Hidden Surprises

I know many of us struggle to find time to read the books that we really want to read.  We “must” read books for book group.  We have books that we need/want to review for Goodreads, our blog, etc.  We have books lent to us by friends and colleagues that we feel an obligation to hurry up and read so we can return them.

I understand that the use of the phrase “must read” sounds ominous, like we have homework. I get that we kind of do it to ourselves, but occasionally we crave to read something that strikes our fancy rather than something with a deadline. Nevertheless, out of all these books that we “must” read, we find ones that are truly surprising.  There are books we never would have picked up if someone hadn’t forcefully thrust them into our lives.

One of these reads came to me as a Christmas gift from my mother-in-law.  My husband, Scott, and I are planning a trip to England and Scotland this year, so she purchased me a book called Call the Nurse: True Stories of a Country Nurse on a Scottish Isle by Mary MacLeod.

I can honestly say I wouldn’t have read this book up if left to my own devices, but, finding myself in possession of it, I felt that it deserved a fair shake. After finishing Brandon Sanderson’s 1300-page tome Word of Radiance—awesome in spite of its length—I felt that I needed a change of pace. It seemed like the perfect time to give Nurse a go.

I admit that the writing style isn’t the most eloquent or masterful, but it is genuine and straightforward. I found the short, simple anecdotes charming and interesting. MacLeod’s descriptions created a great picture without being overly burdensome.

I grew up in the middle of nowhere Iowa so on certain levels I identified with the simplicity of country life MacLeod portrays.  Although, I was a bit luckier to have a few more modern convinces. If anything, it inspired me to jot down some of the crazier stories of my childhood.  Perhaps people would like to read about working in a corn maze or learning about the concept of beer chips.

Anyway, Call the Nurse turned out to be a nice read that I’m really happy my mother-in-law picked up for me.  I find I’m now more interested in exploring other memoirs. Sometimes those “must” reads turn into “glad I did” reads.

Are there any hidden treasures you’ve discovered?


The Great and Powerful…Meh

My mother and aunt stumbled upon a used bookshop that has a fun section called Blind Date with a Book.  All the books were wrapped in white paper with a brief and catchy description of said book.  This is all you have to go on when selecting your “date.”

The idea struck their fancy, so they purchased “a date.” My aunt’s turn out to be The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson.  It’s a great book but neither one of them had read it.  My mother’s turned out to be Naked Once More by Elizabeth Peters.  When my mother started reading it, she seemed a bit…“meh.”

In fact, she seemed pretty “meh” about the whole experience. However, she liked it enough to put it in my pile to take back with me when I visited for Christmas.  Naturally, this response didn’t lead me to be super excited about it, but about a while ago I had finished The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper and needed a new book.  I was feeling a bit indecisive, so I grabbed a few off the shelf and threw them on the couch and asked my husband to pick for me. He glanced through the titles and saw the word “naked” and immediately grinned and said, “I pick this one!”  I laughed and agreed that it would be my next read.

So, on my way home from work the next day, I started Naked Once More, and I found it really interesting.  I would not describe my feeling as “meh.”  And I wondered if my mom’s lackluster reaction had lowered my expectations and thus it easily exceed them?

She didn’t tell me anything about the book prior to my reading other than the title and that is was alright. (Yeah, I know she really sold me.) My mother normally isn’t a shoulder shrugger when it comes to books.  The reviews are normally glowing of greatness or raving of horribleness.  Indifferent is an unusual state of being for her and probably in a way piqued my curiosity which is why I threw it on the couch at Scott when asking him to choose.

I feel like this book is a pretty good representation of how our expectations and knowledge prior really affect our view of the story.  What’s funny is when I finished it, and I told my mother that I actually really enjoyed it she said, “Yeah, it was good wasn’t it?”  I was immediately confused. I questioned, “You liked it?”  Then she was confused, “Yeah of course I liked it.”

I wonder now if I had known her true feelings if my expectations would have been different and if I would have reacted to it differently.  I don’t purposely find fault with the books I’m recommended, but I think they get held to a certain subconscious standard that for this book I didn’t have. I spent most of the book trying to figure out what my mother thought it lacked. Obviously, we had mis-communicated, but I think that lead to some interesting results and deduction. I admit I would be interested in potentially reading more “shoulder shruggers” to see how I feel about them.

How do your expectations affect the books you read?

