Wednesday, December 30, 2015

December 2015 Chapter

Welcome to the Read.Write.Repeat. monthly wrap-up.  Every month, I give a quick overview of what books I read, the progress made on the 100 Best Novels goal, a few book-related links, and general blog news.  

December News 

As always, the holiday season flew by this year. It was absolutely divine to stay at home and not travel. Thanks a million to my parents for making that possible. I loved having a full house and celebrating Christmas in our very own home.

A definite highlight for me this month was participating in the 6th Annual TBTB Secret Santa. This was my second year and I had even more fun than last time. I had the privilege of packing up some books and goodies for Lois over at You, Me, and a Cup of Tea. I sent her copies of Quiet and Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, per her request, along with some small batch chocolate and some loose leaf tea from right here in the Triad. Meanwhile, I got completely spoiled by Lindsay from Lindsay's Library. She sent both a copy of Wool and Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman, which I'm crazy excited about! (I also got a copy of GSAW from my parents on Christmas, so I'll be swapping one of those copies out for one of my favorites from 2015: The Royal We. Win-win for me!) Lindsay also included chocolate goodies, Harry Potter bookmarks, and a beautiful hat she knit herself! I'm telling you...I was spoiled. Thanks, as always, to Jamie for organizing and for all those who make this such a fun tradition!

This time of year is always packed with so much stuff, including end-of-term grading, so I did not get much reading done until this final week of the month. I am so looking forward to the winter months. The start of the year is always such a fresh start motivator for me and I typically blaze through quite a few books. Before we get there, though, here are the updates for the month of December:

Monday, December 28, 2015

Best Books of 2015

I hope you all had a very merry Christmas and also have some fun plans to wrap up 2015. As always this time of year, I love having a few year-end posts, rather than just my normal reviews. I love taking time to analyze and reflect on what I read over the year. In many ways, it helps me look ahead to the upcoming year and where I want to focus my reading in the future.

If you are a long-time reader, you know I have done a post like this the past three years. You can find the 20122013, and 2014 versions in the archives (or by following the links). It's so fun to look back and remember the books that have impacted me the most since I started blogging four years ago. This year, I did a lot more re-reads than ever before, but I am excluding those in consideration for these superlatives. To Kill A Mockingbird and Harry Potter can't win everything.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas!

I hope that you are blessed with a relaxing day with family and friends. May the season truly be merry and bright for you.

I hope you find some great books under the tree with your name on them. I had great fun shopping for books for both my TBTB Secret Santa and also all the kiddos in our lives got copies of How the Grinch Stole Christmas! which was fun. 

I hope not only Christmas, but 2016 as a whole finds you warm, well-fed, healthy, and safe this Christmas. So many people around the world cannot claim those adjectives as their own. Take time to remember them this year and to help if you can. 

Most of all, I hope that this Christmas will be full of love for you. Not only the love of those around you, but also the love of God. After all, His love is what the celebration is all about. God loved us so much that He sent the most precious gift we could ever dream of: redemption through His Son. If you want to know more about that gift, please let me know! I would love to share with you about what Christmas means to me. 

Merry Christmas to all!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck

The Grapes of Wrath
Title: The Grapes of Wrath
Author: John Steinbeck
Publication Date: 1939
Pages: 496
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels list
Date Completed: 12/14/15

Summary: The Dust Bowl forced thousands of families west to promised work in California. Steinbeck's classic follows the journey of one such family.

What I Thought: Steinbeck is an author I feel as though I should love. I really do. I want to love his work. In high school, I enjoyed Of Mice and Men. The Grapes of Wrath has long been on my TBR list, even before I took on the 100 Best Novels challenge. When I also put it on my 2015 TBR Pile Challenge list, I had no idea it would be such a chore to finish. It took me nearly the entire year - a fact I was not anticipating in the slightest. 

Steinbeck's prose is beautiful. I would never say differently. The chapters of the novel which focus solely on nameless descriptions of landscape or the mundane moments of the travelers' lives were stunning. I loved the writing and reveled in those pockets tucked throughout the book. It was the rest of the book that slowed me down...

Monday, December 21, 2015

Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Bookstore - Robin Sloan

Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
Title: Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore
Author: Robin Sloan
Publication Date: June 2009
Pages: 288
Genre: Fantasy / Fiction
How I Found It: On a list of books for book lovers I read at some point
Date Completed: 12/2/15

Summary: A mysterious bookstore rich with history and tradition leads tech-savvy millennials on an adventure which blends the ages.

What I Thought: This was such a fun book. It brings together the old school bookstore environment, the fast-paced digital culture, and the richness of historical mystery. In some ways, it reminded me of a literary-driven National Treasure. If you are my husband, you may think that is a negative statement. If you are me, however, you know that comparing something to the early 2000s classic where Nicholas Cage steals the Declaration of Independence is a major compliment. Love that movie. Kevin hates it. It's a problem in our marriage.

