Thursday, June 14, 2018

Good as Gone - Amy Gentry

Good as Gone
Title: Good as Gone
Author: Amy Gentry
Publication Date: 7/26/2016
Pages: 273
Genre: Thriller / Fiction
How I Found It: I can't remember.
Date Completed: 5/29/18

Summary: Julie was kidnapped from her bedroom at thirteen. The only witness was her younger sister. When Julie shows up on the family doorstep nearly a decade later, the Whitakers are suddenly thrust back into a world of intensely mixed emotions. 

What I Thought: For whatever reason, I've been on the hunt for another really good thriller for awhile. I got on the kick around Halloween last year and has continued. Perhaps because I put a lot of thrillers on my TBR around that time and now I'm reading through them in my efforts to slim down that list this year. 

All that to say, here's another one.

And I'm getting worn out on this genre. It just...so rarely succeeds in thrilling me. 

This book has been all over the place lately. It sold well and lots of people liked it. Kevin and I both read it while on our Italy trip. I knew I wanted easy reads on that trip. This certainly fit that bill, but I couldn't help feeling a little let down by it. Kevin felt the same.

Monday, June 11, 2018

May 2018 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 my reading goals, a few book-related links, and general blog news.  

May News 

I don't know where to start today. There's so much to share! First of all, let me acknowledge the weird blog schedule for the last month. I barely posted at all in May. I had a massive reading slump this spring. Compile that with a slow reading year in general and I just didn't have enough content to post on a regular basis. So, I gave myself three weeks off and just didn't worry about it (much). Plus, the slow May I had planned where I would lounge around and read books was suddenly...not that.


Why not, you ask? Well, I got a job!

Today is actually my very first full-time day in the office, but I did several training days in May so that I could hit the ground running. I'm no longer teaching, which is a big switch for me. However, I've remained in the higher ed world and joined a consulting firm which works with mainly private colleges and universities. The firm offers consulting on a range of issues from enrollment management to student success to campus planning and architecture. I'm working as a Project Manager and will be mainly focused on projects we do with faith-based schools. From the moment I read the job description, I knew it was going to be a great fit. I'm so excited to be starting a new chapter professionally. This has been a long time coming.

Suffice it to say, that consumed so much of my life and thought in May. Even though I didn't do that much actual working time, I suddenly felt the urgent need to fit a whole summer of productivity (teachers know what I mean) into 2 weeks. Add in getting us ready for our big trip and it was not the deck-sitting, book-reading time I anticipated. But it was a good month.

And speaking of that big trip, we just got back on Thursday! Hence, this delayed monthly recap post. We spent 12 days away from home, which might be a record for us (outside of time with parents). We hit NYC, Rome, Cinque Terre, Florence, and a bunch of small towns in Tuscany. It was an amazing trip and we came home utterly exhausted, but so happy. If there's interest, I may do a post here recapping our trip a bit. Otherwise, I have just a few posts on Instagram.

The great thing about the trip is it gave me dedicated reading time like I haven't had in ages. Planes and trains ferried us around the world and afforded me hours to indulge. I set aside most of the heavier reading I've been doing this year and just read fun stuff. I can't wait to share it with you in the upcoming weeks.

For today, the lists below are short, but a good reflection of time spent elsewhere last month.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Cooking for Jeffrey - Ina Garten

Cooking for Jeffrey
Title: Cooking for Jeffrey: A Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
Author: Ina Garten
Publication Date: 10/25/16
Pages: 272
Genre: Food / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I can't remember
Date Completed: 5/20/18

Summary: A collection of Barefoot Contessa recipes, purportedly gathered because they are her husband's favorites.  

What I Thought: I liked the concept of this book - that Garten was gathering all her husband's favorite recipes. As someone who does 99% of the cooking in my own household (because I like to, not because I'm the woman in the house), it's an idea with which I'm quite familiar. I love treating Kevin to his favorite meals.

While there are some great recipes in this book, I didn't really get the sense that it's true to its title. In the introduction, Garten mentions that every recipe is Jeffrey approved. Yet, references to the titular personage appear rarely after that. I guess I was hoping for more personal discussion in the recipe introductions. Doesn't make the recipes less good, but it did make the book less engaging.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Unbelievable - Katy Tur

Unbelievable
Title: Unbelievable: My Front-Row Seat to the Craziest Campaign in American History
Author: Katy Tur
Publication Date: 9/12/17
Pages: 304
Genre: Memoir / Political / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I heard about it from a lot of places.
Date Completed: 5/20/18

Summary: Tur recounts her days on the campaign trail with Trump. She started reporting on his campaign shortly after the infamous announcement at Trump Tower in which then-candidate Trump referred derogatorily to Mexicans. She share the details of her life on the road up through election night 2016.

What I Thought: This book was hard to read at times. Not because it was poorly written. On the contrary, Tur did a wonderful job capturing the tumultuous emotions of the 2016 campaign season. That's exactly what made it hard to read at times. It's hard to emotionally reinsert yourself into that era, particularly knowing how it turned out. 

Tur was one of the earliest reporters to join Trump campaign and, perhaps consequentially, developed an odd relationship with the candidate. His hot-and-cold relationship with the media is exemplified perfectly in his treatment of Tur during the campaign. He would favor her and then immediately turn around and insult her and her work. Tur does a decent job of explaining the emotional effect this had on her, although I think she is still fairly guarded in what she chose to reveal about her own feelings. That reporter instinct to conceal personal feelings must be hard to kick in some aspects. 

