A Reader's Log


Lookey there! I did not let almost a year pass before I posted again! It's only been two months, so there.

So what have I been reading?

I finished The Night Circus, like I said I would. It was good and interesting and I did get wrapped up in the characters and how the story would end. The ending was satisfying.

And since I've said "ending" - now my mind is on this:

Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card. The movie version was just released last week. I read this aloud to all three boys in preparation for the movie release and we've been so busy that we still haven't gone to see it yet. Unacceptable, I know. The book kept our attention, night after night. Thing 1 fell asleep during a critical plot twist and we excitedly explained everything to him the next morning at breakfast. You miss a lot when you fall asleep during a read aloud. This book has been recommended by so many people over the years, and I'm glad I finally read it. Thing 2 begged for me to check out the next book in the series, Speaker for the Dead, from the library. The Redhead promptly hijacked it. We tried to read it aloud, but I was so done with aliens and other planets and of course the book was on hold for someone else at the library so we had to return it.

We started reading something entirely different and completely wonderful:

I love the original, adult version of this book - The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. It is easily one of my favorite books of all time. If you haven't read it yet, you really must. This version - Racing in the Rain: My Life as a Dog is a special adaptation for kids and is a more compact, less relationship fraught version. It is entirely good. I was unprepared for the compressed nature the first night we began reading it aloud and immediately got choked up reading the part when Eve gives birth and Enzo truly feels accepted by her. There are so many wonderful quotes from this book - you should read both of them. And how often can you buy a book for yourself and get a kid version that's just as good? Double win. The other books by this author are on my list of things to read: Raven Stole the Moon and How Evan Broke His Head and Other Secrets.

My book club has been busy. We had two author events to attend. The first was Markus Zusak making an appearance in nearby Richardson for their Richardson Reads One Book event.

We read The Book Thief last year and it was their pick this year and what a fabulous choice. Zusak was a great author to hear in person - his Australian accent is captivating. He told great stories and you left feeling like you knew him better. I hate to be bossy (I really don't.) but you should read this book. Don't ask for explanations or a synopsis, although I've provided that in a previous post. It is easily one of the best books I have ever read. Period. The movie releases on November 8th. Have you seen the trailer?

I cry every time. I will be a mess in the theater.

Our other author event was for Read Across McKinney's selection, Vanessa Diffenbaugh's The Language of Flowers.

We devoured this book, really. Our meeting was filled with flowers and their meanings and great discussion. This book spoke to me - complicated relationships and who we call family and how to risk connection with others despite the risk of rejection. And seeing as how it's a New York Times Bestseller, I think it speaks to a lot of people.

My well-loved copy. The best kind of book.

The best part was that Vanessa Diffenbaugh came to McKinney! And she did it up right, y'all.

Author events.

Ms. Diffenbaugh speaking at the luncheon.

She spoke at the local community college, where I used to teach writing, about her writing process. I'm not sure how someone can be soft-spoken and so powerful at the same time. She spoke at a luncheon the next day about her foster care journey and then that night at one of the local high schools. I attended all three events with different people each time and tried not to appear stalker-ish. I'm not sure I pulled it off. (There is more to this story and I may tell it one day. We'll see what happens...)

Stalker behavior. Stealing the poster after an event.

She signed my book in a most gracious way.

Just lovely.

Next up in my book club was Night Film by Marisha Pessl. We picked this one for our spooky October read. It was l-o-n-g and requires stamina.

This book is getting a lot of press for its innovative use of notes and websites and emails and chat room dialogue included directly among the 600 or so pages. It was heavy and mysterious and I liked the characters, but the ending left me going "What the...?" It felt like a letdown or unexpected or something. And how can you say it was a great book if you didn't like the ending? I can't.

I snuck in Stephen King's new one. Doctor Sleep is the long-awaited sequel to The Shining. I am ashamed to admit I've never read The Shining (how can I call myself a Stephen King fan? I do own the movie. The one Stephen King hates.), but I checked this one out the day it was released.

I loved it. I love Stephen King more and more the older I get. The battle between good and evil in this one is great. And why didn't this one feel heavy? It's 500+ pages, after all. Totally worth it.

And that gets us through to the end of October. I just finished The Fault in Our Stars by John Green but I will not speak of it until after my book club has met. That's the rules, folks. But you can guarantee I've got a lot to say about it.

Til next time. Happy Reading!


Okay, it's just plain sad that it's been 11 months since I last updated this Reader's Log. What is wrong with me? I mean, I like talking and writing about what I read. So what's the problem?

I don't know.

But I will correct that shit right now.

