How do I love books? Let me count the ways . . .

Photo by Michał Grosicki on Unsplash

It’s Valentine’s Day, and as bouquets of flowers are delivered to my co-workers, I’m finding myself sitting at my desk wanting to share my love story — with books. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love books. I remember sitting in second or third grade and being enveloped by stories as my teacher read them out loud. I discovered Nancy Drew when I was in fourth grade and devoured them as quickly as I could get my hands on them. My sixth-grade teacher introduced me to J.R.R. Tolkein when he invited a group of us who were avid readers to read it as a group after school. I’m not completely sure whether it was The Hobbit that was so attractive, or the extra time we’d be allowed to hang out in the reading loft we had in our classroom, but I jumped right in and found a love for fantasy comparable to my love for mystery.

In seventh grade, my English teacher offered up What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw (probably more recognizable as The 4:50 From Paddington) by Agatha Christie. I was utterly enthralled with Dame Agatha’s ability to weave a mystery so completely, and seemingly so effortlessly as I breathlessly reached the end of each of her stories and waited for Miss Marple or Monsieur Poirot to unravel the threads that identified the murderer in their midst. Eighth-grade English introduced me to Ponyboy and Sodapop and Johnny. I learned how important it was to “stay gold.”

 Also around this time a brand new library branch was built just a couple blocks from my house. No more waiting for a bookmobile or being limited to the books in the school library, or bugging my parents to take me to the nearest public library, which was several miles away. A whole new world opened up to me and I would ride my bike down to the library several times a week. The summer between ninth and tenth grades I read 93 novels, thanks to the proximity of that library. My dad hung a hammock in our backyard, and everyone in my family knew that was where to find me that summer after I’d done my daily chores (and sometimes before).

Since that time I have always chosen to read as much as possible. It’s my escape from the everyday. It’s one way that I find happiness. It brings me peace when life gets turbulent.

Books are magic. They transport me to places I’ve never been, to new worlds. They introduce me to characters of all shapes, sizes, colors and temperaments. I can visit the past. I can travel the universe or stay right at home. Because of books, my eyes are opened to possibilities, problems, perspectives, and people I might otherwise never have contact with. I can fall in love over and over and over. I can revisit my favorites places and old friends time and time again.

Maybe some of you feel the same way.

Lit Pairings – Last Night at the Lobster by Stewart O’ Nan

Perched in the far corner of a run-down New England mall, the Red Lobster hasn’t been making its numbers and headquarters has pulled the plug. But manager Manny DeLeon still needs to navigate a tricky last shift–just four days before Christmas and in the midst of a fierce blizzard–with a near-mutinous staff and the final onslaught of hungry retirees, lunatics, and holiday office parties. All the while, he’s wondering how to handle the waitress he’s still in love with, his pregnant girlfriend, and where to find the present that will make everything better.

I find that most people have serious feelings about Red Lobster. If you grew up when I did, in the late 80’s and the 90’s going to “The Lobster” was a big event! It was probably someone’s birthday or other special occasion, and best believe you were hoping there was an “all you can eat shrimp” situation going down.

However, as I’ve aged my love for The Lobster has waned. Like most food/restaurants we loved as kids it just doesn’t seem to taste as good now. So while reading this book I decided to do a little mini Lobster feast at home. First and foremost you need the Cheddar Bay Biscuits. In my opinion these are just as good if not better then the originals. Next you need to plan your fishy feast. Although not an official Lobster recipe I promise you won’t be disappointed with The Barefoot Contessa’s Baked Shrimp Scampi.

I’d love to know what were your favorite Red Lobster recipes growing up? Do you still enjoy it as an adult?


Book Review: The Woman in the Window

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

First line: Her husband’s almost home.

Summary: Dr. Anna Fox, is a psychologist who lives alone and has not been outside her home in ten months. She spends her days online, drinking LOTS of wine, taking a wide variety of medications and spying on her neighbors. When a new family moves in next-door, she becomes engrossed in their lives but then she sees something one night but no one believes her. Did it really happen?

Highlights: Short chapters are one of my favorite things. The story moves very quickly. Little tidbits are mixed in enlightening the reader about Anna’s background and what made her a recluse. I love that she gives names and narrates the lives of her neighbor. In addition, Anna is a huge movie buff but mainly black and white movies. She quotes lines from old Hitchcock classics. The book gives the feel of Rear Window. I was home sick in bed while reading this one and the cabin fever was starting to set in. It felt like the perfect book for a sick day. While reading you question everything you read. Is Anna a reliable narrator? Can I trust her version of events? I kept coming up with more twisted and complicated scenarios. The book is very hard to put down. Since finishing, I have found a list of the movies mentioned throughout the plot. Now I have a pile of DVDs to watch!

