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

Recent Reads

Monday, July 07, 2014

Walden by Henry David Thoreau

This classic of minimalism and simplicity was our book club choice this month -- and only two of us made it to the meeting. I think I know why. Despite the many amazing insights of Walden, it is a pretty dense book, and it takes some motivation to get through some of the detailed descriptions of the depth of the lake, the idiosyncrasies of the animals in the surrounding woods, etc. Still, I'm glad I finally read it, and it did cause me to think and learn some things.

3.5 stars

Warnings: None

Abigail Adams by Woody Holton

I love Abigail Adams. I discovered her as a role model when reading John Adams by David McCullough, which is infinitely more readable than this tome that focuses on Abigail. I enjoyed all the details of her life, but at times the style was rather dry. I also listened to it on Audible, and I don't think an audiobook was the right format for a biography of this style. In addition, at times the author chose to view Abigail's actions exclusively through the lens of feminism. While I do think Abigail was ahead of her time in women's rights and did many amazing things for women, I don't think her every action was performed with that sole intention, as the author sometimes implied. Still, an interesting look into an interesting life.

3.5 stars

Warnings: None

How She Does It by Anne Bogel

I love Ms. Bogel's blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy, and when I saw a post referencing this book and explaining Bogel's philosophy on women being able to manipulate the traditional work experience into something that works for motherhood, too, I was fascinated -- that is what I try to do everyday! I did find it encouraging, and found some good ideas; however, much of what was written wasn't relevant to me, because I can't work from home at this time. It also left me with the feeling that one can't be fulfilled if one is not working. This may very well be true for me, but I don't think it is true for everyone -- and I am planning on eventually seeing if I can be satisfied with stay-at-home-motherhood, once my working is not a necessity for my family. Still, an interesting read with a good perspective on working mothers.

3.5 stars

Warnings: None

The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton

I am an Edith Wharton fangirl. The other two works that I have read by this author, The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence, captivated me and made me feel all the feelings. I had heard that The Custom of the Country was her masterpiece, and I had very high expectations for it. I won't say that those expectations were dashed, necessarily, but I did have a very different experience with Custom of the Country than I did with the other two Wharton books I have read. While neither of them could be classified as "happy endings," they left me satisfied, albeit sad. However, The Custom of the Country left me feeling somewhat dirty and weary. I think part of it is the fact that the main character, Undine, is so unlikable. I am not the type to discount a story because the heroine (or anti-heroine, as it were) is flawed. I love Gone With the Wind, the book I hear mentioned the most often for having an unlikable heroine. However, Undine is selfish, foolish, a home wrecker, a life-ruiner... I was so angry at her for most of the book, and so sad for the people whose lives she affected. I do think that Wharton's writing was incredible -- it certainly still made me feel the way her other books have -- but the things I was feeling were so miserable and frustrated that I couldn't enjoy her genius. I can't rate this book, because it is a masterpiece -- but I didn't enjoy it.

Warnings: Off the page adultery, dark thematic material (such as suicide)

Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite Classics

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Wow, it has been forever since I have done one of these Top Ten Tuesday posts (hosted by the great blog The Broke and the Bookish, as usual). Today's prompt is on favorite classics. I think the challenge for me will be narrowing it down to ten this week -- I love the classics.

1. East of Eden by John Steinbeck -- I think this one goes without saying -- my son is named after a character in this book. I love it because of John Steinbeck's amazing writing, the fascinating characters, and the powerful message that our lives are what we choose, not what destiny chooses for us.

2. Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery -- I love the simplicity and goodness of these eight books. I have read them so many times, at so many different phases of my life, and they never fail to touch and enlighten me.

3. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott -- I feel similarly about Little Women as I do about Anne of Green Gables -- there is so much purity, simplicity, and wholesomeness in these books. I know they are not popular values, but I love them anyway.

4. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton -- Not a happy book, but the emotional gut-punch this left me with was so powerful even though it was so bittersweet.

5. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo -- When a book is so much work to read, I always appreciate some kind of payback. Les Miserables definitely delivers that for me -- there is so much to think about, so much beauty (and ugliness) of the human spirit.

6. Emma by Jane Austen -- I love all of Austen's books, but I had to highlight this one because I never liked it growing up. However, when I reread it a few months ago, I fell in love with it, I think because I learned to see the humor in the title character. While she isn't perfect and is at times annoying, she really does have everyone's best interests at heart, and I loved seeing her grow (and laughing at her, good-naturedly of course).

7. Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald -- And really all of his books (except The Beautiful and the Damned, which I haven't read yet). I think I like this for the same reasons I like The Age of Innocence -- I just feel so much when I read it (and the writing is beautiful in the most satisfying way).

8. Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham -- I related to Philip so much it was ridiculous, down to having a club foot at birth. His constant career changes, going to Paris, eventually settling on a medical career -- I felt like I had a kindred spirit in this book.

9. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy -- Such a good adventure story and romance.

10. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas -- Again, all the adventure and romance.

What are your favorite classics?

Once Upon a Time Final Post

Friday, June 27, 2014

I never wrote my finishing-up post for Once Upon a Time VIII, which finished up on June 21st. I only ended up reading one book off my original list, but I did read five books (even more, actually), which was my goal. I always love this challenge and look forward to the second challenge hosted by Stainless Steel Droppings in the fall!

1. Princess Academy by Shannon Hale
2. The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke
3. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
4. 'Twixt Firelight and Water by Juliet Marillier
5. Prickle Moon by Juliet Marillier
6. Abhorsen by Garth Nix
7. Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor

Recent Reads

Monday, June 23, 2014

I've fallen behind -- again! Despite the fact that I haven't been able to post as consistently as I have in the past, I still love book blogging and want to post when I can. Thank you to those readers who are still here with me -- I don't interact as much as I used to but I am so grateful you are here. And now, on to the reviews.

Jennifer, Gwyneth, & Me by Rachel Bertsche

I had to snag this title off NetGalley when I saw that it was by Rachel Bertsche, the author of MWF Seeking BFF, a book I adored last year. A stunt memoir along the lines of The Happiness Project, in Jennifer, Gwyneth, & Me, Bertsche takes eight celebrities that have an aspect of life that she admires and she tries to put that element of life into practice. Her writing style is extremely readable, and I binge-read the book in a 36 hour time frame like I was having a lightning-quick weekend with an old friend. An added bonus was learning interesting tidbits about the celebrities Bertsche seeks to emulate -- I am now excited to check out Gwyneth's cookbook, and I might take the Honest Company up on their offers of free diaper samples when baby #2 comes around. Sometimes inspiring, sometimes silly, always entertaining, Jennifer, Gwyneth & Me is a great, light-hearted read that will still teach you something.

4 stars

Warnings: None

Lost Lake by Sarah Addison Allen

I fell in love with Sarah Addison Allen's magical realism in Garden Spells, and was excited to see this novel show up on NetGalley. Lost Lake doesn't live up to the enchantment of Garden Spells for me, but was still an enjoyable little romance. A young widow, Kate, visits her great-aunt Eby's lakeside camp when she finds an old postcard of the place. However, she little expects the transformation the place will enact in her life.

Lost Lake employs the magical realism present in Allen's other books, but in Lost Lake, it mostly manifests as ghost stories. I was a little disappointed in this -- I love the way magic imbues every little aspect of life in the other novels. In addition, I felt that the dialogue was a bit one-dimensional. While the characters were all interesting and had strong back stories and development, the conversations they had seemed somewhat stilted. The book also wrapped up some pretty big issues with a wave of a magic wand, so to speak, which seemed a little too easy. For this reason, I didn't find the book especially compelling, but it as still an enjoyable, romantic read.

 3 stars

Warnings: Some brief, non-explicit references to sex, brief descriptions of violence, language

My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult

If you read my "Pick-Me-Ups" post, you know that one topic that always interests me in a book is cancer. I am a pediatric bone marrow transplant nurse, and I always feel compelled to gather stories about people similar to my patients. I think part of it is because I am interested in it in my real life, and that interest remains for my reading life. I also always hope that the stories I read will be realistic and help me to have more compassion and empathy for the families I work with.

My Sister's Keeper has been on my radar -- and literally my night stand -- for a long time. As in, a couple of years. It took me a while to pick it up, I think in part because the movie made me so hysterical with tears that I was worried the book would wreak even worse havoc, and partly because the only other Jodi Picoult novel I'd ever attempted to read had ended up a DNF. However, once I picked it up, I couldn't put it down. I binge-read the last hundred pages after telling my husband I would do the dishes "after one chapter." Whoops.

If you've somehow missed all the hype around this book, it is the story of Anna, who was conceived in order to donate umbilical cord blood to her sister, who had a rare form of leukemia. As both sisters grow and Kate's leukemia relapses over and over again, Anna is asked to give more and more of her body to her sister. Finally, she sues her parents for the right to make her own medical decisions.

Picoult definitely knows how to draw a reader in, with constant twists and emotional gut-punches. She has also done her research. While I've never cared someone with Kate's particular diagnosis, many of the procedures and medications are the same, and Picoult was very well-versed. This definitely commanded my respect. I also thought the writing was great for the genre. My Sister's Keeper is a plot-driven novel constructed to shock the reader and draw out emotions, and it is incredibly effective. I have heard outcry (aka negative Goodreads reviews) about "emotional manipulation," but I feel like that is what you are asking for when you read any book, not just one of this genre. Am I right? Don't we read so we can feel things we wouldn't otherwise feel?

