Thursday, May 31, 2018

Bookish Adventures - The American Writer's Museum

A few months back, I read a piece in a travel magazine about a new museum in Chicago. As we planned our trip to the city, I kept the museum on our list of potential things to do. I knew I had a bit of an uphill battle to make a visit happen because my husband isn't a reader. However, some solidly written online reviews (thanks, people I don't know) and my husband's want to stretch his comfort zone meant we got to spend a morning at the American Writer's Museum!

First off, you walk into a ceiling that is just DIVINE. Y'all, look how awesome this rainbow book collage is! I am currently trying to figure out how to put this into my home.

The museum is small when it comes to size as it is one floor in a building, but y'all, trust me that there is plenty to keep you busy. Dustin and I spent just under two hours here, and it was awesome.

First, they do a timeline of authors that coincides with American history. Each author has three panels you can rotate through. The nice thing is this isn't an overwhelming amount of information. Also, BONUS is that I found some "new to me" historical authors to check out!

They also had this really neat Word Waterfall that did a show of various quotes to describe America and writing. It was captivating to watch.

Opposite the author timeline, there was a wall that highlighted various types of books/written word. There were panels for each, and you just didn't know what you might find when you flipped them around! My personal favorite was this ode to Jurassic Park. 

And then, AND THEN, they had this amazing mural in the room about children's books. Each of the squirrels in the mural is reading a children's classic. I'm also trying to find a way to get this in my home.

As if they knew I was coming, the special exhibit was about Laura Ingalls Wilder. I will always geek out about anything around the Little House books, and this was no exception.

There were lots of other fun things like the screen where you could choose your five favorite books and make a bookmark. Talk about pressure! After some intense internal debating, I was able to make my choices.

Oh, and they even had a bay of typewriters where you could type your own stories. Y'all, let me just say that typing on a typewriter was so, so, SO much harder than I remembered. There were some other interactive, touchscreen stuff I really dug that I won't detail because I want y'all to have some surprises when you visit.

Overall, I'll say this - I. LOVED. IT. It's a book lover's dream. It's just the right amount of information, so you're not overwhelmed by content. I also appreciated that you don't have to explore the museum in any exact order. Dustin and I went on different paths, and that worked perfectly. In fact, it's not really a museum that works well as a group activity. It's best enjoyed as a solo exploration, and you can meet up and discuss later. Also, as I mentioned earlier, Dustin is not a reader, and it got his stamp of approval as well, mostly for its historical connections.

Final Tip: Check for deals on admission. You can get a 20% discount for signing up for their mailing list prior to attending. I was able to find a Groupon to get half-off our admission. I'm all about a good deal for a great experience, so sharing the love on that here.

Happy Reading and Exploring Y'all!

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Reading in the AC

Y'all, I'm am so glad I have an indoor hobby (reading), and I'm even gladder I found my way to some of these books!

The Last Days of Night by Graham Moore was absolutely phenomenal. It came via a recommendation, and without that, I never would have picked this up. Y'all, that would have been my loss. This is historical fiction (that veers heavily into nonfiction) about the development of electricity and the light bulb. It is the conflict between Albert Einstein and George Westinghouse with additional involvement from Nikola Tesla to expand the technology beyond their labs. Prior to reading this, I knew zero things about any of this story, and I also would have never in a million years guessed it could have been so captivating. I loved this story as I learned at the complexities of designing (and patenting) the light bulb to spread electricity throughout the country. For the time being, this book is definitely my, "You need to read this now! Just trust me!" recommendation to all.

Read this book if - You're a fan of historical fiction. You have either no, little and/or any level of knowledge about light bulbs and Thomas Edison (and Westinghouse and Tesla, too!), as this really can appeal to all crowds. You enjoy a book that makes an unexpected topic fascinating.

The Cay by Theodore Taylor is a re-read from my childhood that I wanted to revisit. I still can remember my third grade teacher Mrs. Riedy dramatically reading it aloud to us. The story revolves around a young boy Phillip who is marooned on an island in the Caribbean with Timothy, a slave after a torpedo hits the ship they were on. Oh, and there's a cat, too - Stew Cat. Shortly after being stranded on the island, Phillip goes blind which means he has to heavily rely on Timothy to get through his days. There is challenge throughout as Phillip and Timothy learn to navigate the island life together. 

