SCWBC15: Check-In #1

As I mentioned in my last post, I’m participating in the Semi-Charmed Winter 2015 Book Challenge, and it’s time for my first progress report. I’ve changed books in a few categories, and I’m feeling pretty good about things a week into the challenge even though I was really disappointed in my “book that takes place outside of your country of residence” pick. That’s one time that impulsively choosing a book from Overdrive did not work out in my favor. My big surprise so far was the short read I picked because Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant was a Goodreads Choice Awards Nominee in Best Horror, and horror is not my usual genre, but I really enjoyed the story.

#SCWBC15 Check-In #1

5 points: Read a book that has between 100 and 200 pages: Rolling in the Deep, Mira Grant (128 pages, 4 stars)

As I mentioned earlier, this was a pleasant surprise for me. Within a small amount of pages, Mira Grant made me care about a cast of characters, and I think she did a fantastic job of quickly sketching out the relationships between everyone. The story centers on a documentary-type TV production, and it often made me think of a screenplay as I read because I could easily visualize everything. If you’re a fan of The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits, then you might want to give this story a try.

10 points: Read a book that does not take place in your current country of residence: Belle Epoque, Elizabeth Ross (336 pages, 2 stars)

The summary grabbed me with an agency in 19th-century France that rents out “plain” girls to socialites who think they will look even lovelier when compared to a plain companion. I think I expected more secrets and intrigue because this was supposed to be a secret agency, and all the companions had cover stories to make them seem suitable to be part of society. I didn’t get any of that because the protagonist is a young girl who reacts to everything around her, rather than acting on her own initiative. If she were a fleshed-out character, maybe I could have overlooked some of her annoying traits, but instead she just felt flat. In short, the ideas behind this book were interesting, but the execution didn’t work for me. After finishing the book, I saw the author had taken the inspiration for the agency from a short story by Emile Zola, so I might need to read that at some point.

20 points: Read a book with a verb in the title: When a Scot Ties the Knot, Tessa Dare (384 pages, 4 stars)

Something about Tessa Dare’s books works for me. She makes me laugh and swoon, and I fall in love with her characters. Miss Madeline Gracechurch is a shy young woman, so she invents a soldier sweetheart to take herself off the marriage mart. She even goes so far as to write letters to this imaginary man, and unknown to her, her letters reach a young man with the same name as her imaginary man. When the war ends, he comes for her.

previous points: 0
total points: 35 points

Currently reading:
15 points: Read a book published under a pseudonym: The Cuckoo’s Calling, Robert Galbraith (455 pages)

A Winter Book Challenge to End 2015

A few minutes ago, I finished my 250th book of 2015. After meeting and increasing my Goodreads book goal twice, I’m going to hold at 250 and declare myself a winner with a month left in 2015. That means I’ve averaged about 22 books a month, and it’s a little above my typical total for years past except for 2012 when I somehow read 488 books. I still can’t explain that one.

Anyway, by all quantifiable measures, 2015 has been a good reading year, but yet, I’m left with mixed feelings about it. Nothing really stood out, and part of that is because I’m still hoarding books I’ve been meaning to read for months. One of my book-related goals at the beginning of this year was to stop with the hoarding, but that’s the goal I’ve completely failed at accomplishing. It’s weird to say I’m in a slump because I’m reading a ton, but I can relate to this Book Riot article about having an “off” year of reading. I want to have a little more enthusiasm about what I’m reading, and I think I need a little challenge to kick me out of this rut.

This is where the Semi-Charmed Winter 2015 Book Challenge comes into play. There are 12 categories with assigned point values, and because a couple of categories include 2 books, there’s a total of 14 books. I’m a month late to the challenge, but it still has two months left, which is plenty of time to read 14 books. It will be fun to see how many points I can collect in this final month of 2015.

