In Lists: January 2017

The number of books that I read in January tends to be high. A large part of that comes from me sorting through the piles and finding books I had been meaning to finish, and putting them within easy reach. This year it seems to be less that than the fact I traveled quite a bit in January and with all the flights, plus time on the beach(!), I had plenty of time to escape into a number of good books.

Reading:

Listening:

TV, Movies & Articles of Note:

 

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Currently Reading – The Oregon Experiment, by Keith Scribner

I am a few chapters into The Oregon Experiment, by Keith Scribner and I am really enjoying it so far. It has the complicated characters and rich writing I enjoy when reading. It’s also introducing a pretty unique plot. Naomi used to be a “nose”. The kind whose sense of smell is so acute that she made her living mixing scent for lotions, leathers and perfumes. She loses her smell completely and meets Scanlon, the man who will become her husband. Their relationship is completely based in Naomi’s not having her sense of smell. But when she is pregnant with her first and has just moved across to Oregon so that Scanlon can accept a university appointment, her sense of smell returns, affecting the possibilities for her life and relationships.

There are other themes an plot lines running through the book, and Keith Scribner touches upon some of them in his summary of the book below. So far the book has me in its thrall, and I’m glad to be reading it this week.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 The Reservoir, by John Milliken Thompson   Book Review

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Out of Twenty: Alma Katsu, Author of The Taker, Answers Twelve Questions

In the Linus’s Blanket version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose which questions and how many questions they want to answer. Alma Katsu, author of the highly anticipated novel The Taker, played along and answered twelve questions.  Here is what Alma had to say about reading, writing and Hannibal Lecter.

Would you give us a bit of introduction and let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and what kind of books you like to write?

My name is Alma Katsu, author of The Taker. Like many writers, I was one of those kids who always had her nose in a book and lived at the public library. From there it was a short hop to writing stories for myself, then writing things that my friends wanted to read.  Now, I’m happy to be able to write the kind of books I like to read: a little dark, a little sexy and with complicated but (hopefully) unforgettable characters.

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?

The way I think about the process of writing a book-length work is probably a little differently than some writers and that’s because I’ve worked 30 years as an analyst. Because of that, the writing process is probably a little less mystical to me. I analyze everything: what worked, what didn’t work, how to fix it. Also, after decades of figuring out problems, I’ve learned to trust my instincts. I write new material when I feel like write new material, I edit when I feel I’m not being creative enough – or have to get revisions in.  Also, I’m pretty disciplined in all things, a trait I also learned from work.

The Taker (US cover) out September 6, 2011.

People live in stories, we are surrounded by them. What was it about this the story that made it the one you had to tell at this time?  What impact did telling this story have on your life?  Did you find that it had changed you?

I think that usually, the story is actually about a key issue in the writer’s life, but an issue the writer hasn’t figured out. So, in writing the story, the writer struggles to understand the character’s arc, the source of the character’s problem and what the character must do to resolve it. I struggled for ten years to understand what was driving Lanny, the main character, to do the things she does, to understand why she can’t let go of Jonathan. I think one reason people find The Taker a satisfying read is that what the protagonist wants is not on the surface. It’s not easy to identify. It isn’t that she wants Jonathan; the question is why does she want Jonathan? The answer goes to the core of her being, and it’s a fear that’s common to many people; I might even say to almost everyone. While not everyone will go to the lengths she goes to, at some level Lanny’s fear will resonate with most people.

What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors?  Has writing your own book changed the way that you read?

I’m reading A Visit from the Goon Squad and I recently finished Susan Henderson’s Up From the Blue which is an achingly beautiful read. I’m an eclectic reader. Of contemporary writers, I love David Mitchell, Tana French, John Banville, John Irving, Denise Mina, Sandor Marai—this doesn’t even scratch the surface and I’m surely forgetting a lot of favorites.

To become a writer you have to train yourself to analyze books as you read, which has destroyed a bit of the pleasure of reading.

Are you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working on a novel?

I try to write every day, so I almost always read while I’m writing or else I’d never read. I read more for escape than for inspiration, something to settle me down before I fall asleep, and of course I try to keep up with the new releases everyone’s talking about.

What was the most interesting thing that you found out while researching this book but ultimately decided not to include?

The Taker (UK cover).