Read this book if - You're also looking to re-read something you once read in grade school.

All We Ever Wanted is the upcoming release from Emily Giffin. I received this as an advanced e-galley, so this is me giving you a sneak peak of what will soon be on a shelf near you. Y'all, this one was so much more than I was expecting. I've read nearly all of Emily Giffin's books, and she's usually good for a love story. This one went in a very different direction - in a good way. This story revolves around a picture taken at a high school party. Through the exploration of what really happened in a drunken moment, there is an exploration of privilege in a number of different and impactful ways. The moment becomes more and more complex as three different characters involved explain what happened before, during and after that moment. I always appreciate a plot that makes me gasp out loud, and this one did on multiple occasions as characters make their choices of how to react -in great and not so great ways. The topic of this one is complex and provides a strong story that will make you want to talk about what you just read, as there are so many intersecting issues. I'm really looking forward to this one being released just so I have other people able to discuss it with me.

Read this book if - You're looking for a book that examines current events and issues through a well-told story. You want a book that will give you a story you'll want (and need) to discuss with friends. You're looking for your next book club read, and you want something that will really create some strong discussions around social issues.

Things Invisible To See by Nancy Willard is a book that's been on my to-read list for sometime. I finally found a copy at Powell's in Portland a few months back. It's hard for me to explain this one to y'all. Above all else, it's just beautifully written. The plot is two-fold. First, there's an incident where a young woman (Clare) is hit with a baseball in a freak moment. She falls in love with the hitter (Ben), but doesn't immediately know he's the reason she is seriously injured and must now use a wheelchair. The later plot involves a brush with Death where Ben makes a deal involving him assembling a team to play a baseball team of legends. That said, there are a lot of moving parts, but it's so well-told that I found I wanted to keep reading.

Read this book if - You just like a well-written book. You tend to like books that are a bit "off the beaten path" when it comes to reading.

Friday, May 25, 2018

The Great American Read(er)

Did y'all watch The Great American Read?!?

As the blog post obviously indicates, I am, and I have thoughts to share.

Going into this, I wasn't sure if it was for me. I mean, honestly, I was trying to figure out just what this was. However, given it involved books (and also because Meredith Viera was hosting, and I adore her), I knew I wanted to give it a whirl.

My trepidation about if this was for me quickly evaporated as I was a mess of emotional tears in the first five minutes of the kickoff. Y'all, I'm not exaggerating. I was that up in my feelings. There was just such beauty in people talking so passionately about the book(s) they loved the most.

(Time Out - If you haven't had a chance to watch, you can do that HERE. NOW. GO. . . well, go as soon as you finish this blog post.)

The overall concept is an intriguing one. Through some fancy polling strategies, PBS has built the list of America's most beloved novels. It's quite a mixed lot of novels which speaks to the fact that they really did take the time to build a list with a variety of readers. 

The special this week was the kick-off, and they're now encouraging viewers/readers to take a couple of actions:
  1. Vote for your favorite(s). You can vote once at day, so if you just can't choose, they've taken that stress off your shoulders.
  2. Tell others about your favorites. Admittedly, I've got a few that are my true favorites not on the list which is another post for another day. However, there are some books I have read and do adore that will gladly sing the praises of to others.
  3. Read stuff you've never read. Obvs, I'm already reading a fair amount. However, I'm committing to adding some of these to my list. WIth that, I'd definitely love recommendations, so send those my way.
There is a checklist for you to track your progress on the list, too. #iloveagoodlist

If you'd like to get summaries, you can do that here.