Semi-Charmed Winter 2015 Book Challenge
photo via @mcstroup

5 points: Book that’s 100-200 pages long
My selection: Nightbird by Alice Hoffman

10 points: Debut book from an author
My selection: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

10 points: Book that doesn’t take place in my current country of residence
My selection: Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross

10 points: Book that someone else is using for the challenge
(Submitted by Kristen at See You in a Porridge)
My selection: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell (used by Kimberly at Love YA Books)

15 points: Book published under a pseudonym
(Submitted by Megan M.)
My selection: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

15 points: Book with “Boy,” “Girl,” “Man,” Or “Woman” in the title
My selection: The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

15 points: Book with a one-word title
My selection: Rook by Sharon Cameron

20 points: Book with a person’s first and last name in title
My selection: The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

20 points: Food-themed book
(Submitted by Jamie at Whatever I Think Of!)
My selection: Finding Betty Crocker: The Secret Life of America’s First Lady of Food by Susan Marks

20 points: Book with a verb in the title
My selection: For Darkness Shows the Stars by Diana Peterfreund

30 points: Two books with the same title by different authors
(Submitted by bevchen at Confuzzledom)
My selections: This is the hardest category for me, but for now, I’m choosing Claimed by Evangeline Anderson and Claimed by Elle Kennedy.

30 points: Two books (1 nonfiction and 1 fiction) about the same subject
My selections: My subject is murder in Victorian England, and I’ll be reading the nonfiction book The Invention of Murder by Judith Flanders and the novel A Curious Beginning by Deanna Raybourn.

Wish me luck! I received The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith and Belle Epoque by Elizabeth Ross today from my library through Overdrive, so one of those will be my first read for the challenge. I’ll post updates here on the blog as I complete the categories.

Top Ten Tuesday: 2015 Book Quotes

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic – Top Ten Quotes I Loved From Books I Read In The Past Year Or So – screamed my name because I’ve kept notebooks filled with book quotes since I was a kid. When picking the 10 quotes I wanted to share in this post, I looked for shorter ones that didn’t contain spoilers and made sense out of context. Looking over the ones that made the cut, someone might guess that I like to read about epic love with a dash of humor and characters who are a little prickly and/or awkward, and that person would be correct.

“I couldn’t stop shaking my head. I didn’t want this. I didn’t want to draw people to me with my broken pieces. I wanted to be left alone among all those pieces, sitting in the middle of them so if people dared to come close, they’d cut themselves on all the pieces to get to me.”
― Whitney Barbetti, Ten Below Zero

“I think you underestimate my capacity for taking normal human interaction and making it awkward.”
― Tessa Dare, When a Scot Ties the Knot

“Let’s be honest: in ten years, the man-bun of the 2010s will be equivalent to the rat-tail of the 1980s.”
― Julie Johnson, Cross the Line

“You don’t mention death when it’s hovering near someone you love. You don’t want to attract the reaper’s attention.”
― Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner, These Broken Stars

“It is funny how mortals always picture us as putting things into their minds: in reality our best work is done by keeping things out.”
― C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters

“I run. I kick. I punch. I listen. I write. I give.
I live.
Stars above, I live.”
― Heather Lyons, The Deep End of the Sea

“This giant among giants had never used his strength to intimidate me. His power lay in making me fall in love with him, and to do that, he’d laid himself at my feet, offering all that he had and all of himself without asking for anything in return except my heart.”
― R.J. Prescott, The Hurricane

“However, the more stressful my situation is, the less I think about it, or anything related to it. At present , I thought about how the elevators were like mechanical horses, and I wondered if anyone loved them or named them.”
― Penny Reid, Neanderthal Seeks Human

“Some women,” Dahariel said in that same hard tone devoid of any hint of humanity, “get under a man’s skin until digging them out makes you bleed.”
― Nalini Singh, Archangel’s Blade

“Everyone isn’t logical. Everything doesn’t make sense in the end. Sometimes you have to forget about explanations or excuses and leave people and places behind, because otherwise they will drag you straight down.”
― Tammara Webber, Breakable

Nonfiction Catch-Up

One of my 2015 reading goals was to read at least one nonfiction book each month, and it’s been a few months since I gave an update about that goal. I’ve read 1-2 nonfiction books each month so far this year, and these are a few picks from the last 5 months.

Spinster - Kate Bolick
Spinster by Kate Bolick

This is a combination of Bolick’s own “spinster wish” with stories from five women who inspired her along the way. I first became aware of the book because of the inclusion of Edna St. Vincent Millay, and the historical elements were definitely the most compelling bits for me. Spinster in Bolick’s usage is “shorthand for holding on to that in you which is independent and self-sufficient, whether you’re single or coupled”, and that’s definitely a concept worth exploring.

