reading recap: september 2015

monthly recap imageWow, you guys, September. Not my strongest month for reading…

sept reading

Three books, each fewer than 200 pages, all read over Labor Day weekend. Pretty weak. I didn’t even write the blog review for Between the World and Me yet! In September, I also started Black Mass (still only about 40% through) and read the first 20 or so pages of both Fates and Furies and Slash. I don’t know. Just wasn’t feeling reading much in September. I don’t exactly want to call it a slump because I’m liking all of what I’ve read, but just had trouble sitting and focusing on it in my free time. I felt too antsy, it was too quiet in the house without my husband around (he was at a composer residency this whole past month).

Anyway, instead of reading I spent my time working on a drawing (which I haven’t done in YEARS) and re-watching The Sopranos. Such an amazing show; I never get sick of that one. Other stuff I did in September instead of reading: my favorite bar closed so I had to go over there one (okay, more than one) last time, watched the Packers go 3–0 (best start in a while!), saw members of ICE perform at UCM in Warrensburg, reviewed The Manhattan Transfer and Take 6, and my parents came for a visit last weekend.

What did you read in September? What are you looking forward to this fall?

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 have BARELY read anything for a couple of weeks! I’m still stalled at about 35% through Black Mass by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, and I fully admit to starting both Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff (only about 20 pages) and Slash by Slash with Anthony Bozza (again just about 20 pages in). I just can’t seem to concentrate on one book at a time at the moment. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to pick up a copy of Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last tomorrow! ;)

I had a busy weekend—my parents were visiting and we had a nice dinner out at Westside Local on Friday night, then City Market and the Plaza Art Fair on Saturday. This week is going to be nuts too—tonight is the Chiefs at Packers on Monday Night Football (go pack!), tomorrow and thursday I have orchestra rehearsals, Wednesday night Nick comes home from his month-long residency (yay!), and this weekend will be full of work/alma mater activities. I’m already tired just thinking about it, but it’ll be lots of fun too.

What are you reading this week?

the beautiful bureaucrat

I couldn’t resist checking out The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips after seeing it all over the book blogs, despite the mixed reviews. Edited from Goodreads:

In a windowless building in a remote part of town, the newly employed Josephine inputs an endless string of numbers into something known only as “The Database.” After a long period of joblessness, she’s not inclined to question her fortune, but as the days inch by and the files stack up, Josephine feels increasingly anxious in her surroundings. When one evening her husband Joseph disappears, her creeping unease shifts decidedly to dread. As other strange events build to a crescendo, the haunting truth about Josephine’s work begins to take shape in her mind, even as something powerful is gathering its own form within her. She realizes she must penetrate an institution whose tentacles seem to extend to every corner of the city and beyond.

I feel like I’m in the middle on this one. It wasn’t as crazy and out there as I was expecting, and not quite as good overall as I was hoping. But I did like it enough to finish it (very short anyway, only about 170 pages) and I was left thinking afterwards. There seemed to be quite a few religious themes, or more like subtle undertones. For most of the story, Phillips takes the reader along on a compelling mental thriller, set in a familiar yet slightly dystopian future. The money struggles and futile, mindless job toiling will be recognizable to many in today’s economic climate… but it is quirky with enough twists and turns to make it interesting and not boring.

I wish the characters had been more fleshed out (they were described with one major physical attribute—bad breath, pink outfit, etc.) and the anagram wordplay was so annoying (“Gonna yin. Nag inn yo.” like that) that I started skipping over those parts. The end wasn’t executed as well as all that lead up to it; it was rushed, conveniently tied up. I feel like The Beautiful Bureaucrat could have either been shorter or longer than it was. Despite these minor quibbles, it was a real page turner right up until the end.

Read from September 5 to 6, 2015.

top ten tuesday: fall 2015 tbr

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.

September 22: Top ten books on my fall 2015 tbr

Jumping back in on Top Ten Tuesday! I love making the seasonal TBR lists, even though I rarely make it through them. It’s fun to dream. Anyway, you might recognize a few of these off my summer TBR list… that I never got around to…! This fall has been so busy already so I don’t have many expectations, especially if I go with a couple of these chunksters here—that might be about all I can do! But all these books look so amazing, I still can’t wait to dig in.

fall tbr

  • A Little Life … Hanya Yanagihara
  • Black Mass … Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill (in progress)
  • City on Fire … Garth Risk Hallberg
  • Dead Mountain … Donnie Eichar
  • Fates and Furies … Lauren Groff
  • The Heart Goes Last … Margaret Atwood
  • The Last Pilot …Benjamin Johncock
  • Slash … Slash with Anthony Bozza
  • Station Eleven … Emily St. John Mandel
  • The Troop … Nick Cutter

And of course I have books from my TBR Pile Challenge and Ebook Challenge to read… sigh! I think I’m (almost) ready to throw in the towel on those challenges.

