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I read because I must. It's like breathing to me. And I love talking about books. But I'm also an Arsenal fan, a wine drinker, a music lover and weirdly obsessed with pop culture. I mostly blog about books, but sometimes about things I'm thinking or doing. When I'm not on the blog, I'm managing software implementations.

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Recent Posts

  • The Map Thief
  • American Angst
  • A Good Year For The Roses
  • A Long Goodbye
  • My Friend Published A Book! Adventures in Dating- The 49th State, One Southern Girl

The Map Thief

Posted on 27 Aug 2014 In: Reading

screenshot186 Remember the days before GPS? Before even mapquest? When you actually had to pick up a map or an atlas to figure out where you were going? Did you ever think about maps much beyond that- a mechanism to get you from “here” to “there”? I hadn’t. But reading Michael Blanding’s The Map Thief has made me look at maps with an entirely new perspective.

From the publisher’s summary: In 2005, the respected and esteemed antiquarian map dealer E. Forbes Smiley was caught red-handed while delicately exacto-knifing a rare map out of a book at the Yale University Library. He would later confess to the theft of 97 maps valued at more than $3 million total, and would serve 42 months in prison for his crimes.

It almost sounds stranger-than-fiction, or like the beginning of a really good mystery novel, but it’s all true, and Michael Blanding delves into this fascinating story of high-stakes crime in THE MAP THIEF (Gotham Books, May 29, 2014, Hardcover and eBook).

THE MAP THIEF explores our fascination with maps and how they went from being practical instruments in the days of the New World explorers to highly coveted objects. Through interviews with all the key players, including an exclusive sit-down with Smiley before he went quiet, Blanding uncovers the story of the man behind the thefts, the cutthroat industry that consumed him, and the implications of his crimes on dealers, librarians, collectors, and map lovers alike. And although Smiley swears he has admitted to all of the maps he stole, libraries claim he stole hundreds more – and offer intriguing clues to prove it.

I thought The Map Thief a fascinating read.  The arrogance of Forbes Smiley, the audacity with which he stole and resold these maps made for some compelling reading.  I still have mixed feelings about Forbes Smiley.  I’m not sure if he’s truly reformed or not.

Blanding provides some historical perspective of the stolen maps and atlases, and a thorough appendix of illustrations.  He also puts a human face on the impact of Smiley’s actions on the his friends, colleagues, and competitors.

This is not a book I would normally have picked up to read, but a publisher who’s recommended a number of other books I have enjoyed suggested this one, and she is spot on.

This is compelling non-fiction. Not action packed,  and subtle in many of its observations, Blanding manages to portray the very humanness of everyone involved.  Equally compelling to the story of Smiley himself is the map collecting subculture and the negative-publicity-adverse museums and libraries who were Smiley’s victims.

If you’re looking for a read that is a bit off the beaten path, but tells a truly fascinating true story, The Map Thief is one I recommend.

American Angst

Posted on 14 Aug 2014 In: Reading

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As a reader, I’m always excited for hear that Laurel Osterkamp has a new book coming out. With American Angst we get more stories from our heroines of November Surprise and The Holdout.

American Angst is a tightly woven set of vignettes about Lucy, trying to balance her life and her relationship with husband Monty; and Robin, who is trying to balance herself. We get Lucy’s political posts from her 2012 Election blog, and we get some details about how Robin found herself on The Holdout. We get the drama of extended family and holidays and the messiness of life, but doused in snark, humor, and all-too-relatable emotion.

It bears repeating from earlier posts that  I think more people should be reading Laurel Osterkamp. I believe most women will recognize some of herself in her characters, which is a big part of why I like them so much.  She writes women I feel like I could call friends.

It’s a treat getting some of the behind the scenes details from the previous books.  American Angst could be read standalone- I think it would make a new-to-Laurel reader curious about her other books- although I am glad I read them in the order they were published.

Laurel has a day job, so I know she can’t spend all her time writing, but I am looking forward to her next book!

A Good Year For The Roses

Posted on 21 Jul 2014 In: Reading

screenshot180 Gil McNeil’s newest novel, A Good Year For The Roses was a thoroughly enjoyable read, and perfect for your summer vacation (although, I would enjoy it any time of year).

