Friday, January 29, 2016

Ragtime - E. L. Doctorow

Title: Ragtime
Author: E. L. Doctorow
Publication Date: 1975
Pages: 320
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 1/7/16

Summary: A unique blend of history and fiction, Ragtime offers the disjointed story of an unnamed family and their experiences with the events and personalities of the early 20th century.

What I Thought: The family depicted in Ragtime is referred to as "Mother's Younger Brother," "Father," "the boy," etc. Normally the lack of names would drive me crazy, but for some reason it doesn't bother me here. Perhaps because it's only the main family or because so many "famous" people are sprinkled through and named. Alongside the no-name protagonists are sprinkled personalities such as Harry Houdini and Booker T. Washington. 

Their story also intertwines with that of a young African-American couple and their illegitimate son as well as a socialist immigrant and his daughter hailing from Eastern Europe. Doctorow, particularly at the beginning of the book, sets each chapter focused on a specific character or topic. As the chapter moves along, he winds himself into another character or topic and then sets the next chapter around that person or thing. I really liked that style; it kept me guessing at the end of each chapter what the next would be about and how far Doctorow would reach to tie them together. The second half of the book was more linear and traditional in its story-telling approach, but no less engaging.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

For the Love - Jen Hatmaker

For the Love
Title: For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards
Author: Jen Hatmaker
Publication Date: 8/18/15
Pages: 224
Genre: FaithNonfiction
How I Found It: It's a new 2015 release
Date Completed: 1/6/15

Summary: Funny and thoughtful, Hatmaker peers into life as a modern, Christian woman. She shares her contagious sense of humor along with some of her more poignant thoughts on faith, family, and friendship.

What I Thought: I have heard such great things about Hatmaker's writing. I have eyes on a few of her other books as well. This one, her most recent release, happened to make it into my hands first, though.

Unlike the the heavier work of Rachel Held Evans or even Sarah Bessey at points, Hatmaker's memoir is fun. Her sense of humor and love of life is evident on every page. Clearly this is a woman who doesn't take herself too seriously. Also evident, though, is her passion for people.

Monday, January 25, 2016

The Restaurant Critic's Wife - Elizabeth LaBan

The Restaurant Critic's Wife
There's a giveaway at the bottom of this post! Don't miss your chance to win a copy of The Restaurant Critic's Wife!

Title: The Restaurant Critic's Wife
Author: Elizabeth LaBan
Publication Date: 1/5/16
Pages: 306
Genre: Chick Lit / FoodFiction
How I Found It: TLC Book Tours
Date Completed: 1/5/16

Summary: After moving to a new city for her husband's career as a food critic, Lila feels increasingly isolated as a young wife and mother. Her husband seems distant and she begins to question the choices she has made to reach this point.

What I Thought: I enjoyed this book. It felt different than a lot of what I read. The fact that I qualified it as "chick lit" above should make that much clear. Had the protagonist's husband had any other career, I likely would have passed this one over when TLC offered me the chance to read and review it. However, as always, I succumbed to the pull of foodie fiction.

I loved how LaBan, who is married to a restaurant critic in real life, started each chapter with a "review" written by Lila's husband Sam. It lent an air of authenticity to the book, as well as hinting at the mood and events of the subsequent chapter.

The book follows the family after their move to Philadelphia from New Orleans, where Lila had also enjoyed a thriving career. Now, in a new city with two children and no friends, Sam wants Lila to stay under the radar to avoid exposing his identity in the food world. She feels increasingly isolated and trapped at home with her two small children, no one with whom she can talk openly, and a husband completely distracted by his work.

Friday, January 22, 2016

A Clockwork Orange - Anthony Burgess

A Clockwork Orange
Title: A Clockwork Orange
Author: Anthony Burgess
Publication Date: 1962
Pages: 212
Genre: Classic / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 1/2/16

Summary: In a dystopian London, a reprehensible teenager commits crimes, endures "rehabilitation," and hits the streets again. 

What I Thought: I knew this book was going to be tough for me. I have seen the movie many years back and definitely disliked it. I both disliked the style of Stanley Kubrick's adaptation and the plot itself. This book is, in many ways, a celebration of violence. In an introduction Burgess wrote to the edition I read, he stated that Alex is acting out the desires we all hold in our hearts but most will never act on. I could not disagree with that idea more. I have no innate desire to rape, pillage, and plunder and, while I accept that some people do have those buried desires, I certainly do not think I am alone in recognizing their absence within myself. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Luckiest Girl Alive - Jessica Knoll

Luckiest Girl Alive
Title: Luckiest Girl Alive
Author: Jessica Knoll
Publication Date: 5/12/15
Pages: 352
Genre: ThrillerFiction
How I Found It: Unsure
Date Completed: 1/1/16

Summary: Ani seems to have it all together; she has a great job and a rich, handsome fiancĂ©. Yet, her bright future may be dismantled by a pull from her dark past. 

