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30 Apr

An entire month has whooshed by here on Blue Truck Book Reviews, like the breeze from the dance floor at a  wedding when you are small and playing under a table covered in a long white cloth. I haven’t been hiding in any secret places or doing much playing, but I have been very busy preparing for a huge and important event coming up on May 14: I’m graduating from college.

Because it’s taken me ten long, hard, rightful years to get here, this is an emotional achievement for me. So while I’ve been working hard doing all the things I normally do plus all the extra things I must do to walk across the big stage, I’ve also been careful with myself: making sure I’m getting enough rest and exercise; making sure my soul is fed with good books; making sure I’m allowing myself to be in the moment instead of feeling guilty about x, y, z, including  posting reviews here. I have been pleasantly surprised (One Was a Soldier by Julia Spencer-Fleming), utterly riveted (A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, and The Gospel of Anarchy by Justin Taylor), and left gasping with heartache and recognition at one of the best books I’ve read so far this year (You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon), but mostly I have been burrowed into reading for comfort, and for me, that’s one of the best being in the moments there is.

I may post reviews of these books and the others I’ve read since the end of March eventually, but right now, I simply want to enjoy my accomplishment to the detriment of most of my various pursuits (my job, my writing, and my new vegetable garden notwithstanding). I hope you are all well.

As always, happy reading.


There is No Such Thing as a “Guilty” Read

2 Feb

The other day a friend started talking to me about “guilty” reads. We were emailing back and forth about what we’ve currently buried our noses in, what we’ve dropped halfway through, and what we have waiting on our figurative nightstands. At one point, she admitted she was reading a book that wasn’t particularly well-written but whose story so moved her, she couldn’t put it down. She said this wasn’t the first book she felt guilty “indulging in” like this.

I went silent for awhile, which probably should have tipped her off that I was carefully containing a rant – I didn’t want her to misconstrue its direction, which was not at her, but at the injustice of this mentality. I didn’t even know how to begin to address it, I only knew it was something I wanted to poke at with a stick until my little scene turned into a reenactment of Lord of the Flies.

Uncharacteristically, I withheld the crazier parts of my rant, merely calmly telling my friend that I don’t believe in “guilty” pleasures (which is why I always include it in quotes). And to prove it to her, I promised I would publish a list of every book and/or magazine I’ve read or purchased in the past month, with the exception of online content, and she could decide for herself which ones I should consider “guilty” and which ones I could cop to with no shame. (Also, I’ve labeled each book so there is no question what genre each belongs to, and because I can’t help myself.)

Books I’ve read:

  • Cleopatra: A Life by Stacy Schiff (fiction; reviewed here)
  • The Painted Drum by Louise Erdrich (fiction)
  • Good Eggs: A Memoir by Phoebe Potts (memoir; nonfiction; reviewed here)
  • A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick (fiction; reviewed here)
  • The Very Best Recipes for Healthy by Martha Rose Shulman (cookbook; nonfiction)
  • The Radleys by Matt Haig (fiction; reviewed here)
  • Sunset Park by Paul Auster (fiction; reviewed here)
  • The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender (fiction; review forthcoming)
  • Women Food and God by Geneen Roth (self-help; nonfiction)

Books I’ve bought and haven’t read yet:

  • Dance of Anger: A Woman’s Guide to Changing the Pattern of Intimate Relationships by Harriet Lerner (self-help; nonfiction; e-book)
  • Indian Nations of Wisconsin: Histories of Endurance and Renewal by Patty Loew (history; nonfiction)
  • You Know When the Men are Gone by Siobhan O’Fallen (fiction; short stories)
  • Rain When You Want Rain by Betsy Johnson-Miller (poetry)
  • Reality Check: The Irreverent Guide to Outsmarting, Outmanaging, and Outmarketing Your Competition by Guy Kawasaki (business; nonfiction)
  • The Lover’s Dictionary by David Leviathan (fiction)
  • The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown (self-help; nonfiction)
  • Beowulf: A New Verse Translation by Seamus Heaney (classic; poetry)
  • No Planets Strike by Josh Bell (poetry)

Magazine I’ve read at least half of:

  • Harper’s
  • Esquire
  • Inc.
  • Poets & Writers
  • National Geographic
  • Edible Madison
  • Edible Iowa River Valley
  • Playboy
  • Psychology Today
  • Wisconsin Trails
  • Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine
  • Cook’s Illustrated

So, you tell me: anything up there you think I should be ashamed of?

I’ll tell you right now, guilt is waste of life, and “guilty” reads is a preposterous idea. There is no such thing.

Read what you love and only what you love. Leave the rest, and enjoy yourself.

Listen, Let Me Suggest a New Year’s Resolution for Your Reading Life

27 Dec
So, do y’all have any New Year’s Resolutions for your reading life?*

If having a books resolution sounds a little insane, I feel you. But here you are, reading a book blog, so there’s that. And anyway, I like to think of resolutions as flexible guidelines, ideas that influence choices, rather than unbreakable rules. Perhaps the mere act of thinking about how you’d like to improve or change your reading life will help you think about it differently.