I know more about Colonial American life than most people would ever want to know.

In the past I have visited a blog called Daily Routines and it’s all about the schedules of writers and creative people. What does a typical day look like for you and how do you manage a busy schedule?

For a long time, my day job involved doing crisis response for the government, which means long, draining days, so I became rather ruthless about efficiency in my daily life to cram everything in. I have embraced routine like a Benedictine monk. I usually get up before 6 am, go to the gym for an hour, work a full day, come home, walk dogs, answer writing business emails and such, make dinner, send husband off to a gig (he’s a working musician) and write for 3-4 hours. Sleep, get up and do it again.

Did you know what you wanted the title of the book to be?  How involved were in choosing the name of the book?

This book was impossible to name. I failed, my classmates at Hopkins failed, everyone failed for ten years. I even offered a reward, for a time, to the person who could come up with a title. I ended up slapping a rather generic title on it when I sent it to the agent, but shortly after to sold another book with the same title became very successful and we had to find a new title. My agent came up with The Taker.

Are there other books you love or writers you admire that are from your local area?

DC has so many writers, it’s hard to single anyone out but I have to mention Keith Donohue, who wrote The Stolen Child and Angels of Destruction. He writes beautifully. I’m so looking forward to his new book, Centuries of June coming out in June.

Who was your favorite character to write, and why did you have an affinity for that character in particular?

Adair, because he just steals every scene. He’s like Hannibal Lecter; he takes over.

Did you have to do much research when working on your books, and do you tend to write first or research first?

I tend to research as I go.

What’s next?

I am lucky enough to have sold the next two books in the trilogy. The manuscript for the second book is with the editor now, and while I’m waiting on revision notes I’ve started the third book.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Out of Twenty   Luanne Rice, Author of The Silver Boat, Answers Thirteen Questions

About Alma: Alma Katsu is a writer living in the Washington, DC area with her husband, musician Bruce Katsu. She graduated from Brandeis University, where she studied writing with novelist John Irving and children’s book author Margaret Rey, and received her MA in Fiction from the Johns Hopkins University. The Taker is her first novel and is published by Gallery Books/Simon and Schuster.

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Out of Twenty – Luanne Rice, Author of The Silver Boat, Answers Thirteen Questions

In the Linus’s Blanket version of twenty questions, I send a list of questions to a willing victim author and they choose which questions and how many questions they want to answer. Luanne Rice, whose novel The Silver Boat: A Novel is out today, played along and answered thirteen questions.  Here is what Luanne had to say about reading, writing and being a hermit.

Hi Luanne. Would you give us a bit of introduction to let my readers know who you are, how you got started writing, and the kind of books you like to write?

Writing called to me from an early age, and I’ve been doing it ever since.  My first publication was a poem when I was 11; my mother submitted it to our local paper, and there it was in print.  That gave me the sense that all I had to do was write something—and voila—there it would be for all to read.  As I grew up and began submitting short stories to magazines, I entered the real world of the rejection slip, and understood that publication came to those who worked hard, remained inspired in spite of many rejections.

Family, love, and nature inspire me now, and always have.  I love to write about sisters, especially three-sister families.  The way sisters interact, the secret language they share, the way one sister can read the another’s emotions just by glancing at her face: no matter how many novels I write, I’ll never get to the bottom of that mystery.  The Silver Boat is about three sisters gathering together for the first time since their mother’s death.  They have to decide what to do with their beloved family home on Martha’s Vineyard, and that’s where the story begins.

I am often struck by the different ways writers respond to the process of writing a book. Linus’s Blanket refers to my use of reading and other activities as a means of escape and comfort, can you share with us any routines, food or recipes, or favorite books or rituals that help you thorough the writing process?

Taking walks is my favorite way to escape.  Although I live in New York City, I gravitate toward nature.  During spring migration I go to the wildest part of Central Park to look for warblers.  The Hudson River is just a block from my apartment, and I love to walk south, toward the harbor, and watch waterbirds fishing around piling of ruined piers.

A few years ago I began taking guitar lessons and have become a little obsessed.  I love to write songs about life, love, crazy doings, my current novel, and the characters who populate it.  I have a little baby Collings acoustic, and I strum it between chapters.

