reading recap: august 2014

monthly recap image

I had a great month of reading! One more book than July, too (well, to be fair, the Lessing was only like 50 pages ;) ).

I read six books in August:

aug book

I started off the month strong with Helter Skelter, which completely knocked me off my butt. I was spellbound by this book and so glad I finally mustered up the courage to read it! I’d had it on my list forever, but put it off because I knew it would be gruesome and horrifying. I was also glad to cross off another off my TBR Pile Challenge too. Best book I read this month, hands down.

Burial Rites and The Grandmothers were both quiet thought-provokers. I bought Burial Rites as retail therapy in summer 2013 (still have a bunch from that shopping spree to get through!). I really liked it—definitely lived up to the hype it received when it came out. The Grandmothers was kind of just all right—good, but not the best Lessing I’ve read and not the best this month.

I did expect to read one more book than I did in Hawaii (I read two: the Watson and Denfeld), but that’s a lot better than the usual number (um, zero) when visiting family and/or on vacation. Before I Go to Sleep was thrilling and hard to put down (just like my baby niece! LOL) and The Enchanted was perfect for the beach. Very poetic.

I finished The Botany of Desire today. It was this month’s selection for my library’s book group, but I wasn’t able to get a copy until kind of late in the month—only read about 25% before the discussion last week. That’s okay, I had been wanting to read it for a long time anyway so I’m happy I finally had an excuse!

Review posts for The Enchanted and The Botany of Desire coming this week! How was your reading in August? What were the best/worst you read that month?

hawaii

Last week I had the most wonderful vacation in and around Honolulu, Hawaii. We mostly stayed in the Waikiki Beach area and on Oahu (no island hopping) due to our reason for going in the first place: new baby in the family! My brother (who is in there studying at the university for a master’s in food science) and his wife welcomed a baby girl on August 13. (Sorry, no pics—I feel weird about posting photos of other people’s kids.) But I can tell you she is the cutest, sweetest little baby girl ever, of course! So says her proud auntie, at least! :)

Anyway, here’s a breakdown of our activities (besides baby holding, cooing, and cuddling) all week:

Lots of beach time at Waikiki, even squeezing in a little reading! Waikiki itself is an exceptional tourist trap—lots of high-end stores, chain restaurants, etc. But it’s fun, lots to do, and at the beach the salt water (and basically just being there!) is incredibly restorative.

Waikiki pics

Hiking up Diamond Head. This state monument is a dormant volcanic crater, which has a lot of military history and breathtaking views.

Chief’s Luau—cheesier than Wisconsin, pretty touristy—but a lot of fun nonetheless! Excellent dancing and drumming, and super entertaining. The best part was that it made me want to learn more. I wish I had had time to go up to the Polynesian Cultural Center. Maybe next trip!

luau

Yoga on the beach at sunset. I highly recommend Karen’s class if you’re ever there! I felt so centered and refreshed afterward.

Sunset yoga

And definitely the highlight (not counting my niece and family time, of course): Pearl Harbor. I was so moved by the memorial to the USS Arizona. Very emotionally powerful. Think of the Vietnam Memorial, if you’ve been there—it’s a similar vibe. You can see the ship below the memorial, which is propped above and has the names of the men who died on the day of the attack, December 7, 1941, including the 900+ men that are still below, inside the ship. Visiting the site was perhaps extra special for me since I went with my father, a Navy veteran. He gave me some insider perspective on what it was like to serve and live on a ship (although he was on an aircraft carrier during the Vietnam War, not a battleship) and all the dangers you’d face, in the midst of forging bonds of camaraderie. He said that fire on the ship was always the greatest fear, because you’d be forced to shut the hatch doors on your friends, for example. Honestly, mere words are so ineffectual here—I’m not doing the experience full justice. But if you are ever on the island of Oahu please make a visit to Pearl Harbor a priority. I can’t recommend it enough.

Although I wouldn’t say Waikiki was necessarily a culinary destination, I did have poi (ok never having that again: taro root base, a pasty texture and particular sweet-and-sour flavor while still pretty bland), Spam musubi (like a big piece of sashimi with marinated, sautéed Spam instead of fish. Not bad!) and some really fabulous fruits and sushi. My parents were able to extend their trip for a second week, but I had to come back home after just one. But! I’m planning to return over the week of Thanksgiving with my husband if we can swing it, and I’m already forming a list of things I want to make sure to do when we go back!

Aloha!

[Photo credits: All © Kristin Shafel Omiccioli / mylittleheartmelodies.com, except top two photos in yoga collage from Beach Sunset Yoga Hawaii's Facebook page.]

before i go to sleep

The first book I read on my vacation in Hawaii last week was Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson, bought as an ebook on sale a few months ago. I heard it was going to be released as a film next month, so I thought now would be a good time to finally read it! From Goodreads:

“As I sleep, my mind will erase everything I did today. I will wake up tomorrow as I did this morning. Thinking I’m still a child. Thinking I have a whole lifetime of choice ahead of me…”

Memories define us. So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep? Your name, your identity, your past, even the people you love—all forgotten overnight. And the one person you trust may be telling you only half the story. Welcome to Christine’s life.