Anyway, My Sister's Keeper was an interesting read and definitely a page turner. It has convinced me to possibly try another Jodi Picoult, and given me a window into the outside-the-hospital life and devastation of families that deal with cancer.

4 stars

Warnings: Language, violence, thematic material, some innuendo, one non-explicit sex scene


Monday, May 19, 2014

Lately, I've been thinking about the words/phrases/subjects that make me want to read a book. I read so many books, and there are so many more that I want to read, and I've been wondering why it is I end up choosing the books that I choose. Here are my "pick-me-up" triggers:

:: Epic fantasy (always and forever a nerd!!)

:: Motherhood, midwives, birth, postpartum depression

:: Nurses, medical memoirs

:: Cancer

:: Abigail Adams

:: Self-help books

:: Books about people who love books

:: Retellings of fairytales or myths

:: Paris

:: Books about a place where I live or have lived in the past

What are your "book triggers?"

Playing Catch-Up Again!

Thursday, May 15, 2014

I have had a hard time staying on top of my book reviews this month -- it's been crazy with weddings and baby showers and work and everything. Still, I hate to leave things un-reviewed. So here are my recent reads, rapid-fire:

This Star Won't Go Out by Esther Grace Earl

This book is a compilation of the writings, emails, and journal entries of Esther Earl and her family and friends. Esther had thyroid cancer, was a friend of John Green, and The Fault in Our Stars is dedicated to her. The book itself was fairly uneven and jumped around a lot, but the story disguised within it is touching.

3 stars

Warnings: None

Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin

This follow-up to The Happiness Project is a second happiness project undertaken by Rubin, focusing specifically on her home life. I liked it, but not nearly as much as her first book.

4 stars

Warnings: None

Princess Academy by Shannon Hale

Don't let the title deceive you -- this is a great book. It is middle grade fantasy, but it isn't the pink unicorn fluffiness you would expect from the title. Instead, it is the story of a group of girls living in a rough, mountain territory who are being trained as potential brides for a prince. Survival is difficult and they find their education to be of use for more than just catching a royal husband. I thoroughly enjoyed this short, charming read.

4 stars

Warnings: None

The Wonder Weeks by Hetty van der Rijt

This is the best parenting book ever. I recommend it to everyone. It doesn't have stringent theories or rules -- simply explains your child's developing mind through the age of 20 months and gives strategies to help your child develop, as well as explanations for times of difficult behavior. It is GREAT and I recommend the whole book, but you can also purchase by the chapter if there is a particular phase that is troubling you more than others. (The writing can be repetitive, but the information is so valuable it didn't bug me one bit).

5 stars

Warnings: None

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

This is a graphic novel memoir of the author's life in Iran (and for a time as an expat in Austria). I found the story so interesting, and loved the unique medium of seeing it through comics. Some of her personal stances at the end of the book soured it for me a little, but still, a fascinating tale.

3 stars

Warnings: Language, drugs, violence, reference to sexuality (but no images)

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

This feminist classic was a very interesting read for me. It definitely inspired thought, although at the end of the day my experience of marriage and motherhood is certainly different than the protagonist of this book. Still, enjoyable and certainly ground-breaking for its time.

4 stars

Warnings: Reference to sexuality

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

This is a quirky, punny little novel. I never read it as a kid and knew that I needed to at some point in my life. It reminded me of the Thursday Next books. Not my favorite, but certainly worthwhile.

3 stars

Warnings: Might die of the puns

The Mother in Me by Kathryn Lynard Soper (Ed)

A collection of essays on motherhood by the authors of Segullah. I love Segullah, and found a few of these essays moving, but expected more from this book, I'll confess.

3 stars

Warnings: None

The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Miller

This book is melodramatic and dark. But also very addictive.

3 stars

Warnings: Violence, language, sexuality

In Bloom by Matthew Crow

This is another teenagers with cancer book. I was definitely intrigued by the subject due to my line of work. The writing was excellent and subtly humorous. I had a hard time connecting to the characters, however, and felt the book needed a stronger plot.

3 stars

Warnings: Off-the-page sexuality, language, mature themes

Stiff by Mary Roach

This book is about all the different things that human cadavers can be used for. It is very fascinating and very, very disgusting. I listened to it while I ran in the dark at 5 in the morning, which is probably not wise. It was very interesting but I can't say I enjoyed it, necessarily.

3 stars

Warnings: Graphic descriptions of various things happening to human bodies

And the winner is...

Monday, May 12, 2014

The Classics Spin number was 1, meaning I will be reading The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton. I love me some Edith, so hooray and onward!
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