The Monday Check-In ~ 3/11/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read during the last week?

Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid: Loved it! My review is here.

The Lieutenant’s Nurse by Sara Ackerman: Historical fiction/romance centered around the attack on Pearl Harbor. My review is here.

Gmorning, Gnight!: Little Pep Talks for Me & You by Lin-Manuel Miranda, illustrated by Jonny Sun. A sweet book — my review is here.

In audiobooks:

I listened to Lucky Suit by Lauren Blakely, which was an Audible freebie last month. It’s a short, fluffy, modern romance — not really my thing, but pleasant enough to keep me entertained while driving.

Pop culture goodness:

I finished watching season 5 of Grace & Frankie!

Anyone else feel like most of the characters are getting really mean? And that Frankie is becoming more and more intolerable? I’m still really having fun with this show, but certain moments really made me cringe. And now we wait for season 6!

Fresh Catch:

No new books this week! I mean, yes, I did get a few library books (that will probably end up going back unread)… and well, yes, I did end up grabbing a few price-dropped e-books this week:

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

Woman 99 by Greer Macallister: Historical fiction — off to a good start!

Now playing via audiobook:

Tortall and Other Lands by Tamora Pierce: More Tortall! After finishing the Beka Cooper books, I didn’t want to pull myself completely away from this fantasy world. So far, I’m enjoying this collection of stories set in and around Tortall, featuring some familiar characters as well as introducing us to new people and magical creatures.

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing reads with my book group, plus one more on my own just for kicks:

  • A Plague of Zombies by Diana Gabaldon: Continuing our journey through all of the Lord John books and stories.
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: Our group classic read.
  • The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens: I’m reading this classic via the Serial Reader app, and really enjoying it! I’m at 70% — the end is in sight!

So many books, so little time…

boy1

The Monday Check-In ~ 3/4/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

What a week. Insanely busy at work, and then crazy hectic at home too. So… my reading time got squished down to almost nothing, leaving me frustrated. Boo.

What did I read during the last week?

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: I actually finished this the previous weekend, but just posted my review this week.

That Ain’t Witchcraft by Seanan McGuire: The 8th book in the super-fun InCryptid series! My review is here.

In audiobooks:

I finshed the Beka Cooper trilogy by Tamora Pierce! Loved these books so much. My series wrap-up post is here.

Also, I listened to…

The Test by Sylvain Neuvel: The audiobook version of this novella is short (2 hours, 12 minutes). I can’t say I was bored, but I thought overall that this work of speculative fiction lacked true depth, and the key plot twist is just too obvious. Not a bad way to kill a couple of hours, but certainly nowhere near the greatness of the Themis Files books.

Pop culture goodness:

What a week for theater! I ended up seeing two terrific performances this week:

What a fun production! The costumes are so eye-poppingly colorful, and the choreography was a treat too.

But the true highlight for me was seeing…

HAMILTON!!! This was my 2nd time seeing the show, and if possible, I loved it even more the 2nd time around. I saw it Saturday night, and have been walking around with a dopey grin ever since, singing my own off-key version of the songs and feeling some serious afterglow.

Oh, and I got this shirt, which makes me very happy.

Yes, I absolutely needed a Hamilton in San Francisco shirt!

Fresh Catch:

I picked up a print copy of the book I’m reading via Serial Reader, to make it easier when I need to go back and check details.

AND… it’s always a treat to get an email from Goodreads about winning a giveaway! I won a Kindle edition of this book this week:

Gorgeous cover, right? And the premise sounds amazing. Since the book doesn’t come out until September, I’ll probably hold off a bit before reading it — but I’m so excited to have a copy of my own!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

I’m bouncing between a few books right now:

  • Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid: So excited to be starting this book finally.
  • Here by Richard McGuire: A graphic novel recommended to me by a friend.
  • Gmorning, Gnight! … because I’m high on Lin-Manuel Miranda right now.
Now playing via audiobook:

Lucky Suit by Lauren Blakely: Okay, I’ll be the first to admit that this does not look like my sort of listen. Still, it was an Audible freebie last month, it’s under 2 1/2 hours, and what the heck? Might as well go with something quick and light before committing to one of the longer listens in my library.