As it stands now, I've read 38 of the finalists (and maybe a few more because I took at class called The Novel my freshman year at K-State, and I'm blanking on all the books we read). Most of these are checked off because I read them for school, and most of that was due to high school honors English, and y'all, I'll be real, I can't say I loved some of these then. I'm also quite sure I'm not motivated enough now to give them another go to see if my teenage distaste was accurate. #sorrynotsorry 

Already Read (* if I read them for school) - A Prayer for Owen Meany, A Separate Peace*, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Alchemist, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, Anne of Green Gables, The Book Thief, The Catcher In the Rye*, Charlotte's Web, The Chronicles of Narnia (series)*, Crime and Punishment*, The Curious Incident of Dog in the Night-Time, Frankenstein*, The Giver, Gone Girl, The Grapes of Wrath*, Great Expectations*, The Great Gatsby*, The Handmaid's Tale*, Harry Potter (series), Hatchet, Heart of Darkness*, The Help, Hunger Games (series), Invisible Man*, Little Women, Looking for Alaska, The Lord of the Rings (series), The Lovely Bones, The Martian, Pride and Prejudice*, Ready Player One, The Shack, The Sun Also Rises, Things Fall Apart*, To Kill a Mockingbird*, The Twilight Saga (series), Where the Red Fern Grows

After watching the kickoff special and looking through the list, I've also identified seven books I haven't yet read that I decided I for sure want to read. I may add more to the list pending the recommendations of others, but this is where I'd like to start.
  1. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
  2. And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
  3. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis Note: I've technically already read The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, however this was in first grade, so I'd like to give it a re-read in this millenium.
  4. Ghost by Jason Reynolds
  5. The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
  6. The Outsiders by SE Hinton
  7. The Stand by Stephen King
Overall, I'm all about this challenge. Meredith Viera promised that they're be events for the program at my local library and/or PBS station, so I'm looking forward to seeing what those things are going to be. Also, I'm always a fan of getting people to read good books.

Oh, and if you're about that Goodreads life, I'm a total over-acheiver, and made a bookshelf with all the books here.

So, are you in?

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Book Nerd Mode Activated!

I thought it might be fun (admittedly an interesting adjective, but y'all, it's me) to take a time out from reviewing books to talk about process. 

Y'all, I promise it's going to be more exciting than I just made it sound. Today, I wanted to highlight some of my favorite book-ish accessories. Note: I get no kickback from spreading the word about these, but if someone wants to send me free stuff, HMU.

First, let's talk book storage. I actually saw this product years ago, then it vanished. Then, a few months back, I looked it up once more, and it was back! I immediately ordered to finally get it into my life.

Image result for levenger library bag
(Source: Levenger)

So, what is it? It's the bags the Boston Public Library has used for 100+ years to transport books. It's huge and durable, and y'all, it holds so. many. books. It's perfect as a unique and quirky way to store books. I get it to easily hold 25 - 30 books. I'm not doing a lot of moving it around, but if it I was, the handles make it super easy to make that happen.

Also, it has this little quote inside which I love.

You can bring one home to you by buying it right here.

Next, let me tell you about my latest love - Book Beau Bean. 

Image result for book beau bean
(Source: Book Beau)

Again, you're probably wondering what this is. Well, let me sing its praises. I'll own that when I initially saw this product advertised I wasn't sure I needed it, and then, and then, I bought one. #gamechanger 

The Bean is simply a pillow built specifically for reading. It seems extra, but y'all, I assure you, it's not. Here's what it looks like in action.

The bean shape allows for it to easily "cradle" which from a reading comfort perspective is awesome. It can easily fit in your lap, or you can rest it on your stomach if you're a bedtime reader like me. Also, it is made from the softest fabric ever.

Trust me, you need one. It looks like they're sold out now, but when they restock, you can get your very own bean here

The OG product that Book Beau made was in fact the Book Beau. I found out about these via a Kickstarter, and it was another product I never knew I needed, but now can't imagine being without.

(Source: Book Beau)

I'm rarely somewhere without a book. However, I'm also notorious for toting around a purse/bag that's full of all kinds of "stuff" inside. A Book Beau is essentially a fancy sleeve for your book. It helps keep things organized, and it makes sure your books don't end up a bent, wrinkled, mangled mess at the bottom of your bag when they're travelling along with you. I find this especially essential when it comes to my carry-on for my semi-frequent air travel.

These also work really well for e-readers, so if that's your jam, you can be part of the fun, too. In fact, they come in a variety of sizes to fit anything from pocket-size romance novels with shirtless men on the cover to hardcover copies of Harry Potter.

Pro Tip - If you're interested, Book Beau runs some good deals. There's discounts for signing up for the mailing list, discounts for pre-orders (and y'all the fabrics are so adorable), and sometimes even a mystery discount wheel on the site. Start browsing and falling in love here.

