Book review: The Book of Useless Information

Dear friends,

I just finished this one, which was my bedside book for a few weeks:

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This book is filled with “fun facts” about lots of different topics: food, animals, geography.  As I read it, I thought it would really appeal to fans of Jeopardy!  It’s a great book to carry in your bag, or keep in the bathroom, so you can just read a page or two to pass the time.  Here are some pages from inside the book, to give you a taste of what’s in store:

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This book would make a great gift for Father’s Day, or for anyone who likes “nerdy” information (I count myself there)!

Cheers –

Winnie and the Professor

The perils of “Booktube”

Hello friends,

I enjoy watching Youtube videos about reading and books.  Do you?

Creators of such videos refer to themselves as “booktubers,” and post videos with themes like reviews, hauls, current reads, DNFs (“did not finish”) and TBRs (“to be read”), along with various other features such as anticipated new releases, unhauls, and reading marathon vlogs.  For book lovers, these videos can be fun and informational.  I learn about a lot of new releases and popular books from watching these videos.

Some of my favorite booktubers are:  Books with Emily Fox, Lauren and the Books, Jean Bookish Thoughts, Peruse Project, and Chelsea Palmer (there are many others).  Booktube leans heavily toward the YA (“young adult”) genre, but these particular creators tend to read more widely.

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While I enjoy these videos, I find that watching too many can “mess with my head.”  Many booktubers post monthly hauls of 20 or more books, which they never seem to get around to reading (and ultimately unhaul).  Many post ambitious TBRs that are impossible to finish.  Some talk about feeling guilty about not reading more, or post stats of how many pages they read during the month.

All of these things seem to take the joy out of reading.

This is why I don’t believe in huge hauls (I plan to show a few books at a time), and why I don’t believe in TBRs (every book I own is a TBR).  When I finish a book, I consider whether it deserves a permanent place on my shelf, or if I will pass it along to someone else who would enjoy it.  I have a large “pass along pile,” which will ultimately be given to my university’s book sale when it comes around each spring.  I believe that books should have a life – either through re-reading (we are a different person each time we approach the same text), or by sharing with someone else.

I also feel like a strict and lengthy TBR list doesn’t allow for whims.  Sometimes I feel like reading something light and fluffy (usually after I’ve read something dense and difficult).  Or I learn of a brand-new release that I’m willing to buy in hardcover because I know I will love it, and I want to read it right away.  Or something comes across on Kindle Unlimited that looks like fun, so everything else gets pushed back.

Reading should bring you joy.  Booktube videos are fun to watch.  But if you ever start to feel guilty, or inadequate, or caught up in comparison with these voracious readers, it might be time to step back.

Do it for fun.  Do it for you.

Blessings,

Winnie and the Professor

Book haul # 1

Dear friends,

I’ve acquired a TON (probably literally) of books over the past months, including a few dozen at a library sale this weekend.  I thought I’d show them to you a few at a time.  As you know, I read a lot of backlist titles, as well as new releases.  While I occasionally buy a new release in hardback if it’s something I’ve really been looking forward to, I acquire most of my books in other ways:

  • Borrow from the library
  • Lent from friends
  • Purchased at sales
  • Purchased at retail, in paperback format
  • “Shop my shelves” (and storage boxes)
  • Listen on audiobook and/or read on Kindle

Let’s look at my first little haul:

  1.  Daisy Jones and the Six.  I flew through this one, and my review’s already up.  I had received an “ARC” (advance reader copy) of this one months ago, but never got around to it till now.  The story of a 1970s band similar to Fleetwood Mac – their rise to fame and fall from popularity.
  2. City of Girls.  This one just came out June 4 and I can’t WAIT to read it!  New York showgirls in the 1940s.
  3. Sawkill Girls.  Borrowed from the Library, and I need to finish it as it’s due very soon.  A Young Adult “YA” title, I don’t know much about it other than it’s a mystery about girls who go missing on Sawkill Island.
  4. Our Lady of the Prairie.  Lent to me by a coworker.  Written by a colleague at my university, who was pleased when I told her I was reading it.
  5. The Clockmaker’s Daughter.  I bought this in hardback when it first came out, and it’s just been released in paperback … need to get to it!  I understand it switches back and forth along two (or more?) timelines.

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A side note: I don’t believe in doing “TBRs” (“To be read”) lists, because I like to have the freedom to choose what appeals to me in the moment.  I believe that we have a relationship with our books, and that reading should never feel like a chore.  Also, when I finish a book, I pass it on if possible, so it will continue to have a life.  I might give it to a friend, or to charity.  Only a few take up permanent residence on my shelves, and those are the ones that have spoken to me on the deepest level.

