A Diverse Trip ~~ Week One

Husband and I have been away ~~ down in Southern California.  Two very diverse areas — and two very different weeks.

First stop, Palm Springs.

We try to go to the wonderful Palm Springs Tennis Club every couple of years.  Here, Husband has the time of his life playing tennis, taking tennis clinics and finding doubles matches — he played every day.

 

So what did I do while Husband perfected his serve? Of course, I got to read in the warm and dry desert air.  This was the view from our little patio.

 

But I also explored the neighborhoods both on foot and using the resort bicycles.  Palm Springs folks have a different take on home design.

I even found the estate where Elvis and Priscilla spent their honeymoon.

 

Desert gardens are quite tempting – plant a few cactus, maybe a palm tree or two, rake the gravel and phew you’re done…

 

 

 

We did do some other things while there. We have always wanted to tour Sunnylands, often called the West Coast Camp David, but the tours are small and sell out quickly.  So we planned ahead and bought tickets the first day they went on sale and had a marvelous tour of the Annenberg’s retreat where they hosted presidents and digniaries for many years.  Click on the link above for more information. Here are some photos.  Are you bored yet?

Well never mind, just a few more photos and we’ll move on.

We took a couple of long bike rides up into the hills to see even more impressive desert homes and villas.  (By the way, the bikes were land cruiser type and sort of like steering wheelbarrows.)

 

Then we drove over to Desert Hot Springs where we got to soak in naturally warm and sulfur free hot spring pools.  They ranged from warm, to nicely medium, to yikes this is hot.  We tried them all.  Even got the senior discount to use the pools. From the look on Husband’s face,  I think this is the hot pool.

 

Thus ends our first week.

Next stop – well, that will be the next post.

Page Habit

I’ve been hearing about special interest book subscription services ~~ where you sign up, pay a monthly subscription fee, and receive a surprise book box each month.  Much like a book of the month club, except you don’t choose the book, the service does.

Hmmm, I thought — Just the perfect monthly fix for this book addict lover.

Surprise, Surprise… I signed up for such a service, namely PageHabit and have received two deliveries.  Such delight, to get a box in the mail without knowing what’s inside (except that’s it sure be a book of some sort).

I can’t contain my excitement when the box  arrives on my doorstep…

 

(even better when Husband is out and I can sneak it in the house without the ritual – hey here’s a package for you, what did you get – say whaaa more books – really?).*

My first sign up was for Mystery and once opened, there’s all sorts of nifty  book nerd lover surprises.  (Click to make larger)

 

In the first photo you see a few tchotchkes — a fox coaster, a patch relating to time travel (the book’s subject) and a pin.  There’s a letter from the author of the book — but best of all (third photo) the book itself is annotated with lots and lots of post-its with the author’s reflections and insights as you read along.

Now really, how cool is that?

PageHabit lets you switch genres at the click of a button, so for October,  I switched to Literary Fiction, and that box revealed two (!) books and the following fun stuff.

The second photo shows the swag this month — a library card pillow case (I know who knew?) a Halloween key chain, a cool bookmark, and (another?) fox coaster.


Again, there’s a letter from the author and here’s a close-up of one of the author annotations in the book.

Also, each month, there is also a little booklet, containing a short story commissioned by PageHabit just for that mailing. I’m keeping them in my bag for when I’m stuck in some long line or waiting in the car outside Home Depot (it happens fairly regularly for some reason).

But the best rationalization bit is, that with every mailing, PageHabit partners with a different organization around the world and supports their efforts in spreading literacy throughout their community. These donations help support building schools, public libraries, and community centers to ensure that every child has access to books.

You can match your PageHabit subscription to your favorite genre, there’s also Fantasy, Romance, Young Adult, Science Fiction, and many more.

So far, PageHabit has done itself proud – no duplicates to my  book warehouse  library.

I’ve got my eye on Historical Fiction for January…  and the beat goes on…

The subscription is sort of expensive, so I may move to a quarterly subscription but for the near future, I’ll raid my piggy bank.

Brown packages, surprise books, fun swag, and author notes –

Priceless.

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* I’m being mean, Husband is actually very tolerant of my book habit collecting and never grumbles ~~ too much.

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Dear Fahrenheit 451, by Annie Spence

I needed a break from reading three dark thrillers in a row (just finishing my last one – really good, but more on that later.)

So I slipped over into the warm comfort of this book.

Dear Fahrenheit 451 by Annie Spence

Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks

A Librarian’s Love Letters and the Breakup Notes to the Books in Her Life

Ms. Spence is a young librarian and both her reading taste and vernacular reflect fresh, edgy thinking.  This makes for a very different sort of book about books.  No guilt-inducing, preaching on the books you ought to have read (I’m looking at you Clifton Fadiman).  Instead, Dear Fahrenheit 451 is comprised of breezy takes (or letters) on the books the author has read, owns, loathes, comes across, culled from the library stacks, or had patrons request.