That's Not English - Erin Moore
That’s Not English by Erin Moore

I’ve been a bit obsessed with British pop culture for most of my life. I think watching old episodes of Doctor Who with my dad started it for me. I was drawn to this book by the subtitle, “Britishisms, Americanisms, and What Our English Says About Us”. The book’s structure is a lot of fun because each chapter focuses on one word and describes the usage of that word in each country and what that might say about the cultures. Cheers, knackered, and gobsmacked are some of my favorite inclusions. I highly recommend this book if you’re an Anglophile or interested in the English language or simply enjoy having fun facts to share with your friends.

Between You & Me - Mary Norris
Between You & Me by Mary Norris

Mary Norris is a “Comma Queen” for The New Yorker, and this book is both a memoir and a writing guidebook. Norris speaks about her years at The New Yorker and also highlights grammar lessons she’s learned during that time. I enjoyed both aspects of the book, but my favorite section was probably the discussion of protecting an author’s voice at the “cost” of proper grammar.

So You've Been Publicly Shamed - Jon Ronson
So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

I’ve seen a few presentations from Jon Ronson and enjoyed them enough that I decided to pick up his book. My opinion is that the presentations were more interesting because they were tighter. The book takes more of a ramble to get to the point, and it’s not even that long a book. Individual chapters are stronger than the overall book, and I think a series of essays might have been a better format for the material, but it’s still worth a read for the case studies at the front of the book.

Laura Ingalls Wilder Pioneer Girl
Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography by Laura Ingalls Wilder & Pamela Smith Hill (Editor)

The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder were a huge part of my childhood. Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Autobiography contains Wilder’s complete first draft of her story along with notes from Pamela Smith Hill, author of a previous biography of Wilder. This is a beautiful enrichment of the stories I first read as a child, and I had so many nostalgic, happy feelings as I was reading. I may find myself rereading the Little House books soon.

Top Ten Tuesday: Magical Literature of the American South

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. This week’s topic is creating a reading list for an introductory course in the topic of your choice. I was that graduate student who was always suggesting new special topics courses because I loved developing courses and lesson plans, so I immediately had the problem of choosing just one idea for this post. Don’t be surprised if I start doing more of these topical reading lists in the near future, but for today, I’d like to welcome you to Magical Literature of the American South.

Southern literature is a huge field and contains a multitude of genres from the well-known Southern Gothic to the perhaps lesser-known Grit Lit. It can also be analyzed by cultural subject like Appalachian or Creole, and there are also styles and periods to consider like Agrarians, the Grotesque, Colonial, and Confederate. Entire courses can be created for each of those topics, and an in-depth look at all of Southern literature is much more than I’m willing to attempt in a reading list for a blog post. The chunk I can pull apart and share with you today is the thread of magic found in some of my favorite works by Southern authors and/or set in Southern locations. I’ve been generous in my definition of magic, so this list contains a little bit of magical realism, mountain magic, ghosts, and urban fantasy. Most of the selections are set in the Appalachian region because that’s my home in more ways than one.

The Old Gods Waken by Manly Wade Wellman

John (aka “Silver John” or “John the Balladeer”) wanders the Appalachian mountains with his silver-stringed guitar. During a visit with Luke & Creed Forshay, he discovers that the top of Wolter Mountain, an ancient and sacred site, has been purchased by unknown Englishmen. His friends ask him to look into mysterious sights and sounds that have been reported since the purchase, and he learns the Englishmen are Druids who are trying to waken the old gods. When his friends are kidnapped, John works with a medicine man to rescue them.

The Hum and the Shiver by Alex Bledsoe

This is the first book in the Tufa series, a blend of fantasy and the local folklore of Tennessee’s Smoky Mountains. When the first Europeans arrived in the mountains, the Tufa were already there. Their origins were lost to history, but there are clues hidden in the songs they have passed down for generations. Private Bronwyn Hyatt is a Tufa and a wounded soldier returning home from war, and she’s one of the few Tufa to ever leave home. She’s now struggling to relearn the music of her home in a place where songs can both heal and kill.

Ingledove by Marly Youmans

Ingledove and her brother Lang go to visit their mother’s grave. That trip requires a boat ride because the valley where they once lived was intentionally flooded as part of a dam project. (The dam in the story is real. Several of my relatives were part of the over 1000 families who had to be relocated as a result of the Fontana Dam.) They find a strange inscription on her headstone that calls her a daughter of Adantis, and of course, they stumble into this magical land in the heart of the mountains. Adantis is inhabited by a mix of the early settlers from Ireland, Scotland, and northern England and the Cherokee who escaped the Trail of Tears along with magic and magical beings from those cultures. Lang falls under the spell of a half-serpent, and Ingledove must use the magical ways of their mother to save him.

