i never had it made

I had all these plans to write and publish blog posts over the holiday weekend (and after work this week) but couldn’t bear to be on the computer. Instead, I read, hung out with my husband and friends, and visited the Liberty Memorial at the National World War I Museum on Memorial Day. I also finished reading I Never Had It Made by Jackie Robinson on my e-reader. Edited from Goodreads:

Before Barry Bonds, before Reggie Jackson, before Hank Aaron, baseball’s stars had one undeniable trait in common: they were all white. In 1947, Jackie Robinson broke that barrier, striking a crucial blow for racial equality and changing the world of sports forever. I Never Had It Made is Robinson’s own candid, hard-hitting account of what it took to become the first black man in history to play in the major leagues. Originally published the year Robinson died, I Never Had It Made endures as an inspiring story of a man whose heroism extended well beyond the playing field.

I was reminded I had this in my e-reader when I was watching the Royals game on April 15—all the players (on all teams) wear #42 in honor of Jackie Robinson Day. (April 15 was opening day in 1947, Jackie’s first season in the majors.)

Jackie’s autobiography was surprising to me in a few ways, namely that it was less about baseball and more about other aspects of his professional life in business and politics. I also found it rather relevant to our current racial tensions and issues—I wonder what Jackie would have to say today.

While I’m glad I read Never Had It Made and enjoyed getting a better idea of who Jackie was beyond his time on the field as a Brooklyn Dodger. He didn’t deeply analyze events or his feelings much, except for the very moving chapter about the death of his oldest son and throughout you can tell his love for his wife and family was palpable. But he recounting several hardships he faced growing up and “breaking the color barrier” in sports and business (being the first black corporate VP), and spats he had along the way with sports journalists and politicians alike.

I do wish he had covered his baseball career more extensively. I can’t be alone in that being the main interest for readers of this book, although his remembrance of his days in Montreal Royals was great—clearly he loved his time there! I admit to glazing over during the business sections a bit, and I also would have loved to learn more about his role in the Civil Rights Movement. The prose is straightforward but rather dry and can sometimes not feel so natural. But, Jackie was not a writer and from an era of strong-but-silent types, and I think the co-author here did a good job of conveying Jackie as a person and what concerned him during his lifetime.

On a personal note, this reminds me that I should stop by the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum here in Kansas City soon! It’s been quite a while since my last trip. Jackie played for the Kansas City Monarchs in 1945. (Just a fun fact from the biography project I did on Jackie Robinson in elementary school! :) ) I’ll have to check out 42 soon, the movie that came out a couple years ago based on parts of I Never Had It Made.

I Never Had it Made is my third of twelve books read for my Ebook Challenge.

Read from May 9 to 23, 2015.

lost my name

I recently discovered this adorable book from Lostmy.name, The Little Girl Who Lost Her Name, and knew I had to get one for my darling little niece, turning one in August:
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It’s a sweet story about a child who wakes up one day to find her name, pasted on her bedroom door, has vanished. She goes on a quest over land and sea, encountering animals and magical creatures along the way. Each helps her in a unique way to recover the missing letters of her name.

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You can customize the book for a boy or girl, and there are a few different available languages, too. I thought it was so wonderful and fun, and I enjoyed personalized books when I was little. I wanted to give my niece something like that to let her know she’s our special girl!

Have a daughter, son, niece, nephew, or special little buddy in mind who would love a book like this? I have a 15% off discount code to share with three bookish friends! Let me know in the comments if you decided to use it. :)

find me

Find Me by Laura van den Berg caught my eye on several “anticipated for 2015″ lists earlier in the year, so I thought I’d give it a shot. From Goodreads:

Joy has no one. She spends her days working the graveyard shift at a grocery store outside Boston and nursing an addiction to cough syrup, an attempt to suppress her troubled past. But when a sickness that begins with memory loss and ends with death sweeps the country, Joy, for the first time in her life, seems to have an advantage: she is immune. When Joy’s immunity gains her admittance to a hospital in rural Kansas, she sees a chance to escape her bleak existence. There she submits to peculiar treatments and follows seemingly arbitrary rules, forming cautious bonds with other patients—including her roommate, whom she turns to in the night for comfort, and twin boys who are digging a secret tunnel. As winter descends, the hospital’s fragile order breaks down and Joy breaks free, embarking on a journey from Kansas to Florida, where she believes she can find her birth mother, the woman who abandoned her as a child. On the road in a devastated America, she encounters mysterious companions, cities turned strange, and one very eerie house. As Joy closes in on Florida, she must confront her own damaged memory and the secrets she has been keeping from herself.

