Finished Books: The Two Lives of Miss Charlotte Merryweather

The Two Lives of Miss Charlotte Merryweather by Alexandra Potter

7146880

  • Published: March 2010
  • Pages: 400

Summary from Goodreads: From the “fantastically funny” (Elle), “sharp” (Salon) author of the international bestseller Me and Mr. Darcy, an enchanting drive down the road not taken, in the most surprising company.

At age thirty-one, American Charlotte Merryweather has spent ten years in London pursuing personal and professional perfection. Yet her present-day success- heading her own PR company, owning a gorgeous apartment, planning a future with her devoted boyfriend- only heightens the shock of a visit from the past.

“Lottie,” Charlotte’s twenty-one-year-old self, drives onto the scene at the wheel of a rusty, orange Volkswagen Beetle identical to Charlotte’s first UK ride. Charlotte pursues a friendship aimed to bestow upon Lottie a decade of wisdom. Yet Charlotte’s prosperous polish proves a pale substitute for Lottie’s innate, youthful graces- openness, passion, and kindness. Will the student become the teacher in this witty turnabout?

The clever plotting and winning characterization that made Me and Mr. Darcy a bestseller are on full display in these pages.”

I’m not always in the mood to read a thought-provoking book.  After Delicious Foods, I just needed brain-candy.  This book fit the bill perfectly.  It was light-hearted and amusing, though not as well-developed as I may have wanted.

Charlotte has established herself in the PR world in London, which may appeal to people who want to read about PR or who enjoy a London setting.  A lot of the book focuses on various aspects of how busy she is and one of her recent clients.

When she sees her old VW Beetle going down a street she used to drive all the time, Charlotte takes a trip down memory lane and ends up back in 1997.  She encounters her younger self at a local pub and decides she needs to change everything about herself, including her hair, her wardrobe, and with whom she sleeps.  This should, perhaps, be a clue that she’s not actually happy with who she’s become, including her successful career, her successful (if boring) boyfriend, and barely being able to spend time with her friends or family.

Obviously the reader must accept a bit of magical realism to believe that she can continually go back and spend time with herself from the past.  It did bug me that she dropped a call almost every time she went back in time and never figured out why (cell phone towers were not as prevalent in 1997!).

This book would be good for fans of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary for the London setting.  Both books also have a sense of self-exploration and discovering oneself.  Also good for fans of early Jane Green novels such as Bookends, Mr. Maybe, and Babyville.  All are light-hearted and amusing depictions of twenty- or thirty-somethings figuring out who they are and finding love.  And, if I remember correctly, they’re all set in London as well.

Finished Books: Delicious Foods

So, you might have to bear with me for awhile as I find my voice when reviewing books.  I want my reviews to be helpful for other librarians when providing suggestions to their patrons.  However, I also want the review to indicate my feelings on the book, too.  It will take time to reach a happy medium.  I also haven’t done much writing recently, so everything might be a little clunky while I search for the right words to describe my thoughts (and the books).

Delicious Foods by James Hannaham

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  • Published: March 2015
  • Pages: 384

Summary from Goodreads: “Darlene, a young widow and mother devastated by the death of her husband, turns to drugs to erase the trauma. In this fog of grief, she is lured with the promise of a great job to a mysterious farm run by a shady company, with disastrous consequences for both her and her eleven-year-old son, Eddie–left behind in a panic-stricken search for her.

Delicious Foods tells the gripping story of three unforgettable characters: a mother, her son, and the drug that threatens to destroy them. In Darlene’s haunted struggle to reunite with Eddie, and in the efforts of both to triumph over those who would enslave them, Hannaham’s daring and shape-shifting prose not only infuses their desperate circumstances with grace and humor, but also wrestles with timeless questions of love and freedom.”

Winner of the Pen Faulkner award in 2015, Delicious Foods by James Hannaham is a dark, gritty book that is not ideal for a gentle reader.  The book opens with young Eddie escaping to Minnesota with recently amputated hands in a car the reader soon learns is not his.  Some readers might give up on the book at this point.  But if one forges ahead past the prologue, one will experience a beautiful and compelling story.

Toward the beginning of the book, the timeline shifts between times in Darlene’s past in college and early adulthood to times during Eddie’s childhood.  Most of the story comes when Eddie is 11 years old and Darlene disappears.  Readers will empathize with Eddie as he relentlessly searches for his mother, relying on school food and a concerned local baker to avoid starvation.  Darlene, whose experience with racism and grief drove her to drugs and prostitution, makes choices that has even “Scotty,” her drug of choice and narrator of her story, questioning her actions at times.  The relationship of these two characters is continually tested over the course of the book, but they don’t give up.  Although at times belated, they do everything they can to remain a family.

