Posted in A Series of Series

A Series of Series #1: The Agnes Browne Trilogy by Brendan O’Carroll

Hello and welcome to the first installment in a series I’ve just thought up, and do hope to continue, called A Series of Series.

A Series of Series, which is a possibly terrible name but I really don’t care (do you?), is a… thing, I guess, in which I will feature a series that I love, like, or even just read and have thoughts on. There will be one installment a month here on my humblog (is that a word? does anybody say that? humble-blog… get it?) until… well, until I’ve got no more series to talk about. Thus creating a series of series.

I’m so terrible at naming things.

But anyway, let’s begin with The Agnes Browne Trilogy by Brendan O’Carroll. The three books in the series are The Mammy, The Chisellers, and The Granny.

Agnes Browne, in the first book, is a newly widowed mother of seven in the poorer section of Dublin, Ireland during the 1960s. Agnes works a fruit stall with her best friend Marion Monks and struggles to manage life with a humor, a grace, and a dedication that will impress anyone willing to read this collection. (Discussing things of a sexual nature and learning to drive with Marion are the things every friendship should strive for!) The second book follows the Browne family as they grow, the children becoming their own people (for better or for worse) and Agnes falling further in love with a Frenchman named Pierre. And in the final book, Agnes is a grandmother and her children are grown, making their own mistakes (one is in jail) and triumphs but they always return to Agnes!

Agnes is not perfect, but then no one is. That’s what’s so appealing about this trilogy (to be fair, I believe there is a fourth book but I have not read it and I don’t intend to because these three are perfect to me and I don’t want to break the spell), that it is a real family, proverbial warts and all. Heartbreak, laughter, fighting, loving, fierce dedication to one another… that’s what family is. And it’s amazing to read about somebody else being just imperfect enough to be perfect!

I found The Mammy at a library used book sale one summer. It had a fantastic cover, it was short, and I was there on the day when paperbacks were only $0.25 so I couldn’t imagine not buying it, despite never having heard of it. I did not realize it was part of a series, not until the next summer. Because apparently I wasn’t up on Googling every thought that flitted through my mind back in, say, 2006 or so. But a year after finding what I now know was the first book, I found The Granny at the same library used book sale. It was another fantastic cover and I’d liked the first book, so another was a no-brainer. I did not realize it was book #3 and not book #2, not until after I read it.

So, not being completely inept at computer-y things, I took myself directly to Amazon and ordered a used copy of The Chisellers. But I could not wait to read The Granny, so I didn’t. Good thing too, since the copy I ordered was being sent from Ohio (I’m in Pennsylvania) and I tracked it through Illinois, California, and a few other states (we’re talking at least six weeks here, people) before I complained to Amazon, they refunded my money, and then the book showed up!

Fond memories!

But they actually are truly, not sarcastically fond memories because I laughed until I cried reading The Mammy, and I cried tears of sadness too, and I laughed for both reasons reading the second and third books too. I got my mother to read them (she didn’t laugh quite as much, but probably I’d told her too much), my sister read them, my aunt read them because I said they were good. It was my aunt and my mother who suggested lending The Mammy to my grandmother as she waited to be scheduled for surgery for pancreatic cancer. I wasn’t sure, because my grandmother was a Catholic eighty year old and the books tend toward raunchy in some places, but I lent it to her. And she laughed until she cried too, even telling the nurses about how Agnes and Marion discuss sex and talk about ‘organisms’ instead of ‘orgasms.’ I think my family who hadn’t read the book was a little scandalized, but it was worth it. And my grandmother was so impatient to read the rest of the series that she offered to order a second copy of the second book, but then it finally came. While she had the books, my grandfather saw The Chisellers on a table and read it, because he remembered clothes like that as a little boy. He read them all and he liked them all. I don’t remember him reading any other books.

Good memories of those no longer here, thanks to books randomly chosen from piles of books costing only a quarter.

Thanks, Brendan O’Carroll, for the memories.

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Posted in Tags

🎅 Bookish Christmas Tag!!

Hello world! It’s December 6 so it’s *almost* Christmas! Close enough, anyway, to continue on my quest to be a Better Book Blogger, and do my very first Christmas related book tag!

Yay!!

Oh, am I the only one that excited? Sorry. And also not sorry, because that’s the spirit of Christmas. (Probably.)

