Monday, July 25, 2016

Little Free Library -- Hilton Head

We had a fantastic family vacation in Hilton Head last week.  Twenty-three people under one roof -- way more fun that it sounds!  One of our family togetherness activities is biking, and I glimpsed this Little Free Library on one of our spins and circled back later in the week to check it out.

I've been intrigued by Little Free Libraries for about a year now.  My street actually gets quite a bit of foot traffic, and I love the idea of stocking a library with books that neighbors or passers-by might enjoy.  I was eager to check one out up close.

The signage on this HHI Little Free Library says "Take a Book.  Return a Book."  Does that mean that a trade is expected (take a book if you give a book) or simply that you are expected to return the book you took?  I didn't find the language punishing or anything, just curious about how Little Free Libraries usually work.  A Little Free Library seems perfect for a vacation town where visitors may have forgotten (what?!) reading material or not packed enough. 

If I decide to start my own library, I'll have to think about the wording I want to go along with it.

Here's an up-close of the most interesting offerings in the HHI Little Free Library.  Far left is a hardback of The Goldfinch.  I adored that book, but I think it would be quite an undertaking for a week-long vacation.  I read Luckiest Girl in the World last summer.  It came together for me eventually, but early in the book, I almost had to abandon it because I was so upset/disturbed by the some of the high school "party" scenes.  Not a reading experience I would wish on anyone during vacation.  If I had been without reading material in HHI (of course, I had plenty), I would have chosen Jean Kwok's Mambo in Chinatown as I loved her earlier novel, Girl In Translation.  Highly recommend.

The only thing I took was two photos.

The Little Free Library was quite packed, which leads me to more questions/concerns.  Do Little Free Library stewards have trouble with people using their libraries as book donation drop boxes?  I wouldn't want mine filled with old textbooks or books people simply don't want or like.  Also, I didn't see anything inappropriate in this library, but I'm wondering how much curating or policing is necessary?  I'm no censor, but if, say, a ten year-old is going to read Fifty Shades of Grey, I don't want him/her finding it in my front yard because someone wanted to share the "love."

The Little Free Library website reveals that there are several Little Free Libraries in my town so maybe I'll check them out and possibly talk to their stewards about the experience.

If you have any information or experience with Little Free Libraries, please share!

Monday, July 18, 2016

New Release Round-Up

Summer time is reading time.  I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy and her Quick Lit series to share mini reviews of the new releases I have read this summer.  Per usual, these reviews are heavily cribbed from my own Goodreads.  Find me there!  I'm booksandcarbs.

In no particular order, I present my recent reads in the "new release" category ...

One True Loves is the third Taylor Jenkins Reid book I've read.  I've enjoyed them all.  I like how she explores relationships, usually with a view toward the post-happily ever after and/or the road not taken.  My friend and I have decided that Jenkins Reid has proven herself to a be a reliable author for a solid, satisfying read.  Recommended for fans of Emily Giffin or Jennifer Weiner.

I'm obsessed with the cover of Emma Straub's Modern Lovers and with the adorable postcard that was provided with my Book of the Month Club copy of this book.  I can't say I was as obsessed with the novel, but I enjoyed it ... eventually.  It was a slow start for me, but I liked seeing the novel's "modern lovers" and their various moments of crisis, introspection, and connection.  I gave it 3.5 stars on Goodreads.
The Versions of Us by Laura Bennet -- I liked reading the three versions of this love story. However, I wanted it to be a Sliding Doors scenario and it wasn't. The versions all start with the same "meet cute" but apparently events (like, say, a pre-existing physical condition) leading up to that meeting aren't the same in all versions. Interesting characters and stuff about "soul mates" and of "one true love" to ponder. But, at the of the day, I wanted it to be a Sliding Doors scenario and it wasn't. I did shed a few tears though.  Three stars on Goodreads.

The One That Got Away by Leigh Himes -- Summer read. Another Sliding Doors-ish story.  I get caught up in the technicalities of the impossible in such books (if you actually married a different guy in a parallel universe, how is it possible that you would have more or less the same children as with your husband in the other life?  Does not compute for me).  I liked it better than The Versions of Us and enjoyed the Philadelphia setting and the insight into a political campaign.  The grass is and is not greener.  Always good to be reminded of that.   3.5 stars.

