Recent Reads -- 4 stars each

Monday, September 29, 2014

My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead

I first read Middlemarch when I was in college. I'd picked it up because I knew it was one of the "greats" and I felt like I had to read it sometime or other; I didn't suspect how much engaging it would be. A few months ago, I started listening to it while I ran. Thus, when I had a chance to read an early copy of My Life in Middlemarch, I jumped at the chance. To be honest, I was expecting more of a memoir than this biography/criticism/personal reflection, but I still loved reading about the layers of George Eliot's life, the construction of the massive, masterful novel, and the way books color and influence every reader's life.

4 stars

Warnings: Some thematic material and vague references to sensuality

A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L'Engle

I love Madeleine L'Engle. If, someday, I am a famous writer (I can dream, can't I?) and someone asks me who my greatest influence was, she will be at the top of the list. I actually read part of this memoir several years ago and I have no idea why I didn't finish it at the time, but several of the lines I highlighted have become so much a part of my own opinions that I had forgotten that I first read them in A Circle of Quiet. This memoir explores L'Engle's experiences with writing, living in a small community, spirituality, and family life. It is rambling but gorgeous, with many gems of wisdom. I am so excited that there are three more Crosswicks Journals for me to dive into.

4 stars

Warnings: A few instances of language, discussion of some heavy ideas

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Rainbow Rowell is pure delight to read. Something about the way she frames emotions and experiences makes them both infinitely relatable and yet entertainingly unique. Landline is the story of Georgie McCool (which, really? what a name -- but it worked with the character once I got acquainted with her), a career woman and mother whose marriage is faltering. After she chooses work over family and her husband, Neil, takes their kids to see his family for Christmas without her, she tries to call them from her mother's landline -- only to find that it isn't present-day Neil but Neil from her past that answers. As she speaks with him, she evaluates her life, love, and relationship and tries to work her way back to her family. One of the things I loved about this book was that I could really empathize with Georgie in many ways. I am a working mother too -- I am going to have to be away from my family on Christmas too (although for me, it is not a choice, and my husband isn't mad at me about it, thank goodness). The pain she experienced reverberated with me, and as she went through the growing process I also felt like I learned some things about love. Rowell is an auto-read for me now.

4 stars

Warnings: Language, references to sex (no explicit scenes)

Paper Towns by John Green

I'm (very slowly) working my way through John Green's backlist. Paper Towns is about a guy whose name I've already forgotten whose childhood best friend goes missing -- but leaves some clues for him to find her. As he leaves on his wild goose chase he learns about love, friendship, and living. So here's the thing about John Green. Fault in Our Stars was amazing and moving. Looking for Alaska was pretty good, and unique from Fault in Our Stars. However, Paper Towns reads a lot like Looking for Alaska. Manic-pixie-dream-girl, much philosophizing about love, friendship, purpose, and death. It was a solidly good book, but definitely didn't veer from the prototype. I will say that I don't mind Green's hyper-intelligent protagonists, though -- I know people complain that teenagers don't talk like that or think like that and so on, but I disagree. Not all teenagers do. Maybe not even most. But some do, and I think they would definitely be the most interesting ones to read a book about. End of that rant. Basically, good book, good coming of age story, if you like John Green, here's a John Green book that sounds just like a John Green book.

4 stars

Warnings: Language, teen drug use and drinking, references to sexuality


Sunday, September 14, 2014

You guys! If you've been reading this blog for any length of time you know that I looooove Stainless Steel Dropping's R.I.P. challenge. Love it. I have been participating for four or five years now and I look forward every year to setting aside some atmospheric reads for the fall. Here's the general idea (from the original website):
September 1st is right around the corner. It is time to begin.
Dark Fantasy.
Or anything sufficiently moody that shares a kinship with the above.
That is what embodies the stories, written and visual, that we celebrate with the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril event.
As time has wound on I’ve honed this event down to two simple rules:
1. Have fun reading (and watching).
2. Share that fun with others.
As I do each and every year, there are multiple levels of participation (Perils) that allow you to be a part of R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril without adding the burden of another commitment to your already busy lives. There is even a one book only option for those who feel that this sort of reading is not their cup of tea (or who have too many other commitments) but want to participate all the same.
R.I.P. IX officially runs from September 1st through October 31st. But lets go ahead and break the rules. Lets start today!!!

I'm planning on Peril the First, which is to read four books fitting into the categories of R.I.P. Here are the four I think I'll read:

* The Distant Hours by Kate Morton
* Thorn Jack by Katherine Harbour
* The Secret History by Donna Tartt
* The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

I am also planning on rereading the first two books in the Raven Boys series and, hopefully, Blue Lily, Lily Blue. I also want to listen to The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne, which isn't supernatural, per se, but always feels very October to me.

Do you like to read books that fit in with the season? Any good suggestions for October? Comment below!

Book Catch-up: Massive Edition

Monday, September 08, 2014

I have had a hard time keeping up with blogging these days, to the point where I have considered throwing in the towel. But, I can't so far. I love it, and every book I read, I find myself forming review sentences in my brain. So while I may not always be perfectly consistent, I am planning on being present. I have read some great books since my last post... but there are a lot of them. So I am going to skip the cover art for now and give you a brief, few sentence review (if I am capable... I do love to talk). So here we go.