A Charming Read for the Cold Winter Months

In the past few weeks, I’ve noticed a lot of people have mentioned that the winter weather has them a bit down; and as such, they have found themselves in a reading slump.  Personally, gloomy weather normally lends to a reading spurt, because what else is there to do? However, I do try to find lighter reads to help keep my chin up in the brutish months of January and February.

And for those of you who could use some cheering up and a spark to your reading material, might I suggest The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick.  I found this one via a Pinterest list of books recommended if you had liked A Man Called Ove.  Strangely enough, I pinned the list before I had even read A Man Called Ove, let alone fell in love with it.

I honestly think I pinned it because the covers looked pleasant.  I know it’s a mortal book sin, but the technique has lead me to some very high-quality reading.  Honestly, I really have no intention of curbing this tendency especially since A Man Called Ove was the best book I read last year.

This naturally made everything else on the list immediately more interesting, fancy book art or not. And after finishing Arthur Pepper, I can tell you that not only was it delightful, but the Pinterest list was spot on. Ove and Pepper have many similarities as wonderful reads. They are the comfort food of books.

These are yummy feel-good stories.  They manage to cover all of the emotions, but the feelings of hope and happiness win out. I recently wrote a post about books giving me feelings of certain colors. (If you want to try to wrap your brain more around that here’s the post.)  Pepper gives me a daisy yellow-like feeling.  When I think of it, I see this wonderfully bright yellow, but it’s not a fake or exaggerated yellow.  It is a genuine bright yellow of happiness and peace.

It is a quick little book, only a little over 300 pages, but it might be just the thing to get some people back into the swing of things and perhaps put a little color in these gray months of early 2018.

Happy reading!


The Shark Jump

There are two kinds of book series.  There is the series that has a pre-determined number of volumes such as a trilogy or epics that run for six or seven volumes.  These types of series are the most common.  The other type of series is a series that acts more like a television show.  The author just keeps adding to the series indefinitely.

Both types of series can suffer from “jump the shark” syndrome; however, I find this to be more common in continuous episodic book series.  And the rub is, that if you keep going this will inevitably happen.

The latest victim of this inevitable disease would be the Stephanie Plum series by Janet Evanovich.  This brings me great sadness to say because I loved these books, and the series remained remarkably strong for about the first 12 novels.  It then started to slightly diminish, but was still a good light-hearted read until number 23.

This is where I can definitively diagnose “jump the shark” syndrome.  The most current novel Hardcore Twenty-Four does nothing to cure the ails of 23 as I had hoped.

In the 23rd book, the main character Stephanie Plum took a moral turn and for the worse. The turn wasn’t for character development it more or less showed Evanovich’s unwillingness to commit to a new story line direction.

Here’s the deal (please note there are a couple of general spoilers in this next section).  Stephanie has two romantic interest in the series.  One is her on-again-off-again boyfriend, Joe Morelli.  The other is a former work colleague of sorts, Ranger.  Now up until book 23, Ms. Plum while obviously attracted to both did not double up.

If she was with Mr. Morelli, she kept sexually clear of Ranger.  If she and Morelli were on the outs, she and Ranger occasionally had amorous relations, but the distinct vibe was that Plum had a morale code of no two-timing.  And while Ranger had a looser moral code, but keeping his hands off a taken lady was ever present.

All of this goes out the window in book 23. Instead of creating a new development of Plum and Morelli getting hitched or having Plum once and for all part ways with Morelli leaving her open to Ranger, Evanovich has copped out and just made it an anything goes kind of show.

Hardcore Twenty-Four doesn’t help character development or remedy Plum’s moral code with any come to Jesus moments, in fact if anything she’s just become more of a sex fiend with a third man entering the scene.

This series needs something other than Stephanie being sexually attracted and “doing” stuff with three different men.  This isn’t character development because nothing has happened to make this new attitude reasonable or understandable.

I don’t think the series has to be over, but something has to change.  We can’t keep having same shit, different title.  Stephanie needs to make a decision about men, and it has to be something with more substance than she’s horny and attractive men seem to always be around.

Once a decision is made, the story could really take an interesting and humorous turn, but we can’t keep going on book after book the same way.  Readers need something more to sink their teeth into in order for this series to not become completely outrageous and disappointing.


