The Elusive Next Issue and Books (again)

Hello out there. It’s been an entire year since there was a new issue of QSB Magazine. I haven’t abandoned the magazine but I do have a continuing loss of mojo. So, no more promises about a particular date for the new issue. I hope there will be one in the not-too-distant future. That’s all I can tell you for now.

But, I have been reading (and failing to start a new book club with a friend of mine). Over the past couple of months I’ve really enjoyed the following:

The Humans by Matt Haig. The Taste Tester found this one for me and I’m glad that he did.




The End of Night: Searching for Natural Darkness in an Age of Artificial Light by Paul Bogard. The title sums it up. A sad but hopeful read.




The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss. If you ever loved Alexandre Dumas’s The Count of Monte Cristo (or his other books), this one’s for you.



What have you particularly enjoyed reading lately?



Serendipitous Reading List

I had a really good weekend, Y’All.  I came sooooo close to finishing the magazine (it’ll be out this week–promise!), The Taste Tester gave me a box of new cameras (all of them much older than I), it’s no longer January, and I discovered a reading list in the library book I was reading (a book I was reading to review for the magazine at that).  So, I can’t turn down serendipity (at least in this case).  I’m going to read all the books on the list this year (along with all my regular reading).  Here’s the list (minus the one being reviewed in the magazine so as to maintain the surprise) for posterity:

The Heart Broke In by James Meek

The Salt God’s Daughter by Ilie Ruby

Paris in Love: A Memoir by Eloisa James

We Are Now Beginning Our Descent by James Meek

Of Men and Their Mothers by Mameve Medwed

Have you read any of these?  What have you been reading lately?


Five Acre “Farm” Fantasy

When things get a little rough around the edges, I start fantasizing about going back to the land.  I play the Five Acre “Farm” Fantasy game and pretend that The Taste Tester and I could be self-sufficient on that little acreage (yeah, we probably could but…).  My “farm” will have regular row crops and fruit trees and olive trees.  Beehives, of course.  Also some sheep.  And chickens.

Although T3 and I certainly haven’t ruled out fleeing the city for country life, we haven’t made any steps in that direction either.  Instead, I feed the flames of fantasy by reading books about people who have actually made the switch.  If this is your fantasy too (and we’re certainly not alone if the number of titles about this subject is any guide), the following books will make for great escapism:

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver

Fifty Acres and a Poodle by Jeanne Marie Laskas

The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball

The Quarter Acre Farm by Spring Warren (this one is about staying put but growing/eating locally)

Farm City by Novella Carpenter (this is also about staying put and creating an urban farm…I woudn’t keep bees on my balcony, though)

Day and Night

Tomorrow, April 23, is UNESCO’s World Book and Copyright Day.  April 23 also marks World Book Night.  April 23, which is why they chose the date, is also the death date for Shakespeare (maybe even Shakespeare’s birthdate), Cervantes, and El Inca Garcilaso.

World Book Day Poster, © Dowhawon & Kim, Hyo-Suo 2012/ ©  UNESCO

© Dowhawon & Kim, Hyo-Sup 2012/ © UNESCO

UNESCO is particularly highlighting the 80th anniversary of their Index Translationum, an index of international translations of published works.  It’s pretty cool (and was actually started by The League of Nations) and sometimes surprising–Barbara Cartland, for example, is the 6th most translated author (Agatha Christie is first).  Read something in translation today (for ideas see the “Interchange” column in the Winter 2011/2012 issue of Quarterly Speed Bump Magazine.

World Book Night logo

World Book Night started last year in the UK and Ireland.  The US is joining in this year with a day “to bring attention to books for adult readers, with a few young adult books to be included” and “is intended to be thousands of individual interactions and celebrations of reading and giving that day.”  Books are given away (it’s too late to be a book “giver” for this year) and this year’s World Book Night book list contains the following:

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Friday Night Lights by H.G. Bissinger

Kindred by Octavia Butler

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Little Bee by Chris Cleave

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Blood Work by Michael Connelly

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

Because of Winn-Dixie by Kate DiCamillo

Zeitoun by Dave Eggars

Peace Like a River by Leif Enger

A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick

Q is for Quarry by Sue Grafton

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

The Stand by Stephen King

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss

The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Just Kids by Patti Smith

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Go read a book!

Iron Druid Chronicles

Thanks to the recommendation of QSB‘s “Undulations” columnist, I just read the first three books in a fantastic urban fantasy series: The Iron Druid Chronicles by Kevin HearneHounded, Hexed, & Hammered are out now.  Tricked is coming on April 24th which is good because of the many directions the story could take after Hammered–cannot wait!