What I Thought: Ani reminded be so much of Amy from Gone Girl. Their narcissism and manipulative personalities fly in tandem across the reaches of the literary world. Their differences? To me, Amy is irredeemable, show no cracks, and seems an antithetical product of her upbringing. Ani has yet to be fully pulled in by the darkness which created her; redemptive hope glimmers in the cracks of her facade. 

The book alternates between Ani's grown-up life of wealth and ambition and her scarred teenage years as TifAni. You realize early on that events in her past affected her deeply, though Knoll only reveals the picture one small piece at a time. The reader slowly learns from where Ani's bitterness and cynicism stem. The more I learned of her past, the more this hateful protagonist softened in my eyes; I pitied her and wanted to sign her up for intensive therapy. As you come to understand her faults, you can see past them to her vulnerabilities and fears. 

Monday, January 18, 2016

The Reason I Jump - Naoki Higashima

The Reason I Jump
Title: The Reason I Jump
Author: Naoki Higashida
Publication Date: 2005
Pages: 135
Genre: Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: The Daily Show
Date Completed: 12/28/15

Summary: A severely autistic teenage boy responds to common questions about the disease and what it is like to with it.

What I Thought: Back when I saw this book discussed on The Daily Show about 100 years ago, I knew it was something I should read. I had great intentions of doing so soon. Yet, somehow, it wasn't until I was reaching the end of 2015 and looking for a short book to boost my end-of-year total count that I finally snagged this one from my library's digital reserves. I am so glad I did.

I have never been close to anyone with autism or, as far as I know for certain, anyone on the spectrum. Thus, the growing epidemic in our country and around the world has always seemed distant to me. It still does. I am so thankful that to this point, I remain virtually untouched by the disorder. I know that won't last forever. That's why this book is so important.

In a lot of ways, I feel about this book the same way I did about Susan Cain's Quiet. It opens the reader's eyes to a portion of the population they may or may not know anything about. The stigma is removed and the inner workings are explained, taking away the mystery or the instinctual aversion to those different than us. While introverts are certainly more prevalent than the autistic, the margin is probably smaller than any of us realize. All the more reason to learn about what it is like to live with it. 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Light in August - William Faulkner

Light in August
Title: Light in August
Author: William Faulkner
Publication Date: 3/12/1931
Pages: 507
Genre: Classic / HistoricalFiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 12/28/15

Summary: A small town is rocked by scandal when a pregnant woman appears looking for her baby's father. Meanwhile, racial tensions and identities complicate lives. 

What I Thought: When I started this challenge, I thought Faulkner would be one of those authors I would come to treasure and appreciate. I had never read any of his work before. Now, having completed the third of his three books on the list, I find myself woefully ambivalent. I absolutely appreciate the beauty of and thought behind his work (particularly the innovation of The Sound and the Fury); yet, I find myself disconnected from his plots. I struggled to engage with them.

I'm unfortunately finding this a recurring theme for the works set in this era of American history. As horrible as it sounds to admit, I cannot connect with the poor farmers and small town folks of the first half of the twentieth century. In some ways, this kills me, as I know my own grandparents and great-grandparents were among these very types of folks. Conversely, though, I recognize my socio-economic separation from these characters and find myself both grateful to be standing on the hard work of my parents and grandparents and also more understanding of my own lack of understanding. Of course I don't connect to these characters. Almost nothing about their lives translates to my own.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Tobacco Road - Erskine Caldwell

Tobacco Road
Title: Tobacco Road
Author: Erskine Caldwell
Publication Date: 1932
Pages: 192
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 12/26/15

Summary: A look at the lives of the poor, largely uneducated Lester family as they attempt to survive the Depression in rural Georgia.

What I Thought: From the beginning, this novel was what I had expected The Grapes of Wrath to be: a heart-felt reflection on a tough era in American history with characters who were likable despite their ignorance and ill luck and a plot that offered both drama and comic relief. 

I had never heard of Erskine Caldwell before starting the 100 Best Novels challenge, but, as with Wallace Stegner, I am glad to have done so now. Caldwell's perspective on Depression-era sharecroppers felt fresh and even funny to me at times. His characters, for all their lunacy and eccentricity, were enjoyable ones with which to spend a story. To me, they were the real difference between this work and Steinbeck's. I liked the Lester family, for all their faults. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy - Karen Abbott

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy
Title: Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War
Author: Karen Abbott
Publication Date: 7/1/14
Pages: 513
How I Found It: I heard about it from several places this past year.
Date Completed: 12/24/15

Summary: We don't often think of the women who played roles in the Civil War. They have been largely ignored by history. No longer. Abbott explores the lives and work of four women, each passionately immersed in the divide between North and South.