Lowlights: I was able to decipher several of the plot twists since I have started reading much more in this genre. Even with this, I still found the ending satisfying and fun.

FYI: Pair with an old Jimmy Stewart movie!

I Tried Reading Seven Books in Seven Days

Yes, you read the title of this post correctly. I attempted to read seven books in seven days. Spoiler alert: I was super close! The week was insane and besides getting a major head start on my yearly reading goal, I was sleep-deprived, over caffeinated, and incredibly behind on laundry. It was all worth it! How did I do it? I participated in the Winter Biannual Bibliothon.

The internet is filled with read-a-thons, many of which are sponsored through a special sect of video makers on YouTube called Booktubers. From The Reading Quest to Dewey’s 24 Hour Read-a-thon, there are so many exciting challenges held every month online and all you have to do to participate is pick a challenge, gather up your books, and start reading!

I’ve always wanted to participate in online read-a-thons and made sure to mark my calendar for the first big challenge of the year, the Winter Biannual Bibliothon. Check out the Bibliothon’s YouTube Channel here!

This week-long read-a-thon is held twice a year by a group of Booktubers and includes seven reading challenges, video challenges, giveaways, twitter reading sprints, and Instagram challenges. Participants can be as active or passive as they want during the read-a-thon and there’s no cost or sign-up to worry about.

Here were the seven reading challenges and my selections for each one:

  1. Read the group book: OTHERWORLD by Jason Segel & Kirsten Miller

Every Biannual Bibliothon, the hosts choose a book that everyone can read together then watch or participate in the Live Show on YouTube to discuss it in a similar fashion as a book club.

  1. Read a sequel

I chose Curtsies and Conspiracies by Gail Carriger, the second book in the YA Steampunk series, Finishing School.

  1. Read a book you’ve never heard of before

As a librarian, I’ve heard of a lot of books so to really make sure I picked a book blindly, I used a number generator and a blindfold and went randomly into one of our shelves. I chose the book, The Doldrums by Nicholas Gannon.

  1. Read a book about mental illness

I chose a book that’s been on my to-read list for years; Ten Days in a Madhouse by Nellie Bly.

  1. Read a book that was mentioned in another book/movie/show, etc.

In the movie, The Jane Austen Book Club, a character recommends the book Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin so I thought I’d give this one a chance.

  1. Read a book under 200 pages

My original intention for this challenge was to read A Room with a View by E.M. Forester, but I ended up reading Library Wars: Love and War by Hiro Arikawa and Kiiro Yumi. More on what happened there in my wrap-up below!

  1. Read a backlist title

This just means to read a book published before 2017 so I picked Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, published twenty years prior in 1997!

How Did It Go? (a.k.a. The Wrap Up)

Day 1 – Saturday, Jan. 20

Fifteen minutes after midnight, I started reading Ten Days in a Madhouse by Nellie Bly. You might not have heard of this book because it was published in 1887! Nellie Bly was an amazing investigative journalist who feigned mental illness for ten days so she would be committed to an asylum. She discovered horrific things while she was there and opened the conversation about quality of care in institutions.

By 1AM, I’d gotten half-way through the book before responsibility took over. I had work in a few hours and needed to sleep! I finished Ten Days on my lunch break and was off to a great start!


96 pages read

1 book finished

Day 2 – Sunday, Jan. 21

A day off from work and I was ready to read! The Left Hand of Darkness seemed like a complex book that would need a lot of attention so I dived right into it the moment I woke up. I immediately realized that I hated this book. I’m so sorry if you’ve read it and liked it, but for me, it was so convoluted and offensive and just ugh. I even had to read chapter summaries BEFORE reading each chapter just so I could understand what was going on.

I wanted to actually read each book I’d picked for the challenges so I crawled through this book to finish it. It took most of the day, but by 7pm, I’d finished Left Hand of Darkness, ranted about it for nearly an hour, then proceeded to throw it on the floor.  It still counts though!

Side note: Hopefully it’s unrelated, but the author Ursula Le Guin actually passed away the following day. It’s totally unrelated…right?


384 pages read

2 books finished

Day 3 – Monday, Jan 22.

