Book Club Mom’s March recap – a month of blog posts

Image: Pixabay

March powered through like a freight train on greased wheels and I’m happy to say I didn’t derail!

Spring has finally arrived and, for the first time since I planted bulbs, the bunnies haven’t chomped my flowers down to the nubs. That must be a sign of good things to come!

I had a busy blogging month. I read some good books, profiled two indie authors, brushed up on my vocabulary and grammar, wrote and shared some special posts and made a few YouTube videos.

Here’s a quick “ICYMI” summary of what went down in March at Book Club Mom. Click on the links to visit each post.


Book Reviews

Mar 3: The Widow by Fiona Barton
Mar 11: Transcription by Kate Atkinson
Mar 22: Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke
Mar 24: What If? by Randall Munroe
Mar 30: How to Be a Good Creature by Sy Montgomery


Mar 6: Giselle Roeder
Mar 19: Gina Briganti

I love meeting indie authors and I’m always looking for new profiles to post. If you are interested in being featured, please email bvitelli2009@gmail for more information.


Grammar and Vocabulary

(Images: Pixabay)

I may have majored in English, but I make plenty of mistakes. These grammar and vocabulary posts are my way of staying fresh with the rules:

Mar 5: On vocabulary, words both big and small…
Mar 21: “Into” and “in to” – are you into it?
Mar 28: Using ellipses – are you doing it right?


Special Posts

I shared two posts written by my son, Austin Vitelli. The first is a book review and the second is a feature article that appeared in The Morning Call on March 26.

Mar 6: Sweetness by Jeff Pearlman – thoughts on NFL legend Walter Payton
Mar 26: How 3 former Lehigh football players and their friends started a record label


Guest Post on author Jill Weatherholt’s blog

I was excited to be featured on Jill’s blog, where I talk about my blogging experiences (and mistakes!) and tackle the tricky question of what to do when I don’t like a book.

Mar 29: Welcome Book Blogger Book Club Mom


I’m still learning the technical side of making videos, but I’m having a lot of fun along the way. I have some new ideas for April, so stay tuned!

Mar 7: Self-publishing – here’s how we did it!
Mar 13: Walking and listening to audiobooks
Mar 20: Audiobook update and general news!


I hope you had a great month too! Looking forward to more fun in April!

Image: Pixabay

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How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals by Sy Montgomery

How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in Thirteen Animals
by
Sy Montgomery

Rating:

The more Sy Montgomery studies animals and nature, the more she knows that humans have a lot to learn about the creatures that share our world. In this book, she describes her unique relationships with 13 animals and what they have taught her.

Montgomery realized at a young age that her connection to animals was unique, and in fact, it has become a defining part of her personality. As a shy, only child, she related to animals more than people. Daughter of an Army general and a mother who dressed her in frills and bows, her best and only friend was her Scottish terrier, Molly. And it was Molly who introduced her to what has become her real world of animal life.

While the cover and illustrations suggest this is a children’s book, it is not. (It’s in the Young Adult section at our library.) The author describes her intense relationship with animals and explains how, in learning about and relating to them, she has overcome many challenges, including estrangement from her parents, their deaths and depression, often over the loss of a pet.

The author’s career as a researcher, naturalist and writer has enabled her to engage with many types of creatures and she shares many surprising facts. It is her curiosity and willingness to immerse herself in their habitats and lives that sustain her. In each chapter, she describes a different animal or pet, including their border collies, a sisterhood of chickens and a beloved piglet that grew to over 700 pounds. She became attached to many other animals during research trips: a Goliath tarantula, several emus, tree kangaroos and a giant Pacific octopus.

I enjoyed reading about Montgomery’s experiences, which are very different from my own. She has made it her purpose to know, honor and learn from every creature she encounters.

Montgomery is the author of 28 books for children and adults and her New York Times Best Seller, The Soul of an Octopus, was a finalist for the National Book Award for nonfiction. I’ve already put a hold on it at the library because her octopus chapter was my favorite. I recommend How to Be a Good Creature to anyone who is interested in animals, from those in the wild to the ones curled up in your lap or at your feet.

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Audiobook: What If? by Randall Munroe, read by Wil Wheaton

What If?
Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

by
Randall Munroe
Read by Wil Wheaton

Rating:

Have you ever wondered how fast you could hit a speed bump while driving…and live? Or what would happen to the world if we drained our oceans? Maybe you’ve tried to imagine what Times Square, New York looked like one million, or even a billion years ago. All the answers to these and many other hypothetical questions are in this fun and informative book.

Randall Munroe is a former NASA roboticist and the creator of the xkcd.com, “a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language” and this book is a collection of the most popular questions he’s received.

