactions, not mere polite applause. He often values the reactions over the show itself. A show without an audience is nothing, after all. In the response of the audience, that is where the power of performance lives.” Which audience is more valuable: one that is complicit or one that is unknowing?
  6. Celia emphasizes that keeping the circus controlled is a matter of “balance.” And Marco suggests that the competition is not a chess game, but rather, a balancing of scales. However, both the circus and the competition get disordered at times—leaving both physical and emotional casualties in their wake. Is the circus ever really in “balance,” or is it a pendulum swinging from one extreme to the next?
  7. What do you think of the competition? Do you think it’s fair that they didn’t know the rules? Being bound to it as children?
  8. What do you think of Friedrick Thiessen? He says he thinks of himself “not as a writer so much as someone who provides a gateway, a tangential route for readers to the circus.” He is a voice for those unable to attend the circus and suggests that the circus is bigger than itself. What role do the reveurs play in keeping the spirit of the circus alive outside of the confines of the circus tents?
  9. Is it feasible for the rêveurs to be so obsessed with the circus that they’d define their lives by it? What kinds of groups are there like that? Have you ever been part of a group like that?
    1. We came up with real-life groups of people who are the same: Trekies, Groupies, Whovians, Rennies, Parrot heads, Deadheads, Cyclists.
  10. From the outside, the circus is full of enchantments and delights, but behind the scenes, the delicate push and pull of the competition results in some sinister events: i.e. Tara Burgess and Friedrick Thiessen’s deaths. How much is the competition at fault for these losses and how much is it the individual’s doing?
  11. How do you view the morality of the circus in regards to the performers and developers being unknowing pawns in Celia and Marco’s competition? Do Celia and Marco owe an explanation to their peers about their unwitting involvement? Discuss themes of good and evil. Free will versus being “bound” Why do you think some people, like Mr. Barris, don’t mind being trapped by the circus while it drives others, like Tara Burgess, mad?
  12. Isobel is a silent, yet integral, partner in both the circus and the competition. She has an ally in Tsukiko, but seemingly no one else, especially not Marco. How much does Marco’s underestimation of Isobel affect the outcome of the competition? Was she good? Bad?  A victim?  A perpetrator?
    1. I think she finally understood it in the end.  How many young people think they’re in love when they’re not. I certainly did.  Or really, they may be in love but it’s more of an infatuation than true lasting commitment.  I don’t like to belittle anyone’s feelings.
  13. Tsukiko is aware of Isobel’s “tempering of the circus” from the outset and when Isobel worries that it is having no effect, Tsukiko suggests: “perhaps it is controlling the chaos within more than the chaos without.” What, and whose, chaos is Tsukiko alluding to here?
  14. Were you surprised at Tsukiko’s identity?
  15. What did you think of the ending?
    1. I really don’t think you can say it was a predictable story.

 Want more ideas for your The Night Circus themed book club party?

Check out my Pinterest board and some of my blogger friends.

Check out this beautiful table setting for a midnight dinner party from Home is Where the Boat Is.

The Night Circus

I think Delicious Reads always has the most spectacular book club ideas!

Vacuuming in high heels and pearls had some great ideas too!

The Circus Setting

Here’s a list the circus tents and acts in The Night Circus.

Tents

The Ticket Booth
The Elaborate Iron Gate: Opens at nightfall. Closes at dawn. Trespassers will be exanguinated.
The Tunnel: Directly beyond the ticket booth and the only public entrance to the circle. A black and white, twisting tunnel with black velvet curtains either end.
The Central Cauldron: contains a white, constantly burning fire. This is also the source of the spell that binds the performers and Marco to the circus and protects them.
Friedrick Thiessen’s Clock
The Menagerie
The Carousel
The Hanged Man Acrobatic Display
The Illusionist’s Tent: Celia’s tent
The Wishing Tree
The Fortune Teller: Isobel’s tent
The Labyrinth: Marco and Celia’s collaborative work
The Ice Garden
The Stargazer: A slow roller-coaster allowing visitors to look up at the stars
The Cloud Maze
The Scented Jars: Widget’s tent
The Drawing Room: a tent surrounded by blackboards and with buckets of chalk provided for guests to draw
Creatures of Mist and Paper: an exhibit of animated paper creatures inside a misty tent
The Pool of Tears: a silent pool of water surrounded by black stones, which visitors can toss into the pool.
The Hall of Mirrors: contains small individual mirrors which are not full-length, some of which show reflections of people who are not there, and finishes with a gaslight surrounded by mirrors
The Fire Tent: Includes a fire eater, fire stick twirler, and a fire sculptor who turns fire into shapes.