Step One on my quest for a seasonally appropriate tag was Google, of course, and I quickly found one that seemed like a lovely place to start. It was the Bookish Christmas tag as done by Adventures of a Bibliophile (the similarities of our blog names are entirely coincidental and purely a happy accident, as I have a new bookish blog that I’m following!). Anyway, do check out her amazing blog!

And now, with no further ado, my Bookish Christmas🎄…

Father Christmas: Name a book you received as a child that you treasure to this day.

So easy… the Little House on the Prairie series by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I got sick a lot as a kid and I got a new Little House book every time I went to the doctor. I still have those books and I am never letting go of them.

The Ghost of Christmas Past: Is there a book or series you like to revisit each year at Christmastime?

Not really. I’m a mood reader. This is why I fail at readathons and reading goals.

Christmas tree: Name a series that reaches new heights with every entry.

The Dark Artifices by Cassandra Clare. TDA isn’t even my favorite Cassandra Clare/Shadowhunters series but, gods, these books are ratcheting it up every time. (Since this is being written on the 3rd and posted on the 6th, you can just assume I’m reading Queen of Air and Darkness today… I hope I survive!)

Friends and family: Name a book with fantastic characters.

This would be easier to answer if it was “name a book that doesn’t have fantastic characters”! But that’s not what it says so… I’m going to go with… Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I saw myself in Louisa so much and she grows so much between that book and the second (is the third as good? should I get it?).

Decorations: Name a book with gorgeous cover you would proudly display on your shelves.

I do proudly display A True Novel by Minae Mizumura on my shelves. (The picture with this post is from Goodreads but it is the copy I have.) The box is gorgeous and the black and white photos on the books (and in the books) are so haunting and beautiful and good.

Christmas cards: Name a book that carries a great message.

So many books carry amazing messages, which sounds cliche but it is also absolutely true. But, in the spirit of the tag… The Agnes Browne Trilogy by Brendan O’Carroll is it. The story of an Irish family across the span of childhood to parenthood (Agnes is mother to small children, mother to grown children, and grandmother), it is the story of a family that will go to the proverbial ends of the earth for each other even when times are incredibly tough.

Ice and snow: Name a book that you were hoping to love but which ultimately left you feeling cold.

Can I say all the George R.R. Martin books for this one? I read the first four in the trilogy, an achievement in itself, and I’ve been meaning to re-read them for some time now and… now I kind of just want to get them off my shelves, you know. I think I liked them because I was supposed to like them and now… meh.

Christmas lunch: Name a book that was big and intimidating but oh so worth it in the end.

This one’s a tie, a tie between the very well known Gone With the Wind and the lesser known The Far Pavilions (by M.M. Kaye). The latter might just edge out the former because I don’t think I’ll read Scarlet and Rhett again but Anjuli and Ash are on my TBR to be revisited very soon!

Mince pies: Name a book you found sweet and satisfying.

Hmm, okay… the Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery pops directly into my mind here and I feel like Anne Shirley would be just fine with that so let’s go with the absolutely adorable story of Anne.

Presents: What book do you wish you could give everyone to read.

The book I wish I could give everyone to read, the book I have convinced people to read (sometimes by lending my precious copy out!), and the book I have badgered people to read is A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell. I’ve read it more times than any other book, even those in the YA series I’m addicted too, and I’m still ticked off nobody made it into a movie. It would be an amazing movie, Hollywood! Pay attention! Catch up!

Spreading the festive cheer: Tag some friends to help spread the festive bookish love!

I don’t have book blogger friends so… anybody who happens to find themselves here and thinks this might be fun… I tag you! Just leave a comment with a link to your post if you do it so I can read yours!

Merry Christmas, people! xo

Posted in Reviewed

“And Then the Sky Exploded” by David Poulsen

I received a copy of And Then the Sky Exploded from Dundurn via NetGalley in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.

This book… this book is something unique and good and important.

I don’t have much in common with Christian Larkin, it’s true. I’m not a teenage boy born in Canada and moved to America, lucky enough to go on high school trips to Japan. And despite this utter lack of similar, shared experiences, I feel some connection to Christian.

I suppose it’s about genealogy. And history, very much about the history.