I half liked it, half “huh?” with Find Me. The premise is intriguing and full of potential, if not exactly original (plague post-apocalyptic stories are everywhere these days). I was gripped by the whole first half of the book, while Joy was in the hospital and her flashbacks to life before/during the memory sickness outbreak.

Then the second half of the book came along. Hmm. It started off well—and I’m sure I’m biased here—with Joy leaving the hospital and taking a bus to Kansas City, my town! Kudos to van den Berg for obviously extensive research into the book’s real-life locales. She was spot on with the Kansas City descriptions:

In Kansas City, we pass an empty square and a bronze statue of a winged horse. (159)

I decide to get off on Seventh Street. … A block down, there’s a motel called the Walnut. (159–60)

I ask No Name what he knows about Kansas City and he tells me this place is nicknamed the City of Fountains because there are hundreds of fountains. The cowboy boot was invented here. Kansas City is home to one of the world’s largest roller coasters. (164)

This is all pretty much right on! Must be referring to the statues outside City Hall on 12th Street (Wikipedia image) for the winged horse; there’s the Walnut Tower Apartments building at Walnut and 7th Streets (not a motel, but you know, I understand the use of artistic license here). Yes, City of Fountains; yes, the roller coaster (located at Worlds of Fun). The cowboy boot invention was new to me, so I looked it up—apparently just outside of KC in Olathe is where this style was started, among other nearby places. Nice!

After that, the book started to aimlessly drift into a very dreamlike state for me… kind of like Joy on her cross-country bus trip. Things just seemed to happen, like, I don’t recall buildup of tension or action leading up to an event or change, it just was all of a sudden. Maybe I wasn’t reading as carefully as I should have, but my interest waned. The last third is especially trippy and surreal. The more I think about it, the more I can see that Joy is an unreliable narrator, which is a feature I enjoy in books, but perhaps Joy is just a little too young for me to be enthralled by her journey (she’s just 19—this hinges on YA, or maybe more accurately the “New Adult” genre).

It’s a little hard to talk about Find Me without giving away spoilers! Maybe it would have worked better as a short story or novella. But I think it’s a worthwhile read if you enjoy a great premise, beautiful writing, and a thought-provoking meditation on memory and its reliability.

Read from May 11 to 17, 2015.

bout of books 13 wrap-up

What a great week of reading and bookish fun! I always seem to start strong and fizzle by the end of these week-long events, though. Here are my progress and results from the Bout of Books 13 readathon:

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Day 1: Monday, May 11
I Never Had it Made (ebook) by Jackie Robinson: read 20 pages (pgs. 58–78)
Find Me by Laura van den Berg: started, read 54 pages
Attempting Normal (audio) by Marc Maron: started, listened to 293 minutes (88.5%)
Set up three book review blog post drafts
Bookish Survey (Challenge 1):

Day 2: Tuesday, May 12
Published book review blog post: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
I Never Had it Made: read 20 pages (pgs. 78–98)
Find Me: read 37 pages (pgs. 54–91)
Attempting Normal: listened to 38 minutes (11.5%), finished!

Day 3: Wednesday, May 13
Published book review blog post: The Tusk That Did the Damage by Tania James
I Never Had it Made: read 9 pages (pgs. 98–107)
Find Me: read 12 pages (pgs. 91–103)
Book Haiku (Challenge 3):

Day 4: Thursday, May 14
Published book review blog post: Attempting Normal (audio) by Marc Maron
Find Me: read 56 pages (pgs. 103–159)
Modern to Classic (Challenge 4):

Day 5: Friday, May 15
Find Me: read 22 pages (pgs. 159–181)
Cover Color (Challenge 5):

Day 6: Saturday, May 16
Find Me: read 32 pages (pgs. 181–213)

Day 7: Sunday, May 17
Find Me: read 65 pages (pgs. 213–278), finished!

TOTALS
331 minutes of audiobook listening
327 pages read
2 books finished
3 blog posts published
4 challenges completed

it’s monday! what are you reading?

It’s Monday, what are you reading?—a weekly blog meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

I was happy to participate in Bout of Books 13 last week! I probably did get more reading done that usual, but I felt like I fizzled out by the end. The weather was just gorgeous by the end of the week and I was compelled to get out and do some fun stuff with my husband in the city! But I did manage to finish Attempting Normal by Marc Maron (audio, click here for review) and Find Me by Laura van den Berg (review soon). Though I missed the Twitter chats, I did have fun with four of the week’s challenges. I’m still working through I Never Had it Made by Jackie Robinson—I just really struggle getting through ebooks. I’ll finish it, it’ll just take a while. I’ll post my final stats for Bout of Books tomorrow here.