Freestanding Circus Acts

The Kittens: Poppet and Widget’s performance of somersaulting kittens
The Juggler
The Sword Dancers
The Contortionist: Tsukiko’s performance
The Living Statues: The Empress of the Night, the Black Pirate, the Lovers, the Paramour, and the Snow Queen. The Snow Queen bears an unnamed memorial, actually to Tara Burgess

Concessions

Cocoa, optionally with spice or cream topping
Popcorn, optionally with caramel or chocolate topping
Caramel apples
Sugar flowers
Cider and eiswein and tea, in the Drinkery tent
“Delicious little cinnamon things”. Cinnamon twists with icing
Chocolate mice with almond ears and licorice tails
Chocolate bats with delicate wings
Dumplings
Edible paper with illustrations matching the flavors
and that was just in the circus, it doesn’t cover the midnight dinners!

You’re still reading!?

WOW!!  Thank you!  I’m very flattered. I hope you enjoy this book and book club ideas. Did your book club do something interesting?  I want to know!  Send me an email or connect with me on social media and tell me what you did!  Here’s me, with my clipboard, leading the discussion, talking and drinking, drinking and talking.  I always seem to be a little tipsy when they take these pictures of me and my big ol’ smile!  Happy Reading!  Tarah

Book Review: A Visit From the Goon Squad

A Visit from the Goon SquadA Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I would give this only one star because I really didn’t like it. I only gave it 2 stars because the writing is good, there are moments of beautiful imagery and insight and the last chapter was an intriguing satire of the near future. There were concepts to ponder but it’s not my cup of tea.

I’m not into that New York rock and roll drugged-up burn-out scene filled with angst-ridden, pretentious aging unhappy characters. It was a bunch of short stories loosely linked to each other.

It’s another big thumbs down for the Pulitzer board.  Sure, I know sweet, wholesome books and escapist fantasy are not going to be awarded by a committee of writers, publishers, and academics who are looking for innovative and ground-breaking. But there is a point when new and different becomes so much drivel.

Seriously, part of this book is catalogs of songs listed by length of song and length of the pauses in songs. This part is supposedly innovative because it is telling a story in powerpoint slides. Powerpoint slides are a weak way to get a point across for a presentation, much less a novel. Blech! I almost gave up on this book. I hate not finishing a book. I should have let it go, like a bad relationship. I keep believing these books are going to redeem themselves in the end and they rarely do.

This book is part of my #PulitzerChallenge.  Read more about my what led me to read more Pulitzer novels this year in an earlier post I wrote after reading Angela’s Ashes..

Sweet T’s rating 2 out of 5 stars

pink-starpink-star

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Audiobooks for You! Audiobooks for Me! Free Audiobooks at the Library!

The library is an amazing place!  (DUH!) (Does anyone still say duh anymore or is that just us kids who grew up in the ’80s?).  Our local Harford County Public Library system is really great.  Besides just having physical books, they have all kinds of digital resources.  You can download books, audiobooks, movies and music to your Kindle, phone or tablet for free.  It’s awesome!  If you don’t live in beautiful Harford County, Maryland, I’m sure your local library has many if not all of these resources, too.  Check them out!

Just outside of Baltimore, Boordy Vineyards is a fantastic stop along Maryland's wine trails featuring award-winning wines.

I’ve had a fairly long commute for many years but it doesn’t bother me because most of it is through peaceful farmland with cows, sheep, horses, goats and two wineries. That’s my time to listen to audiobooks. Since I am not rich and I read a lot, I rely on the library for my audiobooks. In addition to downloads on my phone (more on that later), there are, of course books on tape and books on CDs but I just discovered these awesome Playaway devices last week!  I’ve seen them for years.  I passed by the display and thought, nah, too big.

They aren’t big at all!  They’re about the size of a cell phone!  You can plug your headphones in and go. It’s an all-in-one plug-and-play book player, no phone or app needed.  No download.  No data used.  No storage space on your phone. Pretty cool!  You can also hook them up to listen in your car with an inexpensive  3.5-millimeter auxiliary cable (also called a “mini-stereo” or “headphone” cable).  It looks like a cable with a headphone plug at both ends.

playaway

Now for the good stuff, the free digital audiobooks you can download to your phone FOR FREE!!!