Blooodroot by Amy Greene

Six different narrators lead you to the story of Myra Lamb on Bloodroot Mountain. She has “haint blue” eyes and holds some of the family magic, called “the touch”. This is a hard story to summarize because it’s character-driven, and the reader goes back and forth in time from multiple points of view. Read this more for the setting and the characters than for any linear plot.

Firefly Hollow by T.L. Haddix

The setting is Kentucky in the 1960s. Sarah Browning is at college studying to be a teacher when her father becomes ill and then dies. His death brings her back home, and as she tries to adapt to the changes in her life, she meets her reclusive neighbor Owen Campbell for the first time. Their first interactions are strained, but over time, they fall for each other in spite of some hurdles in their way. One hurdle that isn’t a spoiler is that Owen is a shifter who can take the form of both a deer and a wolf. This is such a sweet romance, and it’s free on Amazon!

She Walks These Hills by Sharyn McCrumb

This is the third book in McCrumb’s Ballad series, but most of the series could be added to this list of magical stories. Historian Jeremy Cobb is backpacking on the Appalachian Trail even though he has no trail experience because he wants to retrace the tragic journey of eighteen-year-old Katie Wyler, who was captured by the Shawnee after the massacre of her pioneer family in Mitchell County, North Carolina. He has no idea that the spirit of Katie Wyler is still seen wandering the hills, but mountain wise woman Nora Bonesteel sees her every autumn.

Four and Twenty Blackbirds by Cherie Priest

Eden Moore is an orphan, but she’s never alone. Three dead women watch over her from the shadows. Eden’s attempts to untangle her family tree takes her from the ruins of a sanitarium in Tennessee to a swamp filled with corpses in Florida. She finds a taint in her bloodline that dates all the way back to the Civil War and realizes she’s in the middle of serious supernatural business.

Skinwalker by Faith Hunter

Jane Yellowrock is the last of her kind, a skinwalker of Cherokee descent who can turn into any creature she desires as long as she has DNA handy (usually in the form of teeth or bones). She remembers nothing of her life before she stumbled out of the Appalachian wilderness some 18 years ago, an apparently feral child. She was estimated by authorities to be about 12 years old and spent the next 6 years in a Christian orphanage. As the series progresses, she learns more of her heritage. In this first book, she’s hired by one of the oldest vampires in New Orleans to hunt a rogue vampire.

The Restorer by Amanda Stevens

Amelia Grey restores cemeteries, and she also sees ghosts. Her father always told her to never acknowledge the ghosts and to stay away from the haunted. She was doing so well until she was hired to restore a cemetery in Charleston, South Carolina, and met John Devlin, a haunted police detective.

Made for You by Melissa Marr

Eva Tilling is one of the popular kids in her small high school in North Carolina, but she values her friendships where status isn’t the most important thing. When she’s hit by a car, she finds that she can suddenly see how people are going to die when she touches them. As she’s trying to figure out this new power, she learns that getting hit by a car was no accident and someone wants her dead.

Cookbook Catch-Up

One of my 2015 reading goals was to make more use of my cookbooks. Each month I’ve been picking one cookbook from my collection and trying at least 2 new recipes from it. It’s been a few months since I shared my progress, but I’ve enjoyed going through my collection and haven’t missed a month yet. So far, none of the recipes have made into our regular rotation of meals, but I think that has a lot to do with the fact that I’m trying new things every month.

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook
The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman

The stories included with the recipes are very chatty and engaging, so it’s easy to see what Deb Perelman is such a successful blogger. I found the format a little harder to navigate because of how ingredients and steps were split across multiple pages, but that was a fairly small issue that didn’t keep me from enjoying the book. My husband wouldn’t be upset at all if her lemon bars and raspberry ricotta scones became frequent treats. My personal favorite was the Fingerlings Vinaigrette, a potato salad that includes mustard vinaigrette and pickled celery. I’m really intrigued by the buttered popcorn cookies, but I haven’t tried those yet.