Life on the farm is not easy for anyone and Hannaham’s depictions of modern-day slavery will leave readers wondering if there are still places that operate like the “Delicious Foods” corporation.  The struggles of the characters in this book are brought to life with lyrical prose that elicits vivid images of the characters and their environment.  Some scenes in the book are quite violent, where people are being beaten for insubordination or disobedience or just because the foreman wants to beat someone.  Sometimes the character doing the beating seems to enjoy it perhaps a bit too much.

While there are definitely dark aspects to this book, there are points that are rather amusing, as well.  Charley the rat, whose fur is missing in places from too much scratching, comes to mind.  As does the couple of times when Scotty realizes that if he thinks something is a bad idea, it can’t be good.

The ending of the story bring hope for the characters.  It feels like a happy ending despite everything they have been through and the changes to their lives.  Things aren’t perfect, but they are looking up.

Rating: 3 stars

[A note about my ratings: I take the Goodreads suggestions for each of their stars at their word.  I liked this book, so it gets 3 stars.  I also rarely give 5-star ratings because I very infrequently love a book so very much that I would consider it “amazing.”  Plus, I typically only consider books 5 stars if I am willing to reread it.  If I don’t like a book, I probably won’t finish it, so there won’t be too many 1-star ratings, either.  Unless it was for book club.  Sometimes that will happen.]

Reading Resolutions for 2017

After three years, I believe it is time to return to this blog and perhaps change it up a bit. This will turn into a place for me to record my reviews of books I read. I might continue to discuss library programming ideas. It might occasionally devolve into discussion about knitting. I mean, llamas (and their cousins, alpacas), make lovely fiber and yarn. I’m just staying true to my name.

books

Stacked book picture from Wikimedia Commons

What better way to return to a blog that left off on resolutions than to state new resolutions? By revisiting my previous goals, I find that I still have a lot to learn. Many of my goals for this year, which I made before deciding to revive this blog, will be similar to those from three years ago. Apparently.

  1. Goodreads Challenge = 60 books. This number is significantly lower than the number of books I read in the past couple of years (80 and 77). I listened to a fair number of audiobooks during those years, but I don’t have as much time to do that as I used to. I’m listening to significantly more podcasts and doing other activities which do not allow me to read with my ears. The lower number also reflects my desire to write more reviews and annotations on the books I read, which will take away from my reading time, too.
  2. Each month, read an author from the ARRT Popular Fiction list. As NoveList puts it, this list is “a straightforward and enjoyable way to evaluate and broaden anyone’s reading experience.” Since becoming a librarian, I have had the opportunity to expand my reading horizons, but I still have gaps to fill in.
  3. Each month, read a book that fits into the Iowa Readers’ Advisory Roundtable genre. For 2017, the Iowa RART has chosen Narrative Nonfiction for reviews. I did not participate last year, but, in an effort to continually grow and expand my reading horizons, I need to make an effort to read and review for this group. It is a good opportunity to practice my review skills with a group that can give me critiques on the quality of my reviews.
  4. Write a review for each book I read. Self-explanatory. The more I write, the better I will get. The more I evaluate the books I read, the better I will be able to discuss books with library patrons.
  5. Don’t freak out. I probably won’t be able to do all of the above all of the time. It’s okay. Every little bit helps.

There you have it.  Some changes to the blog.  Some changes to my reading habits.  Some changes to my review-writing abilities.

Top Ten Tuesday – Top 10 Reading Resolutions for 2014

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week, participating bloggers respond to the given topic with their own top 10 list.  I participate as time allows and as the theme appeals to me.

Running a little late on this one today.  Good thing none of my resolutions have to do with doing things on time.

I’m not that big on making resolutions.  However, I already have several goals in mind for what/how I want to read this year.  All of the goals kind of mingle together, with the general theme being that I want to become more familiar with common authors and genres.

Multiple books by different authors in different genres

A sampling of many different books
Photo CC by Joe Shlabotnik

The ultimate goal is to improve my skills as a future readers’ advisor librarian.  Reading across the board is just the first step.