I’ve been using several apps for years!  You can search the main library card catalog for titles and it will tell you the app that has your title. You can also search within the apps themselves if you like one app.  Some definitely have better selection than others.

Here are some of the ones I use most!

overdrive

Overdrive is my favorite app.

It’s easy to use, easy to search, has a large selection of books.  It has apps for Android and iPhone and for tablets.  Some books are available to download immediately and sometimes you have to place a hold and wait for someone else to finish first – especially more current best sellers. Most of the time, it’s not a long wait.

You can create a wish list and see all the books on your list or just those available now.  It also gives you recommendations based on the books you’ve read and what’s popular with other readers.

You can adjust the playback speed and bookmark locations.  You can share on social media and email what you’re reading directly from the app.You can stream it or download, though I always download so I can listen anywhere without using data. It lists all the book’s chapters and chapter titles.

There is a sleep timer feature that you can customize though the two times I’ve used it I’ve fallen asleep before 3 minutes passed so it’s not a feature I use.

You can stream or download your book, though I always download so I can listen anywhere without using data. It lists all the book’s chapters and information about the book, which is a feature many don’t include.

hooplaI have a love/hate relationship with Hoopla.

I love it because you can instantly download any of the available books.  It has a decent selection.  BUT, sometimes it goes a little crazy, not restarting where you stopped or stopping because of some digital flicker and not restarting in the same page. It makes me paranoid. There have been a few books where I bookmarked every few minutes just in case.

You can adjust playback speed, save favorites and get recommendations just like Overdrive.  And it has a nice selection of movies and tv shows.

Axis 360 Logo

Axis360 has many of the features of the other apps.

I have to admit I haven’t used it as much.  I hear they continue to improve it based on user feedback.  One difference is you can’t download ebooks to your Kindle, you have to use the Axis Reader app.  I’ve listened to a couple of books on it.

Image result for one click digital

OneClick Digital is definitely the least powerful

There have been a few books only available on this app.

Harford County Public Library has many resources for digital ebooks, magazines, movies, and music. There are even tutorials that show you how to use them.

I’m not a children’s book expert but there are great digital resources for kids, too!

Here’s a list of non-library resources for free ebooks.

And here are 15 more websites from Digital Trends, though I haven’t tried them all.

And I subscribe to Audible.com (it’s an Amazon company) because there were older books or books I’ve needed for class or some I really wanted to read that weren’t available in any other place. You can get a free book just for trying Audible.  And if you threaten to cancel, you can get a few more months for a lower price.  And by then, if you’re like me, you’re hooked and you pay full price.

If you have questions or want to know more, please ask.  I have a lot more opinions!  Please take the opportunity to enjoy these resources.

Happy Listening!!

 

 

Friday 5 – Cura Personalis, SPAM, Spool of Blue Thread, Angela’s Ashes, and Pulitzers

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Christmas Break and Cura Personalis

Happy New Year!  I feel so nice and refreshed! I had a nice long wonderful Christmas break from work and yes, from blogging, too. One of the great things about working for the Jesuits in higher education is they think balance is important, that it’s important to replenish your whole being, mind, body, and spirit.  It’s called cura personalis – care for the entire person – and it applies to caring for oneself and for others.

Henry and I both got a chance to read and relax!

henry

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Reading Goals and What I’ve Been Reading Lately

This wonderful time off allowed me to reach, and even go beyond my book challenge for the year.  The goal was 60 and I read 62.  According to Goodreads, that’s 20,902 pages!  For me, it’s more like 8 bajigilion hours of audiobooks as I drove back and forth to and from work and walking Henry and brushing my teeth (yes, I listen while I’m getting dressed in the morning.  Where do you listen?)

I finished A Blue Spool of Thread by Ann Tyler. I really liked it. It was like many of her books, more about character and family and all the moments that make up ordinary amazing lives. It’s set in Baltimore so I recognized the neighborhoods and the much-hated sculpture at Penn Station. What do you think of the male/female statue???  I couldn’t bring myself to give the book a rating. So I didn’t.

bcp-the-muchhated-malefemale-statue-at-penn-st-002Photo credit: Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts

Here’s my year in books.  My book club will laugh that Frankenstein was the least popular!  You can see all my books on Goodreads.