After the strain of the day before, I was losing a little steam, but I was excited to start reading The Doldrums, a book I’d never heard of before and went into without expectations. I tried to get a little reading done in the morning, but after working most of the afternoon, I had to read the majority of the book at night. The book was decent, not terrible, but not the best, and I was pretty weary by the end of the day. I finished the book, but the initial thrill of the Bibliothon had gone. Uh-oh!


748 pages read

3 books finished

Day 4 – Tuesday, Jan. 23

Not only was I pretty tired from the past few reading days, but I felt a cold coming on (thanks, Kansas!) and I was super busy all day. With yoga training in the morning and work all afternoon and evening, I didn’t have time to even open up A Room with a View until 9PM. Thank goodness this book was small. I could do it!

By page three, I was falling asleep. The book may have been good, but it was not capturing my attention hard enough to keep me reading. I decided to forgo my hope of reading all seven intended books and picked up another book instead. Library Wars: Love and War was  interesting and quickly paced enough to get me through. While I probably won’t continue the series, it was a really fun story and even more fun to look up the anime and live action movie made in Japan!


934 pages read

4 books finished

Day 5 – Wednesday, Jan. 24

I definitely wasn’t feeling 100% for most of the day. Whether a cold or allergies, my energy was zapped, and I was stressing over my ever-growing to-do list. Thankfully I knew what to expect in terms of pace, character, and content with the sequel challenge. During my lunch break, I read a chapter of Curtsies and Conspiracies, but after getting some bad news about the loss of a friend, I didn’t read again until later that evening. As a motivator to finish the book, I did a few reading sprints (reading as fast as one can within a set amount of time). I managed to get through the book which definitely wasn’t as good as the first in the series. We were coming into a Bibliothon low point.


1244 pages read

5 books finished

Day 6 – Thursday, Jan. 25

I barely read a thing. Besides feeling sick both physically and emotionally, I had so much work to do that reading took a back seat. I managed to read about 10 pages of Otherworld at night before falling asleep with the book on my face.


1254 pages read

5 books finished

Day 7 – Friday, Jan. 26

The last day of the Bibliothon was here, and I came out guns blazing! After my morning meeting, I went home and did nothing but read. Otherworld, while flawed in some ways, was a really quick read and I was able to finish it by 12:30pm. I had to be at my second job by 5pm so with the time I had left, I dived into my seventh book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone.

The problem for me with Harry Potter, especially the first book, is that I can’t read it fast. I like to savor it and even re-read entire passages while imagining Jo Rowling in her coffee shop, scribbling words on a napkin. I’d gotten through half the book before work, and when I got home, it was 10PM. I had two hours left and eight chapters to go. I tried my best, but when midnight hit, I was on page 244 of a 320 page book. So close and yet so far away!!

Final Stats:

1843 pages read

6 ¾ books finished

Lessons Learned

My experience with the Winter Biannual Bibliothon was a roller coaster, but despite the challenges, it was definitely the most I’d ever read in a single week. I managed to get through 7 books (I finished Harry Potter after midnight of course) and read books that I might not have given a chance otherwise. For future read-a-thons, I would probably consider picking smaller books and picking books that I had more information about. I also have totally learned that it’s okay to stop reading a book if it’s not working for you.

There are so many read-a-thons going on this year online! I’ll make a blog post in the future with a full calendar for you in case you want to participate, and I’ll share my future reading wrap-ups with you. I’ve got my sights set on tackling a 24-Hour read-a-thon next!

Book review: Fallout

Fallout (V.I. Warshawski #18) by Sara Paretsky

3.5 stars. I liked it quite a bit, but I’m not sure I “really liked it.”

First line: “The police say it was drug-related, ma’am. They think August was stealing to deal.”

Summary: Private detective V.I. Warshawski is on the case again, but this time the case takes her to Lawrence, Kansas. When African-American former actress Emerald Ferring and a young African-American filmmaker, August Veriden, disappear after going to Kansas to film Emerald’s life story, Vic is on the case at the request of Bernie. The deeper Vic digs into Emerald and August’s disappearance, the more mysteries she uncovers, and the greater the danger she realizes they, and she, face.

Highlights: This is a tightly written suspense novel, with new information popping up regularly, and when I was in the middle of the book, I wondered how it could all come together. It does, and it does well. There are a cast of characters and even the minor characters are fairly well-developed. I was never quite sure who I could trust, and it seemed like Vic felt the same way throughout the story.

Lowlights (or what could have been better): This book might just require too much of a suspension of disbelief, unless you kind of have an inclination to buy into conspiracy theories.