Gourmet Today
Gourmet Today by Ruth Reichl (Editor)

The size of this cookbook makes it a little unwieldy, but the range of recipes is worth the hefty size. Ruth Reichl states that the purpose of the cookbook is to reflect the changing tastes of America at a time when salsa began outselling ketchup, so there’s a mix of new and old. The Korean marinated beef was a big hit and also a super quick meal with scallion soba noodles from the same cookbook. The beef and broccoli was not a hit and was just okay, but I think a little less sauce and a little more spice would have made that a better pick for our tastes. My favorite was the blackberry upside-down cake because it was fairly simple but looked and tasted amazing, which made it a nice treat to share with guests.

The America's Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook
The America’s Test Kitchen Healthy Family Cookbook by the editors at America’s Test Kitchen

If I see America’s Test Kitchen, Cook’s Illustrated, or Cook’s Country on a cookbook, then I need it. I love the layouts and the recipe development sections. This particular cookbook has product recommendations, kitchen tips, and other helpful information without the longer trial-and-error reports. We tried and enjoyed the Chinese chicken salad and Mediterranean tuna salad, and my husband was crazy about the lemon mousse even though he’s usually not a fan of Greek yogurt. The New York cheesecake sounded interesting, but I’ll have to get over my aversion to cottage cheese before I attempt that one.

The New Best Recipe
The New Best Recipe by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated

This is another massive cookbook, and it’s from the editors of Cook’s Illustrated, so there’s a lot of wonderful discussion about the different things that were tried on the way to perfecting each recipe. It’s too much preamble for some people, but I love reading through it. Maybe I’m showing my inner nerd? I made the gingerbread cookies twice for celebrations at my husband’s office. The second time was at the request of people who loved them the first time he took them, and I’m sure I’ll make those again as the holiday season starts. The coconut chocolate chip cookies are also good though not quite on the “These are amazing!” level of the gingerbread cookies. The Spaghetti Puttanesca is probably the meal most likely to become a staple for us because it’s got the perfect amount of olives and capers in the sauce, and it’s quick and easy. The sandwich bread recipe didn’t turn out great, but I don’t have the best luck baking my own bread.

One Big Table
One Big Table by Molly O’Neill

This cookbook is a joy to read with all the little tidbits of food history in it. It’s a true celebration of home cooks in all different kinds of homes across America, and even if I never used a recipe from it, it would be worth having for the stories. I love how the recipe title often include the cook’s name, and it reminds me of the church cookbooks that I loved as a kid. As a bonus, the recipes we tried were also tasty. Norma Naranjo’s tamales are not a quick meal, but the thick chile sauce paired with zucchini is even better than I imagined. That was my first time having any kind of squash in a tamale, but it will not be the last time. I still have a few of these in my freezer. The macaroni and cheese recipe from Helen Griffin Williams is a fairly basic baked macaroni and cheese, but the construction of it involves cubed cheese and a custard-like sauce. If you’re someone like me who considers cheese a major food group, then you have to give this one a try.

Some themes become very clear as I go through my cookbook collection. I tend to purchase big cookbooks, and while I enjoy pretty food photography, I’m more interested in things like personal food-related stories and/or informational sections about food science and general kitchen tips.

Top Ten Tuesday: Authors From Whom I’ve Read the Most Books

Top Ten Tuesday

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created at The Broke and the Bookish. I’m a life-long list lover, so I decided to do my first Top Ten Tuesday post today and list the top 10 authors from whom I’ve read the most books.

My initial thought was that I could grab a quick list of my top authors from Goodreads, but I’ve only been a member of Goodreads since 2007 and only a really active member since 2010 or so, so I have a lot of prior reading history that’s not documented there. My list will be in no particular order and will start with favorite authors and childhood loves because I’ve read most of their available works. Then I’ll fill in remaining spots with the top names from my recent years on Goodreads.

Charles de Lint

I was introduced to de Lint through a post in the first online journal I ever read in 1996. Willa mentioned one of his Newford story collections, and within a week, I’d bought the first 3 books in the Newford series. At that time, those were the only ones available, and I waited for each new installment eagerly over the years. He’s now mostly moved on to other projects, and I’ve not kept up with his releases as much, but I still count him as one of my favorite authors.

C.S. Lewis

I can’t say with certainty that I’ve read everything Lewis published, but I have read all of his published fiction multiple times, and I’ve read several collections of his non-fiction essays ranging from literary analysis to religion and his poetry. My favorite of his non-fiction is Mere Christianity, and my favorite novel from him is Till We Have Faces.