Anyway, THIS week, you guys, I have a dilemma:

PicMonkey CollageBoth my holds at the library came up for Girl at War by Sara Nović and Delicious Foods by James Hannaham! I’m sure I can get them both done before they’re due back (especially now that it’s summertime), but what should I read first?

What are you reading this week?

attempting normal

Marc Maron has been on my radar ever since my husband and I discovered his TV show a couple of months ago. When I saw his 2013 memoir Attempting Normal was available to borrow from my library I jumped on it. Bonus: read by Marc! From Goodreads:

Marc Maron was a parent-scarred, angst-filled, drug-dabbling, love-starved comedian who dreamed of a simple life: a wife, a home, a sitcom to call his own. But instead he woke up one day to find himself fired from his radio job, surrounded by feral cats, and emotionally and financially annihilated by a divorce from a woman he thought he loved. He tried to heal his broken heart through whatever means he could find—minor-league hoarding, Viagra addiction, accidental racial profiling, cat fancying, flying airplanes with his mind—but nothing seemed to work. It was only when he was stripped down to nothing that he found his way back.

Marc Maron came into our lives at a really difficult time: we were reeling from a devastating, major job rejection and a serious health crisis and surgery, all in the same two-week period. Marc’s show Maron on IFC was just the right type of cynical humor that we needed at that moment. We watched everything we could, the first two seasons of the show, his standup special Thinky Pain, and started listening to his WTF! podcast  regularly. His struggles with career success and anxiety and rage at things ultimately out of your control resonated deeply with me. But! Seeing how he’s pulled himself out of dark places and created a niche that fits for him is inspiring, even if it might not be the pinnacle of what he ultimately envisioned for himself. I enjoy his interviews on WTF because I feel like he is genuinely trying to connect—not only with his guests but also with his listeners. His conversations and monologues are so engaging. It feels like community.

As for the book, Attempting Normal, I simply could not stop listening. (And since the job thing and surgery I feel like I’ve been “attempting normal”…) I played it all day at work, not caring that Marc’s crude language and stories of hookers and drugs were maybe overheard by the students out in the hallway! (They’re all over 18, it’s college. Whatever.) This memoir isn’t about comedy per se, although there are many humorous takes on the component of weirdness in whatever situation he’s recounting. He discusses his addictions—drugs, alcohol, destructive behaviors, dark thoughts—and looks back at himself and his life with a clear-headed perspective, while acknowledging it’s still, always, a journey and process to grow, heal, and become more comfortable and forgiving of one’s self for being human.

The book is full of anecdotes that are obsessive, funny, personal, and sometimes troubling. Listening to Marc tell them on audio gave them an added dose of authenticity that I’m glad to have experienced. I want to listen to it all over again, and I’m sure I will. He’s on tour right now and had a show in my hometown, Madison, Wisconsin, last month; I was DYING to go up but I had work and an orchestra gig, I couldn’t get away just then. I hope he’ll make his way to Kansas City eventually, I’d love to see him perform live!

Marc’s shows, podcasts, and book were helpful to me during a rough period. He’s a new favorite and I’ll be following his work for a long time. Thank you, Marc! And I’m so excited to watch the third season of Maron, premiering tonight!

Listened to audiobook from May 11 to 12, 2015.

the tusk that did the damage

As part of a retail therapy trip to Rainy Day Books, my local indie, I picked up The Tusk That Did the Damage by Tania James, because I’m a sucker for elephants because they’re awesome. Look at that cover! Couldn’t resist. From Goodreads:

Orphaned by poachers as a calf and sold into a life of labor and exhibition, the Gravedigger breaks free of his chains and begins terrorizing the countryside, earning his name from the humans he kills and then tenderly buries. Manu, the studious younger son of a rice farmer, loses his cousin to the Gravedigger’s violence and is drawn, with his wayward brother Jayan, into the sordid, alluring world of poaching. Emma is a young American working on a documentary with her college best friend, who witnesses the porous boundary between conservation and corruption and finds herself in her own moral gray area: a risky affair with the veterinarian who is the film’s subject. As the novel hurtles toward its tragic climax, these three storylines fuse into a wrenching meditation on love and betrayal, duty and loyalty, and the vexed relationship between man and nature.