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Yoga at 6 a.m. and my upcoming super foods and yoga January Jumpstart

Since early December, I’ve been getting up earlier on Wednesdays and Fridays to practice asanas at 6 in the morning.  About a dozen other crazy yogis and Peat, one of the amazing instructors at Peace Yoga in Bel Air.  There is something especially nourishing about doing sun salutations as the sun is coming up.

This is my favorite picture of Peat from his profile at Peace Yoga!

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Peat is such a bright shining soul and he’s great at teaching the fine details of all the physical aspects of yoga. We spent a whole class focusing on the muscle contractions in our abdomen…abdomens???  (Uddiyana bandha)  It was like an internal organ massage.  But don’t let the long Sanskrit words fool you, he’s fun and doesn’t take himself too seriously.  It’s a wonderful mix when you’re trying challenging movement early in the morning!  And he’s always got a poem or an inspirational quote or a great song to share.

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And speaking of yoga and cleansing habits, I’m super excited to be doing a yoga and super food challenge starting next week with the beautiful and inspirational Flexible Warrior, Karen Dubs. She is a yoga and wellness coach who has worked with the Baltimore Ravens, the Maryland mens’ basketball team and many others.  She has personally overcome lymes, Hashimoto’s, and autoimmune diseases by clean eating and lifestyle.  I did a month-long yoga for runners workshop with her a few years ago at Charm City Run in Timonium.  She gave me massage balls for my feet, taught me legs up the wall and walked all over my back.  I was hooked!  You can learn more and join me at www.flexiblewarrior.com.

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SPAM

Well, I guess I should be flattered.  My blog has become popular enough that I’m receiving SPAM comments on blog posts.  They’re not advertising penis enlargement or asking to send money.  Here’s an example.

Grab my rss! Oh my!!  It might seem like someone who is not a native English speaker is asking to subscribe to my blog feed (which by the way, I’m working on.  My January goal is to create an email subscriber list and get it going) but it’s not. I received this comment from three different email addresses and they were all convoluted quasi business addresses like htmlfreepasswordaccess or some other oddity.  I’m learning the reason people do this is to create links to make their website more viable to search engines. That’s a huge oversimplification.  There are filtering programs and WordPress and Blogger have automatic filters but they continue to get through because spammers try to make it sound legitimate.  It’s a fascinating problem to have.

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Pulitzer Prize-Winning Fiction and Biographies

Angela's Ashes by Frank McCourt

I also finished Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt and I don’t get it.  Another book about the stereotypical poor and starving Irish children who suffered because their father was an alcoholic. Thank goodness it was an audiobook and was abridged.  I can’t imagine how much more of the same could fit into more pages and hours. Why didn’t I like it?  Was it because I couldn’t relate?  Ok, but I can certainly empathize and did.  Empathy and understanding are not the same as enjoyment.

Sometimes I feel like something is wrong with me.  I rarely like Pulitzer Prize Winners.  I don’t get it, I’m smart, I’m literary, I enjoy thinking and discussing books and literature.  Sure, I tend to enjoy lighter reads most of the time but I like to mix it up.  I often feel like Pulitzers are pretentious. The qualifications – “distinguished fiction published in book form during the year by an American author, preferably dealing with American life.”

Here are some thoughts on some I’ve read: I loved All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, Swamplandia was nominated but didn’t win. BLECH!!! I didn’t like The Shipping News, by E. Annie Proulx and hated A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole.  On the other hand, The Color Purple is one of my favorite books, and so is To Kill A Mockingbird and John Adams, the biography by David McCullough is outstanding and fascinating (though I listened to all 30 hours and 1 minute on audio over a couple of month’s commute). OK, so maybe I haven’t read enough of them to say I don’t like them categorically. And listing them out like that, there are really only 3 winners and 1 nominee I don’t like versus 4 I do like, soooooo… maybe it’s that I tend to feel strongly one way or the other about the? I guess this means a new reading goal:  To read more Pulitzers.  Here’s the list.  Which ones have you read?