Here's what I've been reading. I'll start from where I left off. With a stack of books.

I already wrote about The Book Thief and Gone Girl in the previous post (one freaking year ago. I know, I know - we've been over this!). But I neglected to mention The Heretic's Daughter or why I read it.

It's about the Salem Witch Trials from the perspective of a young girl whose mother is accused. The author, Kathleen Kent, came to McKinney and talked about the writing process as part of a local group, Texas Writers and Words, that I adore. The group meets once a month at noon and a variety of authors speak. It is a delight. I haven't always been a historical fiction fan, but The Heretic's Daughter was worth it. Kent talked about her newest book, The Outcasts, and it made me want to read it. It's just come out.

Come on - who can resist a book with a woman and a gun on the cover?

I belong to a book club and it is a top priority for me. I read the book. Every month. I don't read a book before its allotted time, if I can help it. And I rarely miss a meeting. We drink wine or other beverages, we have a nice dinner, and we actually talk about the book. It is delightful. So I'll begin be recapping what I read with my book club since I last posted.

I enjoyed this book - an Oprah pick. But I can't say that I wasn't a bit puzzled by all of the hype surrounding the author, Ayana Mathis. When Oprah likes your book, she really likes your book. I didn't think it was all that. But, I am glad I read it and I thought it had some great characters. It just wasn't a work of genius or anything. The book club concurs.

Our next read was a little weird, but I can handle weird.

The Child's Child by Barbara Vine was too weird. There's an illegitimate child and homosexuality and a very strange sibling relationship, and that continues for several generations. And I didn't get the ending. I mean really - I didn't get it. I want my characters to grow - to learn something. These people didn't.

In March we conquered The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by  David Wroblewski. This was another Oprah pick from long ago. All I knew was that it was about dogs. And a boy. That's enough for me.

It was heavy - as in weight and in content. I think everyone in my book club is a dog lover. But everyone in my book club was done with Oprah and depressing books after this one. We read it in March because we had Spring Break to devote to it. We all wanted to drown ourselves by the end. But it didn't matter, because we had already picked The Dinner by Herman Koch for our April read.

Talk about depressing. This one featured very disturbing characters. That's a problem for me. Kinda like Gone Girl. I need to like people in order to keep reading about them. Or at least have someone you're rooting for - opposite the freak. The characters just weren't people I would want to be around, so when their worlds come tumbling down, I'm like, "What did you think was going to happen?" But, I must say, these kinds of books are often the ones that spark the most interesting conversations at book club. That's because we all really like each other and respect our differences and care about each other's opinions. Otherwise, it would just be a yelling match and we'd all get pissed off and not talk to one another for a long time. And that's no damn fun.

One of my favorite authors is Barbara Kingsolver and we read her newest, Flight Behavior, in May.

This is a gem. It had elements of science and small town life and marriage and parenthood, all wrapped up with "What in the hell are we doing to our environment?". I was in love with Kingsolver the moment I read Animal Dreams in grad school. I am hers forever.

An unlikely hit was Dancing Under the Red Star by Karl Tobien. This chronicled a young American girl's real-life experiences as her family was taken by Stalin's Gulag and sent to forced labor camps. For a long damn time. She survived. I'm all about survival.

Our next read was fun and light, which we really needed.

Play Dead by David Rosenfelt was a very enjoyable read. The characters were likeable (you know how I need that) and dogs are main characters. I'll take it. We read it because one of our book club members was mentioned, by name, as a character. Her parents know the author and she is the President of The Golden Retriever Rescue of North Texas. Rosenfelt has a whole series of books featuring Golden Retrievers. They are pretty amazing dogs.

Our next read was Gold by Chris Cleave. I finally read Little Bee and loved it, so I was ready for another one of his and suggested this one.

I will be the first to admit that part of why I love Chris Cleave's books is the covers. They are beautiful. But so are his stories. Little Bee was heartbreaking and wrapped you up in its story and had you rooting for all of the characters - even the flawed married couple - but especially for Little Bee. This book made me realize how what we think are our problems just aren't really problems compared to the rest of the world. Gold was equally good - complicated characters, but likeable enough. And I learned a lot about what Olympic athletes go through. The main thing about Cleave's work is that he is a man writing female characters really, really well. I don't know how he does it.

Now, of course, I don't just read one book a month. That would be silly. But I do want to note that exactly one week after my post last October, I did start working as an editor on a contract basis. That's when my reading rate spiraled downward (and is my excuse for why I haven't updated this page). The book club keeps me reading at least one book a month and is why I absolutely make it a priority. But here are a few others I snuck in.