I am also re-listening to the Harry Potter books on Audible.  I read the originals so long ago that I’ve forgotten a lot, plus the movies have muddied my memories a bit.  By revisiting them now, I can really see the books-to-movies changes.  Mind you, I’m not touchy about such changes – I understand that it’s a different task to tell a story visually than to tell it in writing.  I just find it interesting.  I’m halfway through Chamber of Secrets now, and I’m wondering about something:

How did Dobby intercept the letters from Ron and Hermione?  Considering how the owls in the first book were able to track Harry down wherever he might be, I can’t see how this would happen, and I don’t see it being addressed in the story.  Plot hole?

Happy reading everyone!

Winnie and the Professor

Book review: Daisy Jones and the Six

Dear friends,

Like so many others, I enjoyed this book immensely, though not quite as much as Reid’s previous book, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo.

If you’ve read other reviews of this book, you know that Daisy Jones and the Six (the band) is loosely based on Fleetwood Mac, and the relationships among its members.  The story in this book takes place years after the band broke up, with each member telling the story as they remember it – and their memories sometimes contradict one another.

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Which parts did I like?  The interview format felt like a conversation, which filled the characters with life.  Each of them felt real, struggling with the desire to express themselves creatively, in the midst of complicated relationships with the rest of the band members.  Each character also had ethical dilemmas about choosing to put themselves first at times.  Do you do what’s best for your own career, or for the longevity of the band?  The romantic relationships and sexual tension between band members helped make it a page-turner.

Which parts did I dislike?  It may make me sound like a lazy reader, but … too many characters.  In addition to Daisy and the other six band members, we have various record producers, sound engineers, tour managers, etc. adding their two cents to the story, and each of these characters has a name and backstory.  Each of them have their own lines in the interview transcript.  I became confused at times about who was who.  In the end I decided it didn’t matter, and when a non-band member was “speaking,” I just classified them as a peripheral person.

Verdict?  It’s a fun, page-turning read that captures a moment in time, a rock band at the height of their popularity, along with the events that caused them to eventually fall from the charts.  A brief epilogue tells the reader what each of these characters is doing “today.”  And the song titles and lyrics felt real.

Recommended.

Blessings,

Winnie and the Professor

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Book review: Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties

Dear friends,

I recently finished this book on Kindle:

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Woman Last Seen in Her Thirties tells the story of Maggie, a woman in her fifties who finds her life in crisis.  Her husband suddenly walks out, and as she faces the world as a separated, soon-to-be divorced woman, she realizes that she has lost her sense of identity.  She has been a wife and mother for so long, she hasn’t really had a strong sense of who she is and what she wants since she was in her thirties (hence the title).  Maggie knows she must pull herself together and create a new life – but how?

As she casts about for new friends and a new vocation, she makes a lot of mistakes, but her confidence grows.  Her divorce is finalized, and she works on closing that chapter of her life by attending a support group for new divorcees and making future plans.  She befriends a man who could be a potential love interest, but is she ready?  And when her ex-husband makes contact again, will she long for her former life?

The book was just ok for me … this is not a reflection on the author or her work (the story was nicely written), but I didn’t identify with the subject matter very much.  Maggie and her husband/ex-husband were both having their own version of a mid-life identity crisis, which I haven’t dealt with.  I tried listening to the audio book first, and found that I didn’t care for the narrator – she read the story in a defensive, slightly snarky tone that I found at odds with Maggie’s uncertainty and sadness (it felt like the narrator was indignant on Maggie’s behalf).  But I thought the story was pretty good, so I read the Kindle version instead.

I would recommend this one if you identify with the subject matter.

Blessings,

Annette

Book Review: The First Lady

Dear friends,

I recently finished reading James Patterson’s “The First Lady”:

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I’m not normally a big fan of the thriller / crime genre, but I was pleasantly surprised by this one, and I anticipate I’ll read more James Patterson books in the future.

The chapters are short, the font is reasonably clear and large (paperback edition), and it’s a large “floppy” paperback that’s easy to hold and read.  (These things are important to someone who’s nearsighted and likes to read in bed).  Each chapter ends on a cliffhanger, so you want to keep racing ahead to see what will happen.

Not to give away too much, but the story takes place in Washington, D.C., and is peopled by highly-placed government officials.  When the First Lady goes missing, a mystery ensues – was she kidnapped?  Is she in hiding?  Where did she go, and why is she gone?  And who is at fault – terrorists, someone with a personal grudge, those close to the First Lady, or perhaps even the President himself?

This would make a good beach read – fast paced and exciting.

Happy reading!