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Pulitzer Prizes in Fiction

2016: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
2015: All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
2014: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
2013: The Orphan Master’s Son by Adam Johnson
2012: No award given
2011: A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan
2010: Tinkers by Paul Harding
2009: Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
2008: The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
2007: The Road by Cormac McCarthy
2006: March by Geraldine Brooks
2005: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
2004: The Known World by Edward P. Jones
2003: Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
2002: Empire Falls by Richard Russo
2001: The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon
2000: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
1999: The Hours by Michael Cunningham
1998: American Pastoral by Philip Roth
1997: Martin Dressler: The Tale of an American Dreamer by Steven Millhauser
1996: Independence Day by Richard Ford
1995: The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields
1994: The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx
1993: A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain by Robert Olen Butler
1992: A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
1991: Rabbit At Rest by John Updike
1990: The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos
1989: Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler  (She is the author of The Spool of Blue Thread)
1988: Beloved by Toni Morrison
1987: A Summons to Memphis by Peter Taylor
1986: Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry (haven’t even seen the movie.  Both are now the book and movie are both high on my list)
1985: Foreign Affairs by Alison Lurie
1984: Ironweed by William Kennedy
1983: The Color Purple by Alice Walker
1982: Rabbit Is Rich by John Updike
1981: A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole
1980: The Executioner’s Song by Norman Mailer
1979: The Stories of John Cheever by John Cheever
1978: Elbow Room by James Alan McPherson
1977: No award given
1976: Humboldt’s Gift by Saul Bellow
1975: The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara
1974: No award given
1973: The Optimist’s Daughter by Eudora Welty
1972: Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
1971: No award given
1970: The Collected Stories of Jean Stafford by Jean Stafford
1969: House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday
1968: The Confessions of Nat Turner by William Styron
1967: The Fixer by Bernard Malamud
1966: The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter by Katherine Anne Porter
1965: The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau
1964: No award given
1963: The Reivers by William Faulkner
1962: The Edge of Sadness by Edwin O’Connor
1961: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
1960: Advise and Consent by Allen Drury
1959: The Travels of Jaimie McPheeters by Robert Lewis Taylor
1958: A Death in the Family by James Agee
1957: No award given
1956: Andersonville by MacKinlay Kantor
1955: A Fable by William Faulkner
1954: No award given
1953: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
1952: The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk
1951: The Town by Conrad Richter
1950: The Way West by A. B. Guthrie, Jr.
1949: Guard of Honor by James Gould Cozzens
1948: Tales of the South Pacific by James A. Michener

From 1917-1948, the award was given as the Pulitzer Prizer for Novel (rather than for fiction). Here are the winners from that time period

1947: All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
1946: No award given
1945: A Bell for Adano by John Hersey
1944: Journey in the Dark by Martin Flavin
1943: Dragon’s Teeth by Upton Sinclair
1942: In This Our Life by Ellen Glasgow
1941: No award given
1940: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
1939: The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings
1938: The Late George Apley by John Phillips Marquand
1937: Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
1936: Honey in the Horn by Harold L. Davis
1935: Now in November by Josephine Winslow Johnson
1934: Lamb in His Bosom by Caroline Miller
1933: The Store by T. S. Stribling
1932: The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
1931: Years of Grace by Margaret Ayer Barnes
1930: Laughing Boy by Oliver Lafarge
1929: Scarlet Sister Mary by Julia Peterkin
1928: The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder
1927: Early Autumn by Louis Bromfield
1926: Arrowsmith by Sinclair Lewis
1925: So Big by Edna Ferber
1924: The Able McLaughlins by Margaret Wilson
1923: One of Ours by Willa Cather
1922: Alice Adams by Booth Tarkington
1921: The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
1920: No award given
1919: The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington
1918: His Family by Ernest Poole

The books I’ve read are in bold.  Seems I found more that I read and liked.

2016 Book Riot Read Harder Challenge

Who doesn’t love a little book challenge?  I have to admit I didn’t really choose my books this year based on this challenge but it’s cool to see how many of the books I read fit into the challenge categories.  I have a few more days left in the year to finish up those last few I missed.

Want to see how you fared in 2016?  Here’s the list

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Here are my results.

Read a Horror Book

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Read a nonfiction book about science

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Read a middle grade novel

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Read a biography (not a memoir or autobiography)

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Listen to an audiobook that has won an Audie award

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Read a book over 500 pages long

eye-of-the-world

Read a book under 100 pages

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Read a book by or about a person that identifies as transgender

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Read a book that is set in the Middle East

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Read a book that is by an author from Southeast Asia

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Read a book of historical fiction set before 1900

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Read the first book in a series by a person of color7099273
Read a book that was adapted into a movie, then watch the movie. Debate which is better
The book was better, DUH!!!  It was a good adaptation, it just left out a lot of things.

