Book By Book
Happy Valentine’s Day! And Happy Mardi Gras! It’s always a bit weird when those two holidays fall on the same weekend at our house. We used to live in New Orleans, so Mardi Gras is a major holiday here. Normally, we have a party with our closest friends, and I cook our favorite Louisiana dishes, and we all (including our sons and their friends) have a great time together.
Of course, it’s different this year, but we are still finding ways to celebrate! Instead of our party, we had a Mini Mardi Gras over Zoom with two couples we’ve been friends with for 30 years and hadn’t seen in many months. We decorated and dressed in purple, green, and gold (with beads, of course), and my husband enjoyed an Abita beer (awesome Louisiana beer) and I had my diet Barq’s root beer (no alcohol when you have Lyme). And I made our favorite comfort food, red beans and rice, plus some shrimp and a King Cake from a local bakery! On Mardi Gras day (Tuesday), we will have our annual Popeye’s dinner with our closest friends who used to live in New Orleans when we did … only this year, on Zoom! Should be fun, though, and our grown sons will be joining in, too! One of our friends already made a huge bread pudding with whiskey sauce and dropped it off yesterday. If you are stuck in the winter doldrums and would also like a reason to celebrate today and tomorrow, check out my Celebrate Mardi Gras at Home post on my chronic illness blog, with loads of ideas for foods (including my own recipes), movies, TV, and of course, books!
We also celebrated Valentine’s Day this weekend, with delicious take-out from a local restaurant and a movie at home (review coming!). And, given the timing, after we exchanged our usual Valentine cards and goodies at breakfast, we indulged in some King Cake with our coffee!
Finally, I had a lot of fun creating new book lists on BookShop last week. Have you heard of BookShop yet? It’s an awesome new book website where you can purchase books online, and your purchase benefits indie bookstores! You can choose your favorite indie bookstore to get credit for your purchase or they will split the proceeds between all indie bookstores. This means that I can buy online even from my tiny local bookstore that doesn’t have its own book sale website. You get the convenience of shopping online while supporting indies: a win-win! As a BookShop affiliate, I also get a tiny percent of your purchase when you access the site through my links (in the sidebar and at the bottom of every book review), which helps me to offset the cost and work I put into this blog. So, check out my page at BookShop and the lists I have made so far (Books I’ve Reviewed, a bunch of Best of 2020 lists, and a 15 Great Books by Black Authors list, so far), and let me know what other lists you’d like to see!
And, onto the books! Here’s what we’ve all been reading this past week:
My book group’s February selection was The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert, a nonfiction book that I finished this weekend. Scientists agree there have been 5 mass extinctions since life began on Earth, based on the fossil record. Many also agree that we are now in the midst of a sixth. I was worried this book might be dry, but … wow. It is very well-written, with the author integrating her own experiences in researching extinction into the book. It’s engrossing, fascinating … and yes, terrifying, too. Chapter 1 is about huge numbers and entire species of amphibians disappearing all over the world; I had no idea this was going on! In chapter 2, she goes much further back in time to the mastadon and reviews the history of how humans first began to identify bizarre-looking fossils and finally came around to the idea that extinction was a thing. She combines history, science, and some scary looks into the future. Everyone in my book group loved the book (lots of 8′s, 9′s, and 10′s for ratings), and we had a great discussion on Zoom. Highly recommended.
Next, in honor of Valentine’s Day, I looked for a book that deals with love! I don’t read many romances and don’t have any on my TBR shelves, but I found a YA novel I’ve been meaning to read for years, Honestly Ben by Bill Konigsberg (it has a heart on the cover!). He’s a very well-known and acclaimed YA author that I’ve never read before. The novel is about a seventeen-year-old named Ben Carver who grew up on a farm in New Hampshire in a very reticent family: they love each other but they don’t talk about their feelings. So Ben feels he has no one to confide in about how confused he’s feeling lately. Last semester, he really connected with a guy named Rafe at his boarding school (Ben is there on a scholarship). Their deep friendship turned into more, but Ben felt betrayed when he learned that Rafe had been openly gay at his old school, something he never shared with Ben. Ben is certain that was a one time thing and he is not gay. Besides, he just met this wonderful girl named Hannah, whom he really likes … and is very attracted to. It’s a great story so far, Ben is very likeable, and I’m enjoying it. A nice break after reading all that depressing stuff about extinction!
On audio, I am still listening to The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich, an author I always enjoy. She is a Native American author who writes novels about Native American people, families, and their lives. In this case, her latest novel is based in history and the life of her own grandfather. Did you know that in 1953 Congress passed a resolution to disband and abolish all tribes, take all land from Native Americans and “relocate” them to urban areas? I didn’t, and the historical backdrop here is stunning and horrifying. But, as always, Erdrich focuses in on one Indian community, a group of families, and what happens to them because of that push from Congress. Her focus is one one older male character (based on her grandfather) who takes charge of giving the local tribes a voice. I also love that Erdrich always reads her own audiobooks, so the accent and cadence of her speech is authentic (this novel is about the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, of which she is part). So, far, it is immersive and engrossing, as are all of her novels.
My husband, Ken, is reading one of his Christmas gifts, taking a break from his usual thrillers to read Erik Larson’s latest nonfiction book, The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz. As the subtitle indicates, this book is focused on the year-long bombing campaign that Hitler waged on London during WWII, with a focus on Churchill’s leadership of the British people during this horrific period. He seems engrossed in it already and has begun reading me interesting tidbits (always a good sign with nonfiction). Did you know that Churchill had a black cat named Nelson? He’s trying not to read me too much of it, though, because he knows I’ll be reading it myself. Ken is enjoying it so far and already learning a lot.
Our 26-year-old son re-read Spellslinger by Sebastien de Castell so that he could read book 2 of the Spellslinger series, Shadowblack. The series is about a mage named Kellen who loses his magic and goes on a quest to reclaim it. In the second book, he is forced to live as an outlaw. The description says this series is “bursting with tricks, humor, and a whole new way to look at magic.” No wonder our son likes it!
Blog posts last week:
TV Tuesday: Halt and Catch Fire – Engrossing drama with great characters, about the computer revolution of the 80′s and 90′s
Teen/YA Review: Furious Thing by Jenny Downham – Excellent, complex story about family
Fiction Review: The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz – Funny, suspenseful novel about a family of PI’s
What Are You Reading Monday is hosted by Kathryn at Book Date, so head over and check out her blog and join the Monday fun! You can also participate in a kid/teen/YA version hosted by Unleashing Readers.
What are you and your family reading this week?
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