People live in stories, we are surrounded by them. What was it about this the story that made it the one you had to tell at this time?  What impact did telling this story have on your life?  Did you find that it had changed you?

Writing The Silver Boat took me back to my own three-sister days, when we were young and so close, and when everything seemed possible, including staying together forever.

What are you reading now? What are some of your favorite books and authors?  Has writing your own book changed the way that you read?

I’m reading an ARC of The World As We Know It, by Joseph Monninger, to be published in Fall 2011.  It is tender, brilliant, and wrenchingly beautiful.  Joe and I co-wrote The Letters (a novel, in letters, between a married couple; he was ‘Sam,’ and I was ‘Hadley’; we’ve been friends since we were young writers, and it’s been a great gift to grow up together.  He’s my literary touchstone.   I read all his books, and feel illuminated and uplifted by them.

Are you able to read when you’re writing and if so what books inspire you when you’re working on a novel?

It can be hard to read fiction while writing a novel.  Often I read poems, especially ones by W. S. Merwin, Mary Oliver, and Elizabeth Bishop.  Also works of non-fiction, including books by Gretel Ehrlich.

What was the most interesting thing that you found out while researching this book but ultimately decided not to include it?

I uncovered a secret about my father and decided not to write about it.

What types of books would some of your characters have if they were readers?  Given their issues what book(s) would you suggest for them to read?

Dar McCarthy, the main character in The Silver Boat, is a graphic novelist.  She would read books by Amelia Onorato—my niece who is also a graphic novelist, and who greatly helped me research Dar’s work methods.

In the past I have visited a blog called Daily Routines and it’s all about the schedules of writers and creative people.  What does a typical day look like for you and how do you manage a busy schedule?

I am a hermit, so things are pretty simple.   I wake up early, feed and play with the cats, drink lots of coffee, write all day, play guitar, play with the cats some more, take a walk, write.

If you could make everyone read five books, which ones would they be?

Whichever books a person is drawn to…as long as she reads, I’m happy!

Did you know what you wanted the title of the book to be?  How involved were in choosing the name of the book?

The Silver Boat came to me in a dream.

Do you ever look back at your early work? How do you feel your writing style or approach to writing has evolved since you first began?

I do occasionally look back upon my early work, and feel proud of that young writer who kept going no matter what.

How many works in progress do you have going at any one time? How do you know when one has potential and when one just needs to be scrapped?

I write one novel at a time; once I start, I never turn back or consider discarding.  I just listen to the character and go from there.

What’s next?

My next novel starts with a crime, continues with an unexpected visitor, and contains threads of estrangement, lost love, and the kind of deep love a person can have for someone she’s never even met.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Mermaid: A Twist On A Classic Tale, by Carolyn Turgeon   Book Review

About Luanne: Born in New Britain, Connecticut, Luanne Rice is the eldest of three daughters of an Irish Catholic family. Her mother taught English in middle school and her father was a typewriter salesman. Rice divides her time between New York City and Old Lyme, Connecticut in the house where she spent all her childhood summers. She travels with her three cats, each of whom has a mysterious, enchanting story of their own. Her latest novel The Silver Boat is in stores now.

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Vacation Non-Reading and Some Recent Acquisitions

I am slowly getting back into reading again. About three weeks ago I went down to Fort Lauderdale, Florida for a little fun in the sun. Apparently that fun in the sun didn’t include reading any books. Four of them had a round trip ticket from New York to Florida and escaped being opened once, which really surprised me. Not reading while I was there isn’t as surprising as not reading on the plane. I was really into crossword puzzles and solitaire on both flights. I was even able to resist buying a book at an airport bookstore. Someone feel my forehead.

Along for the ride were: Impatient With Desire, by Gabrielle Burton, Picking Bones From Ash: A Novel, by Marie Matsuko Mockett, Mystic River, by Dennis Lehane, and West of Here, by Jonathan Evison. I have since finished Picking Bones from Ash for the BOOK Club discussion that took place here yesterday.

While I was away, a number of books came to me.  Most of which  I am really looking forward to reading.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 On My Shelves: New Book Releases   March 13   March 26, 2011

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Jacket Copy Fatigue

In a perverse turn of events, I have grown weary of the jacket copy and blurbs on books.  I started reading back cover copy the other day in my search for some new books, and rejected every single thing.  Every thing seemed “meh”. Every thing seemed like something I had read before, and while surely the nuances and originality of each story are to be found within the cover of each book, not much lately has enticed me to try what is between the covers.