I picked this audiobook because the title caught my eye. Although I don’t have a math or science mind, I like random information and appreciate that people like Munroe have the brain power to provide the answers. I’d never thought about any of the more than fifty scenarios, but I was interested in the answers and appreciated that he took the time to figure them out. But be ready for very detailed and thorough explanations!

While the questions represent wild and unrealistic situations, Munroe answers them respectfully and enthusiastically with serious math and science. One person asked what would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90 percent the speed of light. Another wonders if it would be fatal to swim in a spent nuclear fuel pool. Munroe also includes short answers to what he calls “Weird (and Worrying) Questions” and believe me, no question is too unusual to be considered. While many of the questions are based on an interest in science, many reflect social and ethical ideas. These were the ones I was the most interested in.

In addition, Wil Wheaton is an excellent narrator, capturing the author’s happy interest in tackling all kinds of questions, from the wacky to the types that I’m thinking would be good to know in certain, though unlikely, situations.

This is the type of audiobook that would be best listened to one chapter at a time, with a little rest between explanations. I did that in the beginning, but listened to the rest of it over the span of a day. For the non-math and science types, this might be a little too intense. I also checked out the print version at the library and I’m glad I did because the book is illustrated with the author’s famous stick figures and that makes reading a little lighter. While I enjoyed listening to the audiobook version, I also think What If? would make a great coffee table book and recommend either to all curious listeners and readers.

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Sweetness by Jeff Pearlman – thoughts on NFL legend Walter Payton by Austin Vitelli

I like when I read a book and feel the need to discuss it, but I mostly cover fiction and fiction book reviews tend to stick to what’s on the pages, with commentary about characters, plot, writing style, etc. It’s harder to find opinion pieces that take the subject of a book to the next level, but biographies are a great way for readers to develop and share ideas about a person’s life story.

Today I’m sharing a post by Austin Vitelli about the life of NFL legend Walter Payton. He wrote it after reading Sweetness by Jeff Pearlman, a biography about Payton. If you’re not a football fan, you may not know the name, but Walter Payton is the namesake of the annual NFL Man of the Year award. Each year, the NFL honors a player “for his excellence on and off the field. The award was established in 1970. It was renamed in 1999 after the late Hall of Fame Chicago Bears running back, Walter Payton. Each team nominates one player who has had a significant positive impact on his community.”

Vitelli writes,

One thing I struggled with throughout the book was weighing the good and bad in Payton’s life. Payton was likely one of the nicest and most genuinely caring NFL players ever. But he also made lots of questionable decisions that seemingly get left out in many people’s stories of him.

Click here to read the rest of Vitelli’s thoughts on Walter Payton’s life and career. And visit austinvitelli.com for more about Austin’s career in journalism and editing.


Like sports biographies? Check out Gunslinger by Jeff Pearlman
and this Q&A with the author.


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Book Talk – Dreyer’s English by Benjamin Dreyer

Welcome to an occasional feature on Book Club Mom called Book Talk, home to quick previews of books that catch my eye.

I don’t always have time to see what new books are coming out, but I have friends who do, so I’m excited to share what I know about Dreyer’s English: An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style. Thanks to my work friend for showing it to me! I’m on the hold list at the library, but I’m 24th in line, so it will be a while before I get to read it!

Dreyer is the copy chief at Random House and now he’s written a book to keep us straight on all the rules of writing and punctuation. Here’s a quick blurb from Amazon:

As authoritative as it is amusing, Dreyer’s English offers lessons on punctuation, from the underloved semicolon to the enigmatic en dash; the rules and nonrules of grammar, including why it’s OK to begin a sentence with “And” or “But” and to confidently split an infinitive; and why it’s best to avoid the doldrums of the Wan Intensifiers and Throat Clearers, including “very,” “rather,” “of course,” and the dreaded “actually.” Dreyer will let you know whether “alright” is all right (sometimes) and even help you brush up on your spelling—though, as he notes, “The problem with mnemonic devices is that I can never remember them.”

And yes: “Only godless savages eschew the series comma.”

Chockful of advice, insider wisdom, and fun facts, this book will prove to be invaluable to everyone who wants to shore up their writing skills, mandatory for people who spend their time editing and shaping other people’s prose, and—perhaps best of all—an utter treat for anyone who simply revels in language.

I’m really looking forward to reading this one and, after I do, I’ll need to go back and correct all the mistakes in my blog posts!

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The Monster of Florence: A True Story by Douglas Preston with Mario Spezi

The Monster of Florence
A True Story
by
Douglas Preston with Mario Spezi

Genre:
True Crime

Rating:

Between 1974 and 1985, citizens of Florence were terrorized by the murders of seven young couples. These crimes, committed by an unknown Monster of Florence, have never been solved, though many have tried. In 2000, Douglas Preston arrived with his family in Florence to write a new mystery, but instead, became fascinated with the Monster and teamed up with Mario Spezi, a well-known and respected Italian journalist, to investigate the murders.