  1. Read (in general).  When I was younger I used to read all the time.  You would rarely find me without a book.  Entering adulthood, I was overwhelmed with other responsibilities (mostly involving choices that make it seem like I have been in school eternally).  I turned to other methods of decompressing.  As I near graduation, though, I want to return to enjoying reading as a hobby.
  2. Read outside my comfort zone.  I know the authors and genres of books that will be an easy, entertaining read for me, without too much brain power.  These books have fulfilled a need: rest, relax, don’t think too hard (usually after a semester has ended).  But I want to expand my reading selections.  I want to discover new authors and was recently surprised by a book outside my typical genre choices.
  3. Complete the Literary Exploration Challenge.  To complement the previous goal, I want to read from a variety of genres.  Following the Literary Exploration Challenge, I am going to attempt the Insane Challenge to explore a multitude of new books.  I may even throw in aspects from a couple of other reading challenges I have seen, such as choosing a book that meets a certain theme or whose title includes a certain keyword.
  4. Read 50 books.  That number is a little intimidating to me, but I do not think it is unachievable (particularly if I complete the Reading Challenge).  In fact, I hope to read more than that, but I want to aim for some number.  I have seen people participating in the Goodreads challenges in the past.  This year I have pledged my number.  Apparently Goodreads will tell you when you are falling behind (or so I’ve heard; I have yet to experience the “friendly reminder”).
  5. Read new books.  This probably seems ridiculous for most people who keep up-to-date with all the new books.  Honestly, because I have been so removed from most books for what feels like so long, I would not feel comfortable talking to people about books, particularly new books.  If I was to go through the “Must-read” and “Best of” lists from the last, oh… 10 years, the number of “Read” books would be very, very low.
  6. Catch up on old books.   There are household names whose books I never read.  One of my goals this year is to fit some of those books and some of those authors into my reading.
  7. Learn to write book reviews/annotations.  Many of the reviews I read seem to contain the majority of the book review clichés contained in this Examiner article (thanks to Molly at wrapped up in books for sharing this).  I need to find examples of good reviewers and learn what works and what does not work.
  8. Learn appeal factors and what makes a good read-alike.  I follow Becky over at RA for All and plan to use the categories from the reviews on her students’ blog as a guideline for information to include in my practice reviews.  I also love the way Becky chooses books as read-alikes.  She does not just use the theme of the book or the genre (which is an easy trap to fall into), but rather the tone, pace, setting, etc.
  9. Learn to speed read/skim books.  These books will not be included in my total of actual books read for the year.  This will just be an exercise as a method of becoming familiar with more books and authors very quickly, learning the writing style, pacing, and basic format.  There is certainly no replacement for actually reading a book, but there is also no way to read every book ever written.
  10. Don’t stress out about not completing any of the above. I do not need to be perfect.  I do not need to achieve everything.  I have a lot of other hobbies and still at least one semester left of graduate school.  I need to make sure I give myself a break.

What are your goals for reading this year?  If you met your goals last year, share them in the comments.

Top Ten Tuesday – Top 10 Books I would recommend to Aunt Judy

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme created by The Broke and the Bookish. Each week, participating bloggers respond to the given topic with their own top 10 list.  I participate as time allows and as the theme appeals to me.

My aunt Judy is the reason I started reading any sort of murder-mysteries or thrillers.  One holiday weekend when I was visiting, we were headed to the beach and I had nothing to read, so I grabbed Sue Grafton’s A is for Alibi off her shelf.

I have since found out from speaking to her that she really enjoys crime and mystery novels that have strong women protagonists.  She also tends to read a lot of books in series.  I know for a fact she enjoys Sue Grafton, Janet Evanovich, Kathy Reichs, and Tess Gerritsen.

For today’s top 10, I have come up with 10 crime or mystery series featuring women protagonists that I think aunt Judy should try.

Pictures of five covers of the first books in the series

  1. Inspector Lynley series by Elizabeth George – One of the main characters is Detective Sergeant Barbara Havers who, along with Detective Inspector Thomas “Tommy” Lynley investigate crimes.
  2. … in Death series by J. D. Robb – Although I am not sure the future setting of this will necessarily appeal to her, I think that aunt Judy would at least give the book a try.  If the writing and stories are satisfactory, I think she is able to get past futuristic settings when reading.
  3. Women’s Murder Club series by James Patterson – Featuring four leading ladies of different professions, this series is likely to intrigue her.
  4. Joanna Brady series by J. A. Jance – I’m not entirely sure how she’ll feel about the Arizona setting, it may not affect her at all.  Again, if the story is compelling, I don’t think setting is an issue.
  5. Kay Scarpetta series by Patricia Cornwell – Reminiscent of Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli and Isles books, or even Kathy Reichs’s Temperence Brennan books, Dr. Kay Scarpetta sounds like a character that would fit in well with what aunt Judy already reads.Pictures of 5 more titles I would recommend to my aunt
  6. Charlotte McNally series by Hank Phillippi Ryan – She seems to go for more traditionally police or doctor-detective type characters, but I think she would be willing to at least try a book about a TV investigative reporter trying to solve crimes.
  7. Jessie Drake series by Rochelle Krich – Another female detective investigating murders that she probably has not read yet.
  8. Irene Kelly Mystery series by Jan Burke – Based in Southern California, much like the Kinsey Milhone books by Sue Grafton, a reporter uncovers secrets as she digs for the truth behind mysteries.
  9. Cordelia Gray series by P. D. James – There are only two books in this series, but I think the character would be one that aunt Judy would really enjoy: a newly-minted private investigator.
  10. Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series by Laurie R. King – The leading female character in this might be a bit young (15 years old) compared to what she normally reads, but, again, I think she is willing to give most books a shot.  I like the Sherlock Holmes aspect of the book, but it would be interesting to see what aunt Judy’s reaction to it would be.