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler -- Great writing. Very absorbing story. I felt distanced from Tess throughout though, which might have been the point. Sweetbitter is a different take on the post-college-real-world-entry story with its focus on the restaurant world. That glimpse inside the inner workings and "family" dynamics of a high-end restaurant was definitely interesting, enlightening, and also a bit disturbing. It was hard to see Tess make so many poor (in my anti-drug, suburban mom, somewhat prudish mindset) choices, especially in the moments when they were barely choices, but I did think this was a very solid debut novel that I will remember for a long time.  Four stars.

Ann Leary's The Children -- This book contains one of my favorite kind of characters:  the confident imposter.  I really enjoyed this book, maybe not as much as Leary's The Good House, but a lot.  The interactions between/among the sisters and mom were witty and honest and perfect.  The ending seemed just a bit rushed, and I would have happily read a version of this book that was a hundred pages longer.  Four stars.

No One Knows by J.T. Ellison --  3.5 stars. Very twisty thriller. A lot going on (maybe a little too much) but quite a page turner. Liked the Nashville setting and the insights into the characters' childhoods.

I've read other books, but limited this post to the new releases that I had remembered to photograph.  Read anything new (or old) this summer?  Please share.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Audible Monthly Credit(s) Report -- July

Last month, I shared my first-ever Audible Monthly Credit(s) Report.

For those of you not familiar with the audiobook world, is the biggest and best site for purchasing and downloading audiobooks.  I have a subscription, and choosing how to spend my two audible credits is one of the monthly rituals I treasure.

Here are my selections for July...

Emily Giffin had written four novels before I ever read one of hers.  Something about the covers of her books turned me off, and I avoided them.  A reader I trust told me I'd enjoy them so I finally gave them a try.  I inhaled Something Borrowed and Something Blue, reading both on an ipod touch while I was nursing one of my babies.  I've been a fan ever since.  I've heard positive buzz about her latest, First Comes Love, and I'll enjoy listening to it.  In honor of this novel, about sisters, Giffin put together a list of her favorite books about sisters.  I had read three of the five books she mentioned on the list and heartily endorse Rainbow Rowell's Fangirl, Curtis Sittenfeld's Sisterland, and Elinor Lipman's The View from Penthouse B.  

My other credit went to Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty by Ramona Ausubel.  I can't resist the title and this book was given a positive review by a blogger I trust.  A rags-to-riches story is always good, but its inverse ... even more intriguing.  I just read Christina McDowell's memoir, After Perfect, so I am in the mood to read more about how people (real or fictional) react when their ease and plenty disappear.

Any good listens for you this summer?

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Something's "Fishy" Gallery Wall

I'm overwhelmed by all the books I am not writing about so I'm offering a different kind of post.

I love a lil project.  And, as you might know, if I like it then I'm going to put a frame on it.  Both of my boys have aquariums in their bedrooms.  Last year (when aquarium enthusiasm was at fever pitch*), my oldest son spent some of his own money buying fish art (mostly in notecard/greeting card form) at Art in the Park, our town's springtime art fair. 

I promised that I would frame these fish images for him.  And for over a year, I neglected to do so. 

I did, however, add to his store of images without him noticing.  The kids and I journeyed to IKEA last month, and I finally purchased the frames.  Last week, I got to work framing up the fish images that we had collected. 

I snuck into his room and arranged the frames and then waited for him to notice.  The surprise was genuine.  He was thrilled and very appreciative. 

Here are some pics ...
Here's the BEFORE.  Two white IKEA ledge shelves, curated by a kindergartener and only slightly modified over the past five years.
Here's the fabulously fishy AFTER.  All of the frames used were purchased very inexpensively at IKEA.  I have the tools to cut mats, but I didn't do that here, just added cardstock behind images when needed.

I'll share close-ups of a few frames.
These koi swam off Paper Source calendars that I purchased late last summer for 75% off.  I don't have a spot for paper calendars in my home so I don't buy these gorgeous calendars at the start of the new year.  I am always looking to buy them for frame fodder when they are marked down.  The fish with the lily pads came from a clearance calendar purchased at my favorite gift shop (Uptown Shop, Elmhurst).

Paper Source also sells individual sheets of pretty paper.  I used the anchor paper to fill two frames and to back one of my fish prints.  The sheet of paper was less than five bucks, and I didn't even use half of it.