I devoured this book in one weekend. James’s writing for Tusk is airy and has an appropriate sense of sadness to it, with many strikingly beautiful sentences. It was a quiet but potent read for a rainy weekend at home, especially if you care about elephants and animal conservation. Despite being such a short book, James was able to fully flesh out the filmmakers, poachers, and elephant handlers as individuals.

The issues for me lay in the balance of the three narratives—I would have loved more Gravedigger and less filmmakers. Or perhaps replace the filmmakers with ivory consumers? That would have made this book even more effective a statement on the ivory trade. It felt at times that Emma was the main character rather than the Gravedigger. Also, while the Gravedigger’s chapters were the most interesting and engrossing—I loved the elephant lore!—they evolved from being in the Gravedigger’s head to being about his handlers more. Still good, just… I would have loved to feel what the Gravedigger felt more.

I enjoyed this heartrending tale very much, despite a few flaws, and think a great companion read would be Barbara Gowdy’s The White Bone, an imaginative tale told entirely from the elephants’ perspectives.

Read from May 9 to 10, 2015.

the girl on the train

Had to see what the hype was about with The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins! From Goodreads:

Rachel takes the same commuter train every morning. Every day she rattles down the track, flashes past a stretch of cozy suburban homes, and stops at the signal that allows her to daily watch the same couple breakfasting on their deck. She’s even started to feel like she knows them. “Jess and Jason,” she calls them. Their life—as she sees it—is perfect. Not unlike the life she recently lost.

And then she sees something shocking. It’s only a minute until the train moves on, but it’s enough. Now everything’s changed. Unable to keep it to herself, Rachel offers what she knows to the police, and becomes inextricably entwined in what happens next, as well as in the lives of everyone involved. Has she done more harm than good?

The Girl on the Train, for me, does live up to the hype, and does jive with certain aspects of Gone Girl (to which it has been frequently compared), but while The Girl on the Train wasn’t 100% a Gone Girl redux for me, I did enjoy this fast-paced psychological drama. I had a similar reading experience for both these books—the suspense, the unreliable narrators, and the need to keep going after every chapter to find out what happens. Gone Girl was more shocking and The Girl on the Train a little more predictable, but that doesn’t take away from the enjoyment of the novel.

The characters are not exactly likable, or even necessarily sympathetic. With the shifting narrative perspectives it’s hard to know whom to believe at times. Everyone has their version of the truth or how things happened (in this book and IRL!). The Girl on the Train is full of assumptions that lend themselves to the suspense and twists and turns of the book well. I had an inkling of what was going to happen in the finale, but not all figured out ahead of time. Everyone’s just so messed up—anxiety, insecurity, guilt, paranoia—any one of them could be capable of anything.

Read from May 2 to 8, 2015.

it’s monday! what are you reading?

It’s Monday, what are you reading?—a weekly blog meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

I’m hoping for an awesome week of reading: it’s the start of Bout of Books 13 today! Since it’s finals and I have a break from my orchestra rehearsals, I should have a lot of time to read, during my lunch breaks at work and in the evenings. I’m hoping to finish two books, post reviews, and maybe participate in a challenge and Twitter chat or two.

On Friday I finished The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, and this weekend I started (and finished) The Tusk That Did the Damage by Tania James. I didn’t expect to get through it so quickly! Reviews coming later this week.

This morning I grabbed Find Me by Laura van den Berg to give it a shot… it has a fairly “meh” rating on Goodreads right now (2.99!) so we’ll see. Hard to trust the ratings anyway, too. I think this could be a good, quick read for Bout of Books.

What are you reading this week?

bout of books 13

It’s time for the spring Bout of Books!

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The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week-long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, May 11 and runs through Sunday, May17 in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 13 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books  blog.
++++++++++++++++++++++++++—The Bout of Books team

I so enjoy this readathon, especially how low key it is and the challenges (when I have time for them) are fun. I love the Twitter chats, too! While I have my regular work hours this week, we’re on final exams, and I’m on hiatus from my orchestras until our summer concerts, so things are calming down considerably. I’ll be reading during my lunch breaks and as much as possible in the evenings and next weekend! I don’t want to set strict goals for myself, but I’m thinking if I can finish the ebook I’m currently reading and one other book, that would be awesome. I’ll try to squeeze in a couple challenges, chats, and stop by as many other readathoners’ blogs as possible, too!

I hope you have a great week of reading!