The Book Brawl: Final Round

Today is the day! Today will be the announcement of the book brawl winner for 2017. Italian Shoes took a solid lead in Q3, but can it out do the last 15 books in Q4?  Let’s find out.

In October, I read five books:

  1. Anno Dracula by: Kim Newman
  2. The Patriot Threat by: Steve Berry
  3. Frankenstein by: Mary Shelley
  4. The Storied Life of AJ Fikry by: Gabrielle Zevin
  5. And There Were None by: Agatha Christie

I give up.  How on Earth am I supposed to pick a winner out of all of these?  October definitely wins for the most good books read in a month; however, that gets us no closer to a single winner. Okay, I enjoyed Patriot Threat, Frankenstein, and Anno Dracula. All three different books that had great stories, but I suppose the real battle is between The Storied Life and The Queen of Mystery.

After much contemplation and how much The Storied Life moved me.  I would say that it’s the winner for the month of October, but that one seriously hurt.  What hurts even more is who the hell is supposed to win this brawl?

Okay, I’m going to be honest if you ask me tomorrow who the winner of this brawl it’s probable that I’ve changed my mind and then two days later I’ll probably change my mind back, but at the time of writing this painful blog I would say that The Storied Life beats Italian Shoes. If you want my advice, read both and you figure out who would come out on top.

In November, I read six books:

  1. The Brothers Karamazov by: Fyodor Dostoevsky
  2. A Man Called Ove by: Fredrik Backman
  3. The Gunslinger by: Stephen King
  4. Illuminae by: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
  5. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by: Jenny Lawson
  6. Lord of the Flies by: William Golding

This was another great month of books.  I’ve written extensively on my thoughts about Brothers and Lord of the Flies. Respected one and hated the other, so neither of them takes top prize.  The Gunslinger was interesting, but definitely a book laying the groundwork for books to come. Let’s Pretend was good, but weirdly one that I would recommend to only a few folks where I have a firm grasp of their sense of humor.

Illuminae was an awesome book and totally lived up to all the hype, and if it hadn’t had to compete against Ove it would have won.  But alas, A Man Called Ove is the clear winner.  I cannot gush enough.  I have never cried so hard at the end of a book.  It was wonderful.

In a brawl between The Storied Life and Ove, Ove takes the top prize.  I would recommend both, but Ove took the feels to the next level.

Before, we get to the last month and the final brawl commences I would like to give out a few categorical honorable mentions:

Best Non-Fiction- How We Got to Now by: Steve Johnson

Best Classic- The Hunchback of Notre Dame by: Victor Hugo

Best Fantasy- The Blade Itself by: Joe Abercrombie

Best Mystery-And There Were None by: Agatha Christie

Best Young Adult Fiction-Illuminae by: Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Okay, we have finally made it to December where I read 3.5ish books:

  1. The Princess Bride by: William Golding
  2.  The 14th Colony by: Steve Berry
  3. The Mirror Thief by: Martin Sealy
  4. The Rithmatist by: Brandon Sanderson (I’m still in the process of reading this, and will finish before the year is out.)

The 14th Colony was good, but not the winner. I honestly am not sure what to make of The Mirror Thief. It was intriguing, but really heady and intellectually obscure. This murky description is a good reflection of the book. I really loved The Princess Bride, but thus far The Rithmatist has been gripping.  However, given the fact that I haven’t even gotten half way through at the time of this publication. I will give The Princess the win for December.  I admit this may be subject to changed in the next 24 to 48 hours.

Nevertheless, the brawl between The Princess or The Rithmatist and Ove. The winner is the same.  A Man Called Ove is truly one of the most wonderful books I’ve read. And clearly beats all competitors in 2017.

This has been difficult, but a lot of fun.  I know it’s tough, but what book would come out as your top winner for 2017?

Until next time, happy reading!


The Razzle Dazzle of Books That Didn’t

This Friday I will announce my personal book winner of the year in Part IV of the Book Brawl!  Along the way, I’ve naturally highlighted and discussed my favorites, but which books would be given Razzies?

Out of the fifty-three books I’ve read there have only been eight books I haven’t particularly enjoyed; however, three were bad or disappointing enough that they deserve special mention.  I’m warning everyone to sit down now because two of these were highly-praised by general audiences.