At the same vintage-eclectic store where I found the Nantucket print I love (Gather & Collect in Glen Ellyn), there were files of pages cut out of old illustrated books.  I snagged two of the fish pages for our collection.

The rest of the fish images are all ones that my son purchased at the art fair.  I can figure out the artists' names if something catches your eye (hopefully, not a hook -- so punny).

And there you have it, a fish-themed gallery wall that was fourteen months in the making but really only took a couple hours to execute (not counting time spent at IKEA).

There are several other themed gallery walls in my home, and I'd like to share them all eventually.  I'm ready to do one for my middle guy once he suggests a theme. 

Any lil projects going on at your house? 

*During initial frenzy of fish ownership there were water samples being collected, many trips to fish store, notes made, research completed, and tears over deceased fish.  Fish are still much beloved around here but caring for them and adding to their number now less of an obsession.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Poisonwood Bible ... Finally

Last summer, I came up with an "I'll Thank Me Later" List -- a collection of books I have always meant to read but perpetually put off beginning (even knowing how likely I am to love them).

In hindsight, I should have named it the "I'll Thank Myself Later" List, but too late now.

In 2015, I managed to read two books on the list and, no surprise, loved them both.  I wrote about Susan Cain's Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking and Rumer Godden's In This House of Brede (!!!!!!!!!) in my 2015 Reading Highlights post.

Back in 1998 when it was a new release, I purchased Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible from the now-defunct Quality Paperback Club.  The book later became an Oprah selection and a title that several trusted reader friends highly recommended.  And yet, I never felt like reading it.  I never considered placing it in a donation box and, in fact, moved it to five different addresses.  I never assumed it wouldn't be good.  I just never opened it, not even after reading and loving Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer a few years after buying Poisonwood Bible.

About five years ago, I bought the audiobook edition of Poisonwood Bible during an sale.  I downloaded it to my little green ipod right away and then never pressed play.  It never seemed to be the right moment for fifteen hours of missionaries and Africa and that book with the dust-colored cover. 

As happens with my book listening, I reached the end of one of the new releases on which I usually spend my monthly credits and was at a loss for my next listen.  I scrolled down to Poisonwood Bible and, just like that, pressed play.  Five minutes in, I was hooked.  Out of never-land and into the Congo.

Poisonwood Bible is an amazing novel.  The story of a Baptist preacher from Georgia who brings his family to the Belgian Congo in 1959 (despite being discouraged from doing so) is less about this bullheaded, misguided man and more about the daughters and wife who came to understand more about Africa than he ever could.  The tale is told in alternate chapters by each of the family's four daughters with a few reflections from their mother.

Barbara Kingsolver's writing is as exquisite as ever.  I loved how she captured Rachel's voice and personality with her confident ignorance, surprising wisdom, and comical vocabulary.  I marveled at the wordplay and poetry interspersed in Adah's chapters.  The honesty of Ruth May's chapters, the steadiness of Leah's, and the relentlessness of Orleanna's.  It's all perfection.

To say that I learned more about Africa and the political history of the Congo is an understatement.  I am ashamed of all I never knew or even considered.  I assumed the book would be more of an indictment of the missionary impulse, but Nathan Price's failings and blindspots need no belaboring.  He's got it wrong, and we know it.  The book is the "now what" of the family who had to come with him.*

I am so glad that I finally read this book, but I honestly don't wish I had read it earlier.  I am 41 now and a mother and, I like to think, wiser than I was at 23 or 33 or any other age in which I might have read this book.  I appreciated this book more today than I would have in 1998, that's for sure.

I have a stack of new releases waiting for me so I probably won't circle back to the "I'll Thank Me Later" List again until Fall, but I will return to it.  I'm batting three for three on that list right now.

Audiobook note:  Dean Robertson is the perfect narrator for Poisonwood Bible.  I was disappointed to read this interview with her where she's kind of dismissive of audiobooks.  She admits she doesn't listen to them so I will just assume she doesn't realize their power or her own talent for reading them.  Thanks for bringing Poisonwood Bible to life for me, Dean Robertson! 

What books are on your "I'll Thank Me Later" List?  I'd love to know.

*A strange coincidence is that at mass on Saturday evening, when I was almost two-thirds of the way through the book, the priest mentioned missionaries in his homily.  He talked about how the revised thinking about missionary work is that missionaries now go to a place assuming God is already there and affirming the ways God is already present and working in that community.  Reverent Nathan Price missed the boat there.