There you have it.  Ten book series I think my aunt Judy should read.  They won’t really expand outside her preferred genre, and that’s okay.  There certainly are plenty of lead female characters to choose from in the murder-mystery arena.

Go for the Gold! – Adult Winter Reading Program

I do not yet work in a public library.  But someday, when I do, I want to make sure that the library offers reading programs for adults.  Even the small public library I worked at in high school had a children’s summer reading program, but nothing for adults.  If the children get the summer, the adults can have the winter.

Olympic-Themed Adult Winter Reading Program

Because 2014 is a year for Winter Olympics (my favorite), I thought it would be neat to plan a Winter Reading Program based loosely on the Olympics.  I looked at several different adult winter reading programs that libraries around the country offer (which I will list below) to come up with an idea that would work with an Olympic theme.  Here is the video promo I created for the program:

The Reading Challenges for the Winter Reading Program

The San Luis Obispo County Library hosted an Adult Winter Reading Program in 2013 that required participants to complete 8 different reading accomplishments and watch a DVD in order to win a prize.  I liked that their challenges required participants to go outside their comfort zones at least a little bit and explored multiple areas of the collection.  They even called it a bit like a scavenger hunt, which is fun, too.  I used some of their challenges and adapted others to create some new ones:

  1. Read one of the books that was on the New York Times bestseller list December 22, 2013 (which would be the list just after the official start of winter).
  2. Read a fiction or non-fiction book with an animal in the title.
  3. Watch a DVD and then listen to the movie soundtrack.
  4. Read a non-fiction book dealing with music, conspiracies, or travel.
  5. Listen to or read a book published in 2011 or later on audiobook or e-book format.
  6. Read a fiction or non-fiction book set in or about a particular season.
  7. Read a collection of short stories.
  8. Read a book written by a Russian or Eastern European author.
  9. Read a fiction or non-fiction book set in the 18th century.
  10. Attend a program from the approved list of programs.

Earning Olympic reading medals

Unlike the San Luis Obispo County Library, my Adult Winter Reading Program does not require everyone to complete all the challenges in order to compete for prizes.  To fit with the Olympic theme, readers can earn medals based on the number of challenges they complete.

  • Bronze medal – To win a bronze medal, participants must complete 5 of the reading challenges
  • Silver medal – To win a silver medal, participants must complete 8 of the reading challenges
  • Gold medal – To win a gold medal, participants must complete all 10 reading challenges

Prizes

Like all good competitions, there must be prizes!  It would be really neat to create merchandise specifically for this program, like cups, pens/pencils, magnets, post-it notes, tote bags, T-shirts and the like that had a fun Olympic-y logo.  However, that can be very expensive and library budgets are suffering.

Instead, this would be a good opportunity to connect with local businesses and try to garner donations in the form of gift cards or other free merchandise.  It is good for them because it gets their name out and it is good for the library because it gives them prizes.

Other Adult Public Library Winter Reading Programs

  • The Normal Public Library Adult Winter Reading Program has adults log how many minutes they spend reading.  I like that parents reading to their children can count towards their minutes spent reading.
  • Since 2009, the Kansas City Public Library has been hosting a themed Adult Winter Reading Program to “encourage leisure reading among adults.”  I like that they encourage people to read beyond their comfort zone and promote potentially overlooked books.  They provide suggested reading lists that support the theme such as:
  • While the City Sleeps entices readers to explore fiction and nonfiction, the interplay of light and dark, the shadows of the human soul and the brightness of the human spirit.