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Read a book about feminism or dealing with feminist themes

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Read a book about religion (fiction or nonfiction)

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Read a book about politics in your country or another (fiction or nonfiction)

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Read a food memoirchild

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to complete all the items on the list.  Here are the ones I didn’t get to.

Read a book out loud to someone else
Read a play
Read a book with a main character that has a mental illness
Read a non-superhero comic that debuted in the last three years
Read a dystopian or post-apocolyptic novel
Read a book originally published in the decade you were born

Join me and hundreds of others in the 2017 challenge!

Book Riot’s 2017 Read Harder Challenge

You can see all the books I read in 2016 on Goodreads.

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Friday 5: Stealing, Double Fannie, Bicycle Glasses and…

Friday 5: Stealing, Double Fannie, Bicycle Glasses and…

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Blog Borrowing. I’m swiping this Friday 5 format from 7 Quick Takes from my dear colleague and friend Rita Buettner who, in addition to working with me at Loyola University Maryland, writes about “family fun and faith” in her funny and sweet blog Open Window about her life with her husband and her two amazing adopted sons. Named because, “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.” I asked her how she juggles everything and she said she really doesn’t sleep much. That’s not going to work for me. I’ll have to  I have to have my sleep.  This is my jam!

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t-shirt baseball swag party like black and white grey baseball jersey printed t-shirt cozy lazy day funny sweater swimwear shirt cute shirt by party i mean take naps baseball shirt found on facebook sweater

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I’m double Fannied right now I’m currently reading A Redbird Christmas and The Whole Town’s Talking both by Fannie Flagg!
She’s also the author of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, if you haven’t read the book, read it now or at the very least see the movie.  It’s one of my absolute all-time favorites…southern, girlpower, amazing writing,a funny and a gripping story about friendship and our ability to overcome.

I finished The Whole Town’s Talking and gave it 3 stars.  It was a sweet wholesome, funny, old-fashioned book.

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Aren’t these bicycle glasses beautiful?  My sweet friend Sherry, hostess of our December bookclub gave them to me.  They were made by her daughter’s friend.

You can check out her Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/Etched-Elegance-736884519785589/

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Stephen and Henry and I enjoyed an awseome day today in the woods. Stephen rode his mountain bike. Henry and I walked in the woods, then we all met up and Henry ran beside for Stephen for a couple of miles up hills and down.  A boy and a dog!  So sweet!!!

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We went to Barnes and Noble today and I added several new books to my TBR list!  I’m looking forward to being able to listen to audiobooks on my commute AND read books now that I’m finished with classes for my master’s degree.  I’ve missed actually reading books through the year. I  feel like my attention span muscles have really weakened and I need to exercise them!  Do you feel that way?  Has your attention span gotten shorter because of our sound bite oriented culture?

Here are some of the beautiful shelves from the book store today!

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December Book Club: The Book Thief

The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak

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Our December book club was wonderful!  The book was great!  We didn’t really do any recipes or menu based on the book this month but everyone brought cookies to share in addition to the deliciousness of minestrone soup, butternut squash with cranberries, artichoke dip, meat and cheese antipasti, cream cheese pinwheels, cheese and crackers and, wine, of course.

 

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and we had a Wilson’s Farm Market Fruits of the Forest Pie.  (Do you think we could get them to sponsor book club?  Maybe throw in a pie each month! Haha)

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Most of us finished the book or at least watched the movie though it was agreed that, “THE MOVIE DOES NOT COUNT!” The movie was good and it was a good representation, it just left out a whole whole lot.

Almost all of us gave it a big thumbs up.  There were two almost up and one sideways.  I still don’t quite understand why they didn’t like it.  Something about it starting slowly, dragging and lacking an actual story.  I’ll let them explain because…

I loved this book.  I listened to the audiobook and just loved Allan Corduner’s rich voice. I thought it was perfect for the sarcasm and dry humor, it reminded me of Alan Rickman’s portrayal of Severus Snape. I think I need to watch all the Harry Potter movies over Christmas break.  2017 may be the year I reread all the books.

I got lost in it. I loved the story and the characters and, oh, I loved the words, the beautiful lilting words, the richness of them, the imagery, the loudness of them and the quiet.

Unfortunately, one of the girls found the audiobook too much like the Frankenstein narrator and that ruined it for her! Dangit!  She watched the movie, though, and liked that.  Her other excuse is that she just finished reading The Help so no matter what she read afterward, it was bound to be a disappointment.  I call that #nextbookdepression.  I’m currently going through that a little myself.

