Book Clubs - January 2018 Book Selections



Ladies & Gents, I've somehow managed to get myself into three book clubs. 

Let me explain...

The most enduring book club was started by a friend of mine a few years back.  In Under the Covers Book Club we try to select one book a month.  We read the book and then meet up at the end of the month, or the beginning of the next, to discuss.  I think the original intention to was select easy, fun, romance novels.  While we still do occasionally read a romance novel, our monthly selections are as varied as the reading tastes of our members. 

This month we picked Moonheart by Charles de Lint.


This book is, so far as I can tell at a mere 6% read, an urban fantasy novel.  The protagonist is part-owner of a thrift/antique shop.  While de-cluttering the back room, she discovers a beautiful painting and a medicine bag with an eclectic collection of items still locked inside.  Instead of marking them for sale, she decides to keep them for her own.  I assume things are about to get interesting, but right now that's as far as I've read. 

Luckily, we don't yet have a meet up date scheduled.  I have time to finish.  I'd really not even be concerned about finding the time to read this book if I hadn't started another book club.

I had reasons!  While I love my friend's book club, the books we read there are rarely classics.  And I want to read more classics.  Mostly just so I can say I have... we've discussed I have a book-related psychosis, right?

So, after I created this List Challenge, my mom, me, and my cousin, Vanna, all decided we'd like to knock a few of these classic titles off our "some day I'm going to read that" list.  Thus, the Friends & Family Book Club was born.  I've since added one friend, so the name fits.

Our first classic is The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.


I'm happy to report I can now cross this one off my Classics TBR.  I managed to start and finish this book earlier this month.  Thank goodness.  It was not a joy to read, but at least now I can say I've read it. 

Yes, I have thoughts on this book, but no spoilers for our Google Hang Out meet up in the beginning of February!  Mom can hear my thoughts then instead of reading them here. 

Now, two book clubs a month for me really shouldn't be a big deal.  I read often and relatively fast.  However, if you read my last post, you'll know the month of January has been a bit unusual.  My dad's unexpected bypass surgery threw my reading patterns completely out of whack!

Even with The Bell Jar behind me, I still have most of Moonheart to get through, so adding one more must read book to the pile for January is adding some stress to my reading life.  Luckily, it's a little book with big ideas. 


We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is, according to Amazon, a mere 65 pages long.  This is a book I should be able to read in one sitting.  Because I believe I can read it quickly and easily, I'm postponing starting this book until the last week of the month.  (Holy cow, that's next week!) 

I have to have read the book by noon on Friday, January 26, 2018 as that is when the Women's Commission Book Club meeting for university employees and students is scheduled to meet.  No problem.  I've got this.

Really.  I've got this.  Easy peasy lemon squeezy.



From Heart Cath to Quadruple Bypass

It was a long eleven days. 

On January 3, 2018, my dad went into the hospital to undergo a heart catheterization. This was in follow up to a stress test he had completed in late 2017.  He could have had the procedure done before the holidays but opted to wait.  Frankly, he felt fine and thought the heart cath would perhaps reveal the need for a stint or two, if that.

Well, the heart cath showed that there was a significant amount of blockage and narrowing of the veins. While he sat in recovery, my sisters and I followed his cardiologist to a monitor where we could see the ink pumping - or not pumping as some of blockages were causing 90% occlusion - through his arteries and veins.  The cardiologist was very thorough, counting off the number of stints that would be required to fix the many, many problematic areas.  My sister stopped counting at fifteen, and we hadn't even looked at the third major vessel yet.  Suffice it to say, dad was termed "high risk" and informed that he would need to undergo a bypass procedure.

This was on a Wednesday.  Because dad has some major anxiety issues, my sister, Megan, and I decided to spend the night in his hospital room with him.  Luckily, he had a private room and this was not a problem, unless you count the stiff neck and lack of sleep my sister and I got that night.  I should mention had we driven separate, we probably would not have both stayed. 