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing reads with my book group, plus one more on my own just for kicks:

  • A Plague of Zombies by Diana Gabaldon: Continuing our journey through all of the Lord John books and stories.
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: Our group classic read.
  • The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens: I’m reading this classic via the Serial Reader app. So good! I’m now at 40%.

So many books, so little time…

boy1

The Monday Check-In ~ 2/25/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

Life.

So my son (very dedicated to his anti-book stance), now a high school student, casually dropped at dinner this week: “Hey, mom, that author was at school this week. You know, the guy that wrote that Scythe book.” Me: *freaking out* *freaking out* *freaking out*

He mentions this to me days after the fact! And said (grudgingly) that the talk was interesting. And that he (Neal Shusterman) talked for about an hour. And talked about writing Challenger Deep, which I really need to read.

I swear, school is wasted on the young! I wish I could have transported my consciousness into the body of one of the students for the day so I could have been in the audience. Sigh.

What did I read during the last week?

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls: I wrote about reading this children’s classic (as well as Anne of Green Gables) here.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: A powerful, multi-generational family drama set in Korea and Japan. This 500-page book took up most of my reading time this week! I’ll post a review in the next few days, I hope.

Fresh Catch:

Nada! No book purchases this week.

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

That Ain’t Witchraft (InCryptid, #8) by Seanan McGuire: I’d intended to start this last week, but then got side-tracked by Pachinko and ran out of time. I’m so excited to be starting this book! I love the series so far.

Now playing via audiobook:

Mastiff (Beka Cooper, #3) by Tamora Pierce: The trouble with listening to a great book is getting close to the end, dying to know what happens, but not having enough listening time to actually finish. I’m at 83%, and I’m so tempted to switch to print so I can race through the big finale! But nope… I’m going to practice a little self-restraint and stick to the audio. For now.

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing reads with my book group, plus one more on my own just for kicks:

  • A Plague of Zombies by Diana Gabaldon: Continuing our journey through all of the Lord John books and stories.
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: Our group classic read. The writing is so beautiful.
  • The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens: I’m reading this classic via the Serial Reader app, and love it so far. I’m at about 25%.

So many books, so little time…

boy1

The Monday Check-In ~ 2/18/2019

cooltext1850356879 My Monday tradition, including a look back and a look ahead — what I read last week, what new books came my way, and what books are keeping me busy right now. Plus a smattering of other stuff too.

What did I read during the last week?

A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev: My book group’s February pick. My review is here.

The Secret of Clouds by Alyson Richman: A new release for this week. My review is here.

Golden State by Ben H. Winters: Weird and wonderful. Finished late Sunday. My mini-review is here.

Fresh Catch:

I treated myself to the newest book by Charlie Jane Anders. Looks amazing!

What will I be reading during the coming week?

Currently in my hands:

I have two books on the go right now:

Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls: Filling in yet another gap from my childhood reading.

That Ain’t Witchraft (InCryptid, #8) by Seanan McGuire: Love, love, love this series (and pretty much everything written ever by Seanan McGuire). I’m so excited to be starting the newest InCryptid adventure!

Now playing via audiobook:

Mastiff (Beka Cooper, #3) by Tamora Pierce: The third and final Beka Cooper book… and I’m loving it!

Ongoing reads:

Two ongoing reads with my book group, plus one more on my own just for kicks:

  • A Plague of Zombies by Diana Gabaldon: Continuing our journey through all of the Lord John books and stories.
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: Our group classic read. The audiobook version is fantastic.
  • The Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens: It’s been a while since I’ve used my Serial Reader app (which is awesome — see here for more info). I’ve been wanting more Dickens in my life, and figure that 10 – 12 minutes a day is a reasonable investment!

So many books, so little time…

boy1

Where my Dickens peeps at? I need your help, yo.

Dickens rocks, amiright?

ca. 1840s-1860s — Original caption: Photograph of Charles Dickens (1812-1870) seated. Undated photograph. — Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

In 2017, I finally lived up to one of my long-time goals and read Great Expectations… and I loved it!

And so, in 2018, I’d like to continue my blossoming friendship with Mr. Dickens, and I need some advice. So far, the only Dickens I’ve read are Great Expectations and A Tale of Two Cities (one of my all-time favorite books). And while I haven’t actually read A Christmas Carol, I’ve seen enough stage and screen adaptations to make me feel like I know it well enough and don’t need to spend any more time on it.