Finally, let's talk about how much I love this bag.

I love a good cheesy book joke, as well as being a frequent flier at my local library, so when I saw this at Powell's in Portland, I knew I needed it. 

After all, I'm saving money by using the library, so I should reward myself with a cute bag to transport? Right? If you agree, take one home here.

Happy Reading (and Accessorizing)!

Thursday, May 17, 2018

A Network of Feels

Okay, y'all, here are the latest reads. As you'll see, these ones ran the gamut emotionally. I'm realizing that I have a lot of books in my queue that have the potential to be bummer reads, so I'm working on better balancing with some happy endings. If you've got some happily ever after recommendations I can add in to diversity my list, HMU.

The Silent Sister is by Diane Chamberlain who has become one of my "go-to" authors when it comes to needing a good story with a twist or two. This one was (thankfully) no exception. One unintentionally funny thing about the timing of this read is that it's what I happened to take to silent book club as it was already on my nightstand. #easilyentertained Anyway. The premise of this one is that Riley has believed for her whole life that her older sister committed suicide. When she goes to sort through her father's things after his death, she learns that this might not be the case. This sets off her exploration of what really happened, including seeing if her sister is alive. Predictably (in a way that works for stories like this), there are some twists and turns as she goes to find out the truth that has been hidden all these years. I always like a book like this where the twist isn't totally obvious, and this one fit the bill in that regard.

Read this book if - You are someone who loves Lifetime movie marathons. You like a book with an interesting premise and some plot twists. You've read other Diane Chamberlain - This one was one of the more intriguing ones for me.

The Alice Network by Alice Quinn was this month's (in-person) book club read. This is actually a book I had recommended for the group, so I was hopeful it was as good as all the reviews indicated it was. Y'all, this one is emotional ride. It is a historical fiction piece that has two alternating narratives around a connected story. First, there is Eve who finds her way to a network of female spies (The Alice Network, obvs) who were active during World War I. Her part of the story focuses on the work she does within the network. The other narrative is Charlie's. It's 1947, and her cousin Rose has been missing. A pregnant Rose went to Nazi-occupied France and never returned home. A now pregnant Charlie has made it her mission to find out where she is. This involves connecting with Eve who has to go back to parts of her past she'd rather not. However, this also means she is able to explore what she believes to be true about her time in the network that may not be. This one gave me more feels than I anticipated. It was fantastic, but y'all, my heart. . . 

Read this book if - You're a fan of historical fiction. You like historical fiction that focuses on lesser known aspects of well-known historical happenings. You're ready to have all the feels (including some sadness) for just under 500 pages.

From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon was a book I chose because I'd had a stretch of highly emotional (aka sad) reads, and I needed to go down a different path for awhile. This an advanced reading copy I received. It's a YA love story, and it was just what I needed. When I read books like this, I like to reflect on if my angsty teenage self would have dug the book, and she definitely would have liked this. Present-Day Me liked this one for lots of reasons. The main character is Twinkle, an Indian American teen who aspires to be a female filmmaker. Her story is told primarily through the journal entries she writes to the female directors she admires. In making her film, she works with Sahil as producer. This would be fine except Sahil is the twin brother of her long-time crush, Neil. As she makes her film, she grows closer to Sahil. This would be awesome except she is also receiving emails from a secret admirer "N" who she is convinced is Neil. This one was great because it centered on a voice that isn't always spotlighted in YA/love stories. It was a good "palate cleanser" of a tale, and I really dug it. Also, a book that has the sentence "Mom gets a little bent out of shape about the patriarchy" is alright with me.

Read this book if - You like/love a YA love story. You want to read something that is told from a unique voice. You need a light read that will leave you with a smile.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi is a book from my childhood. I have a list of throwback reads I'm slowly making my way through. When I saw this one at the used bookstore for less than a dollar, I decided to bring it home. Y'all? What is this book? And why were we reading this as children? I was really into historical fiction as a kiddo, so it would make sense that I read this at some point, but what? First off, Charlotte is sent on a ship solo to America. There are supposed to be some other families to watch over her, but for one reason or another, they don't come with, so it's just her and the crew. (By the way, there are spoilers ahead, but you've also had like twenty five years to read this, so I don't feel so bad.) While on the ship, so many things go down. Charlotte becomes an informant for the captain about any potential mutinies, a dude dies, the captain confronts the mutiny, there is a murder, Charlotte gets accused of murder, Charlotte is acquitted, and then Charlotte somehow becomes captain? I could totally see how historical loving grade school Andrea would have like this, but as an adult, I'm not so sure.