After almost a day and a half of waiting on the surgeon, we found out his surgery wouldn't be scheduled until the following Tuesday.  Dad wasn't allowed to go home, though.  He was so high risk that had he opted to have the surgery done elsewhere, it would have required a hospital to hospital transfer.  This prolonged stay meant they had plenty of time to perform all the pre-op tests necessary.  He was poked and prodded from Thursday to Monday. 

Surgery took place on Tuesday morning at 8 AM.  Megan and I had been afraid of him being taken back without us seeing him first, so we had once again opted to sleep in his hospital room with him. Our brothers drove in well before the sun was up in order to see him.  They had just about perfect timing, walking into his room about the same time transport showed up.  All four of us kids headed down to the surgical floor with him.  Of course, he had to undergo some last minute pre-op measures, so we waited in the Surgical Waiting Room until they called us back that final time before surgery.  Dad was pretty well out of it, his voice slurred and his eyes closed as he said he loved us.

Megan and I knew it would be a long day but we were determined to stay on site; our brothers left, promising to return near the four hour mark.  Our baby sister, Christina, wasn't able to be there because it her first day of the new semester.  So, while it was just the two us, Megan and I went in search of coffee, tea, and breakfast.  A while later, Ken showed up for moral support.

Waiting to hear how surgery went can be stressful.  Time seems to slow to a mind-numbing crawl.  Luckily, I had come prepared.  I always travel with a book, but I had also brought several decks of cards for double-handed solitaire, as well as a new card game called Exploding Kittens.  We used them all that day.  Ken, Megan, and I played double- (or would it be triple-) handed solitaire for almost two hours. 

We had just packed up the cards when we found out Dad was out of surgery and headed for the Cardiac Care Unit.  Once again, my brothers had perfect timing and ended up arriving at the hospital as we were in transit to the CCU.   When we got up to that floor, we discovered the waiting game wasn't over yet.  He was being settled into his CCU room, which would take awhile.  While I made phone calls to the aunts and uncles, Ken, Megan, BJ, and Jake all played Euchre.  However, as only four can play that game, I got them to play Exploding Kittens, which allowed everyone to play.  It definitely helped the time go by!

We talked to a nurse who explained how things would go and then to the surgeon himself.  Instead of the triple bypass he had anticipated doing, he had been able to perform a quadruple, bypassing even more of the damaged areas.  He hadn't been expecting to be able to do that, so this was actually good news but a bit of a surprise to us.  We knew Dad's heart was in bad shape, but not that bad!!


Eventually we were allowed into his private CCU room. He looked so pale and, don't tell him I said this, old.  It was unnerving.  That first visit didn't last very long. Just enough to see he had made it through and that he was in good hands.

Finally, we got to go home and get some well deserved rest ourselves. 

Dad spent another four and a half days in the hospital.  He was released yesterday, January 14, 2018.  It was a long, painful ride home for him, but he was so happy to be in his own chair watching his own television with his furry little pal by his side that he said it was worth it. 

Now we just need to get him healed up and back to his old self.  


2018 Reading Challenge



I like setting reading goals, even if I usually fall short of meeting them.  Take last year's goals, for instance.  I wanted to read 75 books total and I did.  So, yay, a win!  What I didn't manage to do was to read the list of re-reads I wanted to tackle.  I also didn't manage to read the exact number of titles off my Kindle and physical TBR piles.  

Still...I like challenges. 

So, I created this one for 2018.

I want to read at least 75 books again.  That's the big, overarching goal.  Within that goal I want to accomplish the following: 

1.  Read at least five classics. 
2.  Reread one series. 
3.  Read at least five non-fiction titles.
4.  Read twenty books from my Kindle TBR shelf. 
5.  Read twenty books from my physical TBR piles. 

Seems easy enough!  The biggest challenge will be the five non-fiction titles and the five classics.  Those are typically not fast reads for me.



2017 Reading Challenge - How Did I Do?

Not well.

Oh, sure, I read 76 books and that's impressive.  At least, most people think it's impressive.  For my reading friends, perhaps not, especially if you're a voracious reader that has loftier goals in the 100-150 range.  Me?  Trying to read 75 books a year seems doable without being terribly stressful, so I am perfectly happy to say I met that particular goal.