So, what if you resolved to contact authors and writers when you read something you love?

We all love getting fan mail. And I’m not talking about the fan mail where you have to have your burly Marine friend pay the sender a late-evening visit, but the good kind — the kind that makes you smile and renews your faith in people and burns 100 calories all at once.

I’ve been doing this for years. I remember the day I was so enthralled with Lauren Grodstein’s fantastic novel, The Monsters of Templeton, that I called in sick to a former job. When I finished the book, I immediately went online, figured out how to contact her, and sent her an email telling her just what I’d done with my day, and how much her book meant to me. She replied, and I smiled, my faith renewed in people, and burned 100 calories at once, because that’s good karma.

Since then, I do this as often as I can. It never “goes anywhere” — I haven’t been sent autographed first editions, or invited to any private launch parties, or recommended to anyone’s agent — but that’s not the point, is it? I don’t even use my blog email address, because it’s not about the blog, or even me.

It’s about telling someone they made a difference in my life. That’s all I want any resolution to be.

*I started this particular category of resolution last year. Inspired by a friend’s 100 Great Books project, I made my own list of 98 books I wanted to read. Why I couldn’t make it to 100 might have something to do with why I’ve only finished 9, but that’s another tale for another therapist’s couch. This time around, I’m resolving to read more of the books I own and fewer from the public library. As soon as I finish emitting a keening wail, I’ll figure out why the hell I chose to do this. So, you know, it’ll be awhile.

(Something less than two) Book reviews: One Day by David Nicholls and The Space Between Tress by Katie Williams

10 Aug

This is what happens when you have a full time job: things get busy. You read two books in five days and they’re both fabulous, and you want to review them, you do, but you don’t have time because there are these things called paychecks and responsibilities that take up all the damn time in the world, and also (hey there!) precedence.

Loyal, patient readers, I tore through both One Day by David Nicholls and The Space Between Trees by Katie Williams, and not only because reading is my favorite mental break but because they were excellent.

Nicholls wrote an amusing, humorous, bright and sad novel that reminds me of Nick Hornby with a less distinctive style but just as much wit. The formulaic ending was, nonetheless, surprising; one that left me aching and recommending this book to anyone who’d like to get lost in the lives of two charming, interesting people before the summer ends.
Williams penned an equally engaging book, though her subject matter was much darker, more disturbing, and spot-on for readers, YA or otherwise, looking for a breath of fresh air unpopulated by vampires.

Oh, that I could create more time! But let’s face it: I’d just end up reading more.

What have you been reading? Any books you’ve been unable to put down?

* * * * * * * *

For more information about One Day, which was published by Vintage Comtemporaries in June 2010, visit, featuring some excellent YouTube “episodes” that exactly match the emotional tone of the book. To purchase this book in support of independent bookstores (which you well should), click here.

For more information about The Space Between Trees, published by Chronicle Books in June 2010, hop on over here, where you can get a free download the first seventeen pages of this gripping and excellent novel. You can also check out the author’s website here. Lastly, to purchase this book in support of independent bookstores (which you should do, again), click here.

Happy reading!

FTC Disclosure: The review of One Day was based on a copy of the book I won in a giveaway from the publisher. The review of The Space Between Trees was based on a copy of the book I borrowed from the public library.

New Meat*

17 Jul

Here I am.

Welcome, readers old and new. This is Blue Truck Book Reviews, and I am the queen of the world.

Wait, no.

If you know me from elsewhere online, you realize how much it has taken for me to get here. Maybe you were with me years ago, during a tumultuous time in my life when I made questionable choices, both on and offline. Maybe you met me on the tail end of that downward trajectory, maybe you liked me for screwing stuff up all the time, maybe you hated me and lurked; I’ll never know.

If you know me in real life, thank you, for everything I will never say here.

Most importantly, if you don’t know me at all, hello. It’s so very nice to meet you.

                                           *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  *  * 

I feel owe it to all of you to tell you what you can expect here on BTBR, so I have put together a handy list. (Let’s say it together, now: three cheers for Type A personalities!)

> I will only review books that I want to review. No one is paying me to do this. (Unless you want to. In which case, call me on the red phone.) 

I will only review books when I want to review them. I have a full-time life, in several senses of the word. I’m not going to clog up the already-cloggy anxiety works with some high-pressure schedule I set up in my mind.

> I will only review books that I have actually finished, and I will not force myself to finish one. My entire life, my mother has drilled it into my head that there are too many good books in the world to waste my time reading one I don’t like. And I do whatever my mother says.

I welcome your feedback, thoughts, comments, questions, hate mail, valentines, @’s, and carrier pigeons. I am a fan of the serial comma and also, on occasion, the non sequitur. Welcome.

*yeah, not really

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