Friday, June 23, 2017

Shockaholic - Carrie Fisher

Title: Shockaholic
Author: Carrie Fisher
Publication Date: 11/1/2011
Pages: 176
Genre: Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I've been reading Fisher's writings since her death.
Date Completed: 5/29/17

Summary: Fisher returns with another memoir, a look at her joys and tragedies through her unique comedic lens. 

What I Thought: I really enjoyed Wishful Drinking, the memoir Fisher wrote before this one. It was the first thing of Fisher's I had read and it certainly whet my appetite for more. Her untimely passing at the end of last year was so tragic and I think made many of us want to know her more as a person, beyond the fictional persona of Princess Leia. Isn't is sad that we often don't recognize people for their talents until they are gone?

Fisher actually references her inevitable death several times in this book, which was a bit disconcerting considering her recent passing. She certainly had no qualms about discussing the eventuality, but it makes it sadder in many ways to have seen which of her predictions came true and which did not.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Gilead - Marilynne Robinson

Title: Gilead
Author: Marilynne Robinson
Publication Date: 10/28/2004
Pages: 247
How I Found It: It's a well-known, popular novel.
Date Completed: 5/28/17

Summary: An elderly father writes to his young son about life, faith, and their small town of Gilead, Iowa. 

What I Thought: This Pulitzer Prize winner has long been on my list to read. I know so many have raved about it, including Barack Obama and Rachel Held Evans. Now, having read the book, I understand why.

It's literary fiction at it's finest. It's a beautiful book about family, faith, and friendship. It's set in the mid-1900s and told from the perspective of an elderly pastor, John Ames. Ames is purportedly writing to his young son, the blessing of a late-in-life marriage. 

One could certainly argue that not much actually happens over the course of the book. A fellow pastor and friend's long lost son returns home and Ames struggles with his presence in town and his relationship to both his own family and the Ames family. Beyond that, there is little actual plot. Rather, the book is about ordinary life, the beauty in mundanity, the reflexions of a man who has reached the end of his life and is assessing its virtue. 

Monday, June 19, 2017

Calling on Dragons - Patricia C. Wrede

Calling on Dragons
Title: Calling on Dragons
Author: Patricia C. Wrede
Publication Date: 1993
Pages: 244
How I Found It: I've loved the series since childhood.
Date Completed: 5/25/17

Summary: Once again, the Enchanted Forest is under threat from a bunch of magic-stealing wizards. Queen Cimorene heads out with her motley crew of friends in hopes of resolving the situation before it's too late.

What I Thought: Though I read the first book in this series countless times as a child, I think I only ever made it this far once. In fact, I'm not entirely sure I ever even read the last book. We'll see how much, if any, of it is familiar to me once I read it. I definitely did not remember much of this one, although the ending was familiar. 

Since I'm not sure I have ever read the last book in the series, I don't want to speak for it yet. Of the first three books, though, I find this one to be the weakest. Morwen the witch, a character who I genuinely adore, plays the central role rather than Cimorine. I think that was a miscalculation on Wrede's part. Fiesty Princess Cimorene is what endeared me to the series to begin with. I like Morwen quite a bit as well, even more now that I am an adult and her sensibility seems impressive rather than droll, but she doesn't carry the story in the same way. I find her cadre of cats excessive and a bit obnoxious, though I do like their dry humor. 

Friday, June 16, 2017

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven - Susan Jane Gilman

Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven
Title: Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven
Author: Susan Jane Gilman
Publication Date: 3/24/09
Pages: 320
Genre: Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I'm not sure.
Date Completed: 5/25/17

Summary: When Gilman set off on a round-the-world trip with her college friend Claire, she had no idea what she was getting herself into. Their first stop was 1980s Communist China, hardly an easy start. It proved to be a far more challenging place than either of the girls anticipated, though not for the reasons they would have expected. 

What I Thought: This book is such an interesting journey. It starts out largely as a travel memoir. Two recent college graduates embark on a trip around the world rather than get jobs after graduation. As a display of their intense hubris, they start with Communist China. 