However, I did not do a very good job in meeting the 2017 reading goals I shared on here last year.  Let's start with the re-read challenge.

I stated I would re-read the following books:

1. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
2. A Game of Thrones by George R R Martin (GRRM hereafter)
3. A Clash of Kings by GRRM
4. A Storm of Swords by GRRM
5. A Feast of Crows by GRRM
6. A Dance of Dragons by GRRM
7. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
8. Scar Night by Alan Campbell 
9. Through Wolf's Eyes by Jane Lindskold
10. 1984 by George Orwell

Here's what I ended up reading instead (bold = yes / strike-through = no):
1. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
2. A Game of Thrones by George R R Martin (GRRM hereafter)
3. A Clash of Kings by GRRM
4. A Storm of Swords by GRRM
5. A Feast of Crows by GRRM
6. A Dance of Dragons by GRRM
7. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
8. Scar Night by Alan Campbell 
9. Through Wolf's Eyes by Jane Lindskold
10. 1984 by George Orwell

Instead of reading the Song of Ice and Fire series as I had intended to do, I decided to join the Harry Potter re-read.  Although I technically finished the series on January 5th, most of the reading was done in 2017, so I'm counting it as a 2017 win!

I also stated in my 2017 reading goals that I was going to read at least 20 books from my physical TBR and 20 books from my Kindle TBR.  Figuring this one out was hard, but this is what I came up with...

Of the 76 books read in 2017...

Physical TBR -                16
Kindle TBR -                  16
Purchased in 2017 -        25
Borrowed in 2017 -        10
Re-read from Shelves -    9

I must admit I'm surprised I read 25 books in 2017 that I purchased in 2017.   I'm also disappointed that I didn't do a better job of reading down my Kindle and physical TBR shelves.  I really want to put a dent in the physical TBR shelf because it's crazy out of control and interfering with leg room in my scrapbooking space.

Now that I have taken a look at my reading patterns for the last year, though, I know what changes I want to see in 2018.  More off those TBR piles!!

Favorite Books of 2017



I read 76 books in 2017.  Not bad!  In fact, it was one more than I had hoped to read.  Of course, as I read a wide variety of things, some of those books were rather small and some were rather lengthy.  For a more thorough breakdown of all the books I read, you can go visit my Goodread's Year in Review.

This blog post will be dedicated to the books that stick out most in my memory and that either touched my heart or made me really stop and think.

Starting at #10....

This was pretty funny, as in I literally laughed out loud more than once as I was reading.  It was ridiculous, perhaps even ludicrous. 

Every year an angel is sent down to earth to grant one special child a Christmas miracle.  When Archangel Raziel is sent to tend to this duty someone Upstairs should have known things were about to go sideways.  Raziel really is the stupidest angel.   He has little understanding of humans or the world in which they live, so when this year's special child ask him to bring a murdered Santa back to life, Raziel raises a full graveyard of intelligent but brain-hungry zombies to life.  Yes, this Christmas story has zombies in it. 

Told in typical Christopher Moore fashion, this story is full of weird and wacky characters that say what they think.  In addition to zombies and a stupid angel, there's a certifiable B-rated movie star, a dopey Constable, an always hungry dog that just wants his human and his human's friends to remember to feed him, a talking bat, and a few other memorable secondary characters that keep things off-kilter.

I'll probably reread this next Christmas.  

#9

This book had a lot of hype, which is probably the main reason I picked it up.  After reading it, I can appreciate why it got the attention it did.  It was really good, if that can be said about a book filled with such horror and suffering.  I will admit, though, that it did sometimes confuse me.  I read the ending more than once because it felt very much like I had to read between the lines in order to figure out what the future held in store for Cora. 
Despite being a bit thrown by the ending, I admire Whitehead's inventiveness.  Set in the era of unabashed and unapologetic slavery, this narrative highlights the brutality of its practitioners and the suffering of those enslaved.  However, Whitehead goes one step further by re-envisioning the South in such a way that he can give a nod to the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments, Henrietta Lack, and the post-Civil War KKK.  His slave narrative expands to include the indignities African Americans have been subject to since they were brought to America.