I read good reviews of this one in several places and another book club member passed it along to me. It did not disappoint. Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon was fun and clever - I like that in people and in books. The premise is that a woman signs up for a study about marriage where she answers survey questions and it forces her to examine her life. Participating in the study was like therapy for her, and there are bumps along the way that leave you wondering what is going to happen. She struggles with being a good wife, mother, friend, and employee. I really liked it. She wrote a memoir called The Slippery Year that is on my list to read.

I love Anne Lamott and am working my way through all of her books. Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith was given to me years ago by my mother-in-law and I finally got around to reading it.

I really love the way she looks at faith and describes God. It was nice to read something about spirituality by someone without an agenda. Lamott wants nothing from you. She's just being honest. I love that.

One of the things I love about being in the DFW metroplex is the accessibility of author events. When I discovered Momastery (you can link to it on the right side of any page of my blog), I loved Glennon Doyle Melton's honesty. So I was thrilled to read her book when it was released this spring.

Carry On, Warrior is a collection of essays - some of which first appeared on her blog, but mostly new material - about parenting and marriage and how hard it all is. I like it when people are honest, but I especially like it when they're honest about raising babies and being married. I went to hear Melton speak at our wonderful independent bookstore, a Real Bookstore, which closed quite unexpectedly the next month. Shocking and so sad. But they went out with a bang, because Melton had a great crowd and gave a great reading. She was very approachable and interacted with readers. I like that in an author.

I also discovered Kelly Corrigan earlier this year and read one of her books, Lift.

A beautiful hardback, it's perfect to give as a gift. Her other, The Middle Place, is on my list. Lift was a lovely, quick read - a letter Corrigan wrote to her daughter. Corrigan is known for her readings - you can see many videos on her website - and interviews of other authors. I love the concept of her annual benefit for Children't Hospital Oakland, Notes & Words, where writers and musicians/songwriters come together for one awesome evening.

And that's all I can remember from the past year at the moment.

Oh wait - there was one I gave up on. And I do not give up easily.

The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan was too much for me. I saw an interview with her on the Daily Show and was intrigued. I really wanted to like this book. She researched the people, mostly women, involved in various aspects of making the atomic bomb in World War II. They didn't know what they were a part of. But, sadly, the interview was way more interesting than the book. I wanted to know the stories behind these women, not just question and answer interview transcription. I looked at the pictures and returned it to the library.

What am I reading now?

Another one that got great reviews that I'm finally getting to. I am about halfway through The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. I'm having a little trouble with the whole fanciful, what is reality anyway theme. But I'll finish it - you know I will. There are red-headed twins as major characters. And I love the cover. How can you not read a book with a cover like that?

I promise I won't let 11 months pass before I post again.


Clearly I have been remiss in updating this page.  It's not that reading has not occurred - it was summer, after all - but summer blogging tends to be sparse.  There are kids to tend to and fun things to do.  But I will try and update since my last reads posted here.

Nora Ephron's last book, "I Remember Nothing and Other Reflections" was hilarious.  I love her writing.  And I think she was a pretty terrific person.  These essays had me laughing and crying.  Her essay about divorce and what she believes it does to children was so touching.  She speaks from experience.  I listened to "I Feel Bad About My Neck" on CD in my car when I used to commute to and from school last year and enjoyed it as well - especially listening to her read her own work.  I've also read her novel, "Heartburn" - it is one of my favorite movies as well, with Meryl Streep and Jack Nicholson.  Definitely someone I look up to as a writer.

Speaking of writers, I checked out this one from the library:

I was intrigued by her story - the small town Texas girl that rose to literary fame - eventually winning the Pulitzer Prize.  But I can't say that these essays were my style, or even anything that I pretend to understand. I am not much into literary criticism, and these essays are mostly that.  There were a few essays aimed at writers, but I found them unhelpful.  A disappointment. And I really wanted to like her work.

This one was a real treat - "The Light Between Oceans" by M.L. Stedman.  I get emails from Oprah's Book Club and this was the book about which she said, "You must read this before summer ends!"  So I did.  It was really good.  I was intrigued by all of the descriptions of the lighthouse - reminded me of living in Alaska.  The isolation, the harsh weather, the dependence on others and yet the independent spirit required to survive it.  The surprise element of the the skiff washing up with the body and the baby was just enough to get me interested, but the book is really more about how big decisions are sometimes made in increments and what two people in a marriage might do for one another.  I really enjoyed the ending.