Ms. Spence’s casual writing voice is scattered with cursing and some sex. There’s a letter to a book called The One Hour Orgasm which you’ll just have to read for yourselves, I blush — anyway suffice it to say, this book never gets boring.

Ms. Spence’s love of books and what they mean shines through. But she also reflects on the often unspoken truism that readers can, and will, fall out with a book, there are indeed books that become irrelevant, books that leave us angry, annoyed, or the worst offense of all – a book that leaves us flat.

Here’s some of my favorite snippets:

Dear Fifty Shades of Grey,

You made me say “erotica” to an old lady.  I’m going to hate you forever for that…

 

Dear Miss Marple Series,

You guyssssss!  I just want to thank you for being there for me.  Everybody loves you.  Seriously, everybody.  I mean people who like mysteries – Doy.  But also, did you know that truckers love you?  You guys on audio are like a gateway drug to reading for truckers.  Also, kids who read way above their grade level and are bored with everything in the children’s section.  …and teens with helicopter parents who want to make sure they aren’t reading novels with sex in them (as a rule, murder in a book is A-okay with these folks).

 

Dear Pictorial Anatomy of the Cat,

I don’t know how you got here.  Without your book jacket on – which is who knows where – one might have assume you were some sort of mythical fairy tale about kitties.  But in reality your insides …are about insides.  But don’t get me wrong.  I thought you lateral view of the abdominal viscera was neat. But, can I say something?  You’re creeping people out. You go on and on about the cutaneous maximums.  This is a public library. So…Go’way Now, Annie

 

Dear Another Saturday Night of Wild and Reckless Abandon:  A Cathy Collection,

I had to give (my friend) a little lesson on Cathy, Cathy.  Because when you’re not talking about dating insecurities and how to eat feelings, you were one of the first to address the contradictions of the women who’s trying to “have it all”.  You discuss the wage gap, mansplaining, and sexual harassment.  You try to explain fluid gender roles in a way Cathy’s own mom might understand.  Yeah, Cathy has a messy room and frets over her terrible hair.  She’s trying to figure it out.  That’s what makes her so lovable. I’m proud to put you right by my Gloria Steinem essays and Bad Feminist.  You may be a collection of cartoons, but you’re part of the sisterhood. You’re my favorite 80’s woman.

So, aach on girl, Tiny heart, Annie

Towards the end, Ms. Spence also give us ‘special subject’ essays such as 

“Excuses to tell your friends so you can stay home with your books

“Falling Down the Rabbit Hole-books that lead to more books”

“He’s Just Not That Into Literacy: Turning Your Lover into a Reader”

 

There’s a wonderfully funny letter to a Fancy Bookshelf at a Party I Wasn’t Technically Invited To, where, while hiding by the bookshelves, she snarks on the styled books, knickknacks and art — not to mention, the hostess.

Ms. Spence dedicates a letter to book group discussions, which she often overhears at coffee shops or the library, and has to resist the urge to break in saying — ‘OMG, you’re missing the whole point of the book –step aside and let a professional take over’.

The final epilogue is a endearing shout out to the importance of librarians and libraries.  Dear Fahrenheit 451 would be a perfect gift for any librarian, library workers or book-lovers on your list.  It’s a little early for the holidays, but at the very least add it to your own TBR list.  I know you have one.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Dear Fahrenheit 451

I read you in small doses which proved most enjoyable. Equally enjoyable was the long list of books added to my TBR list thanks to you and your charming, and approachable author.  We have much to talk about, hey let’s meet for a glass of wine.  I’ll be the one in the corner with a book ~~ BookBarmy.

 

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A digital review copy was provided by Flatiron Books via Netgalley.

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Secrets Kids Know (that adults oughta learn) by Allen Klein

My guilty morning secret (now that I’m retired) is I’ll often make a cup of tea and go back to bed to read for a bit.  That’s how I enjoyed Secrets Kids Know over the last several weeks. Turned out to be a delightful way to start my day.

I’m usually not a huge fan of the self-help genre, I find they regurgitate one simple principal over and over to fill pages.  But this is not the case with Secrets Kids Know.

The overall premise is as adults grow up we loose our joy in life.  Which affects many aspects of our lives, from our relationships, to our careers and creativity.  Mr. Klein helps the reader see a wide variety of things through children’s eyes — with his delightful insights, quotes, examples, and stories.

Each chapter (or secret as Mr. Klein calls them) is a breath of fresh air, here’s a brief sampling:

Be a Beginner, where we see how the innocence of not knowing something opens us up to all possibilities – without preconceived right or wrong.

Be a Fun Seeker, in which we see how clowning around like a kid can be restorative.

