Book Review: The Phantom Coach, edited by Michael Sims

22 October 2014

This post modified from a review that originally ran in Shelf Awareness for Readers. Reprinted here with permission.

It's that time of year again: spooky stories and ghost tales abound, and we've all changed our Twitter names to something Halloween-appropriate. In the spirit of Halloween-reading, The Phantom Coach couldn't be more appropriate; for those of us also trying to read more classics, it's a double-whammy: Sims has curated a collection of Victorian ghost tales that celebrate the genre as much as the writers featured.

In the introduction to The Phantom Coach, editor Michael Sims (The Dead Witness; Dracula's Guest) explores why modern readers are still so entranced by classic tales from beyond the grave, writing, "the protagonists face the great chilling fact of human life: that it's brief, linear, and moves toward the grave as swiftly as an arrow. Ghost stories permit us to peek behind the shroud." Sims's chosen Victorian works do just that, ranging among topics such as lost children, lingering family spirits and haunted boating expeditions.

Sims's collection features a dozen authors, including Arthur Conan Doyle, Charles Dickens, Elizabeth Gaskell, Henry James, Rudyard Kipling and Amelia Edwards, with many lesser-known and infrequently anthologized pieces in place of more commonly known works from the era. Sims introduces each story with a brief background on the author, notes about how the ghost story fits into the author's oeuvre and, where relevant, how the story relates to the others in the collection (Dickens, for example, edited several of the tales found here for his periodicals Household Words and All the Year Round). The pieces, arranged in chronological order, span the Victorian era, pulled from as early as 1852 and as late as 1907. Combined into one volume, these 12 stories give readers an excellent entry point into the spooky literature of the Victorian era--a time marked by a fascination with death and dying.

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The Phantom Coach: A Connoisseur's Collection of Victorian Ghost Stories | ed. Michael Sims | Bloomsbury | September 2014 | Trade Paperback

Book Review: A Deadly Wandering, by Matt Richtel

20 October 2014

This post originally ran in Shelf Awareness for Readers. Reprinted here with permission.



In 2006, 19-year-old Reggie Shaw was headed to work when he veered over the double line in the center of the road and skimmed the side of an oncoming car, sending it spiraling out of control; the crash took the lives of both of that car's occupants. Investigators subpoenaed Shaw's cell phone records and found that he had been sending and receiving text messages in the minutes--and seconds--leading up to the accident.

What followed was a years-long legal battle as the state of Utah struggled with the issues involving texting while driving, and how much control the state could exert over drivers' actions behind the wheel. Ultimately, Shaw's own testimony proved indispensable in pushing through legislation that would limit drivers' use of cell phones and make more people aware of the dangers of texting and driving.

Matt Richtel won a Pulitzer Prize for his New York Times series on the subject of distracted driving; A Deadly Wandering is his account of Shaw's accident and the ensuing legal battles. Not content with simple reportage, Richtel weaves in accounts from neuroscientists who are studying distraction, technology and how we can become addicted to our devices. Though Richtel sometimes offers too much detail, presenting more biographies of the players in the court case than might be necessary, his book ultimately serves as a testament to the power of journalism to retell a story with added layers for maximum impact. In a world where 89% of American adults believe it's dangerous to text and drive (though 64% still admit that they do it), that impact is clearly needed.

A Readathon Wrap-up

19 October 2014

Yesterday was the Dewey 24-Hour Readathon, and while it wasn't my best showing in terms of hours or pages read, it was an incredibly fun day. This was my first year cheering, and I had a blast connecting with so many other readers, seeing new-to-me blogs, and getting to know a bit about the rocking #TeamShakespeare.


Which hour was most daunting for you?
Hour 14. I took a 10-hour break for a trip to the Maryland Renaissance Festival (which was a blast), and then a family birthday dinner. I was a mite exhausted after that, despite my hopes that it would be energizing, so it was tough to get back into the books. I did sneak some reading on my phone in during dinner, so rather than going back to my readathon stack when I came back, I decided to continue on with the book I'd been sneak-reading: A Rogue by Any Other Name, by Sarah Maclean. Excellent choice, that. I don't think my brain could have handled a new storyline at that point.

Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
I only read three books yesterday (not completed, but read pages of), so not sure how helpful I'll be on this. I do find that relatively easy-to-read, plot-driven novels and narrative non-fiction keep me hooked for longer periods of time, but that's just personal preference.



Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the Read-a-thon next year?

No, honestly, things seemed amazing from my end of things this year! 

What do you think worked really well in this year’s Read-a-thon?
Cheerleader energy, reader engagement on Twitter and other social media platforms. Love connecting with other readers on blogs and elsewhere.

How many books did you read?
1 in its entirety, half of another, 30 pages of a third.

What were the names of the books you read?
Horrorstor, by Grady Hendrix
God'll Cut You Down, by John Safran
A Rogue By Any Other Name, by Sarah Maclean

Which book did you enjoy most?
Toss up between Horrorstor and A Rogue. They're so different, it's hard to compare. God'll Cut You Down will be great, I think, I just wasn't in the mood for it yesterday.

Which did you enjoy least?
I don't continue reading books I don't enjoy, with very few exceptions, so no answer!

If you were a Cheerleader, do you have any advice for next year’s Cheerleaders?
Start early, and use cheering as a way to break up your reading if you can. It also helps to chat with your team to get a sense of where extra support may be needed--for example, we had one blog on our team whose first-ever post was about the readathon, so she had no existing following, and we made a note to visit her a bit more if time allowed.

How likely are you to participate in the Read-a-thon again? What role would you be likely to take next time?
Is this a trick question? Because duh.
I loved being a cheerleader and plan to offer to help out more next year, if I can!

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Pages read: 430
Books read: Horrorstor, by Grady Hendrix; God'll Cut You Down, by John Safran; A Rogue By Any Other Name, by Sarah Maclean
Books completed: 1 (Horrorstor)
Total hours read: 5

It's Here! The Readathon Begineth

18 October 2014

I don't exactly know why I started my olde English titles for my blogathon-related posts, but it's probably fitting, since I'll be working with Team Shakespeare to cheer readathon-ers on over the course of the day. Go #TeamShakespeare!

I'll be updating on my own reading on Instagram, Twitter and Tumblr over the course of the day, with links and totals updated here as a central location. Though between cheering and a few social obligations that have come up (family birthday dinners, the like), I'm expecting less and less reading time by the minute. Still, I've got a beautiful stack of books waiting for me and lots of Whole30 snacks lined up for the day (fuel and sustenance are key!).

         

Currently reading: A Rogue By Any Other Name, by Sarah Maclean


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Updates & mini-challenges:

Kicking off: 8AM (Opening meme)
Hour 2: Only an hour of reading, but lots of cheering so far!
Hour 4: Finished Horrorstor, on to some nonfiction
Hour 12: Mid-event survey
Hour 14: I'm back! (After a 10-hour hiatus with an hour of stolen reading time squeezed in)

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Daily totals:


Pages read: 293
Books read: Horrorstor, by Grady Hendrix; God'll Cut You Down, by John Safran; A Rogue By Any Other Name, by Sarah Maclean
Books completed: 1 (Horrorstor)
Total hours read: 2.85
Total cheers: I lost track almost as soon as I started, but cheering has been a lot of fun so far. And Team Shakespeare is kicking some cheer butt, if I do say so myself. #TeamShakespeare #forthewin


Reading About the Reading Life

15 October 2014

This post originally ran in Shelf Awareness for Readers. Reprinted here with permission.



Like many readers, I'm incapable of leaving a bookstore without at least one shiny new read. There's something about an entire store dedicated to the reading life that is impossibly alluring, no matter how large or small the store, no matter how rambling or curated the collection.

That magic has been captured by Gabrielle Zevin in her heartfelt The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry. On its surface, it's a novel about a widower struggling to keep his bookshop in business--and his life in one piece--after the unexpected death of his wife. But as the story unfolds, Zevin packs the book with odes to the power of books, bookstores and reading to bring together a family and an entire community.