What’s on your reading list for the fall?

it’s monday! what are you reading?

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

Still behind here on a couple of book reviews and reading Black Mass, actually… I ended up doing a lot of stuff in the evenings after work last week—rehearsal, concert, hanging with friends. Over the weekend I got to about halfway through Black Mass and two new books came to my house:

imwayr 9.22Slash by Shlash with Anthony Bozza and Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff. I don’t know what to read first! AND I still want to get going on City on Fire by Garth Risk Hallberg so I’m at least close to finishing by the time it’s released… oh man it’s going to be a good fall for reading.

What are you reading this week?

manhattan transfer + take 6

KCMetropolis.orgI feel like it’s been a long time since I’ve posted a KCMetropolis review here. Summers are always slow (except for Fringe Festival, which I did cover and shared my complete list of coverage here), so I supposed this is my first solid review of the new season!

I had the pleasure of seeing two revered vocal groups at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts on last week: The Manhattan Transfer and Take 6. I’d only heard recordings and seen YouTube clips—they were fantastic live! There’s not much more to say about such well-known, respected singers. It was just a really energized, engaging, fun show; both groups did a bunch of memorable hits in really interesting arrangements. The Manhattan Transfer kept it classic with more vocalese jazz standards, and Take 6 went for more pop, gospel, and R&B. Seeing them together felt like a once-in-a-lifetime sort of event. I enjoyed it a lot, despite the monsoon I had to drive home in!

Read my full review on

it’s monday! what are you reading?

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

Oh jeez. It’s been quite another week around here. I meant to get three book review posts done, but just was swamped both at work and in the evenings. My orchestra rehearsals have started up, and then my favorite bar closed on Saturday, boo!! :'( I had to go in for one last cocktail. Good news though, we can celebrate the Packer win yesterday! :)

On the book front, I finished my Labor Day mini-readathon a few days later than expected. Reviews coming this week (for real!):

  • Our Souls at Night … Kent Haruf
  • The Beautiful Bureaucrat … Helen Phillips
  • Between the World and Me … Ta-Nehisi Coates

And I promptly picked up Black Mass by Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill. I can’t believe the movie is coming out this Friday—I hope I finish in time before then!

What are you reading this week?

our souls at night

Over Labor Day weekend, I decided to have a mini-readathon with the three short books that all happened to come through at the library for me at the same time. First up was Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf. From Goodreads:

In the familiar setting of Holt, Colorado, home to all of Kent Haruf’s inimitable fiction, Addie Moore pays an unexpected visit to a neighbor, Louis Waters. Her husband died years ago, as did his wife, and in such a small town they naturally have known of each other for decades; in fact, Addie was quite fond of Louis’s wife. His daughter lives hours away in Colorado Springs, her son even farther away in Grand Junction, and Addie and Louis have long been living alone in houses now empty of family, the nights so terribly lonely, especially with no one to talk with.

A lot of other reviews use the words “bittersweet” and “sad” to describe this book, and I definitely agree. Haruf does an amazing job of bringing out the feelings of loneliness, and our innate need for intimacy and companionship. The prose is spare and simple, but beautifully constructed. It was a perfect little book (only about 170 pages) for a readathon, and a touching story about not giving up on your future and really living, no matter your age. Their conversations were heartbreaking sometimes, but their bravery in starting a new chapter at their age was inspiring.

I think though, I had trouble with how quickly Addie and Louis’s relationship moved—just didn’t find it all that believable. I also struggled with the behaviors and attitudes of their adult children… if you read it you’ll see what I mean.

Our Souls at Night was worth reading for me, though, but probably because it was so short. This was my first and only Haruf read, and I’m not sure it affected me so much to want to read more of his books. Maybe you need to be an established fan to appreciate this one more than I did. I also think I’m riding a non-fiction wave right now and fiction just isn’t doing it for me in general at the moment.