Be Curious, which asks us to use curiosity to inspire our goals.  The child-like question “are we there yet?” can be turned around on yourself  “Am I there yet?” or your company “Are we there yet?”

Be Truthful, where we learn how to see things as they are, and the value of honest observation, unclouded by adult preconceptions.

Each chapter ends with a “Grow Down” (vs. Grow up) assignment — more of a suggestion really — such as taking a nap, blowing bubbles out the car window during a traffic jam (gonna try that one), or consulting your child-like instinct when making important decisions.

I fear I’ve made Secrets Kids Know sound simplistic — it not.  The author recognizes that adult pressures, worries, and crises can’t be solved by being childlike.  We can’t always live in the moment, as if a three year old. Instead, Mr. Klein suggests that we incorporate child-like tendencies into our day-to-day thoughts and activities in order to cope with the burdens of adulthood, not to mention the nightly news.

Something as profound as being present – a Buddhist teaching I’ve long struggled with, was made relevant to my adult life with this quote:

One of the reasons children are filled with extraordinary amounts of energy and enthusiasm may be that they are in the present moment.  Their energy is not wasted on a wandering mind that exhausts itself through negative emotions. 

Emma Seppala

Unlike some other self help authors, Mr. Klein is no egotist.  He happily intersperses his writing with other’s stories, quotes, and insights – often causing this reader to chuckle…

One good thing about five-year-olds is they are always just a Krazy Straw and some chocolate milk away from the best day ever.

Simon Cholland

Mr. Klein is a Jollytologist® (yes he trademarked it), is a professional speaker, and has written a number of books on using humor in our personal and professional lives — to motivate, harness creativity, and heal.

While I won’t be donning a red clown nose (something the author advocates), I did refresh my walking music with some Bee Gees, helped a neighbor’s 1 1/2 year old with a chalk drawing on the sidewalk, and, yes, I’ll be buying bubbles.

Thank you to Viva Editions and the author for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for an honest and non-compensated review.

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The Widow’s House by Carol Goodman

The Widow’s House is so much richer than the current spate of modern thrillers (my previous book included).  This book has it all.  There’s a crumbling estate, family secrets, haunting ghosts, a vulnerable heroine, a couple of murders, and lots and lots of atmosphere.

Sound confusing — like it may be too much?  Fear not, Ms. Goodman weaves all these elements together into an enthralling and well-crafted Gothic tale.

 

I’m going to cheat and quote the back cover blurb, just because it’s that good:

When Jess and Clare Martin move from Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to their former college town in the Hudson River valley, they are hoping for rejuvenation–of their marriage, their savings, and Jess’s writing career.

They take a caretaker’s job at Riven House, a crumbling estate and the home of their old college writing professor. While Clare once had dreams of being a writer, those plans fell by the wayside when Jess made a big, splashy literary debut in their twenties. It’s been years, now, since his first novel. The advance has long been spent. Clare’s hope is that the pastoral beauty and nostalgia of the Hudson Valley will offer some inspiration.

But their new life isn’t all quaint town libraries and fragrant apple orchards. There is a haunting pall that hangs over Riven House like a funeral veil. Something is just not right. Soon, Clare begins to hear babies crying at night, see strange figures in fog at the edge of their property. Diving into the history of the area, she realizes that Riven House has a dark and anguished past. And whatever this thing is–this menacing force that destroys the inhabitants of the estate–it seems to be after Clare next…

Riven House is indeed falling down, has an unusual pentagon shape, and is haunted by ghosts — according to the locals.

As Clare delves into the history of the house, she uncovers a series of tragic deaths.  The ghosts are said to be those of Mary Foley and her baby, both of whom lost their lives at the creepy estate. Then there’s the tale of the Apple Blossom Queen, a local beauty who came to a horrific end at Riven House.

Were these just random accidents or the actions of the reputed ghosts in the house?  Clare decides to try and uncover some answers, and with the help of her former professor, starts to expand this work into her novel. Jess’s writing also seems to be doing well.

At contrast to the ghosts and creepy estate, Ms. Goodman weaves a sensual beauty into the idyllic setting of the Hudson Valley apple country — we can smell the apple blossoms, see the ripening apples in the orchards, and then as fall approaches we can taste the area’s special apples:

The first time you bit into one your mouth was flooded with caramel, but when you took another bite, looking for that taste again, you got plain apple.  You had to sneak up on it. The taste was elusive, but when you caught it you wanted to suck that sticky sweetness right of its flesh.

But, cue ghostly sound effects – nothing is quite right. There’s trouble in Clare and Jess’s marriage, an old boyfriend is with the local police, there’s clandestine meetings between Jess and their sexy real estate agent, and a parade of local characters who range from slightly odd to the definitely strange.