This was my book club's selection - "Drowning Ruth" by Christina Schwarz.  It was similar to "The Light Between Oceans" in the isolation of an island and what that does to people, as well as what people do for one another in a marriage.  But the real story line involves sisters and cousins and the dysfunctional relationships that often develop in families.  And how difficult they are to escape.

Our current book club selection, "The Book Thief" by Markus Zusak.  I couldn't put this one down.  I was hooked from the beginning with the narrator, Death.  This line:

I could introduce myself properly, but it's not really necessary.  You will know me well enough and soon enough...

And this one:

The survivors.  
They're the ones I can't stand to look at, although on many occasions I still fail...now and then, I witness the ones who are left behind, crumbling among the jigsaw puzzle of realization, despair, and surprise.  They have punctured hearts.  They have beaten lungs.  

Yeah.  It's good.

It is the story of a young girl in Nazi Germany.  Reading saves her.  Enough said.

I am reading this one now - "Gone Girl" by Gillian Flynn - because I finished "The Book Thief" so quickly.  It took me a while to get into it - 100 pages or so - because the characters are not very likeable.  I cringe at what they sometimes say and do - and yet, on some level, I can relate.  The downward spiral  of a marriage that was once happy is heartbreaking, but overshadowed by the disturbing thoughts of husband and wife that are sprinkled throughout.  And oh, then there's the twist that you don't see coming.  Or at least I didn't...

This book has gotten lots of attention, and I see why.  I usually don't like "thrillers" or "mysteries", but this one is pretty good.  I've been staying up late at night reading it.  I want to see how it ends.


I finished "The Bill From My Father" by Bernard Cooper.  It was good.  Many similarities between his experience with his father and me with mine.  A kindred spirit.

Moved on to "The Liars' Club" by Mary Karr.  This has been on my list of things to read for years.  I never bought it, and it wasn't at my local libraries in the past.  But my current library had it.

I was transported to this world in small town Texas by Karr's writing.  I have a thing for fellow Texans.  Some of it was so hard to read.  Haunting.  Such a good read.  This one stayed on my list for so long because Stephen King has it on his list of must reads.  And I pay attention to things Stephen King says to read.  I'll be checking out Mary Karr's other books.

So now I've moved on to "Without a Map" by Meredith Hall.  Stumbled across this one in the memoir section of the library.  Good so far.  Brings up a lot of issues.  I have issues, people.

It has been in the triple digits here in Texas - 106 the other day.  So there's not much else to do but stay in the air conditioning and READ.


Just finished this one for my book club:  "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed (check out the author website here).  I read it in a day - it was addictive.  Her descriptions of being dirty and stanky were great.  I could almost smell her B.O.  Seriously, I went and took a shower when I finished it.

This is the book that has brought Oprah out of Book Club retirement with Oprah's Book Club 2.0 (see the video clip explaining her new virtual book club here).

I really liked the bare-it-all style Strayed has.  She really put it all out there in this memoir.  Another writer that inspires me.  

I've also been doing some reading to help me as a writer.   I started out by re-reading Anne Lamott's "Bird by Bird".  I loved it the first time I read it and I loved it the second time.

It is full of great stories and great advice.  One of my favorite things she says about writing is this:

"In this dark and wounded society, writing can give you the pleasures of the woodpecker, of hollowing out a hole in a tree where you can build your nest and say, 'This is my niche, this is where I live now, this is where I belong'".  

and this:

"Try to write in a directly emotional way, instead of being too subtle or oblique.  Don't be afraid of your material or your past.  Be afraid of wasting any more time obsessing about how you look and how people see you.  Be afraid of not getting your writing done.  

And so that is what I am trying to do.  

I also re-read Ariel Gore's "How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're Dead".  Lots of practical how-to and personal experiences.  Favorite line? 

"You must write the thing you most want to read."  

Well, allright then.  

Next, I pulled Amy Tan's "The Opposite of Fate" back off my shelf.  I was about halfway done with it when I abandoned it several years ago, more pressing matters in my life meant reading was not a priority for a while.  So I finished it.  And it was so worth it.  

Her descriptions of how she writes and why she writes were mesmerizing.  I really, really like this person.  She has done so many things and survived so many things and she pours it all into her writing.  

Ariel Gore's book inspired me to check this out from the library:

It is a twelve week course.  I am on Week Two.  I am writing my "Morning Pages" every morning and planning "Artist Dates" and doing my weekly tasks.  It feels good.

Now I'm diving into memoir.  Read what you want to write, right?  I'm in the middle of Bernard Cooper's "The Bill from My Father."  So many things in it remind me of my dad.  Like the polyester jumpsuit.  The Cadillac.  Being a lawyer.  I like it.