So…

Here’s where you come in. I’m looking for recommendations:

What’s your favorite Dickens book? What do you think I should tackle next?

Leave a comment with the title of the book you’re recommending, and — very important — tell me why you recommend it.

As a thank you, in addition to my eternal gratitude, anyone who leaves me a comment with a suggestion will be in the running for a small prize — so don’t be shy! 

We readers are an opinionated bunch. Now’s your chance to tell it like it is!

What Dickens book should I read in 2018, and why?

THANK YOU!

Charles Dickens, Serial Reader, and me

First things first, yo:

I FINISHED GREAT EXPECTATIONS!

And as expected, it was great!

For years now, I’ve been saying “one of these days”, I want to read Great Expectations. And it never happened. But why wait for “one of these days”? In the words of Rent:

I finally buckled down a little over a week ago, and decided to use my handy-dandy Serial Reader app. Serial Reader, in case you don’t know, is an awesome app that delivers public domain reading material via daily installments, usually taking no longer than 10 – 15 minutes each to read. (I wrote first wrote about it here, if you want to know more.)

But as it turns out, I’m a pretty impatient reader, and if I’m hooked, I’m hooked, and it’s impossible to put the brakes on. So yes, I started Great Expectations via Serial Reader, and within two days I was reading ahead, getting through 3 – 4 installments each day instead of just one. Still, there are 74 installments in all, and I figured I’d take my leisurely time and enjoy Great Expectations in little bite-sized pieces over the next couple of months.

Wrong.

Apparently, I suck at Serial Reader. I got into the story, and once I was into the story, I abandoned everything else I was reading so I could just keep reading more and more. And while I have a paperback edition of Great Expectations and a Kindle edition, I ended up sticking with Serial Reader all the way through to the end.

(Could it be because of the little words of encouragement and the praise every time I finished an installment? Yes, you’ve got me. I’m a sucker for badges and affirmations.)

In terms of the book itself, there really isn’t any reason for me to write a review of Great Expectations, is there? The plot summary:

Dickens’s magnificent novel of guilt, desire, and redemption: The orphan Pip’s terrifying encounter with an escaped convict on the Kent marshes, and his mysterious summons to the house of Miss Havisham and her cold, beautiful ward Estella, form the prelude to his “great expectations.” How Pip comes into a fortune, what he does with it, and what he discovers through his secret benefactor are the ingredients of his struggle for moral redemption.

I  loved the characters and the setting, and I loved seeing Pip’s development from boyhood to manhood, and his ethical and emotional growth as he understands the wrongs he’s done and seeks ways to improve himself, ultimately realizing that it’s more important to be honest and fair and appreciative than to be a monied gentleman.

It’s been a long time since I’ve read any Dickens (my only previous Dickens being A Tale of Two Cities), and I’d forgotten how delightful his writing is. When we think of classics, we tend to think stuffy and dry and old-fashioned. I was not at all prepared for how funny Charles Dickens is! His writing is so clever, and the way he uses metaphors, physical descriptions of characters, and characters names as tools for making the people and events feel fully-fleshed is pretty amazing.

Oh, those names! The best (as in, more ridiculous) here is Mr. Pumblechook — can’t you just tell from that name that he’s a pretentious fool? Joe is as sweet and simple as his name, and of course a character named Estella is glamorous and unreachable. I couldn’t help loving Mr. Wemmick, who cares for his elderly father and refers to him as “the Aged”. Just fabulous.

In any case, while I didn’t stick with the serial approach, I’m sure I’ll continue to give it a shot for future reading. Now that I’ve read Great Expectations, I really want to expand my Dickens knowledge! A goal might be to read one of his novels per year… admitting now that I’m terrible at sticking to reading goals, but this feels doable and realistic and FUN, so who knows?

 

Meanwhile, I’d really love to check out the 2012 movie vesion of Great Expectations, with Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham. How perfect does that sound? Has anyone seen it? Any thoughts to share?

As for my progress with the Serial Reader app, here’s what I’ve used it for so far, in the year since I first gave it a try:

And despite my inability to still to just one installment per day, as the gods of Serial Reader intended, I still find it a really easy and motivating way to get around to reading those big, intimidating books that feel like too big a commitment to start.