Long story short, Christian’s GG Will (short, 21st century-speak for Great-Grandfather William) dies and there are protesters outside his funeral because he, in this fictional tale, was one of the scientist who worked on the Manhattan Project and helped to develop the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Christian had spent his short life believing only that GG Will was a cool old guy who knew lots of things and occasionally played street hockey.

Alerted to this dark family secret, Christian dives into research, trying to understand just what the Manhattan Project meant and suggesting his high school Travel Club (why oh why did my high school not have a Travel Club??? oh, right… we were so poor we had to get paper donated so we could print stuff *sigh*) go to Japan instead of to England.

Christian, the semi-popular and always amusing narrator of the story, wants to atone for the role GG Will had in one of the darkest moments in human history. He wants to understand why and how the man he looked up to could be a part of that.

And strangely, it’s a Hiroshima grandmother who was eleven on the day the bomb was dropped who gives him the closure he needs, teaching him that he can still admire the man who simply part of something so much more awful than that one moment and that one action.

It’s a very well-rounded story full of meaning. I think it’s very important for it’s targeted demographic to read.

Posted in Reviewed

“The Agony of Bun O’Keefe” by Heather Smith, a story in which agony is poetic and good

I received a copy of The Agony of Bun O’Keefe from NetGalley and Penguin Random House Canada in exchange for an honest review.

Bun O’Keefe is fourteen when her obese, hoarder mother tells her to get out. Having lived alone with her mother, not even being allowed to go to school, Bun has educated herself with the books and magazines and VHS tapes that were someone else’s trash that her mother brought home. So when she’s told to go, she goes.

She’s taken in by a twenty-something man called only Busker Boy who becomes her guardian, protector, and big brother as he takes her to live in a house he shares with Big Eyes, a young woman who ran away from a convent, Chef, a dishwasher who dreams of being a chef, and Chris/Cher, a drag queen whose parents meant him to be a doctor. It’s a motley group of personalities and yet they become one another’s biggest champions, all learning together every day.

And Bun learns how to be a part of society, to interact, to have friendships and to lean on people. 

It’s a story of growth, of fighting to save yourself, and of love in it’s purest form.

I laughed, I cried, and I finished the book so happy.

Posted in Reviewed

Turn off Siri & Alexa… then read “The Mansion” by Ezekiel Boone

If you feel like you can’t live without Siri, Alexa, Cortana, Google… you probably don’t want to read this book. I’ve used Alexa a few times, but I can live without. 

Which I will absolutely do after reading this book, live without a virtual ‘assistant’ who can answer any question I have and remind me of obscure, easily forgettable things.

*brb going to make sure Alexa is disabled on my Kindle Fire*

I hope Ezekiel Boone won’t mind me describing The Mansion as something that gives me strong vibes of Stephen King’s The Shining, because it does. It’s not the same book, not by any means. The similarities lie deep in Boone’s Eagle Mansion and King’s The Overlook Hotel, both hotels from bygone eras that carry a lot of baggage and have a personality, a soul of their own. It’s winter in Boone’s book too, and the caretakers are Billy and Emily Stafford.

But they aren’t there to make sure the pipes don’t freeze and the roof doesn’t cave in under the weight of an upstate New York snow.

This is a twenty-first century book, and they are there because, a dozen years ago, Billy and his friend Shawn Eagle stayed on the Eagle family estate to code. It’s originally a bit hazy why their partnership, one seemingly destined to create something like Facebook, Google, and Microsoft combined, ends up shattered but, perhaps not surprisingly, it’s over a girl. Emily, to be precise.

Shawn has become richer than basically anyone ever, running a tech empire that seems to make Mark Zuckerberg jealous. But there’s one thing he doesn’t have… something he and Billy (and another friend named Takata but you have to read the book if you want to know what happened to him!) created as recent grads, something he can’t work into the phones that bear his name. 

Nellie.

She is why you might be wary of Alexa, Siri, Cortana, and… does the Google one have a name?

*brb going to turn off the Google one on my laptop, and the predictive search for good measure*

Billy becomes caretaker of Eagle Mansion that winter because there are ghosts and bugs and viruses in Nellie, and Shawn is running Nellie in the mansion, with the aim of creating what I imagine would be the ultimate ‘smart’ house to be scattered across America. But Billy had a drinking problem and slightly less alarming cocaine problem, and this creates just the right level of uncertainty as he prepares to tackle a problem that could make him him a multi-millionaire and Shawn a multi-multi-billionaire (because Shawn is kind of an awful person, not entirely without cause).