Hounded, Hexed, and Hammered by Kevin Hearne.Definitely irreverent what with all the gods of all mythologies running around and real.  The Iron Druid is Atticus O’Sullivan (aka Siodhachan Ó Suleabháin) who’s been around for a good 21 centuries.  He’s just looking to “chill” in Tempe, Arizona but the Fae and some gods just don’t like that idea.  There are references to Monty Python, Star Wars, Hitchhiker’s Guide, the Princess Bride, and other pop culture…how can you go wrong?!   Plus witches, werewolves, vampires, and anything else you can think of that might appear in the speculative fiction vein.  More literate than other current fiction (the author’s a high school english teacher).  And the wolfhound sidekick, Oberon, is hilarious but believable.

In other book notes, the Armand Gamache books I raved about in this post continued to live up to my expectations.  I devoured all seven of the current titles.  The 8th book–The Beautiful Mystery–will be out on August 28 of this year so mark your calendars if you’ve become a fan.

100 Books

Have you seen the list of the 100 Greatest Books for Kids (it’s been all over the Web so nothing new here–I’m just jumping on the bandwagon) put out by Scholastic’s Parent & Child Magazine?  I’m a sucker for these types of lists.  My own list would be different but this is a good jumping off point.  What do you think?  I really want to know what you loved, what the young people in your life love, and what you think really should have made the list and didn’t.

And what did you read over and over again when you were a kid?  I was partial to series books since they wouldn’t run out too quickly.  Off the top of my head (and this all seems to be what I was reading around the age of 8-10…must have been a stressful time to have to re-read them so often but I don’t remember that part):

The Mary Poppins books by P.L. Travers

The earlier Nancy Drew books by “Carolyn Keene”

The Borrowers books by Mary Norton (also her Bedknobs & Broomsticks)

The Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder

The Littles books by John Peterson

The earlier Boxcar Children books by Gertrude Chandler Warner

Almost anything by Judy Blume.

Do You Love a Mystery?

I’ve finally started reading the Inspector Armand Gamache series by Louise Penny.  At the moment there are seven books and I’m only on the third.  But, I read the first two books in two days and didn’t wait to start the next one so I have high hopes for the rest–enough that I’m recommending them to everyone before reading the entire series.

Mostly set in the seemingly idyllic village of Three Pines (in Quebec, Canada) not too far from either the US border or the big city, Montreal, these books are mysteries and reflections on life and emotions. We learn a little about the francophone/anglophone outlooks on life and culture.  We meet the extremely quirky townspeople of Three Pines.  Throughout, there is homicide detective Gamache who is gentle and wise; interested in teamwork over self-promotion; compassionate; and trying, always, to do the right thing. This has stalled his career to some extent and we get glimpses of something ugly happening within his department, the Sûreté du Québec, that doesn’t look good for him at all.  He is aware but continues to do his job: listening, observing, finding the murderers, and trying to do the right thing.

Still Life by Louise Penny

Book the First

In order (and you really do need to read them in order so you won’t spoil things for yourself), the series contains:

1. Still Life
2. A Fatal Grace (titled Dead Cold outside of the US)
3. The Cruelest Month
4. A Rule Against Murder (titled The Murder Stone outside of the US)
5. The Brutal Telling
6. Bury Your Dead
7. A Trick of the Light

I’ve heard the books described as “cozies” and that’s true to some extent. There are murders but little gore and guts.  However, evil does lurk.  If they sound interesting, give ’em a go.  I think you’ll be sucked into Gamache’s world.  It’s a pretty good place to be.

What’ve you been reading?

14 Days ’til Christmas: Books Galore

I’m sure you realized it was only a matter of time before I talked about books again. Here’s a list of some of my favorite Christmas fiction. If you have some faves, please let me know in the comments. I’m always looking for more things to read. Five seems to be the number of choice around here, so here are five books for the day after you’ve got your Christmas shopping done. Or for the evening after you feel like you’ve been mauled at the mall.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
How can you not love a book that starts off: “Marley was dead: to begin with. There was no doubt whatever about that.” and then goes on to debate the relative merits of using door-nails vs. coffin nails to describe the quality of deadness? You can’t beat that and the book is short, really short. Try Dickens’s other Christmas ghost stories while you’re at it.

A Charlie Brown Christmas by Charles Schultz
If you missed the TV special you can have it in book form. See which edition appeals to you–there are many.