Shelf Control #93: Great Expectations

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! Fore more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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My Shelf Control pick this week is:

Title: Great Expectations
Author: Charles Dickens
Published: 1860
Length: 571 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

When Philip Pirrip–nicknamed Pip–is forced by an escaped convict to steal food and supplies from his meager home, he doesn’t know that this event will transform his life. One of Dickens’s most popular novels, Great Expectations follows the orphaned Pip as he grows from poverty into a gentleman, becoming entangled with the strange Miss Havisham and her beautiful but coldhearted ward, Estella, and coming into a fortune from an unknown benefactor. This engrossing work, which recently celebrated its 150th birthday, remains one of Dickens’s best.

How and when I got it:

I treated myself to this book, plus two others in the Classic Lines series from Splinter, in 2015.

Why I want to read it:

I feel like Great Expectations is one of those glaring holes in my reading career. I’ve only read one Dickens novel (A Tale of Two Cities), and have always intended to read more. A few years ago, while browsing in our local used book store, I saw the Classic Lines editions of Great Expectations, Emma, and Pride and Prejudice on the remainder table, and they were all just so pretty that I had to have them! Besides my hard copy of GE, I have a free Kindle edition, and I’ve also toyed with the idea of reading it via Serial Reader. So many options! Now I just have to buckle down and actually start.

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Book Review: Marly’s Ghost

Marly's GhostIf you ask me, David Levithan can pretty much do no wrong. I’ve now read at least a handful of books either written or co-written by this author, and I’ve love just about all of them.

I recently came across a review of Marly’s Ghost over at Chrissi Reads, and my curiosity was immediately piqued.

Marly’s Ghost was originally published in 2005, but it looks like a new edition is being published in the UK by Egmont Publishing.

This slim novel is a retelling of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, and it’s a retelling in the truest sense of the word. The original story doesn’t just provide a launching pad for a new idea; instead, Marly’s Ghost faithfully follows the original, practically scene by scene, but transposes it into a modern love story that’s both incredibly sad and unexpectedly uplifting.

In Marly’s Ghost, Ben is bitterly mourning the death of his beloved girlfriend Marly, who died four months earlier after a long and painful battle with cancer. Marly was the center of Ben’s world, and without her, he sees no point in anything. He pushes away his friends, sees only bleakness in everything around him, and has a special sort of derision for Valentine’s Day. Marly’s death, to Ben, is proof that love is a crock. It can’t last, it only breaks you when it’s gone, and it can’t be worth pursuing if it only leads to pain.

On the eve of Valentine’s Day, when Ben has once again cruelly rebuffed his best friend’s attempts to connect and has needlessly lashed out at a couple in the early stages of love, he retreats to his room to surround himself with his loss and seek isolation. But his isolation is shattered when Marly’s ghost appears, weighed down by chains forged from a charm bracelet containing every memento of their time together. Ben’s grief is holding her and not letting her find peace. Marly warns Ben that he will be visited by three spirits… and, well, if you’ve ever read or seen a production of A Christmas Carol, you have a pretty good idea of what’s to come.

Ben is visited by the spirits of Valentine’s Day past, present, and future, and each shows Ben a piece of himself and illuminates his effect on those around him. Above all else, Marly wanted Ben to promise not to give up, and the spirits have come to hold him to his promise.

This slim novel brought me to tears at various points. It’s a terribly sad story of loss and suffering, made worse by the characters’ young ages, and yet it’s a pleasure to read as well. David Levithan refers to this book as a “remix” of A Christmas Carol, and that’s an apt description. He sticks to the basics of the original story, but turns it into something new and emotionally rich. The modern-day characters fit easily into the framework of the classic story, and Ben’s transformation from bitterness to hope is believable and lovely.

The book is further enhanced by black and white illustrations by the masterful Brian Selznick, who models his drawings on the illustrations found in the original edition of A Christmas Carol.

I recommend this book highly, for fans of the author and illustrator, for those who love A Christmas Carol, or for anyone who enjoys a well-written, honest look at love and loss. I borrowed this book from the library, but I think I need to own a copy for myself! Marly’s Ghost, along with David Levithan’s The Lover’s Dictionary, proves that in the hands of a gifted author, good things really do come in small packages.

With thanks to Chrissi for inspiring me to track down a copy of this book!

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The details:

Title: Marly’s Ghost
Author: David Levithan
Publisher: Penguin
Publication date: Originally published 2005
Length: 208 pages
Genre: Young adult fiction
Source: Library