All for now.  There's more reading to be done!  

About to enter "Reading Season" - known to some simply as "Summer".  But this is what I've just finished up:

If you didn't already know about my love for P-dub, you do now.  Perhaps more than her cookbooks, which I adore and am cooking my way through, this memoir of how The Pioneer Woman met her Marlboro Man appealed to me.  She started out a blogger in 2006 (check out her Confessions) and now has a successful Food Network show and is a New York Times Bestselling Author.  Awesome.  This was a thoroughly enjoyable read that made me laugh out loud and cringe more than once in sympathy.  I especially identified with her getting married at the same time that her own parents' marriage was falling apart.  I feel like I know this woman.  Highly recommended read.

A whole lot more serious was this one:

If you have any questions about how your mental health history, and the mental health of anyone in your family tree, might impact your children, you should read this book.  It's part scientific review, part memoir.  And it offered a lot of things to think about - some more obvious than others - regarding the importance of knowing your mental health history so as to be a better parent.  Like the fact that the more you dig into your family history, the better equipped you are to recognize and address any issues that crop up in yourself and your children.  Or like the fact that, if you already have mental illness in your family, an event like divorce can be the straw that broke the camel's back for a child's mental health.  But it also offers hope for those dealing with depression, bipolar disease and schizophrenia.  A tall order.  Well worth the time and attention to read it.  There's more on the author's website.

And, of course, what everyone's talking about:

It was okay.  I haven't been compelled to read the other two in the trilogy.  I just love that it's got people talking and, more importantly, reading.  You should read EVERYTHING, in my opinion.  Good.  Bad.  Indifferent.  JUST READ.  So anything that has people reading is allright by me.  So I recommend this, too.  Go read.

And finally, I am still in the throes of this little gem:

Okay, the cover alone should have you interested.  It is too hilarious.  Another blogger who got a book deal.  Well deserved.  Check out her blog here.  I actually got to go and hear her speak and get her to sign my book at our local independent bookstore, a Real Bookstore.  She was really funny in person, too - and what loyal readers!  It was a great crowd and I made a new friend while I was there.  She is a Texan with a mouth that would make a sailor blush.  Gotta love her.

That should hold you for a while!

Finished "Sing You Home" -- loved the ending.

Now trying to finish up "Thunderstruck" by Erik Larson.

I really like his books -- all historical fiction.  First one of his I read was "Isaac's Storm" about the 1900 Galveston Hurricane -- really good read.

Then read "Devil in the White City" about the Chicago World's Fair.

It was creepy in a good way.  So is "Thunderstruck".  If you think you don't like historical fiction, try one of Erik Larson's books!

Finished "Unbroken" (see post below).  Great book.  Find myself better able to help students with essays for their History classes because I understand more about World War II now.

Reading "Sing You Home" by Jodi Picoult for my book club now.

Brings up all kinds of issues:  Alcoholism.  Infertility.  Miscarriage.  Divorce.  Gay Marriage.  Music Therapy.  Religion.  Evangelism.  Intolerance.  Must finish quickly cause it's due back at the library tomorrow.

Love this poem.  On "Writer's Almanac" today.

The Thousand-foot Ore Boat

by Barton Sutter
To live until we die—
The job seems just impossible.
The great weight of the past
Pushing us forward, the long future
Thrust out before us, and so little room to either side!
The least we can do is stay sober,
Look sharp. The thousand-foot ore boat
Slides through the ship canal
And eases beneath the bridge,
All engines thrumming,
Including the pilot's heart.
"The Thousand-foot Ore Boat" by Barton Sutter, from Farewell to the Starlight in Whiskey. © BOA Editions, Ltd, 2004. 

Finished "Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life' by Amy Krouse Rosenthal last night.  Highly recommend it.
Starting this now - for my book club.
Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption

Love this poem.

Don't Look Back

by Kay Ryan
This is not
a problem
for the neckless.
Fish cannot
swivel their heads
to check
on their fry;
no one expects
this. They are
torpedoes of
compact capsules
that rely
on the odds
for survival,
unfollowed by
the exact and modest
number or goslings
the S-necked
goose is—
who if she
looks back
acknowledges losses
and if she does not
also loses.
"Don't Look Back" by Kay Ryan, from Say Uncle. © Grove Press, 2000.

Reading this now.

Check out the book's website, and the author, Amy Krouse Rosenthal.

Find me on www.goodreads.com.

I love "The Autobiographer's Handbook".

1 comment:

  1. There are Devil in the White City tours--- should we look into them for the wedding weekend?