I’m a little shocked I got through it on vacation—I usually NEVER read when visiting family. But Before I Go to Sleep was a real page-turner, an excellent psychological thriller that I couldn’t stop thinking about between reading sessions. Christine’s confusion and fear are palpable, you really root for her all the way through. By the end I couldn’t put the book down—I had to know what was going to happen. She’s both a reliable and unreliable narrator, if you can be both at the same time! Gotta say, I also liked that the protagonist is a middle-aged woman. I’m sure it’s not uncommon, but I don’t seem to personally encounter it much in the books I read, for some reason.

I think this premise could have been tough to pull off, but Watson does a great job maintaining believability and suspense throughout. There are a lot of questions, twists and turns here—it reminded me of the 2000 film Memento and reading Gone Girl a couple of years ago. Maybe I’m gullible but the twist ending totally got me. I can see Before I Go to Sleep translating well to film. I definitely recommend for fans of neo-noir and psychological thrillers, and even if you’re not usually a reader of those genres (like me, although I’m starting to get into them more) it’s an accessible and compelling story.

Read from August 13 to 20, 2014.

my top picks 2013–14

KCMetropolis.orgThis last season was a rough one—an apartment move I didn’t want, both of my grandmothers dying, and a more-stressful-than-ever school year. I’m afraid I didn’t end up reviewing as much I would have normally liked. But despite the tough stuff, I was still able to pick out some great shows for my top picks list on KCMetropolis.org:

• Soul legend Aaron Neville and his quintet giving a nostalgic and memorable concert at the Folly Theater presented by Cyprus Avenue Live, October 2013.

• Early-music icon Jordi Savall and his ensemble Hespèrion XII on the Friends of Chamber Music series, performing his latest project Honey and Blood: The Cycles of Life at the Folly Theater, October 2013.

• A fun, funky trip down memory lane thanks to The Wiz at the Coterie Theatre, November 2013.

• The Performing Arts Series at Johnson County Community College‘s headliners for its 2014 Jazz Winterlude festival: percussionist Teri Lynne Carrington and inimitable Latin jazz/Afro-Cuban trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, January 2014.

• Emerging classical violinist Nicola Benedetti on the Harriman-Jewell Series. I especially loved her performance of Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata No. 1 in F Major, Op. 80. February 2014.

• Jazz violinist Regina Carter sharing her deeply personal roots music in for a Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts presentation in Helzberg Hall, March 2014.

• Singer-songwriter-pianist John Legend giving a stripped-down, intimate concert in the Kauffman Center‘s Helzberg Hall, May 2014. (Click here for my blog post.)

Heartland Men’s Chorus‘s season finale Vegas, Baby was an extravaganza of fabulous proportions. It was fun to hear a Liberace impersonator play “The Beer Barrel Polka” on piano—a clear nod to our shared home state, Wisconsin! June 2014.

• I was moved by Randy Noojin’s Woody Guthrie retrospective, Hard Travelin’ with Woody, on this summer’s Kansas City Fringe Festival, July 2014.

• Also on the Kansas City Fringe Festival, Kevin King’s Bad Auditions lived up to the hype, clearly deserving of its Best of Venue award and extended run at the Fishtank, August 2014.

Read my list of top picks with more thoughts and direct links to individual reviews at KCMetropolis.org: Editor’s Picks 2013–14 season: Kristin

top ten tuesday: don’t own yet

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish, a fun way to get yourself thinking and sharing about books and bookish things.

August 26: Top ten books I want to read but don’t own yet

Ah, an age-old reader problem. I’m trying to be a lot better about using the library, but here’s my list of ten books I’m dying to read but haven’t gotten my hands on yet, one way or another. In no particular order:

  1. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
  2. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
  3. Capone: The Man and the Era by Laurence Bergreen
  4. Teacher Man by Frank McCourt
  5. Fall on Your Knees by Ann-Marie MacDonald
  6. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
  7. Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them by Al Franken
  8. Authority and Acceptance by Jeff VanderMeer (a two-fer!)
  9. Alone: The Classic Polar Adventure by Richard E. Byrd
  10. The Rape of Nanking by Iris Chang

And then a few more recent releases I keep gravitating to at the store but haven’t picked up a copy yet: Orfeo by Richard Powers, Men We Reaped by Jesmyn Ward, and The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey.

What are some books you really want to read but don’t own yet (or, haven’t borrowed from the library yet)?

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 had an amazing time in Hawaii! I went on a hike, saw Pearl Harbor, swam at Waikiki beach, drove around the island, and so much more, including meeting my brand new baby niece! Recap post coming soon!

While I was on vacation last week I read Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson, and started The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld, which I’m sure I’ll finish tonight. Next up is The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan, which was the August pick for the book group at the library… the discussion is this week Wednesday… we’ll see how far I get into it before the meeting!

What are you reading this week?

on vacation: aloha!