Of course, it should be mentioned that this Underground Railroad is not a metaphor but a true, physical train that runs through tunnels dug beneath the southern states.  Escaped slaves ride the rails in hopes of finding freedom and reconnecting with lost loved ones that may have preceded them.  That the tunnels sometimes end before reaching that elusive goal, which means the runaway slave must rely on the goodwill and silence of others if they are to reach the end of the line. 


#8



This graphic novel, done in black and white, was a quick, entertaining, and educational read.  The author shares her coming of age story as it is framed and influenced by the Islamic Revolution in Iran. Although it's been several months since I've read this, I believe the author starts her autobiographical novel when she's eleven years old.  As a young girl under a new regime, she talks about her dislike of the new rules she and other girls and women must abide by in order to avoid unwanted attention or even punishment.  As she grows, she learns how her family pushes back against the new regime and what it costs them to do so. 

I would absolutely recommend this to anyone interested in learning more about Iran, the Islamlic Revolution, or the people directly impacted by an unwanted and unwelcome change in regime.

#7


Yes, this one is a comic book.  I'm still putting it in my top ten list because I thought this comic did a great job of giving the world a superheroine unlike any other.  Ms. Marvel is a Muslim teenager.  Most, though, she's just a teenager.  She's busy navigating friends, crushes, and family.  Oh, and then there's her new inhuman superpowers to deal with, too.

I really appreciated that this comic was attempting to address the lack of diversity in most forms of entertainment. 

#6


I promise I really didn't pick this one for my top ten simply because I know the author.  Besides, I'm using the word know rather loosely here.  I met him once and got completely wasted while we talked books and writing.  Damn martinis.  First (and last) time I've ever been sick from drinking too much.

But..this list is about books, not about a night of overindulgence.

Alone is the conclusion to the Generations Trilogy.  It provides an emotionally satisfying ending to a fast-paced and interesting YA science fiction story.  I want to type up a brief synopsis but I can't really do that without spoiling books 1 & 2, and as my sister just bought my niece the first book, I don't want to risk ruining the books for her. 


#5



This is the story of two sisters who live as social outcasts on the edge of a quaint little town. Rumors surround them and their old Uncle Julian, the only other member of the family to survive the night the sugar bowl was poisoned. 

Merricat (Mary Katherine) is the younger and bolder of the two sisters. She is the caretaker, seeing to the family's needs and offering guidance and reassurance whenever necessary.  At her core, though, she sees herself as Constance's protector.  It is this love that drives the plot forward by putting her at odds with a long-lost, gold-digging cousin that arrives with full intentions of marrying Constance.

Yet, should you think this book is about whether or not the older sister accepts her new suitor, it is not. This book is a psychological exploration of death, living, love, obsession, anger, and fear.  Frankly, I think this is Gothic horror at its best.

#4


I like retellings. I am amazed at the imagination and inventiveness that goes into reforming a classic tale known to millions into something that is both immediately recognizable and yet fascinatingly new. I think this was a big part of the appeal this book held for me when I first read its synopsis.  This is the reworking and retelling of The Arabian Nights.

I thought the author did an excellent job in giving the wife-killing king a motive beyond fear of being unloved.  In this book, Khalid, Caliph of Khorasan, is cursed.  If he fails to murder his new bride before dawn, a witch has determined that both he and the citizens of his rich domain will suffer the consequences.  Of course, only a few select individuals are privy to the Caliph's magical bindings and his newest bride, Shahrzad, is not one of them.  Determined to live beyond the dawn, she enchants him with her beauty and wit, telling him stories that do not end as dawn appears on the horizon.  The consequences of her survival begin to tell on Khalid and in small ways throughout his kingdom.  The question becomes can love and little bravery break an old witch's spell and set Khalid and his citizens free?

This is the first book in what I think is a duology; I thought the second book The Rose and the Dagger tidied everything up rather nicely, but I've learned that author's can stretch a story when an editor demands it.