The first chapters focus on the culture shock and just what an undertaking it was to travel to China during the 1980s. Though China has its challenges now, to be sure, being a Westerner within its boarders was an even more intense experience back then. Gilman's descriptions of the dirty accommodations, public "bathrooms" (a.k.a. troughs over which multiple people would squat at once), and intense language barriers felt overwhelming just to read about. It reminded me on the simplest level of my trip to Japan in high school. There were huge cultural barriers, but at least we had clean, safe places to stay and guides to help us navigate the world around us. It's easy to understand why the hubris of Gilman and her friend Claire fell away more with each day of their trip.

It wasn't just their hubris that began to disintegrate, however. It starts with slight suggestions early in the book. Something is not quite right with Claire. The stress of the experience is impacting her in a different way than it is Gilman. Or maybe Gilman just doesn't know her college friend as well as she thought she did. As the book goes on, it becomes less and less about the travel and more and more about two girls in a desperate and dangerous situation miles from home.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Pawn - Aimée Carter

Title: Pawn
Author: Aimée Carter
Publication Date: 11/26/13
Pages: 347
Genre: Dystopian / Young Adult / Fiction
How I Found It: It's been on my TBR since somewhere around when I started this blog.
Date Completed: 5/21/17

Summary: In a world where every person carries a rank between I and VII, equality is an illusion of the system. It's nearly impossible to rise above your station and you certainly have no hope of reaching the upper echelons of power. So, when Kitty Doe, a III, finds herself swept into the world of the VIIs, she must adapt quickly or face deadly consequences.

What I Thought: Over the years, I have read a lot of dystopian YA novels. It's such a huge subgenre within the world of young adult literature. For goodness sake, I even did my masters thesis on The Hunger Games. Nevertheless, I have a really high standard for these books. It's so easy for them to go badly for me. It takes a lot for me to really fall for a series. I enter each new series with trepidation and hope for the best.

I have had Pawn on my TBR for literally years. I think it was one of the very first books I added to my list when I started this blog over five years ago. Somehow, though, every time it has come available through my library's digital collection, it hasn't seemed right for the moment. I'm trying to do a better job lately, though, of reading intentionally through my list, even if something doesn't feel ideal for that moment. So, here we are. Years since adding it, I've finally completed it.

It was good. It was. But not great. 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Movie Monday: Under the Tuscan Sun

Under the Tuscan Sun
When opportunity arises, I feature Movie Monday. I recognize few people have the time or desire to read the amount I do, especially when it comes to the 100 Best Novels list. Luckily, Hollywood loves adapting a classic and I love a good story in any form.

Film Title: Under the Tuscan Sun

Book Title: Under the Tuscan Sun
Release Year: 2003

Summary: A newly divorced woman heads to Italy at the insistence of her friends. There, she finds new life in a villa and the Italian community surrounding it. 

What I Thought: I totally fell in love with the memoir upon which this film is very loosely based. It was charming and engaging and left me wanting to book tickets to Tuscany immediately. 

The movie was fine, not bad. But certainly not as magical as the book. For one thing, they've totally changed the story. 

Friday, June 9, 2017

Still - Lauren F. Winner

Title: Still
Author: Lauren F. Winner
Publication Date: 1/31/12
Pages: 240
Genre: Faith / Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I honestly can't remember
Date Completed: 5/20/17

Summary: In the wake of her mother's death and her divorce, Winner contemplates faith and her crisis thereof. 

What I Thought: I've been reading about faith journeys recently. As I get older myself, I'm coming to a better understanding that faith is just that - a journey. I think I've always known this on some level, but the truth of that is becoming more real to me these years. 

As Winner notes, the faith journey typically begins with a burst of enthusiasm and fervency. Kathy Escobar talked about the same thing in her book, Faith Shift. While Escobar approached the journey from a more academic nature and covered a variety of stages, this book by Winner focusing on what Escobar would call the Shifting stage. The ground is moving under your feet and you're not sure where things are going to land.

For Winner, this stage was ushered in specifically by her mother's death and her divorce. Though the two events were years apart, each impacted her faith in big ways, as one might expect. Winner doesn't give many details about either event in the memoir. In fact, as she points out, calling this a memoir at all may be a bit of a misnomer.