The Christmas Train by David Baldacci
Romance aboard a snowbound train at Christmastime. Only somewhat farfetched. 😉

The Stupidest Angel: A Heartwarming Tale of Christmas Terror by Christopher Moore
Yes, it’s irreverent. Yes, there’s a stupid angel. Mayhem ensues. It all comes out all right in the end and you might get some belly laughs along the way.

The Mischief of the Mistletoe by Lauren Willig
This is one of the later volumes (#7) in the Pink Carnation Series and the only one so far that’s set entirely during the Regency period. The whole series is fun–set in alternating chapters between the present (starring Eloise and Colin) and the Regency Era–following the adventures of an English spy ring led by the Pink Carnation. Do start with the first book (The Secret History of the Pink Carnation) so you know what’s going on.

NB: Remember, I just link to Amazon for convenience. Do try your local bookstore first so you’ll continue to have a local bookstore.

The Write Stuff

How many of you out there are participating in NaNoWriMo–National Novel Writing Month? It starts in just a few days. I’ve participated a few times but never won, always petering out at around the 8000-10000 word mark. I get busy and think I can make up for lost time in one grand day of writing. And that grand day never comes so I get discouraged and, well, you get the idea.Past novel starts have included sheep ranching meets the mafia, furniture restorers turn polar bear saviors, and ghost bicycles meet time travel. Yeah.

Undaunted, I’m going to try for 50,000 words again this year. Not that I have any compelling ideas. You can watch me flame out around Nov. 11 or keep on going this year through the word-count doohickey on the sidebar when I finally put it up there. Exciting, I’m sure.

To get myself amped, I always like to re-read my favorite writers-on-writing books. These are: Stephen King’s On Writing; Anne Lamott’s Bird By Bird, and Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. For times when I get stuck there are Pen on Fire by Barbara DeMarco-Barrett, A Writer’s Book of Days by Judy Reeves, and Escaping Into the Open by Elizabeth Berg. I tried Chris Baty’s (creator of NaNoWriMo) No Plot? No Problem! but it’s not one that helps me find inspiration even though I got a kick out of my read-through and it’s definitely a fun one to try.

Good luck to the NaNo-ers out there. What are you going to write about?

Give Bees a Chance

One of my favorite books on books and reading (yes, shocking!) is Anne Fadiman’s Ex Libris: Confessions of a Common Reader–her collected essays regarding her life with books and words. If you can find the little volume, do read it for yourself and see what you think but one concept she talks about is the “odd shelf.” That’s the shelf of books that one collects about a specific topic that seems an unlikely choice. Her topic: polar expeditions. I have several odd shelves but the most crowded one is filled with insect books. A subset is all about bees and beekeeping. No, I don’t keep bees but I sure would like to.

On the odd shelf:

The Hive and the Honey Bee. Dadant & Sons. Methods for the real beekeeper but fascinating nonetheless.

A Book of Bees: And How to Keep Them by Sue Hubbell. A year in the life of a beekeeper with wonderful tangents and autobiographical tidbits.

Plan Bee: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About the Hardest-Working Creatures on the Planet by Susan M. Brackney. Somewhat like the Hubbell book but a little cutesy and less informed, I guess I’ll say.

Never in a million years would I keep my hypothetical hive in the location she chooses but beekeeping features in Novella Carpenter’s Farm City: The Education of an Urban Farmer.

The Beekeeper’s Bible: Bees, Honey, Recipes & Other Home Uses by Richard Jones & Sharon Sweeney-Lynch. Great color photos with beekeeping explanations plus history.

I’ve not yet read The Beekeeper’s Lament: How One Man and Half a Billion Honey Bees Help Feed America by Hannah Nordhaus (2011) but am looking forward to it. Tell ya later if I like it.

It’s not just about the honeybees which, after all, aren’t native to North America. No, native bees are important too. And, though we hear about honeybees’ Colony Collapse Disorder, native bees are menaced by various threats as well. Learn more and even how to identify some of the different species (bees & other pollinators) in two Xerces Society guides (the Xerces Society is worth checking out as well–their mission is to protect wildlife through the conservation of invertebrates and their habitat):

Attracting Native Pollinators: The Xerces Society Guide to Conserving North American Bees and Butterflies and Their Habitat


Pollinator Conservation Handbook: A Guide to Understanding, Protecting, and Providing Habitat for Native Pollinator Insects by Shepherd, Buchmann, Vaughan, and Black.

A native bee on a sunflower. Click to enlarge and see the bee better.

Are you a beekeeper or just a wannabe like me? What related books or websites are you keen on? Oh, and check out The Great Sunflower Project and “Join the Hunt for Bees!”