Although I am quite sure it’s a phase, it’s an interesting place to be for one who loves to read and acquire books. In some ways it severely restricts the decision making process for acquiring new books. I am left to consider three things. The cover, the publisher, the author. That works for authors and books already on my radar, but not so helpful for the new stuff. I haven’t found that I can judge books by their covers so much as to forgo other information.

When I go through a reading slump, it’s a simple enough thing to take a break and watch TV, and if I need a break from the blog, that’s pretty easily accomplished too, but I haven’t stopped being curious about books and what they might contain. It’s an odd thing when none of the jacket copy is appealing. I think it’s not helped by the fact that I also write summaries for book reviews. I’m tired of those too. Very interesting.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 The Girl In The Green Raincoat, by Laura Lippman   Book Review

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Most Memorable Reads of 2010

Last year instead of sharing my favorite reads, I shared my most memorable ones and I am doing the same thing for this past year. It’s odd, but sometimes the books that I loved reading are not the ones that stay with me for the long haul. Who can explain or know what has staying power , will shape thought, and etch memory?

I was increasingly picky about the books I read last year, so this was a really difficult list to attempt. So much so, that I thought about not sharing it at all. But finally, in February, I am satisfied enough with this incarnation to hit publish, knowing that as soon as I do, I will remember something that absolutely should not have escaped making this list.  Such is life.

  • The Little Stranger, by Sarah Waters – I read this book and immediately wanted to start again.  Creepy and imminently discussable, people come away from this one with wildly different theories and opinions.
  • Stories, by Zora Neale Hurston – This woman has such an ear for dialect, and talent for getting to the heart of things.  Short stories can be hit or miss with me, but almost all of these connected.  I listened on audio and the narrator did an excellent job.  A collection I will return to for sure.
  • Daughters of the Witching Hill, by Mary Sharratt – Such  a savory read.  Historical fiction about the trials of witches living during a time of religious uncertainty in England.  I picked up another of Sharratt’s books, The Vanishing Point, and I see it has the same rich writing and depth of character.  Love.
  • Perfect Peace, by Daniel Black The premise alone makes this book extremely hard to forget, and only too large a cast of characters inhibited its promise. A mother who has born many sons decides that she has had enough, and that her next child will be a girl no matter what.  When her next child is biologically born a boy she hides it from everyone. Wow.
  • Come Sunday, by Isla Morley – This powerful story of a mother’s grief and her troubles in exorcising the demons that have for years haunted the relationship with her own mother continues to stay with me.  It’s one of my top recommendations for those who don’t mind a tough read.
  • Bayou, by Jeremy LoveI haven’t reviewed Bayou, partly because I don’t even know if I have the capacity to even understand it, but as best I can tell it follows a girl who goes down a rabbit hole to save her father and encounters an alternate Reconstruction Era South populated by humans and animals. It is stunning.
  • Words by Heart, by Ouida Sebestyen – One of my favorite books from adolescence, and now since I have re-read it again, adulthood. I am making Ms. Devourer of Books read this one next year.
  • The Color Purple, by Alice Walker & To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee – I waited a criminal amount of time to read these incomparables of literature.  Such a shame, but I am glad that I remedied the problem.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Source Code   Movie Trailer

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In Review: January 2011

I had my January list all ready to go and I am happy to say that I at least made a dent in the books that I targeted to read.  I also managed to keep up with reviews, and have them all ready to go soon after I read the book.  I always let them rest a few days to see how to make sure that they were indeed my final thoughts.  It also helps that I had a bit of a backlog, so I haven’t gone full swing with my reviews from 2011.  Reviews from 2010 are still popping up all over the place!

Read in January:

Books I Didn’t Finish:

Other Reviews This Month:

Guest Posts:

Other Posts of Interest:

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Holiday Reading & December 2010 In Review [TSS]

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2010 Reading Review & Some Reflections

MontmartreA Few Reading Reflections

I have been trying to make some sense out of my reading of the past year, but nothing coherent is coming to mind.  Time to go for the tried and true bullet points!

