ten books i picked up on a whim

Tuesday, May 17, 2016 | | 2 comments

I think we’re all nostalgic about something or other, and as a person who writes about books, I am sometimes nostalgic for the days when book discovery was looser and freer.  When I was a teen I browsed the library (or occasionally store!) shelves and picked up whatever looked good, regardless of genre.  A pretty book cover doesn’t necessarily discriminate between fiction or nonfiction, or age-appropriateness!  That said, I’m much happier in general with the quality of the fiction I’m reading now that I mostly go on recommendations.  But in keeping with this week’s theme, here are some of the books I recently picked up on a whim (free of recommendations – from anyone!).

Ten Books I Picked Up On a Whim


1. Reading Jackie: Her Autobiography in Books by William Kuhn – I visited Dallas earlier this year to see a dear friend who relocated to Texas.  We went to the Book Depository, the building from which Lee Harvey Oswald (allegedly) shot JFK.  It’s an interesting museum, and I learned quite a lot.  I picked up this book in the museum shop because it looked interesting, and because I had no idea that Jackie Kennedy Onassis worked in publishing!

2. The Christmas Eve Tree by Delia Huddy, illustrated by Emily Sutton – When I was at BEA this last week, I did one last ‘wander’ around the convention exhibits floor before I left.  Candlewick was closing up shop and giving away all of their display titles.  I happened to pick this one up, and I’m so glad I did! I LOVED it, and have already written & scheduled my review for September.

3. Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho – This title and the next one were books I picked up while browsing at Amazon Books, the new Amazon bookshop concept in Seattle.  I was there with my mom, sister-in-law and aunt, and I was the only one who picked up anything to purchase.  We had a great time checking out the unique layout and sharing our opinions afterwards, though!

4. The Wolves of Willoughby Chase by Joan Aiken – As I mentioned in my review of the Amazon Books shop, they had an interesting (and limited) selection of titles.  This was one of the few older titles on the shelf, so I picked it up, and then realized I had to have it.

5. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin – There used to be a bookshop in Skaneateles, New York, where my grandmother and uncles live (and since they host Thanksgiving and Easter, I visit!).  It was right across the way from the bakery, so when I was sent out to get fresh bread I’d pop into the bookstore.  I picked this up on one of those little trips, mostly because it was about books and I recognized the author name.


6. Stay Where You Are and Then Leave by John Boyne – As an adult I have certain requirements when I travel: there must be good food, good museums, and a bookshop visit.  I went to Ireland with friends in 2013, and had an amazing time. Some of my favorite souvenirs were the books I picked up from a shop in Dublin, including a signed copy of this middle grade title (which I still haven’t read)(no judgement).

7. Armada by Eric Cline – The story of this one is simple.  My friend Melissa sent out an email to our book club asking if anyone wanted the book. I replied back first.

8. The Vegetarian Epicure by Anna Thomas – My mother used this cookbook all the time when I was growing up.  I saw this at a book sale a few years back and immediately added it to my library. Another step on the (mostly unconscious) life journey to turn into my mother? Maybe.

9. Pip Bartlett’s Guide to Magical Creatures  by Jackson Pearce & Maggie Stiefvater – There’s a Barnes & Noble bookstore around the corner from the Apple Store I frequent, so I go there to wait and browse a few times a year (hey look! books! entertainment!). I picked up this title and then next one on one of those journeys.

10. Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Meg Hunt – I didn’t mean to read this book at all – I just wanted to look at the pictures. But it’s really too cute for words, so I ended up finishing it right in the store. Art can make or break a book!

What’s the last book you picked up on a whim?

10 things to warm a bookworm’s heart

Friday, April 29, 2016 | | 5 comments
It’s a gray, rainy day here in D.C., and though that reminds me of my hometown (Seattle!), it also feels dreary after a few beautiful spring days last week.  When I feel my mood plummeting, I try to think of good things, favorite things (like Julie Andrews sang about in The Sound of Music!)(yes, I’m a Pollyanna)(sometimes)(and I'm okay with that).  I missed the official Top Ten Tuesday for this topic, but I thought my list was worth sharing anyway.  So, here are the top 10 things that warm my bookworm heart, created with help from my sister Virginia and friend Melissa.