Read from September 4 to 5, 2015.

it’s labor day! what are you reading?

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

Today is Labor Day in the United States, and I’m grateful for this paid holiday off work. While I love a good grill out on a day off such as this, I also like to reflect, remember, and read about the history of this holiday and all we’ve achieved thanks to hardworking union members. I know it’s not much, but to honor those that have fought and sacrificed (and died) for a decent living wage, fair hours, weekends off, and myriad policies we all benefit from today, I’m reading a bit more of There is Power in a Union by Philip Dray today. I have it on ebook, and it’s a chunkster, so you know those always take me a while to get through. I’ll probably also read a chapter or two more of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States. I’ve also come across some great articles online this morning:

insta1During this three-day weekend I also had a sort of mini-readathon for myself, finishing Our Souls at Night by Kent HarufThe Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips, and (almost done with) Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. Reviews coming this week!

Otherwise, I’m having a lot of fun with my (old) new stereo set up. I had my mom’s old Dual 1019 turntable from the 70s all through high school—besides my guitars it was my favorite thing I had. I didn’t bring it with me when I left for college because I was first in the dorms, then I didn’t want to subject it to frequent apartment moves. stereoAnd after graduating, I felt like I might be on the verge of moving to a different city anytime, so why bring it down then? Well anyway I finally decided I wanted it, moving issues be damned, and I’m so glad! My dad fixed it up and helped me gather up the other components I needed. Nick and I are having a blast listening to records at home!

Another thing I recently started was an Instagram account. You can see the thumbnails in the right-hand column here on my blog now. I’m having a lot of fun with it, even though it can be a little awkward using an iPad mini and my regular camera instead of an iPhone. Follow me at @kristinshafel!

instagram fun

Lastly: I hit my 6th blogoversary about a week ago! And also 500 followers this week! Thank you for joining me here :)

What are you reading this week?

the long walk

I can’t remember when I picked up The Long Walk by Stephen King (as Richard Bachman)… it was a gift for my husband a while ago. He recently read it and asked me to read it so we could talk about it. Book club! :) From Goodreads:

Every year, on the first day of May, one hundred teenage boys meet for an event known throughout the country as “The Long Walk.” Among this year’s chosen crop is sixteen-year-old Ray Garraty. He knows the rules: that warnings are issued if you fall under speed, stumble, sit down. That after three warnings… you get your ticket. And what happens then serves as a chilling reminder that there can be only one winner in the Walk—the one that survives…

What I thought would be a typical teen dystopia in the vein of The Hunger Games (never read, seen the movies) turned out to be something else entirely. Participation in the Long Walk is voluntary, and for much of the book that bothered me. I thought that it should be mandatory, a lottery or something (like in Hunger Games) but THEN I thought, no. This must be voluntary. Boys selected for the Long Walk against their will would protest—they’d flee the country and go into hiding, anything to get out of it. Citizens would be in an uproar (think the Vietnam draft… and that was for a war! This is just for “The Prize” at the end, anything the winner wants for the rest of his life). Oohh… is this book an allegory for military service?? Anyway, brilliant.

King makes subtle statements on adolescent masculinity in our culture, which I’ve noticed in other books of his. But in The Long Walk, it might be the first King book I’ve read without any supernatural elements. This makes the idea of a military state in the (near?) future, where we’d cheer 100 boys literally walking to their deaths frighteningly plausible. In The Long Walk, much of the “action” is cerebral—the internal dialogue and philosophical musings of Ray, mostly. But King is so talented at character development, he manages to keep a the repetitive, singular activity of walking compelling for almost 400 pages. Also in this one, there are no subplots or intersecting storylines. It’s just the Walk, from start to finish. There’s intense, relentless focus on the boys’ horrifying physical and mental breakdowns after hours and miles of walking without rest.

The Long Walk came out in 1979, but it still has many points relevant to today’s American culture—some shockingly so. I was especially struck by how similar the feel of the Long Walk event is to reality competition shows, in that people voluntarily put themselves in the spotlight competing to win (whatever), usually at their own or others’ expense (dignity), risk, and suffering. And how society is addicted to this kind of sick voyeurism.

Awesome book, I loved it! If you’re looking for a psychological thriller with some elements of horror and dystopia that will keep you thinking about it long after, check out The Long Walk. It would be a great warm-up for Halloween!

Read from August 23 to September 3, 2015.