Soon Clare starts to actually see the ghosts and experience the haunting of Riven House.   She comes close to accidental death, and tries desperately to figure out what is real versus her imagination.

Just picture me, in the chilly dark nights of Lake Tahoe, as I snuggled tighter in bed and happily kept reading.

Fair warning dear readers, there is a fairly complicated family tree, babies switched at birth, and family secrets kept for many years — all of which are key to the unraveling of the story line.   So, as much as The Widow’s House is a proverbial page turner — you should slow down and savor the unraveling of a wonderful suspenseful story.

Ms. Goodman is a master at plotting and building tension as she take the reader through her twists and turns.  The ending of the tale will haunt you with this lingering thought — “was any of this real”?

A perfect read for Halloween 

Ms. Goodman has a long list of well-received novels.   A new author to add to my list, given this one was so good.

Thank you to William Morrow/Harper Collins for an Advanced Readers Copy.

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The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

I just returned from Lake Tahoe and took some thrillers with me.  I love me a good engrossing thriller, especially when on vacation. When I opened the The Woman in Cabin 10, I knew I was not in for classic literature, but rather a best-selling, page turning thriller.

Ms. Ware sets us up with our main character, Lo Blacklock experiencing a harrowing home break in and assault. Although clearly shaken up, her job as a travel journalist requires her to embark on an exclusive luxury yacht trip.  This trip is her chance to write an important piece for her magazine.  The boat cruising through the North Seas provides a claustrophobic atmosphere and with only a few other carefully chosen passengers and crew, the premise had high creepy potential.

Lo wakes suddenly in the middle of the night and hears a body being tossed overboard. Here was my first niggle — now wait a minute, what does a body being pushed overboard sound like?  How did she instantly recognize the noise as a body and how could she even hear the noise in the rough North Sea waters?  Hmmmm

I forged on with The Woman in Cabin 10 not wanting to believe what was unfurling as a contrived and obvious plot.  I was sure I couldn’t have figured it out while only half-way through.  The optimist in me kept thinking there will be an unexpected twist, this bestseller has got to have something more than such a transparent storyline.

To make matters even worse for this poor reader, Lo Blacklock is a mess.  Haven’t we had enough unreliable narrators?  Lo drinks too much, is on anti-anxiety medication, complains incessantly, is self-pitying, weak, and beyond paranoid.  She’s supposedly a journalist, but she didn’t interview anyone and never opened a notebook. By the second half of the book, I hoped the murderer would off her — please, just toss her whiny ass overboard.

As a crime thriller, it lacked suspense and actually got boring in places — especially with the redundant, ad nauseam inner thoughts of Lo. The characters act illogically and much of the plot is disjointed.

There are good modern crime thrillers out there – try Harriett Lane
or 
Gone Girl  both had originality and good writing, but sorry to report — not The Women in Cabin 10.

Ms. Ware’s debut novel In a Dark, Dark Wood, got very good reviews, so perhaps The Woman in Cabin 10 suffers from the dreaded second book curse.

A digital review copy was provided by Gallery/Scout Press via Netgalley.

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Buried in Books

This is the week of the Friends of the SFPL Big Book Sale and I’ve been busy.  Lots of fun, lots of work.

Here are some photos of the wonderful bookish madness.  Click on these photos to appreciate the full enormity of this sale.  A massive amount of work is required by volunteers, corporate sponsored volunteers, and staff to pull off this – the largest used book sale on the West Coast.

Each year, the Friends ask for table sponsors in order to raise money for the sale, so this year Book Barmy took part.  Here’s the sign and the table — Graphic Novels and Comics —  a most popular table indeed.

I must admit after awhile, working at the Big Sale gets pretty overwhelming, so many books ~~ etc.  For a break, I sign up for extra shifts at my regular haunt,  the permanent Readers Bookstore in a separate building at Fort Mason.

While back at the store, I got to meet the delightful Scott from Furrowed Middlebrow blog, photographic evidence here…my bad hair day notwithstanding.

Go to Scott’s blog, it’s fascinating, as he specializes in British Women writers from the mid-20th century.  Even more impressive, he started his own imprint, Furrowed Middlebrow Books, published by Dean Street Press.  This series of books had been long forgotten and unpublished until Scott got them reissued.  ~~~ Those covers, sigh, I want every title…

The Big Book Sale goes on through Sunday, so if you’re in the area, stop by – info HERE.Or any time of the year come by the permanent Readers Bookstores – info HERE

Thus endeth my shameless promotion of the Friends of the SFPL, the Big Book Sale, and the Readers Bookstores.

My enthusiasm knows no shame.

 

In other news, we’re off to Lake Tahoe for a week.   I’ve plucked a few popular thrillers from my toppling pile of publisher’s ARCs taunting me and causing great guilt.

 

 

Back next week.

 

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