March by Geraldine Brooks

A companion to the beloved classic Little Women, March is gritty, moving, and incredible. 5 stars.

Meet the Austins by Madeleine L'Engle

This short novel still manages in a few pages what L'Engle does best -- takes impossibly difficult situations, infuses them with charity, and redeems them. 4 stars.

Across the Wall by Garth Nix

This collection of short stories drew my attention because the first and longest of the collection deals with the characters of Sabriel. I did enjoy the first story, "Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case," for that reason, but was only mildly engaged in the remainder of the book. 3 stars.

Dear Scott, Dearest Zelda: The Love Letters of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald

For anyone who is fascinated by the Lost Generation and the Fitzgeralds, this first person chronicle of the Fitzgeralds tumultuous relationship is valuable reading, but does leave holes in the story and can be a bit dense at times. 3 stars.

What Would a Holy Woman Do? by Wendy Watson Nelson

This short, inspirational book on framing your life in the paradigm of a holy woman was surprisingly effective in relation to its few pages. 4 stars.

Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

Isla was more complicated than its two companions, Anna and the French Kiss and Lola and the Boy Next Door. I was less impressed by the love story at first (my mom brain was saying, "Stupid, stupid stupid" to them most of the time). However, I loved how Isla developed. I could relate to her difficulty in choosing, and thought her journey from being a girl defined by others to a girl defined by herself was moving. 4 stars, but I didn't think so until the second half of the book.

You are a Badass by Jen Sincero

This book is a seriously motivating pep talk. Probably Isla from the above book should have read it. Concepts are pretty basic but delivered in a powerful voice that helped me change some things in my own life. 4 stars.

Flame of Sevenwaters by Juliet Marillier

The last of the Sevenwaters books. Reading these books feels like swimming on a hot day -- the plot and strong characters are refreshing, and I just want to luxuriate in the language until my (figurative) fingers are wrinkled. 4.5 stars.

The Continuous Atonement by Brad Wilcox

This examination of Jesus Christ's ability to save mankind was a fresh and hopeful perspective, one I plan to revisit again. 5 stars.

The Aviator's Wife by Melanie Benjamin

The Aviator's Wife is a novelized biography akin to The Paris Wife about Anne Morrow Lindbergh. There were many very painful, heart-wrenching moments in this novel that made it uncomfortable to read, but the overall experience was illuminating and fascinating. 4 stars.

The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan

I enjoyed each story in The Joy Luck Club but found myself wishing they all tied together a bit more neatly. 3.5 stars.

Call the Midwife by Jennifer Worth

I love the show and I was pleased to find I loved the book as well. It reminded me of the reasons that I love nursing, and Worth's writing brings the interesting, varied characters of her memoir to life. 4 stars.

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

This examination of the 12 sons of Jacob/Israel, told by the oft-overlooked Dinah, lent an interesting perspective on how women's experiences could rewrite history. 4 stars.

The Wise Man's Fear by Patrick Rothfuss

The Kingkiller Chronicle continues to be epic as ever. Although I definitely rolled my eyes when, after Kvothe looks at a lady's figure blatantly and her boyfriend grumbles about it, she states that it isn't demeaning when Kvothe looks at a woman's body like that, because when he does it it's like he's appreciating great art. I think Kvothe is pretty awesome, but his human foibles don't all have to be turned into virtues. Still, I enjoyed this continued story of his adventures and can't wait for the third and final volume, as well as the companion novel out soon. 4 stars.

My lucky spin number is... 17!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

This is far overdue, but I have been on vacation and only just had the chance to report that for the next classics spin I will be reading Portrait of a Lady by Henry James. I am looking forward to it -- it's a book I know very little about but have always held in my head as one of the pinnacles of great literature. I read a Henry James for my first spin (The Wings of the Dove) and had a great experience despite the challenge. It's a chunker -- I am reading it on my Kindle but Wikipedia informs me it is 520 pages. I plan on reporting back to you October 7th about my experience.

Are you participating in the spin? What did you get?

Classics Club Meme #25

Thursday, August 07, 2014

I haven't done the Classics Club meme in a while (like, maybe more than a year) but I really liked this question.

What are your thoughts on adaptions of classics? Say mini-series or movies? Or maybe modern approaches? Are there any good ones? Is it better to read the book first? Or maybe just compare the book and an adaptation?

I love adaptations of classics. I love mini-series, and movies, and modern approaches. So, now that we have that out of the way... I will say, though, that I prefer to read the book first, not because the book is better, per se (it usually is, but not always), but because the book came first, if that makes sense. It is the original, and I like to start with what came first.

But... I love seeing a book in another medium (although I think it is important to recognize it is another medium, and not expect it to be a carbon copy of the book). And I love hearing the main thread of a story in a different setting, or time period, or so on. I like seeing how our most important stories evolve and change, making up a sort of mythology.