Winnie and the Professor

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Books about culture

Dear friends,

I love teaching Intercultural Communication.  One of the principles I teach my students is that culture is all around us, and is not limited to race and ethnicity.  We all belong to multiple cultures, each with its own ideas and behaviors.  I like to show my students “popular press” books that give insights into a wide range of cultures, such as these:

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Modern Romance – A humorous look at dating in the internet age.

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Educated – a home-schooled survivalist decides to go to university.

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When Generations Collide – workplace dynamics when the age range is 20-70 and beyond.

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Reading the Romance – who reads romance novels, and why?  (You may be surprised).

Intercultural Communication isn’t some esoteric textbook topic – it’s part of our everyday lives, if we only know where to look.  If you communicate with others across religious or political differences, or if you’ve ever had to explain a “strange” hobby to someone who’s never heard of it – those are forms of intercultural communication.

“Game of Thrones” fans trying to explain the story to non-fans will know what I mean.  The GOT fandom is a strong and fascinating culture!

Keep reading, keep learning,

Winnie and the Professor

Book Review: The Best Kind of People

Dear friends:

This book has received a lot of mixed reviews online, and I can understand why, as I have mixed feelings about it myself:

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The Best Kind of People is a family drama (a genre I usually like, which is why I picked it up).  The story surrounds the Woodburys, a wealthy family living in an elite suburb of Connecticut.  The father, George, teaches at the local private prep school, where the daughter, Sophie, is a student.  Sophie has an older brother, Andrew, who is a lawyer in New York.  The mother, Joan, is an emergency room nurse.  The ancestors of this family founded the town, so they are well-known and socially prominent.  They seem to have it all, until one night …

(While this may seem spoiler-y, it happens in the first chapter, and is what the rest of the book is about) …

The police arrive to arrest the father, George, on charges of inappropriate behavior with some of the girls at the school where he teaches (and Sophie attends).  George denies everything, and no one wants to believe he is capable of such things.  For the rest of the book, we are engaged with his wife’s struggle to make sense of the situation (all signs point to his guilt), his daughter being stigmatized at school, and his son trying to sort out the legal angles of the case.

We don’t really get George’s point of view on all this.  The other family members occasionally visit him in prison while he is awaiting trial, and he maintains his innocence, but the reader doesn’t have a deep window into George’s character.  We spend the most time with the daughter, Sadie, and her boyfriend Jimmy – who have a lot of sex and smoke a lot of pot for young teenagers.  Maybe I’m a prude, but I found those plot elements overblown and a bit tiresome.

The further I got into the book, the more of a page-turner it became, primarily because I wanted to see if George would end up being guilty or not (I’ll leave that to you to discover).  But overall, I didn’t find these family members very likeable, and thought that the wife, Joan, was rather gullible at times.

I gave it 3 out of 5 stars on Goodreads.  Wasn’t great, wasn’t terrible.

Happy reading, as always!

Annette

 

Book reviews – The Wedding Date, and The Proposal

Hello friends,

If you’re looking for something light and fluffy that will give you a few hours of escapism, these companion novels might do the trick:

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In The Wedding Date, we follow the story of Alexa and Drew, who meet in the elevator at a fancy hotel.  When the elevator gets stuck, they end up sitting on the floor and exchanging stories.  Seems that Drew is at this hotel because he’s going to a wedding the next night, and his date has bailed on him at the last minute.  What to do?

Yes, it’s a bit formulaic and predictable … they live in different cities and try having a long-distance relationship, insecurities and misunderstandings ensue … but it’s kind of cute if you keep in mind that it’s a light romance.

The Proposal is a companion novel (I wouldn’t call it a sequel, but there’s some character overlap).  We meet Nikole at a baseball game, where her date proposes to her on the Jumbo-Tron.  When she refuses, he leaves her standing there with a whole stadium full of people staring at her.  Carlos, who is sitting a few rows over, comes to her rescue and helps her exit the stadium.

A relationship follows, but neither is sure how to define it – are we friends with benefits?  In love?  Just prolonging a chance meeting?  Carlos’s best friend just happens to be Drew from the other book, and we meet Drew and Alexa again in this story.

These books were just ok to me.  In both relationships, each wondered what the other felt, and there was a lot of push-pull and coming together-coming apart related to rather simple misunderstandings.  The back-and-forth of it all was a bit tiring.

In both books, the relationships are cross-racial, and I was pleased that the author dealt with that by having family and friends of the couple express opinions about it.  I thought that was realistic.

In the end, I’d say they were cute stories and fun to read, but not something I’d re-read.  I believe there’s a third novel coming out soon, another companion book to these stories.

Happy reading!

Winnie and the Professor

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