Diana Palmer

I’m fairly sure that the first romances I read as an early teen were not written by Diana Palmer, but she is the first romance author I remember recognizing on the shelf and deliberately reading everything I could find from her. I looked at her bibliography a few minutes ago to get an estimated number of how many of her books I’ve read, but I stopped counting at 60. That number surprised even me, but I guess it shouldn’t have because her Long Tall Texans series alone has 45 books in it, and I knew I’d read all of those.

L.M. Montgomery

The Anne of Green Gables series was my introduction to L.M. Montgomery, and I didn’t stop there. Looking at the online bibliography I found, I believe I’ve read everything she published. Her novel The Story Girl was the source of my first online handle, and I was StoryGirl on several platforms throughout the late 90s.

Carolyn Haywood

Whenever I think of the small local library my family visited every week for years, I immediately see the children’s section where all my favorite books were shelved, and the Betsy and Eddie books by Haywood stand out in my mind.

Maud Hart Lovelace

Lovelace is the other author who comes to mind along with Haywood whenever I think of that library near my childhood home. I was in love with the Betsy-Tacy and Deep Valley books.

Lois Gladys Leppard

I read the first 18 books of the Mandie series and really enjoyed the setting and the mysteries as a kid, but they fell off my radar by the time I was leaving middle school. I just checked, and the series has ended due to the author’s death and contains over 40 books now.

Kristen Ashley

According to Goodreads, she is my most read author at 42 books, and that’s probably my real total because I believe I found her in 2011 right around the time I got back into using Goodreads. My first book by her was Three Wishes about a girl who inherits a genie and uses one of her wishes to wish for the perfect man like the men she read about in romance novels. I rarely hear people mention that one when they talk about Kristen Ashley, but I still really enjoy it. Oddly, her Rock Chick series is often mentioned as a favorite by people who read her, but it’s my least favorite of her many series. I’ve spent the last couple of years buying her books and then saving them for some unknown reason, but I will definitely read them at some point.

Nalini Singh

I’ve read 24 books by Nalini Singh, and that’s mostly due to two series: Psy-Changeling and Guild Hunter.

Evangeline Anderson

The books in the Brides of the Kindred series are almost entirely responsible for the 16 books I’ve read by Evangeline Anderson, but I haven’t read the most recent one in the series yet.

Suggestions for National Poetry Month

April is National Poetry Month in America, so I’m sharing a few poetry-related suggestions.

Maya Angelou

Although Maya Angelou wrote beautiful poetry like “Phenomenal Woman” and “Still I Rise”, if I could only recommend one of her books, I’d have to go with one of her autobiographies. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is about the first 17 years of her life, and if you need to read more after you finish it, then you’re in luck because Angelou wrote five additional books about her life.

Nikki Giovanni

Nikki Giovanni’s poem “Knoxville, Tennessee” was originally published in her 1968 poetry collection Black Judgement, and I was introduced to it by my 7th grade English teacher. Knoxville is my hometown, so the title grabbed me from the beginning. In 1994, the poem was published as a children’s book with illustrations by Larry Johnson.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

My high school AP English classes required a big paper every year that focused on a single author and provided biographical information along with writing analysis. I chose Edna St. Vincent Millay as my topic in 9th grade because I liked her name, and thankfully, that turned out to be a good pick because I enjoy her poetry too. Collected Sonnets is my suggestion if you want to read Millay because I prefer her sonnets. On a side note, that English assignment started a theme for me because my topics the next 3 years were Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson, and Christina Rossetti.

Mary Oliver

Reading Mary Oliver makes me want to go for a long walk in the mountains just to be alone with myself and nature. Some of my favorite poems from her are in her collection Dream Work – “The Journey” and “Wild Geese”.

Rainer Maria Rilke

Letters to A Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke isn’t a poetry collection, but these ten letters from the poet Rilke do offer some insight into his writing process and the value he places on knowing yourself. My first copy of the book was a gift from my dad, and I remember feeling a renewed sense of how much my dad really understood me once I read the book.

Starting a Series in the Middle

In the not-so-distant past, I always started a series with the first book, and if I enjoyed that first book, I’d read the rest of the series as long as new books were published. I didn’t skip books or mess around with the order, and I pushed through books that focused on side plots that didn’t interest me at all simply to be able to say that I’d read the whole series.