We loved Hans Hubermann.  We adored him because he is the kindest papa. And in a different way, we loved Rosa Hubermann for her gusto and perseverance. We all know someone like Rosa. Someone who is gruff and curses and calls her loved ones terrible names. We really liked the character, Ilsa Herman, too.

Some didn’t like that death was personified.  I think it was a wonderful way to narrate this story and spread a bleak tone to the whole period of time. Death, whether a person or not, hung over the people of Europe during WWII.  It was a constant fear, making it the one who told the whole tale from the first death to the last wrapped it all in a darkness that allowed Liesel’s hope to shine through more brilliantly.

There are many stories that personify death.  Meet Joe Black, the movie with Brad Pitt that was based on an earlier movie, Death Takes a Holiday.

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I’ve read a few books with Death as a character.  A Dirty Job by Christopher Moore is a hilarious piece of satire.  Years ago, in college I read a whole series by Piers Anthony where Death, Time, Fate and Nature were characters.  The first was On a Pale Horse where the main character accidentally kills death and has to take over his job of measuring souls for good and evil and sending them to heaven or hell.  He rides a pale horse that can take on the forms of a car, plane or boat. I don’t remember much but I remember really enjoying it.

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Here’s a list of other books on Goodreads with Death as a character

It is ironic and interesting that Death, exhausted and overworked, is “haunted” by humans.  That he can’t reconcile humanity’s capacity for evil with its capacity for good.

Marcus Zusak was born in Sydney, Australia to an Austrian father and a German mother, both of whom experienced World War II firsthand in their native countries. Zusak has said that The Book Thief was unlike anything he had written before and largely inspired by stories his parents told him as a child about wartime Munich and Vienna. He singled out two stories his mother told him, one of the bombing of Munich, and one of Jews being marched through his mother’s town on their way to the Dachau concentration camp.

His mother told of “Jewish people were being marched to Dachau, the concentration camp. At the back of the line, there was an old man, totally emaciated, who couldn’t keep up. When a teenage boy saw this, he ran inside and brought the man a piece of bread. The man fell to his knees and kissed the boy’s ankles and thanked him . . . Soon, a soldier noticed and walked over. He tore the bread from the man’s hands and whipped him for taking it. Then he chased the boy and whipped him for giving him the bread in the first place. In one moment, there was great kindness and great cruelty, and I saw it as the perfect story of how humans are.”

As Death said, “I’m always finding humans at their best and worst. I see their ugly and their beauty, and I wonder how the same thing can be both.”

Or

“So much good, so much evil. Just add water. “

I loved this book.

“I have to say that although it broke my heart, I was, and still am, glad I was there.”

My rating 5 out of 5 stars (and introducing the *new* *pink star* ratings!)

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Coming soon!  All about our annual Dirty Santa Book Exchange!

Review: The Black Widow by Daniel Silva

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I stayed up to finish the last hundred suspenseful pages of this intense read last night! I love all 16 books in the Gabriel Allon series. I’ve been reading them since they first came out in 2000.

Gabriel and the team of Israeli spies face ISIS after a bombing in Paris. Gabriel recruits a female operative to infiltrate the terror organization. This was an exciting, though terrifying book because the events are based on the combustible, modern, real-world Middle East. This could really happen. In fact, it has.

The real attacks in Paris and Belgium had not happened when Silva was writing this book. They occurred during the publishing process. He wrote in the forward that he was incredibly sad that his predictions became reality.

These books are best-selling blockbuster spy novels. Sure, there’s a little bit of formula, readers expect that in a series, otherwise there would be a different book with different characters. I feel like Daniel Silva does a good job of keeping it fresh and following the evolution of the lives of the characters.

I love the characters, their passion, their brokenness, their relationships to each other. The action is gripping but they are the heart of these novels.

Silva’s stories always contain heart – and not just romantic relationships, but real relationships between people. Struggles between family. Struggles between what is best for one personally versus what is best for the people you care about. It gives insight into the struggles of Jews from the holocaust to present day, but also the struggles and motivations of the Palestinians, the Syrians, and the others who share the troubled terrain.

I always learn something both of history and of humanity when I read these books. They are thrilling but also heartfelt.

View all my reviews on Goodreadsgoodreadslong