A GOOD YEAR FOR THE ROSES [Hyperion Trade Paperback |July 1, 2014] introduces us to Londoner Molly Taylor, a mom for whom life hasn’t been a bed of roses. Newly divorced and struggling to support her three boys, she’s stunned when her beloved aunt dies and leaves her Harrington Hall, a three-hundred-year-old crumbling manor house on the Devon coast, where Molly grew up.

Molly knows moving to the Hall will be handful, and balancing house renovations with a motley crew of “paying” guests surely isn’t easy. (Will someone please keep the pet parrot away from the TV remote?) But through first computers, first parties, first dates (her son’s and her own!), Molly finds that her first year at Harrington Hall is a good year for the roses, and for her family.”

I had not read anything by Gil McNeil before, and perhaps the best compliment I can give A Good Year for the Roses is that I am going to be adding McNeil’s other books to my reading queue.

I liked the characters. I liked the plot. I liked the writing style.  I like the way Molly and her sons evolve. I especially liked the evolution of another character I won’t name here because why spoil the surprise?  I want to visit the English countryside and stay somewhere like Harrington Hall- and wander through its gardens and grounds. After all, the house and grounds are surely as much a part of the story as the actual characters.

There was nothing hysterical or melodramatic to the plot- just a nice story with believable characters and a sense of community and caring. Certainly some acerbic moments and I did cheer on Molly (and the other unnamed character) more than once.

This isn’t deep literature, nor is it meant to be. But it still involves gumption and courage and family and love and self growth, all without being heavy-handed.  Very British in that way, I suppose.  It truly was a perfectly timed read for me.   I think fans of women’s fiction – especially if you’re an anglophile on top of that- will really enjoy A Good Year for the Roses and I’m off now to add Gil McNeil’s other books to my queue.

 

*** I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review***

A Long Goodbye

Posted on 14 Jul 2014 In: Thinking

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I’ve been pretty quiet because of personal matters.  My mother is terminally ill.  From feeling sick in early April,  to a cancer diagnosis in May, to a move to an assisted living facility in June, it’s been a hectic several weeks.

My mother now lives about an hour and a half from me.  I go see her either Saturday or Sunday of each week.  She’s in an assisted living community that provides help with daily life activities. This disease appears to be robbing her of her mind, and quickly.

Our conversation Sunday was largely disjointed and non-sensical.  It’s no fault of hers, but she no longer has the ability to consistently form coherent thoughts.  She still knows me and most people in the close family, but her short term memory is hit or miss. Today, at 9AM, she didn’t remember if she had eaten breakfast. It’s hard to see this woman who always spoke her mind struggle for the right word, for the cohesive thought.  She knows, I think, what she is trying to convey and sometimes realizes she no longer has the words for it.  So I try to make normal conversation and be as agreeable as possible with what she is saying. I try to be reassuring.  I try to be patient.  Logic doesn’t work in this situation, although instinct is to be as logical as possible. So, agreeableness wins. Or quick changes of subject or small distractions.

Before all of this happened, my mother texted me nearly every morning, around 10.  It was usually just a “hi” which is funny in a way. And I remember thinking that this was not really the best use of texting but the day would come when I would be glad for it.  And that day is here. If I get a text now, it’s blank, and accidental.  We are reaching a point now where I can call her mobile but she doesn’t answer, because she’s managed to turn off her phone without realizing it, or she left it somewhere, or she just can’t figure out how to answer it.  We are in a place where I may now be calling the facility to check in on her, rather than being able to speak with her every day.

It’s an adjustment.  It’s hard to sit there with her and know that most all the meaningful conversations are over. That for whatever time she has left, this is now as good as it will get.  It’s hard to become a parent to your parent- managing decisions and finances and medical visits and all the things.  It’s the appreciation of moments like today, when I asked her “How are you feeling?” and she answered, “With my hands.” Smart-ass.

It’s a long and arduous road, watching this decline.  We are not the first people to be in this position, and there are certainly those who have had much more difficult paths to forge. But I’m lucky that I have an incredible support system of people who say, and mean, “Whatever you need.” And mom has people who want to check in on her, keep track of how she is doing. Who send her flowers and letters and cards, who call and check in.  It’s a  long goodbye, this strange and winding journey.

screenshot170 I love social media.  I love reconnecting with people I knew in school. and I love when I learn that people I know have done something really cool like publish a book.  I went to high school with Sara Rishforth, and she has just published her first book, Adventures in Dating.