All of that changed over the last couple of years, and I haven’t been able to pinpoint any reason for it. Maybe it’s because I buy fewer books and no longer have that compulsion to own all the books in a series and to display them together on my shelves. Maybe I got tired of series that felt bloated with more and more books coming out that never matched the sparkle of the first few. Maybe I realized that spending any time reading books I didn’t enjoy wasn’t time spent well.

Archangel's Blade by Nalini Singh

My recent binge read of the Guild Hunter series by Nalini Singh was the catalyst for thinking about how I read series. I’ve had lots of people suggest the series to me, but nothing about the blurb for the first book screamed “Read me!” to me. It’s harder to interest me in an urban fantasy these days after reading so many of them back-to-back a few years ago. I’ve also learned that I’m more of a vampire and shifter fan than an angels and demons fan, so a series about an Archangel didn’t entice me. Angels do, however, create vampires in the Guild Hunter world, so that caught my eye.

The final push to start the series came from a conversation on Twitter where multiple people called Dmitri from Archangel’s Blade their book boyfriend. He sounded dark and gruff, and I’m a sucker for that. My only hesitation was that the book is the 4th in the Guild Hunter series, but I finally decided that I didn’t want to read 3 books to get to the one I thought sounded good. Instant gratification scored a win when I saw my library had the ebook on Overdrive, so I began reading immediately. I read it in one sitting because I couldn’t stop reading.

If I read and loved the 4th book, I must have been wrong about how much I’d enjoy the series, so I had to read the rest! I did read the entire series, and it turns out that I was actually right about my lack of interest in the overall series. The story of Dmitri and Honor in Archangel’s Blade is my favorite of the series so far, and the focus of most of the other books (Elena and the Archangel Raphael) doesn’t do a thing for me. I would have missed out on a really great read if I’d started the series with the first book because I would have never made it to the 4th book. After reading 2 books I really enjoyed (Archangel’s Blade and Archangel’s Storm) and 5 that were okay but not among my favorites, I’m looking forward to reading book 8 later this year only because the blurb for that one doesn’t mention Raphael and Elena. It feels a little weird to have overall good feelings about a series while having no interest in the core couple.

Review: Quiet by Susan Cain

Quiet by Susan Cain

I’ve been known to call myself a “hardcore introvert” because I almost always test at the maximum possible on any test of introversion/extroversion, so I thought I’d enjoy a book titled Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking more than I did. I just never connected with the material except for the personal anecdotes from various people she interviewed and the brief history of how society moved from an inward focus on character to an outward focus on a selling personality. Maybe it’s because so much of this was old news to me after years as a psychology student and a love of personality tests.

I felt like Susan Cain wanted me to be amazed by all these positive facts about introverts as though I always felt inferior in a world of extroverts, but that’s not my experience. Quiet might appeal more to an introvert who actually struggles with that because of his/her chosen career or some other reason like friends and family who don’t understand his/her needs. I can definitely see it being a good introduction to understanding yourself, colleagues, friends, and family members if you’re unfamiliar with the topic. One strength of the book is that it talks more about how each person can work with what they have rather than tearing down extroversion and building up introversion as the new king.

“The secret to life is to put yourself in the right lighting. For some, it’s a Broadway spotlight; for others, a lamplit desk. Use your natural powers – of persistence, concentration, and insight – to do work you love and work that matters. Solve problems. make art, think deeply.”

Although I connected with the early anecdotes and case studies, I became tired of them by the time I reached the last section of the book. (The book is divided into 4 parts – Part 1: The Extrovert Ideal; Part 2: Your Biology, Your Self?; Part 3: Do All Cultures Have an Extrovert Ideal?; Part 4: How to Love, How to Work.) That section with all its relationship talk screamed self-help book, and while I do read and enjoy some self-help books, it didn’t seem to mesh with the rest of the book. By that point, the book was beginning to feel a little disjointed and like it was trying to be everything at once.

As mentioned in a previous post, I’m new to audiobooks. Quiet is only the second audiobook I’ve been able to finish, and Kathe Mazur, the narrator, is someone I would definitely recommend. She has a calm, smooth reading voice that complements the book. I’ll check to see if my library or Scribd has more audiobooks narrated by her that interest me.