#3


This was perhaps the most beautifully written book I've read all year.  It was lyrical in its prose. Based on that alone, I would most eagerly pick up another Erin Morgenstern novel.   Luckily, in addition to a voice I find mesmerizing, Morgenstern is also able to write an interestingly magical tale.

When it comes to magic, Celia's father believes raw talent outweighs disciplined practice, whereas Marco's employer believes discipline and organization are much more essential in a protracted battle.  To see who is right, a bet is made and the penalty of failure is death. With this in mind, the two men begin to train their charges, explaining only that a challenge awaits the children when they have finally matured.  Fast forward through adolescence and the teenage years to the moment when the challenge is finally laid before the competitors.  They will use their magic to create and transport the Night Circus. No other rules are given to them.  No boundaries, either. 

Marcus has the unfair advantage of knowing who his competition is, while Celia's father keeps her willfully ignorant. 

Exhibits are created, each more elaborate than the next as the two play off each other's ideas.  New talent is brought on board, their lifespans extended.  Food is more delicious, smells more enticing, and sounds more pleasing than one would normally expect of a travelling circus. 

Uncertain of the rules, Celia and Marco begin to question their mentors on the rules of engagement.  It is only then, when it is too late, that they discover the wager ends in a supernatural death for whoever cannot maintain their magical contributions.  Celia and Marco are horrified, especially as they have come to care a great deal about each other.  Unfortunately, everyone has their limits and time is running out. 

#2
 

Another book that had rave reviews by so many people.  When it went on sale in the Kindle shop, I snatched it up.  When I finally decided to read it, I devoured this book.  I loved the way the story was revealed through chat transcripts, emails, video summaries, and print-outs of the AI's coding.

While there was a bit of teenage romance in this novel, most of the story was dedicated to surviving the targeted annihilation of the mining colony and its fleeing citizens.  The book opens with an explosion and just keeps moving. One of the key players in this drama is the sassy, intelligent, and sometimes mulish Kady.  Her computer skills and determination to find out if the people she loved survived the attack pit her against the megacorporation, BeiTech, and they don't intend to leave any witnesses behind.

I don't want to post spoilers - KC's girlfriend, Allie, is reading the book right now - so I'm going to stop there.  Suffice it to say the plot would make a great action movie.  The storytelling technique, though, is perhaps why I love it so much and that in no way would translate well to the big screen.  So much would be lost...

I should note that I enjoyed the second book in the trilogy just as much and can't wait for book #3 to be released in March.

And #1


I read this trilogy in one big rush.  Maybe it was because I hadn't read a solid fantasy novel complete with magic and monsters in much too long.  Maybe it was because I gravitate toward human / mythological creature teams.  Maybe it was because the plot was compelling and the writing easy to consume.  All of those reasons likely played a role in my inhalation of these tomes, which doesn't change the fact this trilogy was my favorite read of the year. 

I loved Hunter, Elite, and Apex. If this turns out to be more than a trilogy and she releases another book, I will buy it and I will read it.  Happily.

In this post-apocolyptic fantasy novel, nuclear war has opened a rift between our world and other dimensions where every mythological creature ever mentioned by mankind reside.  Portals can now be opened and monstrous armies moved through, armies intent on either enslaving or destroying what's left of mankind.  Living in safe zones erected by what's left of the military and national government, mankind relies on Hunters to keep the monsters at bay.  Joy is one such hunter.  Leaving her mountain  home behind, she travels by speedrail to the big city to live with an enclave of hunters.  Unlike the hunters in her hometown, these hunters are celebrities with access to new tech, nice clothes, and enormous amounts of food. 

Joy soon makes a name for herself.  Her popularity soars even as she begins to suspect the limelight is more detrimental to her continued well-being than the monsters she hunts.  Armed with her magic and her Hounds, doglike creatures she can summon from another realm, she begins to make friends and enemies.  Plots are uncovered.  Fighting ensues.  Love happens.  Death happens. 

It's all so very good.