Coming in third place would be The Magician King by Lev Grossman. This is the second book in the trilogy, and I wanted to like it.  I thought the first was good enough for me to continue on in the series. But at this point if I ever read the last book it will be because I’ve either a) simply run out of anything else to read; or b) the completion-ist in me will compel me to bite the bullet and finish the series.

Grossman’s writing style is not my speed.  I didn’t really give a damn about the main character and some scene are unnecessary and disturbing. I should note that Mr. Grossman and I have a rocky past, given his book Codex currently ranks as the second worst book I’ve ever read. Despite this I gave him another shot with The Magicians and was pleasantly surprised.  Now he’s gone and done me wrong again, so we may need to cut ties and move on.

Coming in second place, Lord of the Flies by William Golding. The more I thought about this book the more I realized, it really is terrible. There are just so many other great books out there and so many other books that give a critique of society and human nature in much better way.

For only being two-hundred pages, it was a painful read.  And I have to say, the people I talked to about this book were absolutely right.  It’s a dud.

Coming in first place, and taking home the Golden Razzie is The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. I can hear the gasps and the slap of stamps on hate mail already.

I know this is hurting a lot of peeps that this book is not only on my Razzies list, but that it is taking its top prize. People raved about this book, and I was super excited to read it. I was told it had all these wonderful feelings.  One couldn’t possibly not love it.  Well, I guess we’ve found the one.  I was extremely upset, disappointed, and downright angry with this book.

As a bona fide wallflower in high school, I found this read highly inaccurate. This made it impossible for me to feel nostalgic or identify with the main character at all.  To me it seemed to undermine the heartache that it is to be an outcast and a wallflower in those painful teenage years. I could go on but since I’ve probably lost all credibility with many of you, I’ll stop there.

If you’re still reading this thank you for not completely shunning me. Now it’s your turn:  what books would win your Razzies of the year?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

Until next time, happy reading!


Book Brawl- Part II

Greetings and Happy Friday!

Last Friday, we started the book brawl, so far The Little Paris Bookshop has remained undefeated for the first three months of the year, but will it continue to reign supreme in Q2?  Let’s find out.

In April I read four books:

  1. House of Cards by: Michael Dobbs
  2. Cuckoo’s Calling by: Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)
  3. How We Got to Now by: Steve Johnson
  4. The Paris Vendetta by: Steve Berry

House of Cards was a bit disappointing, but the show set me up for that.  I bet people who haven’t watched the show would enjoy it.  Cuckoo’s Calling  was a solid book, but it was not the best murder mystery out there.  Although it did a good job of giving the groundwork for the series.

The Paris Vendetta another in Berry’s Cotton Malone series was good, but the winner has to be How we got to Now. This book was fascinating! It covers six major categories of development in human history explaining how we got to where we are today. I even think people who don’t generally like non-fiction could get into this one.

This is honestly the toughest brawl yet.  These books are so incredibly different, but the Bookshop always comes to my mind first when people ask me for a recommendation, so it has to win this brawl again. But I would highly encourage people to read Johnson’s book because it’s a really interesting concept.

On to May, I only read three books:

  1. Leaving Time by: Jodi Picoult
  2. Farewell, Dorothy Parker by: Ellen Meister
  3. The Silkworm by: Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)

I didn’t care for  Leaving Time,  so that’s an easy cut.  But the other two I really liked; however, in all honesty Silkworm has to win.  It was incredibly dark and gripping.

And in a brawl, while it hurts me, Silkworm wins this round.  These books are very different, but Silkworm has to take top prize due to shock factor for me. I’ve read a million murder mysteries so anything that pushes my personal limits impresses me.

In June, I read four books:

  1. The Way of Kings by: Brandon Sanderson
  2. Death Comes to Pemberly by: P.D. James
  3. Cosmos by: Carl Sagan
  4. Career of Evil by: Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling)

Death Comes to Pemberly was alright, but my least favorite of this bunch.  Career of Evil was good, but is not a good as Silkworm.    And while I enjoyed the non-fiction classic Cosmos, the clear winner for June is The Way of Kings.  It was very intriguing and for being a thousand-page book it certainly didn’t feel like it.

Nevertheless, in a brawl between it and Silkworm, Silkworm still reigns supreme. I love a good fantasy novel and this one was great, but it didn’t hold quite enough magic to beat out Silkworm.

That’s the end of 2Q.  We have ousted The Little Paris Bookshop, and the diabolical Silkworm is currently the one to beat!

Until next time, happy reading!