Read this book if - You were born in the eighties and want to revisit one of the reads of your youth. You like historical fiction that seems slightly unrealistic as an adult, but may have been neat to check out as a kid.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

I Joined A(nother) Book Club!

As of yesterday, I have joined my third book club! The cool thing about this (aside from the fact that I get to be in three book clubs obviously) is that these are in three different formats. Each has its merits, and for the greater good, I thought I'd take some time and share what I love about each of them. 

First off, I'm in an in-person book club. 

Image result for book club gif
(Source: GIPHY)

This club started a few months back, and we meet every six weeks-ish. I was in an in-person club when I lived in Texas, and I'd missed having this regular connection, so I was excited when this opportunity came up after being without one for six years. The appeal of the in-person club is definitely the camaraderie. Sometimes, book clubs get a bad rap for only drinking wine and never actually discussing/reading the book. (Side Note: If that's the kind of club you're in, and you like it? Cool. You do you!) What I appreciate about my book club is that we do discuss the book for more than a hot minute - Don't fret we also make time to eat delicious food and drink, too.

I think the key with a club like this is finding the right mix. 

Image result for book club gif

If you actually want to read the book, you have to find a club that does, too. If you like to read a certain genre (and/or hate to read something else), you have to find a club that aligns with your reading preferences, and/or a club that you're comfortable enough with to take on some reading risks. Oh, and good food/drinks are essential and should be balanced with your preferred level of discussion. 

My second book club is exclusively online. 

Image result for typing gif
(Source: Giphy)

I've been in this one for just over two years, and it's through my sorority. Each month, there is a live online discussion. There is a moderator who leads the discussion through a Facebook group for a half hour. She posts the questions, and people comment as they have thoughts. The full slate of books for the year are announced in advance, and the discussion group makeup varies from month to month - although there's definitely a core group of folks who are usually around.

I love this one because it allows for discussion to happen from literally anywhere. I've met a few of the people in the group in-person, but most of them I only have the virtual connect with in the group.

whatever i feel like napoleon dynamite GIF
(Source: Giphy)

I do try to participate each month, but sometimes I just can't make it work. The benefit of this format is that the structure is always there, and you can come in and out by month as you need to.

Oh, and if this kind of club sounds neat to you, I've got some things in the works to make one of these through my new little book-ish venture. (Shameless Plug: Go like Club Book Mobile. Kthxbai!)

Finally, as of last night, I have a third book club. This one is probably going to be the most intriguing one - It's a Silent Book Club!

So, what in the world does that mean? Well, let me tell you because I know there are all the questions. And let me answer the one question I know is on everyone's mind - Yes, we talk.

be quiet all that GIF
(Source: Giphy)

I should say that I'd seen this one advertised by my local library for awhile. I thought it was intriguing, but going into social spaces where I don't know anyone (even when books are involved) just isn't my jam. However, I am trying to stretch my comfort zone, and this meant finally checking this out at my local coffee shop

Y'all, this one was so great. The way that it works is everyone just brings what they're already reading. We spent some time at the beginning talking books/life/etc. Then, we took some time to just sit and read our books. Halfway through, the moderator checked in to see how we were doing, and then at the end, we talked a bit about how the books we each brought were going. 

reading read GIF
(Source: Giphy)

Again, I didn't know any of the people in this group prior to yesterday, and normally that can be quite an anxious space for me. However, I realized that having books as a centerpiece, you can really talk with anyone. I'd read some of the books people were reading, and I got some great recommendations via what others had brought. It was really comfortable space, and I'm looking forward to seeing where this one goes.

So, if you need me, I'll be (book) clubbing!