I’ll be away from the computer this coming week because…

I’m ON VACATION IN HAWAII! My first niece was born August 13, to my brother and his wife who live in Honolulu (my brother is there getting a master’s degree in food science at the University of Hawaii). We haven’t seen my brother and his wife in a year (since they moved there, Skype doesn’t count!) so I’m thrilled to spend time with them in person, and of course meet our darling new girl!

Because this trip is mostly about the baby, we don’t have tons of plans set in stone—just enjoying the location (they live a block or two from Waikiki Beach) and the family being together. I did sign up for a couple of yoga classes, and have my eyes on Diamond Head, maybe hitting a few golf balls at a driving range, hiking a few trails, and hanging out on the beach a lot! We do plan on going to Pearl Harbor towards the end of the week, too.

And of course part of the fun is choosing books to bring along! Here’s what I got:

  • Summer House with Swimming Pool by Herman Koch
  • Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
  • The Enchanted by Rene Denfield

And I also started Before I Go to Sleep by S.J. Watson on my iPad this week. Honestly I should bring along The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan, too—it’s this month’s selection for my book group at the library but I’m nervous about taking a library copy somewhere so far. I would have loved to participate in Bout of Books 11, too. Oh well, anyway, I bet I won’t even get through one whole book! :)

See you guys next week!

[Photo credit]

the grandmothers

This week, after finishing Burial Rites but before diving into another book, I decided to read a short novella that I had downloaded a while ago as an ebook to my iPad, The Grandmothers by Doris Lessing. From Goodreads:

Two friends, two sons, two shocking and intense love affairs…

Roz and Lil have been best friends since childhood. But their bond stretches beyond familiar bounds when these middle-aged mothers fall in love with each other’s teenage sons—taboo-shattering passions that last for years, until the women end them, vowing to have a respectable old age. With Adore, Doris Lessing, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, once again proves her unrivaled ability to capture the truth of the human condition.

Can I just start off by saying I’m a little confused by the title change? This novella was originally published in 2003 with the title The Grandmothers, and was re-published in 2013 as Adore. Was that done for the film of the same name? Meh. I much prefer the original title—I find it more fitting. Full disclosure: I saw the film first, and this may be one of those rare instances the film surpasses the book… I read it in about the same amount of time it takes to watch a movie, but I was more affected by the film. Maybe it was like, the feel of the book made more tangible? The actors made the characters more three-dimensional than they were in the book, too.

The premise is great, a twist on the old Oedipus complex, and I enjoy Lessing’s poetic, gentle prose (she’s on my radar now after having read The Fifth Child last year). While the depths of Roz and Lil’s friendship is palpable, most of the rest of it feels rushed and just skims the surface—like the boys’ friendship and their respective love affairs. I would have liked to read more what the characters were thinking and feeling (The Fifth Child is also short, but more introspection is achieved in that one). Likely this quibble is due to the book’s short length—the ebook version I read was only 49 pages. It’s good, but would have been amazing if fleshed out into full-length novel.

Read on August 12, 2014.

burial rites

Last week I picked a book from my 2013 book-buying binge (retail therapy due to a stressful move…) to read, Burial Rites by Hannah Kent. From Goodreads:

Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.

Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they’ve heard.

I thought Kent handled balancing fact and fiction quite nicely; she paints an empathetic, portrait of a plain woman who struggled and had real feelings but has been historically regarded as an evil, heartless witch. It’s historical fiction based on real events and people. My knowledge of Iceland is extremely limited, and I had no idea about the last death by capital punishment in the country. Burial Rites is a dark, speculative look at this period.

I do wish the characters were a little more three-dimensional, but I liked the developed arc for Margrét, matriarch of the family with whom Agnes stays before her execution. The landscapes, weather, and lifestyles of Icelanders in the early nineteenth century were bleak and hauntingly presented, giving the whole book a very atmospheric vibe.

Burial Rites is a beautiful debut. Kent’s prose is utterly moving and poetic here, with a quiet intensity that made this book a page turner. Her writing has a grace and maturity about it that makes me excited for what she may come up with in the future. Great book, highly recommend!

Read from August 5 to 10, 2014.

reading recap: july 2014

monthly recap image

I know I’m several days late here! I wanted to get all my review posts done for the books I read in July. Still getting the hang of this feature :)

I read five books in July:

I enjoyed all these books! Three fiction and two non-fiction. I had a really fun mini-readalong of Something Wicked with my friend Anthony (click link above for recap), and The Bean Trees and Driven were nice and easy for a very busy month, thanks to my extensive Fringe Fest coverage. The Dog Stars was a great dystopian book, good on audio for a long drive, but Our Divided Political Heart, while compelling, took me forever to get through. I was pleased to get one more done for my TBR Pile Challenge as well (Bean Trees).

Writing this down, only five books? Really? It felt like a lot more, but that’s probably thanks to starting Helter Skelter on July 18. I didn’t finish it until the first weekend of August, though, so I’m counting it for that month, especially since I really ended up reading the bulk of it those first few days of August.

How was your reading in July? What were the best/worst you read that month?