FYI: If you are from Kansas and familiar with the Lawrence area, you’ll have to recognize right off that this is not the Lawrence you know. Paretsky took liberties in creating landmarks that don’t exist in the area. Roll with it.

Early February new releases

I’m having a hard time believing it’s already February! How did January go by so fast? I’d like to think that it’s all the reading I’m doing, but I’m afraid that’s not actually the case.

In the meantime, there are more great books being released every week. Here are four that we think look pretty appealing. If you decide to read any of them, please comment below and let us know what you thought of it.

Remember, click on the book’s title to go to the catalog where you can see if it’s available or put it on hold.

Feb. 6: As Bright as Heaven by Sarah Meissner
The 1918 Spanish flu epidemic is at the center of this book about family and relationships. The Bright family moves to Philadelphia in 1918, with the hope that they can give their three daughters better opportunities. Just a few months after they arrive in Philadelphia, where Thomas goes to work in his uncle’s funeral home, the Spanish flu hits the town. As the pandemic spreads and kills 12,000 people in the city, the members of the Bright family find the things they believe in challenged.

Feb. 6: The Glass Forest by Cynthia  Swanson
It’s autumn of 1960 and Angie is living her dream life with her husband, Paul, and new baby. Then a phone call shatters their comfortable world. Ruby calls her Uncle Paul to report that her father, Henry, has committed suicide and her mother, Silja, is missing. Angie and Paul immediately head to upstate New York to be there for Ruby, who is 17. As Angie learns more about her husband’s family, she begins to wonder about her own marriage.

Feb. 13: Miss Newman isn’t Human! (My Weirdest School #10) by Dan Gutman (juvenile chapter book)
From Goodreads: “In this tenth book in the new My Weirdest School series, Sprinkles Newman, the local TV meteorologist, is coming to Ella Mentry School! She’s going to teach A.J. and the gang all about the weather. But what happens when a real live (well, not live) hurricane comes to the school? Hold on to your umbrellas!

“Perfect for reluctant readers and word lovers alike, Dan Gutman’s hugely popular My Weird School chapter book series has something for everyone. Don’t miss the hilarious adventures of A.J. and the gang!”

Feb. 13: White Houses by Amy Bloom
Lorena Hickok grew up desperately poor in South Dakota, but in 1932 she met Eleanor Roosevelt during FDR’s first presidential campaign. Hick, as she was known to her family and friends, was able to rise above her circumstances and by 1932 had fashioned herself as the most prominent female journalist in America. Bloom’s novel explores the relationship between Eleanor and Hick, as Hick moves into the White House and her status as “first friend” is an open secret, along with FDR’s own lovers.

Book Review: Little Leaders, Bold Women in Black History

Little Leaders: Bold Women in Black History by Vashti Harrison

First line: This book grew out of a project I began during Black History Month.

Summary: Written and illustrated by the author this collection of short biographies of historic African American women is perfect for children and adults alike. The subjects cover famous women like Harriet Tubman, Ella Fitzgerald and Katherine Johnson.

Highlights: The illustrations are beautiful. The artist had children in mind when drawing them so she drew each woman as a child. I love the little additions that represent their career or interests. I think this would a great way to introduce or further explore the amazing achievements and role models of African American women.

Lowlights: Nothing. It is perfect!

FYI: A great read for Black History Month or Women’s History Month.

*Find it on our Sunflower eLibrary*

Late January new releases (a little late!)

Hey there! There have been so many good books already released in 2018 and so many more to come, but here are just a few that were released last Tuesday and today. I’m not very often one of the first people to read a new book, but occasionally one comes along that I just can’t resist. Maybe one of these will be that book for you.

Do you love to read the newest books? Or do you wait to see what people think of them? Or do you wait until you don’t have to be on a long hold list anymore?! Tell us how you like to read in the comments. And here are four new books that we think are worth of checking out. Click on the title to go to our catalog where you can see if the title is available or put it on hold.

Jan. 23: Markswoman (Asiana #1) by Rati Mehrotra
Looking for a strong female protagonist? Here’s a book that will satisfy you. Kyra is the youngest of an order of highly trained elite warriors. The orders are guided by a strict code of conduct and pledge to protect Asiana. Kyra has taken the pledge to live by these guidelines, but she also feels an overwhelming desire to avenge her murdered family. After Tamsyn takes control of the order, Kyra is forced on the run.

Jan. 23: Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan
James is a charismatic public figure who is also a loving father and husband. He is also accused of a horrific crime. Sophie is his wife. She is convinced he is innocent and desperately wants to protect her family. Kate is the prosecutor in the case. She seeks truth at all times, but is also convinced that James is guilty. Who is right?