1. Sunny spot in a coffee shop
2. Gift cards to book stores
3. Book-themed t-shirts, socks, coasters, etc.
4. Seeing strangers reading a book I love “out in the wild”
5. Book club (and book club friends)
6. Library hold shelf – if you don’t feel like browsing or interacting with anyone, you can still borrow books!
7. New book smell
8. A whole day set aside for reading
9. Favorite reading spot on the couch or in bed, with mandatory fuzzy blanket
10. Hot Dudes Reading Instagram account… self-explanatory

What are some things that warm your book-loving heart?

saga, volume 1

I see buzz on Twitter about the Saga comic series when it wins awards – and each collected graphic novel volume seems to win several apiece.  It sometimes feels like a year-round buzz cycle (in fact, the only comic my feed loves more is Ms. Marvel. which, for the record, I also enjoyed).  It was inevitable that I’d finally take a look, especially when I realized that there was good female representation and the premise was “journey in space.” I picked up Saga, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and illustrated by Fiona Staples after I saw a great deal in the Book Riot email list, so I now know what all the fuss is about.

saga by brian k. vaughn cover
When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old universe.

From bestselling writer Brian K. Vaughan, Saga is the sweeping tale of one young family fighting to find their place in the worlds. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in this sexy, subversive drama for adults.

Brian K. Vaughan has created an adult comic (I feel like I have to clarify that it’s adult, because YA is my default expectation for this space) for fans of science fiction, star-crossed love and action adventure.  The first volume has a lot going on: birth, death, berserker rages, interspecies conflict, a sex planet, ghosts, crazy spaceships, and a life-changing romance novel (that bit made me laugh)(in a good way).

This comic does a lot of things well: multiple threads of story tied into the main plot line via an unusual omniscient narrator, exciting visuals, star-crossed love just fighting to survive, and humorous dialogue throughout.  It is also a set-up for a wide-ranging epic, but the volume has enough skirmishes, close calls, and surprises to make it satisfying and interesting as a standalone.

That said, I was not impressed by main heroine Alana’s dialogue. Whether it fits the character in the context of the series or not, I can’t say.  I was just disappointed to read pages of the jealous/nagging wife cliché when there were other more interesting (and life-threatening!) things going on at the same time.  So that bit into my enjoyment – and I am going to skip reading further volumes.  The one plot thread that really got its hooks into me was that of the Robot Prince – I thought the robot royal characters seemed really innovative and suited to the comics medium.

If you’ve been thinking you’d like to “try” comics, like science fiction, and don’t care for superheroes, Saga is a good place to start.  Just be aware that this first volume pulls no punches – it’s R-rated.  And if you’re more of a fantasy fan, I’d suggest starting out with Bill Willingham’s Fables.

Recommended for: comics newbies and veterans alike – basically anyone interested in a complex space adventure with enough action to keep the story moving and enough depth to hook most readers for the long haul.

what should i read before i visit paris?

I signed up for a cheap flight list this past fall, and I watched the deals arrive in my inbox every week: a mistake fare from Toronto to Italy here, an incredible deal from San Francisco to Shanghai there. It didn’t feel like I would ever find that elusive combo of timing, price, and departure and destination cities that would work for me.  Then one day it happened.  A trip from New York (easily accessible from DC) to Paris, for less than the cost of my annual trips home to Seattle.  I picked my dates and booked a late-September trip to Paris! 

It hit me a couple of days later: I don’t know anything about Paris (or France!), AND I don’t speak French.  Spanish, sí.  Portuguese, sim.  French, non!  Cue: research time!  I ordered the latest Lonely Planet Paris travel guide, followed the advice on Oh Happy Day!’s guide to booking a Parisian AirBnB, and then I downloaded the Duolingo language learning app to my phone.  So I’m working on the language, and I’ve got my lodging and the general logistics figured out. 

BUT.  I want to be a little more prepared than that.  I want to have some vivid images in my mind’s eye to compare to the real thing. I read A Tale of Two Cities in high school, but I couldn’t think of another Paris-set book that had made a lasting impression.  So, I needed to construct a Paris-centric reading list.  Nothing too ambitious, you understand – just enough to give me a taste and keep me excited for my trip in the months to come. I asked friends and family for recommendations and put one book on the list that I’d been meaning to read anyway.

Books on my Paris reading list:

paris reading list

The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery – I’ve owned this book for several years, but I haven’t read it.  It was recommended with high praise.

French Milk by Lucy Knisley – I read (and loved!) Knisley’s graphic memoir Relish, but I don’t know if I would have ever picked up this earlier comic if I hadn’t been planning my trip.

A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway – I’ve only ever read Hemingway’s short stories, but my friend (and all-things-French expert!) Lauren suggested this one.

Paris Buildings and Monuments by Michel Poisson – My uncles are architects, gourmets and world travelers.  They lent me this out-of-print book so that I can get up to speed on the visual environment I’ll be experiencing.

Well friends, I want to open the floor to you.  What else MUST I read before I go to Paris?
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