Parnassus on Wheels, a 1917 novella by Christopher Morley (available as part of Melville House's Art of the Novella series), also explores the idea of bookselling as a life-changing activity: "When you sell a man a book,... you sell him a whole new life. Love and friendship and humour and ships at sea by night--there's all heaven and earth in a book." Morley makes bookselling as influential for the bookseller as for the reader, as Helen McGill decides to reinvent her life by buying a traveling bookshop.

Robin Sloan's Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookshop presents a bookshop very much of our time. His witty novel explores the intersection of printed books and technology, as a new bookseller at Mr. Penumbra's shop starts to explore the store's centuries-old secrets. A bonus: the dust jacket glows in the dark.

Lewis Buzbee, author, bookseller, writing professor, has written about the power of books and his experience as a bookseller in The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop. The short volume is packed with history and detail about publishing and the power of books and what it is like to spend one's life immersed in them--something we've all dreamed of.

Dewey's 24-Hour-Readathon Approacheth

13 October 2014

It's here! Or... almost. The Dewey 24-Hour Readathon kicks of at midnight this Friday, and wraps up midnight on Saturday. I already know I won't get 24 hours in--it's my stepmom's birthday, so we'll be celebrating with her that evening--but I've got a stack of books picked out and I'm already planning some Whole30 snacks to get me through the day.

I always pick out more books than I can possibly read in one day for these events, but I like to have variety on hand. Here's what I'm eying for my stack:


Horrorstor, by Grady Hendrix, because it's October and appropriate for scary reads, and because I met Grady Hendrix at BEA and talked about this book and it sounds AWESOME.

In the Company of Sherlock Holmes, ed. Laurie R. King & Leslie S. Klinger, because I read and loved their last collection of Sherlock-inspired stories (A Study in Scarlet), and who doesn't love Sherlock-inspired stories?

The Snow Child, by Eowyn Ivey, because Nathan Dunbar told me to.

Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, because I fell hard for Strayed's writing in Tiny Beautiful Things, and have had an inexplicable urge to go hiking lately, so it seems timely.

In the Woods, by Tana French, because I accidentally read the Dublin Murder Squad books out of order, and want to go back and read the first before I pick up Broken Harbour and The Secret Place.

Florence Gordon, by Brian Morton, because it sounds feminist-y and awesome.

Salt, Sugar, Fat, by Michael Moss, because my so-far experience with Whole30 has me obsessing over the food industry, ingredient lists (there is added sugar in EVERYTHING) and how my body processes these things.

God'll Cut You Down, by John Safran, because anything about race that is blurbed as "by turns informative, frightening and hilarious" has me intrigued.

What's on your readathon list this time around?

European Adventures: Packing for a Month in a Backpack

10 October 2014

Backpacking through Europe is by no means some original idea that my husband and I dreamed up, but I've still gotten a surprising number of questions about how, exactly, we managed to pack for a month in just a backpack a person.

In short: carefully.

I did a ton of research on the packs themselves, and we ended up opting for LLBean's Quickload Travel Packs: they meet most carry-on requirements, and they unzip like regular suitcases, rather than loading from the top, which made them easier to unpack and repack at each of our seven (turned into eight) destinations. I also perused blogs and posts from others who had done similar, adapting their packing lists for my destinations, weather, and planned activities (I didn't, for example, pack any nightclub clothes, which I don't own anyway).