  • This was a really busy year and as can be expected with really busy years, I read less.  I think my count was 160 last year.  That dropped to 130 books this year.
  • The J months were big reading months for me.  I read 18 books in January, 19 in June, and 20 in July, but it all caught up to me.  I read considerably less in August and only 1 book in September.
  • By my count this year, women topped my reading list.  Out of 130 books 58% (76 books) of them were by women.  I had actually thought the number was going to be greater, but it seems that the men kept pretty good pace.  I guess it just feels like the authors I am always talking about are women.
  • 44% of my reading this year (56 books) was either historical fiction or books where half the narrative is set in an historical time. Who’da thunk it?
  • Now this is embarrassing, where did all my non-fiction go?  I love non-fiction, but only 7% of my reading list from last year (a measly 9 books) fell into that category.  I would like at least 25% for the year ahead.  I noticed that in my list swap challenge list, all of the books that I chose for myself, but one, were non-fiction.  I guess I was unconsciously trying to remedy a deficiency.  Luckily I also have some other good non-fiction that I will be reading in 2011 as well.
  • I would like to see my backlist numbers get a little bit higher, but it’s not too shabby at 42% (55 books).  I think with the reading that I have planned for next year, things will even out to at least 50/50 if not slightly higher.
  • Thanks to Gayle at Everyday I Write The Book I read one (you read that right), one, short story collection when we read Jumpha Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth.  I have a few collections I have been giving the eye, but I just don’t read short stories the way I used to.  Oh, I did read a few here and there in my investigation into Sherlock Holmes.  Love those!
  • I also didn’t read as much YA this year as I have previously.  I’m not sure why that is, but only a quarter of my reads weren’t adult reads, and that included middle grade and early readers.  Interesting.  I will see how that develops.  25% isn’t a bad number by any means, I’m just used to it being much higher.
  • 56% (73 books) of the books that I read were sent to my either by the publisher, author, or picked up at an industry event like BEA, book release parties and the like.  I like that I read almost equally between my own books and review copies, and that wasn’t even me trying on my part, it’s just how it worked out.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Sherlock Holmes – Movie Trailer

ETA:  Actually I read two shorts story collections.  I listened to Zora Neale Hurstons’s short stories on audio.  They were fabulous.

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Book Club Pick: The Kitchen House, by Kathleen Grissom

I am usually excited about reading my book club’s selections but I was especially happy when I read the back cover of The Kitchen House. It is one of those books that I had heard about without hearing anything about, if you know what I mean. But from what I thought I heard I got the feeling that it was going to be a good one.  Don’t you just love osmosis?

Here is what the back cover, which I delicately skimmed with the utmost caution (I hate being spoiled), had to say:

When a white servant girl violates the order of plantation society, she unleashes a tragedy that exposes the worst and best in the people she has come to call her family.Orphaned while onboard ship from Ireland, seven-year-old Lavinia arrives on the steps of a tobacco plantation where she is to live and work with the slaves of the kitchen house. Under the care of Belle, the master’s illegitimate daughter, Lavinia becomes deeply bonded to her adopted family, though she is set apart from them by her white skin.

Eventually, Lavinia is accepted into the world of the big house, where the master is absent and the mistress battles opium addiction. Lavinia finds herself perilously straddling two very different worlds. When she is forced to make a choice, loyalties are brought into question, dangerous truths are laid bare, and lives are put at risk.

Doesn’t that sound good? Jennifer from The Literate Housewife Review wrote a review which perfectly sums up what piqued my interest about The Kitchen House.

Just when I thought that there were [sic]  new stories to tell about plantation life in Antebellum South, Kathleen Grissom has given us something unique with her first novel.  She gives her readers a look at that life through the eyes of an indentured servant.  I couldn’t help putting myself in Lavinia’s place, feeling her deep need for finding a home and understanding her inability to see and accept that one race of people is lesser than another.

I love that this novel is going to be offering a different perspective on a time in United States history that is marked by tragedy and cruelty.  Jennifer also notes that this will be a great book for a book club discussion.  I am looking forward to the discussion next Tuesday.

1DA652C2516038AE4D02F55645591F39 Shutter Island, by Dennis Lehane

Have you heard about or has your book club discussed The Kitchen House?  I have so far only read great things about this book and author Kathleen Grissom.

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