P.S. Y'all, I promise my jokes aren't regularly that cheesy, but when you find this set of GIFs, how can you not take your jokes there? You're welcome.

old school dancing GIF by LeVar Burton Kidsreading rainbow dancing GIF by LeVar Burton Kids
old school dancing GIF by LeVar Burton Kidsold school dancing GIF by LeVar Burton Kids
(Source: Giphy/Giphy/Giphy/Giphy)

Monday, May 7, 2018

Recommended Reading

I love when a totally unplanned theme comes together. All four of these books were recommended to me - three by people who'd already read them, and one for an upcoming book club discussion.

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin Is focused around the question of what might happen if you knew the date you were going to die. Four siblings find out just this via a psychic who tells them just this. Each of the siblings finds out the information independently, so there isn't any knowledge of what fate each has been told. The story then branches into four short stories of sorts. There is a section focused on each sibling within a certain set of years. This one was quite interesting and not like anything I'd read. The siblings make a variety of choices as a result of their individual predictions - for better or worse. The book then goes through the years (with each sibling being the focus for a section of years) to show what goes down. In addition to following the story, it also made me think how I might react to each prediction they're given as well as wonder if I would want to know this information.

Read this book if - You enjoy a short story collection - This one very much reads like four individual vignettes even though they are connected. You like books built around stories that pose questions you haven't ever considered.

I'll Be Gone In The Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer is true crime like no other true crime. Y'all, this book is amazing for so many reasons. So many of those reasons relate to the author (Michelle McNamara). If you're not familiar, Michelle died before she was able to complete this book. Her husband (Patton Oswalt) and some of her collaborators worked to get this published for her posthumously. Michelle is a researcher like no other. The depths in which she explores this case are mind-blowing. She leaves no stone unturned (literally, not a one, as she explores everything) to try to find a killer that has eluded police for over 40 years. Even more incredible is that two weeks ago, they finally found this monster. The chapter of this book entitled "Letter To An Old Man" is hauntingly beautiful as it describes what it would be like when he was finally caught. I could go on and on about this one, and you should 100% find your way to this one. 

Read this book if - You have read any true crime book in life ever. You have any interest in true crime. You want to be captivated by a researcher who immerses herself in solving a mystery that has terrorized so many. 

(Oh, and for the first time ever, I'm offering a second type of recommendation. You'll see why.)

Read this book when - You are not home alone. You are not about to go to bed - and honestly, maybe even in the nighttime hours. You are not prone to hearing strange noises/things that go bump in the night. You are prepared to be freaked the heck out by what you read. Y'all, I promise it's an incredible read, but the scariness of this killer's crime will hit real close to home and make you feel/see/hear/think things.

Before We Were Yours was historical fiction by Lisa Wingate. The history it covers was something I wasn't familiar with at all - The Tennessee Children's Home Orphanage. As is a common storytelling format in historical fiction, this one has a story in the past and present. In the past, it focuses on siblings who are taken from their family's shantyboat in 1939 to the orphanage. In the present day, it focuses on a woman in a wealthy family who begins to realize her family's past (specifically her grandmother's) is not as clear as it seems. One of the most compelling parts of this one is the tragedy of the orphanage. While the characters are fictional, you also have to remind yourself this is a real thing that happened. I won't tell you this story isn't a sad read because that would be a lie. I will tell you there are other emotions infused throughout that make this one worth the feels it provides.

Read this book if - You are a fan of historical fiction. You appreciate historical fiction that exposes you to aspects of history that aren't as well-known. You like your historical fiction infused with a bit of mystery on the connection between past and present.

Rosie Dunne by Cecilia Ahern was this month's selection for my online book club. Oh, and one note, this book is also called Love, Rosie and/or Where Rainbows End in the UK. The love I have for this book is primarily because of the unique format. Everything is told through correspondence - letters, emails and instant messages. In other words, there is nothing, but these communications to tell Rosie's story. Rosie's story revolves around her long-time friendship with Alex, as well as the unexpected twists and subsequent unrealized of her life - both in her relationship with Alex and other things. The storytelling in this one was so great, and I devoured this book as I had to know what happened to Rosie next - mainly as it related to Alex. I definitely did not expect to love this one as much as I did, and I'm happy I can now spread the word on its quirkiness.

Read this book if - You like a fiction read that has some unexpected twists and turns primarily around romance. You want to check out a fiction book that is in a nontraditional format. You need a book that will just make you smile.