Packing needed to include clothes to span temperatures from the high 50s (Ireland and Scotland), to the high 80s (Italy and Spain), with a significant possibility of rain along the way. In the end, I opted for the following:

Clothes

  • 2 pairs of pants (jeans and black jeans)
  • 2 tank tops (1 white, 1 black)
  • 2 t-shirts (1 grey, 1 black)
  • 3 long-sleeve shirts (1 white, 1 black, 1 black-and-white striped)
  • 2 "nice" shirts (1 white, 1 black)
  • 2 sweaters (1 black, 1 green)
  • 2 three-quarter sleeve cardigans (1 red, 1 grey)
  • 1 black maxi dress
  • 1 knee-length black shift dress (for warmer weather)
  • 1 pair of hiking shoes (Merrell Allout Blazes)
  • 1 pair of nude-colored sandals
  • 1 pair of black patent-leather flats
  • 8 pairs of socks
  • 8 pairs of underwear + 3 bras
  • 1 pair of pajamas
  • 1 tote bag
  • 1 raincoat

I wore every single item in my suitcase at least once, if not multiple times. We packed dehydrated "sheets" of laundry detergent, and washed our clothes in the shower/sink of each apartment we stayed in (though one or two did have a washing machine, not a single one had a dryer). 

Lesson learned: Wash your clothes on arrival at each location, so they can drip-dry and (hopefully) be dry by the time you pack and leave. Never underestimate how long it takes something to dry when you lack a dryer's oh-so-handy spin cycle.

Because our backpacks don't have many compartments, we used these amazing eBags packing cubes to roll our clothes, which served the dual purpose of keeping our clothes compact enough to fit in our cases and tidy enough not to make us crazy with unpacking and re-packing.


Toiletries

I kept the toiletry section as light as possible, because we planned to carry on our bags for each of our six total flights, and liquids are a pain to deal with. I brought:

  • Travel-size shampoo + conditioner
  • Travel-size perfume (which leaked and got tossed about two weeks in)
  • Travel-size deodorant
  • 2 red lipsticks
  • Small tube of face lotion + SPF40
  • Travel-size sunscreen
  • Travel-size shaving cream + razor
  • Travel-size toothpaste + tiny toothbrush
  • Fold-up hairbrush
We bought bars of soap (or hoarded hotel mini-soap) along the way, and re-stocked if/when we ran out of things (toothpaste, mainly). I wish I brought a real hairbrush, but since no place we stayed had a working hairdryer, the hair went in a bun almost every day anyway, and brushing it was the least of my concerns.

Stuff

  • Universal power adapter (we got this one from Amazon, and loved it because the fan on the unit kept it from overheating when plugged in)
  • Door-stop alarm: the concept here is a doorstop that sets off an alarm if, say, anyone tries to open the door and hits the door wedge. While a good idea in theory, we a) never felt unsafe in any of our AirBnB rentals (or stop-gap hotels), and b) the device stopped working round about day 3. So we trashed it. Waste of money and luggage space.
  • Canon Eos Rebel T3i camera, plus charger. Also invested in a super-size SD card, so we didn't have to worry about running out of space (we had about 600 pictures left on our 5,000 photo card when we got home)
  • ONA Bowery camera bag, to protect the camera when packed in my backpack, and to use as a day bag/purse/camera case while exploring
  • Four Lonely Planet pocket-size travel guides: Barcelona, Rome, Edinburgh, and Paris. There weren't pocket-guides available for our other destinations (Dublin/Ireland, Marseille, Milan), and these ended up being pretty useless anyway, though I suppose they make nice mementos, and the maps were occasionally helpful.
  • Nook Simple Touch, which holds its charge for at least a month without WiFi, and has the added bonus of sharing a charger with my...
  • Smartphone: though the phone part didn't work in Europe at all (I kept it on airplane mode), WiFi hotspots were surprisingly plentiful (even Versailles is online), so I kept my phone on hand to snap quick pictures, load previously saved maps, and look up directions/destinations as possible. We also invested in Skype credit to call home a few times and assure our respective parents that yes, we were still alive and well.
  • A money belt: I only wore this in Barcelona, a city unfortunately notorious for its pickpockets, but was glad to have it just to put my mind at ease while we were there.
And we're off!

I have always been a panic-packer, overpacking and then some, throwing last-minute items in left and right before I close my suitcase. This required serious packing discipline, and hopefully will carry over to other trips in the future.

What's the longest you've gone living out of a suitcase? How did you prepare?