I went into this novel with very few expectations. All I really knew about it came from the title. Having a blank slate really allowed me to immerse myself in the story. I often wonder if I wouldn't enjoy reading more if I went into every book without knowing any details. Of course, that's impractical in reality, but I love the idea of it. Knowing so little opens up my mind to experience the story in a much more full way. Is it like that for you, too?

Friday, December 18, 2015

Jesus Feminist - Sarah Bessey

Jesus Feminist
Title: Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible's View of Women
Author: Sarah Bessey
Publication Date: 11/5/13
Pages: 256
Genre: Nonfiction
How I Found It: It's in the same field as some other books I've loved lately.
Date Completed: 12/1/15

Summary: Despite a title you may or may not find shocking, Bessey presents a rational, grounded argument for the idea that women are equal to men in the eyes of God and, therefore, should be in ours as well. 

What I Thought: If you know me, you don't have to ask if I liked this book or not. The title alone should clue you in as to my feelings about it. Gender issues within my faith have been hot button issues for me the last few years. I've been striving to learn more and explore, as Bessey puts it, "the radical notion that women are people, too." 

This book is far less controversial than some of its ilk. Though the title may set you on edge depending on your particular experiences, Bessey navigates the white waters with grace and kindness. This is not an angry or argumentative book. Rather, she speaks from the heart, calling out to women as though each were her long lost friend, now come to share a fireside chat with her. The gracious tone of the book makes her message inviting and inspiring, rather than potentially debate-inciting. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Dead Lands - Benjamin Percy

The Dead Lands
Title: The Dead Lands
Author: Benjamin Percy
Publication Date: 4/4/15
Pages: 416
How I Found It: Uncertain
Date Completed: 11/29/15

Summary: Decades after a pandemic swept the country and nuclear attacks attempted to contain it, a city of around 40,000 struggles to survive in the desert of what was once Missouri. They think they are the only ones left, until a rider appears at their gates.

What I Thought: Kevin and I listened to this book as we traveled to and from Michigan over the Thanksgiving holiday. 24 hours in the car gave us plenty of time to both finish and pontificate about the book. Verdict? We liked it, but didn't love it. 

While Kevin complained that Percy resorted to so many dystopian and literary clichés, I was continually impressed with his writing. He did use clichés at times, but he kept the story unique enough that you remained engaged. Plus, Kevin's predictions did not all pan out the way he expected, which is always such sweet vindication for me. I hate when he guesses things in advance. In the midst of using some clichéd (or classic, depending on your perspective) plot techniques, Percy used beautiful prose, particularly in describing the remnants of middle America.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Movie Monday: Mockingjay - Part 2

Mockingjay - Part 2
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: Mockingjay - Part 2

Book Title: Mockingjay
Release Year: 2015

Summary: The war between Districts and Capitol comes to a dramatic, casualty-ridden conclusion with Katniss Everdeen at its very center.

What I Thought: Kevin was gracious enough to take me to see this in the theatre for date night a few weeks ago. As I had expressed to him, writing your thesis on The Hunger Games means you have to see all the movies on the big screen. Normally, we avoid going to the movies, opting for Netflix or Redbox several months later. It's easier and way cheaper and we do not mind having to wait several months to see movies...with the exception of me during Oscar season; I get a little antsy then.

All that to say, The Hunger Games movies are the only films we have consistently shelled out $20+ to see in theaters over the past four years. It's almost become a little tradition. Now that they are done, it may be a long time before we see another movie in that format (Star Wars is tempting me, but it takes a lot to tempt Kevin enough to spend money at the movies). So, when two rotten little junior high age children were talking and laughing and making jokes in the row in front of us for the first twenty minutes of the movies, you better believe they got a piece of my mind. No one was going to ruin my chance to enjoy this movie fully, especially not after we paid $20 to get in and another $5 on unbuttered popcorn (a detail which leant to some strong feelings about the theatre's management - who doesn't butter popcorn??). Thankfully, they shut right up after one warning and we enjoyed the rest of the movie in relative peace. Yep. We're those people and not ashamed of it, either.

You're probably really ready for me to talk about the actual movie at this point, aren't you?

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Russka - Edward Rutherfurd

Title: Russka
Author: Edward Rutherfurd
Publication Date: 1991
Pages: 960
Genre: Historical / Political / Fiction
How I Found It: I read Paris
Date Completed: 11/28/15

Summary: Rutherfurd follows some vague family lines through centuries of Russian history.

What I Thought: Guys, I really enjoyed Paris. Like a lot. So much so, I went and put nearly every other Rutherfurd work On Reserve. But this...this was a whole other thing. 