Kari Covington left it all to settle in Alaska. Charleston had been home: friends, school, family, and her past. But a fresh start to her personal and love life is what she needs. The Final Frontier is nothing like the “Good Ol’ South,” which suits Kari just fine. She can create a new life, start a career, find love, and seek the adventure she craves. 

Eager to embark on her new journey and with so many rugged eligible men, Kari sets out to meet “The One.” A string of bad dates tests Kari’s optimism as winter closes in. With no one to keep her warm, Kari relies on cooking, baking and her new best friends. Weekly calls from Mama call her back to the life her family planned. 

No one said looking for love was easy… 

I really enjoyed the book and think fans of Chick Lit will find it a great summer read.

Sara took the time to answer a few questions from me, and has offered to give away two copies of her book, so leave a comment and I’ll choose two winners at random- US Residents only, please.

TBF: I never knew that you were a fiction writer. Were you writing back in high school, other than yearbook or journalism? 

SR: My first memory of writing is a play I wrote in the fourth grade, and it was about a boy calling my friend a rude name.  Also, I have to laugh about the editorials I wrote for the high school newspaper, like why girls could wear skorts to school, but not shorts.  Hot topic at the time!

 

TBF: How much of Adventures in Dating is autobiographical? 

SR: Probably about 80%. I had many bad dates in Alaska.  I also ate a lot of nachos and made dear friends.  One of the main characters in the book now lives here in Bend.

 

TBF: Related to Question 2, like Kari, you moved from the Deep South to Alaska.  What drew you there, what was the biggest adjustment you had to make, and what did you miss the most while you were there?

SR:My move was really a rebellious decision.  I was desperate to leave Greenville, so I applied to three national parks.  Denali National Park hired me, so I bought a plane ticket and packed my rolling suitcase full of inappropriate clothes and was off and running.  The amount of snow was crazy!  It hardly snowed in South Carolina, just icy every now and then.  I missed my parents.  My brother was diagnosed with stage four cancer during part of my time in Alaska, so I moved back for a year to help out, but I headed back to Alaska once he was given the thumbs up.

 

TBF: What has been your biggest lesson learned as a first-time published author?

SR: I learned writing the book was the easiest part of the whole process.  I also learned I’m better at marketing other people than myself.  Turns out, I’m quite shy.

TBF: What’s in your to-be-read pile? 

SR: I’m working my way through a pile of books from a friend.  Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand, Truth & Beauty by Ann Patchett, and A Southern Girl by John Warley.  I’m always looking for book recommendations.

TBF: Any  writing projects on the horizon? 

SR: I’m working on a second book.  It is favorite recipes and food memories.  Testing recipes and leaving food on my friends’ porches is super fun!

TBF: You’ve left Alaska now, but are still in the Pacific Northwest. What has kept you in that region?

SR: I love the cooler weather and friendly people.  The hospitality reminds me of the South.  Although I miss my family terribly, I love Bend.  

TBF: What was the best piece of advice you were given while you published this book? And what piece of advice took you by surprise (like maybe you were skeptical when you heard it, but are glad you took it to heart). 

SR: Honestly, I don’t think anyone gave me advice.  Everyone was supportive and just kept asking about my book.  No one would let me forget about it, even though I let it sit on my computer for three years after I wrote it.

TBF: What is your funniest/most memorable misadventure in your dating past?

SR: I went out with a guy I nicknamed Hiking Boy.  All of our dates were hiking, and we hiked 13 miles in one week.  Finally, I asked him, “Would it kill you to buy me a meal?”

TBF: Do you use a Day-Timer, like Kari does, or am I really the only person left who supplements any electronic calendaring with a paper calendar? 

SR: I’m all about a paper calendar.  It’s super handy and keeps me organized.  I do admit to using Outlook at a past job, but I always wrote everything down in my Day-timer, too.

Sara, thank you so much for sharing your book with me, and taking time to answer my questions.  And don’t forget, two commenters will be chosen at random to receive a copy of the book.

 

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