Jan. 30: Still Me (Me Before You #3) by Jojo Moyes
If you are ready for Louisa Clark’s new adventure, it’s out today! Louisa has gone to New York City to start her new life and hopes to keep her relationship with Ambulance Sam alive despite the thousands of miles that separate them. However, when she steps into New York’s high society, she runs into Joshua Ryan, a man who brings a whisper of Louisa’s past to her. Will Louisa be able to learn who she really is?

Jan. 30: The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
From Goodreads: “Cora Allbright and her husband Ernt, a recently-returned Vietnam veteran scarred by the war, uproot their thirteen-year-old daughter Leni to start a new life in Alaska. Utterly unprepared for the weather and the isolation, but welcomed by the close-knit community, they fight to build a home in this harsh, beautiful wilderness. At once an epic story of human survival and love, and an intimate portrait of a family tested beyond endurance, The Great Alone offers a glimpse into a vanishing way of life in America.”

Book Review: Still Me

Still Me by Jojo Moyes

First line: It was the mustache that reminded me I was no longer in England: a solid, gray millipede firmly obscuring the man’s upper lip; a Village People mustache, a cowboy mustache, the miniature head of a broom that means business.

Summary: Louisa Clark is starting a new adventure. She is travelling to New York City to work as a personal assistant. However, the new job is not exactly what she had pictured. With a busy schedule of appointments and society events, she tries to balance work and her new relationship with Ambulance Sam, who is back in England. At one such social event, she runs into someone that reminds her of her past and changes her future.

Highlights: Jojo Moyes is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. I have read several of her novels and enjoyed them all. She has a way of writing that makes you feel everything. I laughed at Louisa Skyping with Sam. I nearly cried at the end when she is deciding who she wants to be. I love the character of Louisa Clark. She is quirky. She is funny without always meaning to be. She is not afraid to be herself. She is kind, honest, and loyal. I loved her interactions with all the different people in the apartment building. She is a person I would like to be. A complete optimist. She may have a few sad times but she is always looking at the bright side. In addition, getting to know more about her family. This book gave so much more to the other two. It filled in spaces and brought closure to many of the plotlines.

Lowlights: The more I think about this while writing the more I realize how much I liked it. Nothing to complain about at all.

FYI: Must read Me Before You and After You before reading in order to understand the background and characters.  Also check out the movie, Me Before You, starring Emilia Clark and Sam Claflin.

Release Date: January 30, 2018


Book Review: An Enchantment of Ravens

An Enchantment of Ravens by Margaret Rogerson

First Line: My parlor smelled of linseed oil and spike lavender, and a dab of lead tin yellow glistened on my canvas.

Summary: Isobel lives in a land ruled by the faerie courts except that these faeries are not the pixie dust-throwing, nature-loving creatures from stories and lore. These faeries are alien, vicious, manipulative, and the only thing they love more than their own immortality is the art of Craft. Faeries cannot wield a pen, a paintbrush, a cooking spoon, or a sewing needle without disintegrating to ash. Therefore, they seek the services of artists like Isobel who will effortlessly paint their portrait. Isobel is the master of her craft and sought out by the most prestigious faeries including the powerful Autumn Prince. But when she paints human sorrow in the prince’s eyes, she infuriates him and is forced to journey to the land of Faerie to suffer the consequences.

High Points: The best part of this story is the writer’s use of language. This book is for readers who love a good metaphor. The writer paints such a vivid and magical image of this world, and its flowery and sophisticated prose will sweep you off your feet and right into the enchanted land of the Fae. This book is also excellent for artists, especially painters. Isobel loves her craft and prides herself on its perfection. The way she processes her art is fascinating and gripped me through the story.

Low Points: This book has two main flaws for me; distraction and “insta-love.” The book tends to distract itself with its own metaphors and artistry to the point that the actual plot gets muddled at times. The middle portion of the book is primarily a journey story in which the characters are traveling from one place to the next in the faery world. At times I found myself asking why they were going somewhere in the first place. The book also suffers from the “insta-love” curse meaning the main character, Isobel, and the Autumn Prince fall in love much too quickly. It’s a typical trope in young adult fiction and over time, I began to feel for their relationship, but it took most of the book for me to accept it.

FYI: This book is a stand-alone young adult novel, a rarity in the genre. I read half of this book and listened to the other half on audio and highly recommend the audiobook experience.