I will be the first to admit that I do not find Russian history as innately appealing as I do that of France. Still, I carry a flame for history of all types and, thus, figured any of Rutherfurd's other novels would appeal to that sensibility of mine. 

It's not that I did not like this book. I did; but only to a point. Russka is much more dry than its counterpart. I actually really enjoyed the earlier chapters, which took place before the actual formation of Russi as a country. Shockingly, once there were tsars and political intrigue, it got dry and less interesting for me. I know, I was shocked by that, too. Usually royalty and politics are both magnets for my imagination. Here, though, Rutherfurd kept them enough on the fringe to be irrelevant.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Magicians - Lev Grossman

The Magicians
Title: The Magicians
Author: Lev Grossman
Publication Date: 8/11/09
Pages: 402
Genre: Fantasy / Fiction
How I Found It: It's on every "If you liked Harry Potter..." list
Date Completed: 11/27/15

Summary: After being recruited to a secret college to study magic, Quentin journeys through a less-unique-than-you'd-expect university experience and into a life where he struggles to reconcile what he's learned with practicality.

What I Thought: Anyone who has searched for a follow-up to the immensely popular Harry Potter series has likely heard of Lev Grossman's Magicians series, of which this is the first installment. I was definitely skeptical going in, not expecting to find much correlation between Grossman's work and Rowling's. To my surprise, the description "Harry Potter for adults" seemed increasingly apt. It's Harry Potter, but in a world where the battle for right and wrong is increasingly murky and, as often happens in real life, few characters seem worthy of our adoration.

Don't get me wrong - this work is unique enough. Grossman clearly drew some of his inspiration from Rowling's work, along with that of C.S. Lewis and the Narnia stories. What he did, however, was take that inspiration and bring a cynicism to it, eliminating the charm and delight of the other works. Grossman wants you to see the gritty. He doesn't want you to think magic is, well, magical. He wants you to see that those who are gifted with the ability for magic or to travel between worlds are just as flawed and imperfect as the rest of us, perhaps more so at times because of their power.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Three Cups of Tea - Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin

Three Cups of Tea
Title: Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Time
Author: Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Relin
Publication Date: 1/30/07
Pages: 349
Genre: MemoirPolitical / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I've heard about it from multiple sources
Date Completed: 11/17/15

Summary: An attempt to reach the peak of K2 changed Greg Mortenson's life in a way he was not expecting. While he never finished his climb, he did set forth on a new mountain: the attempt to provide schools and education for children throughout the region.

What I Thought: If you know me and the things I care about, you know this book was right up my alley. The importance of bringing educational opportunities to, particularly female, underprivileged children cannot be overstated. As the quote below states, one of the great enemies in the world is ignorance. Education won't solve every problem, nor change every heart, but it goes a long way in changing lives and cultural mindsets. 

Mortenson's work is inspiring; there is no doubt about that. He is clearly a dedicated individual, one who does things at 110% or not at all. His passion for education has directly transformed the lives of many. He seems to approach the problems and idiosyncrasies of Middle Eastern culture with patience and a cultural sensitivity from which many attempting to affect the same type of change could learn. 

The book is also encouraging; it makes it feel like there is hope in this fight that continues to rage. It gives credence to the idea that fighting with weapons may not be the best strategy. Instead, a more effective fight may be an ideological one. 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

November 2015 Chapter

Welcome to the Read.Write.Repeat. monthly wrap-up.  Every month, I give a quick overview of what books I read, the progress made on the 100 Best Novels goal, a few book-related links, and general blog news.  

November News 

It's the most wonderful time of the year! I love the holiday season, even when it means lots of travel. Kevin and I just returned from a week-long trip to the Midwest, our only one planned for this year's holidays. It involved 24+ hours in the car and many nights away from our own bed; to say we are happy to be home would be an understatement. Still, it was great to spend time with family, particularly an impromptu breakfast with my aging grandparents.

In terms of reading and writing related goals, November turned out to be a bit of a flop. All the travel (that Florida trip was amazing) seriously derailed my reading, blogging, and NaNoWriMo efforts. I had such lofty goals for myself. I did complete over 27,000 words for NaNoWriMo, a number with which I'm not really very satisfied. Still, I've been intentional to remind myself that it's 27,000 more words than I have written in a long, long time, so that's a success in and of itself. All the writing in the first half of the month kept me away from reading a blogging, a side effect I had foolishly discounted and very much disdained. I missed writing for the blog and I missed reading! I know my posts were infrequent in November and I think we can all collectively blame my NaNoWriMo efforts for that. I promise a return to normalcy in December. This fall has been so abnormal when it comes to my blogging schedule and I am really ready to get back on track.