The Monster of Florence is detailed account of the crimes and the investigation, which takes a look at a long-abandoned theory and uncovers a series of corrupt, but powerful Italian officials in charge of the case. Readers meet a confusing mix of magistrates, public ministers, prosecutors, the polizia and Italy’s carabinieri, and learn about these officials’ conflicting personal agendas. With the public’s increasing fear comes a series of arrests and imprisonments of shady suspects, including a false conviction of a violent peasant whose trial is loaded with unreliable witnesses and unsubstantiated claims. Included in this soup of investigators is a popular and sensational internet conspiracy theorist who is sure the crimes are the result of a satanic religious cult, something the government takes seriously.

Preston’s and Spezi’s digging results in a frightening push-back and lands Spezi in jail, just as their book hits the shelves. With Spezi in jail and Preston charged with obstruction of justice, the two journalists are now suspects. How they get out of this tangle is just as confusing as the investigation that got them into trouble.

The first half of the book describes the details of the murders and the second half, Preston’s partnership and friendship with Spezi. Readers will also learn about the ancient city of Florence, its history, art and architecture, as well as the devastating flash flood of the Arno River in 1966, which destroyed millions of pieces of priceless art and books.

Readers who like investigative crime stories will enjoy this account and the continued search for Italy’s infamous serial killer. Casual readers should be warned, however, of the book’s gritty violence.

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Best nonfiction reads of 2018

Image: Pixabay

Holiday shopping can be stressful and books are good options, but only if you know they’re good! Here are five of my favorite nonfiction reads of 2018. Maybe one of these will be just right for your friends or family.


Andy Warhol Was a Hoarder by Claudia Kalb – Charles Darwin was a worrier, Fyodor Dostoevsky was a compulsive gambler, and Howard Hughes had OCD. Was Andy Warhol a hoarder or simply a collector? Was Albert Einstein autistic or just focused? In this excellent collection of mini biographies, Claudia Kalb looks at twelve famous personalities and explains their known or likely battles with mental illness.


David Bowie – A Life by Dylan Jones – The story of rock legend David Bowie, who hit the scene in the 1960s and for decades delivered music, art, film and stage performances through ever-changing personas. A compilation of interviews and quotes from nearly two hundred people describing Bowie’s career. It is a terrific view into a complicated and private person.


Educated – A Memoir by Tara Westover – a young woman’s fascinating memoir about being raised in isolation by survivalist parents, tolerating her father’s mental illness and a brother’s abuse, and ultimately breaking free. Westover taught herself enough math and grammar to take the SATs and go to college, first at Brigham Young University. She later studied at Cambridge University and earned her PhD at Harvard.


Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann – a true-crime account of a shameful period of American history in which members of the Osage tribe were murdered for the headrights to oil-rich land on their reservation in Oklahoma. David Grann tells this shocking story, including the investigation of the murders led by J. Edgar Hoover’s newly-formed Federal Bureau of Investigation.


Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson – Excellent memoir about being different. Through a rambling, often irreverent and always hilarious “where is this story going?” narration, with plenty of colorful vocabulary, Lawson tells you about her childhood, depression, anxiety and illness, her family, early jobs, marriage, motherhood and how she became a blogger and writer.


What are your favorite nonfiction reads of 2018?

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Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened
(A Mostly True Memoir)

by
Jenny Lawson

Rating:

If you are looking for a great story about being different and making it anyway, I highly recommend Let’s Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson. In some ways, it is a classic success story about perseverance, but mostly, it’s a shout-out to anyone who’s not mainstream. Because Jenny Lawson is the opposite of mainstream.

Through a rambling, often irreverent and always hilarious “where is this story going?” narration, with plenty of colorful vocabulary, Lawson tells you about her childhood, depression, anxiety and illness, her family, early jobs, marriage, motherhood and how she became a blogger and writer.

Yes, Lawson is The Bloggess, here on WordPress, and you can read her latest post here. Nielson recognizes her as one of the Top Most Powerful Mom Bloggers and Forbes ranks her on their Top 100 Websites for Women.

Lawson may likely have had the most unique childhood, ever. She and her younger sister grew up in a rural town in western Texas. Their father ran his taxidermy business out of their house, never hesitating to share his enthusiasm for his unconventional job. Wild animals were frequent visitors, including squirrels, raccoons, chickens, armadillos and pigs, and they were all part of Lawson’s quirky family.