Nellie will freak you out. Shawn will make you… feel things. Billy will make you root for him. Ruth and Rose (twins and of one soul) will make you curious. And Emily will make you understand.

Horror and thrillers aren’t usually my go-to genres (and to be fair, I’ve seen The Shining but I have not read it) but this is as good as it gets. It’s a book that you will not be able to put down once you start it. and when that ever more irritating Real Life creeps in and makes you put it down? You’ll be thinking about this book.

The Mansion is on sale December 4, 2018 wherever books are sold. Probably. Go buy it!

(I received a copy of The Mansion from NetGalley and Atria Books in exchange for an honest and original review. All thoughts are my own.)

Posted in Reviewed

“Hope and Other Superpowers” by John Pavlovitz

The full title of the book I’m here to review today is… Hope and Other Superpowers: A Life-Affirming, Love-Defending, Butt-Kicking, World-Saving Manifesto. John Pavlovitz wrote this book and, presumably, picked the title. It is possibly the longest title I’ve ever seen but the book is absolutely worth ever hyphen in the title.

A few things, first.

When I requested the ARC of this nonfiction book from NetGalley (thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster for the chance to read it and offer my thoughts!), I picked it because the title seemed ambitious and I was trying to pick outside my genre-comfort zone, so I picked self-help. I did not realize that John Pavlovitz is a pastor, I did not realize that John Pavlovitz is considered one of the more liberal prominent pastors in the country, and I did not realize that the ‘superpower’ part of the title meant I’d need a working knowledge of comic book heroes to get the analogies made in this book.

When I realized these three things, as I started the book, I was quickly wary because I am agnostic, I’m generally skeptical of the motives of megachurch pastors, and I’ve never seen a comic book movie (Marvel or DC or whatever else there is, it’s all very confusing).

However, and this is an important part, Hope and Other Superpowers is not about why I should go to church and give myself up to Jesus, let him take the wheel as Carrie Underwood sings. Pavlovitz mentions being a pastor but I had the sense that he was not writing as pastor to his flock, but as a human being to other human beings. And, possibly less important but very surprising, I really want to watch all the comic book movies!

I was going to say I didn’t expect this book to be what it was but I don’t know what I expected it to be so I will say this…

I didn’t know I needed to read this book, but I did.

It’s in part a call to larger action, in that it’s fairly obvious how Pavlovitz feels about the current president, but it’s also a call to any action at all. A reminder that every single action we undertake has a ripple effect on both our own lives and the wider world. The underlying theme is that we all have the power to be the superheroes we see in movies and comic books, even when the simplest task seems so impossible. It’s about the fact that when we take care of ourselves, we can also make our world better for it. It’s a guide that asks me to take stock of myself, to take better care of myself, and take better care of the world.

I’m going to read this book again, and again. I needed this book, at this moment in my life, and I know I’ll need it again.

Posted in Books

What?! Less than 2 months left to read in 2018?!

Possibly that title up there is a teensy bit overdramatic but, really, why not? It’s true, isn’t it? It’s November 5 which means there are twenty-five days in November and thirty-one in December. That’s only 56 days! Add in Thanksgiving, Christmas, my birthday…

So much to read and so little time!

(She says as if she won’t be able to read in 2019, which she will, come hell or high water.)

Anyway, to continue with my slightly manic but very serious panic about less than two months of reading left in 2018, I’ve decided to set some goals for the rest of the year. Why? I don’t know… because I can? Seems like a good enough reason, doesn’t it?

So my goals for these 56 days are…

  1. I’m currently 2 books ahead of my Goodreads goal of 60 books in 2018 so… I’d like to hit 60 by December 31.
  2. I’ve DNF’d a handful of books this year (not as many as usual, go me!) so I’d like to not DNF more than, say, 2 books the rest of the year.
  3. Cassandra Clare’s final book in The Dark Artifices trilogy, Queen of Air and Darkness, comes out on December 4 and I’m making it a goal to NOT read that book in less than 3 days, not matter how bad I want to forget to sleep or eat to read it all.

Three goals is a good thing, I think.

Yep, so that’s that. Another post meant mostly to put myself on record and, maybe somehow, stick to it because I made the goals public?

Wish me luck!