What I Thought: Typically, I steer away from American history. To me, it has often seemed one long progression of wars. I absolutely value the importance of knowing our own history and I received a great education therein during my school years. My aversion to the subject does not preclude me from an ability to pass the citizenship test, should I have ever been required to take such a thing. I'm no U.S. History scholar, but I can hold my own. Which, may also be part of why I prefer reading about the history of other countries and cultures. We are so young and naive on the global spectrum. The history of our country pales in comparison to the centuries of rich content others can boast. Plus, we have no royalty. That fact alone makes me immediately less interested. 

Friday, January 8, 2016

Landline - Rainbow Rowell

Title: Landline
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publication Date: 7/8/14
Pages: 310
Genre: Fantasy / Romance / Fiction
How I Found It: I'm a recent Rainbow Rowell convert.
Date Completed: 12/24/15

Summary: When an old landline phone connects Georgie to her past, she also finds a way to reconnect to her family and adjust her work-life balance.

What I Thought: Others in the book blogging community have been raving about Rainbow Rowell for years, but I did not pick up one of her books until this past year. I now am left to wonder what took me so long.

In general, I have tried to go into Rowell's books with minimal knowledge of the plots. I know I have talked about this lately, but I'm increasingly feeling that I enjoy books more sometimes when I go in mostly blind. It gives me a chance to get to know the characters and their predicaments without making predictions regarding their fates. In this case, all I really knew going in was that there was a landline phone that did something special. 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Jurassic Park - Michael Crichton

Jurassic Park
Title: Jurassic Park
Author: Michael Crichton
Publication Date: November 1990
Pages: 399
How I Found It: I love the movies. Like, too much to be proud of.
Date Completed: 12/17/15

Summary: I'm guessing you already know how this one goes...eccentric billionaire builds dinosaur theme park and things go, uh, poorly. 

What I Thought: The fact that I enjoy the Jurassic Park movies so much has always seemed odd to me. I never went through a dinosaur phase as a kid; I am not especially fascinated by science, biology, or paleontology; they do not fall into any preconceived category of things in which I am interested. And yet, I like them a lot. I suppose I am as susceptible to box office magic as the next person.

This summer, Jurassic World, the revamped addition to the series starring Chris Pratt (who turns out to be a better actor than I gave him credit for in his Parks and Recreation days), got me thinking about the classic films again. I have watched them more times than I would care to admit and Kevin does not like rewatching movies. Still, I felt a pull to revisit Isla Nublar. I read The Great Zoo of China last summer and, at that point, realized I had never actually read Michael Crichton's original novel which inspired this whole business. It seemed time for that to change.

Monday, January 4, 2016

2016 Blog Goals

As I emphasized to my Critical Thinking students this past semester, goals that aren't written down are just dreams. Writing down your goals drastically increases the odds that you will complete them. In that spirit, and because I love this kind of thing, I want to continue my tradition of making some blog goals for the upcoming year.

Before I get to goals for 2016, I want to take a minute and reflect on the goals I set forth for 2015 and see how those played out. 

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 Chapter

Happy New Year! I hope you were able to ring in 2016 with someone you love last night, be it family, friends, or a significant other. We actually celebrated with other people for the first time in a few years and it was a nice change. Far less sleep...far more fun.

As with every new year, this one brings with it a celebration of my "blog-iversary." I've been writing here for four years now. In that time, I have read and reviewed over 300 books. My favorite part of blogging has definitely proven to be the relationships I have built around books throughout the years. Thank you for being a part of this journey!

On Monday, I plan to talk about some goals I have for blogging in the new year. Today, however, I am taking a comprehensive look back at 2015.

To start, here are a few highlights from this year:

  • I read 109 books! 
  • I had right about the same number of page views as last year (~26,000). I would have loved to see this number grow some, but I also have done a better job this year not being concerned about numbers and focusing instead on quality connections and (hopefully) content.
  • As of now, I have completed 47% of the 100 Best Novels challenge. I only read 12 this year, which is about half the amount I would have liked to. I need to seriously work on this if I want to finish before I turn 30 in 2017.
  • I continued to grow the Read.Write.Repeat. Facebook presence (we just surpassed 200 likes!) and have had a lot of fun on Twitter. Like or follow if you haven't already! 
  • I continued the monthly "chapter" posts and some off and on Movie Mondays.  
  • I continued working with TLC Book Tours and even hosted a "TLC Week" at the start of November with a new book reviewed each day.. These are so fun and expose me to books I would likely never read otherwise. Thanks to Trish and Lisa for continually sending books my way!