When she was a young girl, Lawson desperately wanted to fit in at school, but she did not. In high school, she suffered from an eating disorder, tried drugs, was into Goth, and had many other anxieties. But she also had a superpower: humor. And it saved her. I laughed out loud throughout her story, not because of her struggles, but because of how she describes them. She doesn’t feel sorry for herself. She holds nothing back. She’s full of human flaws and she gives herself completely to her readers. By the end of the book, I felt like I had made a friend.

Lawson’s chapters reveal a keen understanding of the human condition and a genuine appreciation of her life and family. She writes,

I can finally see that all the terrible parts of my life, the embarrassing parts, the incidents I wanted to pretend never happened, and the things that make me ‘weird’ and ‘different,’ were actually the most important parts of my life. They were the parts that made me me.”

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened was published in 2012 and is Lawson’s first book. Furiously Happy was published in 2015 and her newest book, You Are Here: An Owner’s Manual for Dangerous Minds was published in 2017.

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American history, Pilgrim marriages and a Thanksgiving memory

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Thanksgiving is fast approaching and, although here in the U.S. we are about to enter one of the busiest times of the year, it’s always good to take time to learn the history of our early American settlers, how the Thanksgiving holiday really came about and remember the important family moments that make contemporary holidays meaningful.


Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick

Do you think you know all about the Mayflower? Check out Nathaniel Philbrick’s comprehensive and scholarly account that begins with Mayflower’s voyage in 1620 and ends with the conclusion of King Philip’s War in 1676. These 102 Separatists and Non-Separatists struggled to survive when they arrived in Plymouth and did anything they could to keep from starving or freezing to death. Made up of printers and weavers and other tradesmen, women and children, they were woefully unprepared for the desperate conditions that killed nearly half of them in the first year.


Guest Post – Noelle Granger “A Little History of Pilgrim Husbands and Wives”

ushistoryimages.com

Noelle Granger, author of the Rhe Brewster Mystery Series, has some great ideas for her first historical novel, based on the early Plimoth Colony. In this guest post, Noelle talks about her idea and about the history of Pilgrim marriages.


Thanksgiving Memories When You’re Small

When you are little, the large holiday picture is not yet in view. The small memories make the biggest impressions. One of mine is sitting on my mother’s lap at the Thanksgiving table and playing with her gold bracelet.


What are your Thanksgiving traditions and special memories?

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What’s That Book? Believe It: My Journey of Success, Failure, and Overcoming the Odds by Nick Foles

whats-that-book

TitleBelieve It: My Journey of Success, Failure, and Overcoming the Odds

Author:  Nick Foles, with Joshua Cooley

Genre: Nonfiction

Rating:  3.5 stars

What’s it about? This is a first-person account of the journey that Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Nick Foles experienced in the 2017 season, which culminated in the franchise’s first Super Bowl victory. After entering the season as the backup, he was thrust into the starting role after the starting quarterback, Carson Wentz, tore his ACL. Foles embraced his faith in God and overcame countless odds to achieve the greatest feat in an NFL season—winning a championship.

How did you hear about it? I’m an avid member of the “Eagles Twitter” community, so I get most of my Eagles news from there. It was hard to not hear about the Super Bowl MVP’s book while following the aftermath of the championship.

Closing comments: I learned a ton about Foles in this book, including information prior to his days in the National Football League. I was glad he included these parts instead of just focusing on the 2017 season for the entire book. It was great to hear about how he was recruited in high school, his eventual transfer from Michigan State to Arizona, and even aspects of his personal life. He’s an honest and open individual, which quickly becomes clear when listening to his interviews, and luckily, this translated into an honest, humbling book. Of course, Foles is no author, so the quality of the writing (despite the help of a real author) is not going to blow anyone away. The book probably could’ve been cut by about 40 to 50 pages and still have been just as interesting, but it doesn’t drone on and on either. Personally, I found the references to his religion a little over the top at times. I am glad that Foles’s belief in God helped guide him through his experiences, but for readers who aren’t into that kind of thing, it might come off as him pushing his religion too much. I’m sure this wasn’t his intention, so I can’t criticize it too much. However, for many people who don’t have as strong religious beliefs, it can be easy to glaze over entire paragraphs because it becomes rather repetitive. Overall, though, this was a fun, easy read and gave me some great perspective into the man that’s going to be at the top of the list in Philadelphia for a long time.

Contributor:  Austin Vitelli is an assistant editor for a medical publishing company who recently graduated from Lehigh University with a degree in journalism. He’s been a Philadelphia Eagles fan his whole life. His blog, which mostly focuses on the Eagles, can be viewed here.


whats-that-book

Have you read something good?  Want to talk about it?
Consider being a contributor to What’s That Book.

Email Book Club Mom at bvitelli2009@gmail.com for information.

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