  • The Timberland Regional Library Adult Winter Reading Program from 2013 had several grand prizes which participants could win.  Every time participants finished five books and completed the reading program form, they were entered to win a grand prize.  I like that readers can enter more than once if they have read an additional five books.
  • The Marion County Public Library System hosted a “Let it Snow” Adult Reading Program.  Participants who finish at least one book and submit their reading log are eligible to win a “Literary Latte” basket.  The library also encourage participants to come in on Tuesday mornings for coffee, tea, and treats to discuss what they are reading with other readers.  They also offer help with e-readers during that time (and I’m sure at other times, too).  I like the social aspect included in this program.
  • The Monroe County Public Library combines adults and teens together in one Winter Reading Program.  There are winners drawn for weekly prizes as well as drawings for grand prizes at the end of the program.  I like the weekly drawings because it probably keeps the momentum going for some people.

For even more ideas, be sure to check out these other library winter reading programs:

Does your library do an Adult Winter Reading Program?

If so, how is it set up?  What do you require of your readers?  What has been most successful (or not) for your particular library?  Do you know why something did or did not work?  Share your stories in the comments below.

Adult Programming Ideas for International Games Day at the Library

Happy 11-12-13!

Picture of tiles from Rummikub

It’s 11-12-13!  Like the Rummikub tiles for a post on games?  I do. 🙂
CC via der_dennis on Flicker

It is easy to fall into the mindset that games are for kids or that adults do not really play games.  But for International Games Day (IGD) on November 16, 2013, don’t forget about your adult patrons!

What is International Games Day?

International Games Day is an initiative through the American Library Association (ALA) wherein libraries from across the world play games on the same day (or a day close to the same day) as a means of connecting with their communities.  As described on the IGD website, ALA coordinates two parallel activities: a national video game tournament and the Global Gossip Game (like telephone but traveling from library to library on all 7 continents).  Check out the IGD site for more information on both of those.

Why would a library promote gaming?

The IGD website hosted a series of talking points over the summer for reasons why libraries should host and promote games.  One of the quotes I like from their introductory post is:

Ultimately what a library is about is providing a place where a community can share culture, information, ideas, beauty – where human thought can be made accessible for people to engage in self-directed study and exploration.

And, as they say, every culture basically has some form of games.  I will let you check out both the IGD Talking Points posts and the quotes and videos featured on I Love Libraries for more information on why games in libraries are awesome.

Games for Adult Programming on International Games Day

Children play games all the time.  Teachers frequently use games to help students understand concepts in school.  Gaming teaches socialization skills, and, depending on the game, cooperation skills.  Techno Sky talks about studies done on the effects of video games on retention and other skills over at Tech2Games.

But kids don’t have to stop playing games when they get older.  There are plenty of games to interest all types of adult players.  Below are just a very few examples of the different types of games you could offer your adult patrons during International Games Day.  And this doesn’t even include video games options!

Party Games

Party games can generally include a lot of people.

Party games can generally include a lot of people and hilarity often ensues.

Party games are typically games that can accommodate many players, generally in teams.  Frequently the games can cause a lot of laughter, so beware, you might just have fun!  Some examples of party games are

  • Say Anything
  • Telestrations
  • Pictionary
  • Cranium
  • Apples to Apples
  • Outburst
  • Taboo
  • Balderdash
  • Scattergories

Card Games

Picture of several different types of card games.

Card games come in many types.

Card games can range anywhere from traditional card games suited playing cards (like Gin, Hearts, or Spades) to specific card games (like Phase 10, Skip Bo, or UNO).

Traditional Board Games

Composite picture of several different traditional board games.

So many types of board games exist to play!

Traditional board games is actually a bit of a misnomer.  I call it traditional board games because the games I consider “traditional” (along with chess, checkers, backgammon, Mancala, and Chinese Checkers), are Monopoly, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit and other fun family games like that.  Again, others may not exactly consider them to be traditional, but there are already several categories of games!

Eurogames

Picture of several different types of Eurogames

Looking for something different? Give a Eurogame a try.

Eurogames, also known as German-style games, can seem very complicated if you are unfamiliar with them.  If you know people who play these types of games, it can be helpful for new players to watch before they play, or to have someone explain the game to them.

If no one at your library owns any of this type of game, you may try to partner with a local gaming store to borrow demo versions.  This will hopefully also encourage potential patrons to partake in your IGD celebration and see what the library is like these days.

The games pictured are truly just a small portion of this category of games.  Some other popular games are:

  • Red Dragon Inn
  • Forbidden Island
  • Dominion
  • Ascension
  • Agricola
  • Race for the Galaxy
  • Small World

What is your library doing for International Games Day?

Is your library participating in IGD13?  What types of games are they offering?  Do you have games for adults to play, too?  Let me know in the comments.