Some of my favorite on-screen adaptations of classics:

:: Pride and Prejudice (the one with Keira Knightly, don't stone me)
:: Sense and Sensibility (with Kate Winslet and Emma Thompson)
:: Les Miserables the musical
:: The Last of the Mohicans (a rare case where the movie trumps the book)
:: Anne of Green Gables
:: Little Women
:: Gone with the Wind
:: East of Eden (with James Dean)
:: The Lizzie Bennet Diaries
:: Emma (with Gwyneth Paltrow)
:: Clueless

Favorite Bookish Posts in July.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

I always post a list of links I loved each month on my personal blog, and thought it would be fun to do bookish posts on this blog. Here are some posts I loved in the month of July:

:: Staples for Baby's First Library.

:: Confessions of a Jane Austen addict.

:: How to read more.

:: More for Baby's First Library -- 5 great board books that are not Goodnight Moon

:: Failing at a book buying ban... it's a losing battle.

Classics Spin #7

Monday, August 04, 2014

It is time for the Classics Club Spin again! I love this challenge and the way it inspires me to read more challenging books from my TBR list. To play, make a list of 20 books before next Monday, August 11. On that day, a number will be chosen, and your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to read the selected book by October 6. No matter what, you win! :) (For more details, visit the Classics Club blog).

The event hosts suggest making a list with 5 books you can't wait to read, 5 books you dread, and so on, but I've just been recycling my lists from each spin and filling in the blanks of ones I have managed to read with the next books on my 50 classics list. So...

1. The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne
2. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
3. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
4. The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot
5. A Pair of Blue Eyes by Thomas Hardy
6. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
7. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
8. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
9. The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
10. In Our Time by Ernest Hemingway
11. Travels with Charley: In Search of America by John Steinbeck
12. Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather
13. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
14. Summer by Edith Wharton
15. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
16. Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
17. The Portrait of a Lady by Henry James
18. Silas Marner by George Eliot
19. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
20. Elizabeth and her German Garden by Elizabeth van Arnim

Last week's reads

Monday, July 21, 2014

Last week's reads were a hodgepodge, as per my usual. If you read my other blog you know that I've been working on a Happiness Project, and many of my reading choices have been reflecting that project. (And one of them was for fun). On to the books!

The Confidence Code by Katty Kay and Claire Shipman

The Confidence Code explores, in a nutshell, why women tend to be less confident than men, particularly in the workplace. The authors explore biological, genetic, psychosocial, and cultural reasons, and find that they all play a part in the decreased self-assurance shown by women. They interview several powerful and accomplished women, and find that many of them still do lack confidence in some respects, but also go through ways that they have overcome this lack of confidence.

The book was very interesting, and I particularly enjoyed learning about the biological and genetic factors that go into confidence. It felt to me more like an informative book about the essence of confidence, rather than a how-to book of how to achieve greater confidence. While the book was interesting, I didn't find it particularly conclusive and felt it wound around the same point a fair bit, which is why it didn't rank higher than 3.5 stars. However, an interesting read, and just the fact that I was thinking more about my confidence, I feel, led me to act with more confidence myself. 

3.5 stars

Warnings: None

Love and Logic Magic for Early Childhood by Jim Fay and Charles Fay

This one came highly recommended by friends with well-behaved kids, so I definitely wanted to check it out. C. has rocketed into toddlerhood with a set of opinions and a propensity to scream in church, and I have been desperate for solutions. I found Love and Logic to have some pretty good ideas, although it definitely falls into the frightful trap of "if you don't follow everything we say to the letter, your child will end up in prison" that every parenting book has. While I haven't religiously adopted every technique or seen complete and utter success, I do think it is better than most. 

4 stars

Warnings: May get a bit cheesed out by some of the examples :)

Longing for Home by Sarah Eden

I have really been enjoying the books in the Proper Romance publishing imprint. Lately I have been craving some of the lighter, giddier style of books, and these books have it all without being lewd and making me uncomfortable. Longing for Home is the story of Katie, an Irish immigrant working in America during the time of the Great Famine. She travels across the country to work in a tiny town in Wyoming, only to find that the town is split apart by a great feud between the Irish and those who wish they would head back to their own country. Between her own dark secrets of the past and the turmoil around her, Katie has more than enough to deal with, but of course there are not one but two handsome strangers to further complicate the story. I found the plot enjoyable and at times unpredictable, especially in the matter of the love triangle. So often, the answer is obvious, but in Katie's case it is difficult to say, and there is a second book to further elaborate what her choice will be. My only issue was that the writing was at times circuitous and overly obvious. However, a romantic and at times intense story with a constantly twisting plot. 

3.75 stars

Warnings: Some violence

Women and the Priesthood by Sheri Dew

There was been a bit of turmoil among some members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints over the last few years centering on the fact that only men hold the priesthood in the church. Sheri Dew's book goes into the doctrinal reasons behind this difference, and explains why women are essential to the priesthood and have full access to its power despite the fact that they do not officiate in its ordinances. I found this book to be well-written and so clear on the doctrine. It was beautiful and definitely increased both my faith and my understanding. 

5 stars

Warnings: None

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