Thursday, May 31, 2018

The Hate U Give - Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give
Title: The Hate U Give
Author: Angie Thomas
Publication Date: 2/28/17
Pages: 444
Genre: Young Adult / Fiction
How I Found It: XX
Date Completed: 5/11/18

Summary: Starr Carter lives in an urban neighborhood but commutes out to a wealthy suburb for school. When she witnesses the murder of a childhood friend, the careful walls she's built between her two lives begin to crumble. 

What I Thought: This book is intensely powerful. The debate over officer-involved shootings and the Black Lives Matter movement is so intense in our country. Yet, we often forget the very real lives that are affected with each tragic shooting. Thomas places us directly in the epicenter of one of these moments. She does not shy away from the diversity of emotions or political responses. 

This book is exactly why I am trying to read books with a more diverse authorship. There was so much in here that, as a white woman, I will just never understand. Some of it was hard to digest, forcing me to confront my own biases (we all have them). Some of it was just heartbreaking; we are so unaware of our own privileges. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

American War - Omar El Akkad

American War
Title: American War
Author: Omar El Akkad
Publication Date: 4/4/17
Pages: 352
Genre: Dystopian / Fiction
How I Found It: I can't remember
Date Completed: 5/8/18

Summary: The United States has ceased to be united. Facing increasing environmental disaster, disputes over consequential policy decisions led the South to secede once again, launching a new Civil War. The novel follows the story of how one girl's live intertwines with the events of that conflict.

What I Thought: I really wanted to like this book. The premise is fascinating to me. As we currently stand at such a fraught point in our history, the idea of another civil war doesn't always seem so crazy. Particularly since El Akkad wisely had the country split over environmental concerns and scaling back the use of fossil fuels. If and when America does ever get to that point, the fight will likely be enormous. 

The book is set up as a decades-long story following the path of one southern girl in particular. Sarat Chestnut and her family end up at a camp for refugees after the war breaks out in 2074. It is there that her fighting instinct is ignited and nurtured. She goes on to be a key player in the war itself. 

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Of Mess and Moxie - Jen Hatmaker

Of Mess and Moxie
Title: Of Mess and Moxie: Wrangling Delight Out of This Wild and Glorious Life
Author: Jen Hatmaker
Publication Date: 8/8/17
Pages: 224
Genre: Faith / Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I'm a Jen Hatmaker fan.
Date Completed: 4/28/18

Summary: Hatmaker broaches motherhood, faith, and the messiness of life in her new memoir. As always, she does it with grace and heart. 

What I Thought: Hatmaker delivered exactly what I expected her to here. She's funny and witty and so real. She's not afraid to engage with hard issues and lay her vulnerabilities out on the table. 

She does it in a way, however, that still protects others in her life. I love that she's clearly only sharing stories that she's received permission to share or aspects of vulnerability that are hers alone to reveal. It has to be such a hard balance and she walks it well. 

One of my favorite parts of the book was Hatmaker's real talk about motherhood. Now, I'm not a parent, but I love reading about the Hatmaker family. I regularly read her Facebook posts about her kids to Kevin and we laugh and laugh. The book is no different. It just adds in a layer of depth that is not always present in the sound bites on social media. She talks about what it's like being a working mom and how she doesn't let her kids - or anyone - make her feel guilty about that. Loved that section! See the second quote below for a perfect example of Hatmaker blending humor with real talk. It was a encouragement to me, someone who has no intention of giving up work if and when I ever have kids. Mostly because I would lose my mind. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

April 2018 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 my reading goals, a few book-related links, and general blog news.  

April News 

I feel like I've been longing for spring on here every month. I've talked incessantly about the weather like I'm at a cocktail party and don't know anyone. I can't help it, though. It was such a long winter and this spring has felt like a very, very long time coming. It is finally here and it is glorious. Leaves on the trees, color everywhere. North Carolina offers the most beautiful spring colors. My lilac bush is right on the verge of blooming. I'll be smelling that sweet scent every time I open the front door within days. So, forgive my months-long diatribe on the weather.


It was, once again, such a busy month. We can't catch a break this spring. I feel this way every year, but I always forget just how intense things are. Kevin is not in grad school this year, which is wonderful, but he still worked almost every weekend of the last two months. He's finally done with his crazy season; I have two weeks left until I'm finished with the semester. He's thrown himself into outdoor projects full force, mostly because we're hosting a party for some of his student workers today and he wants our yard to be nice for that. This will be our third summer in this house and we are slowly but surely making our deck area a wonderful summer oasis in which we love spending time. I can't wait for long, lazy evenings out there with cool beverages and good friends.

Part of what has made April particularly busy is all of the extra stuff I've been doing on top of my regular job. I started leading the choir I'm in that goes to sing at nursing homes. I'm still serving on the board of our local housing authority; this month, that involved a conference in Myrtle Beach and several extra meetings because we're making some major transitions. A commitment that is usually 3 hours a month became 3+ hours a week in April. Sigh. I'm also the new Production Assistant for Pantsuit Politics! I've actually been doing this since the start of March, but we've got our rhythm down and I'm doing as much as I can to help the amazing Sarah and Beth. If you aren't already listening to this podcast, you really need to! Today's episode is an interview with Jen Hatmaker and it exemplifies everything I love about the show and why I wanted to work with them. On top of all of that, I've been very actively searching for a full-time job. I'm hoping to have some news on that front next month...

Somehow, I always seem to read more when I am crazy busy. I ended my reading slump and, though my numbers aren't super impressive, every single book I read was gold. Seriously. Not a bad one in the bunch this month. I can almost never say that. I would easily recommend any of the books I read this month, and have already! If you haven't read my reviews this month, I definitely encourage you to go back and take a look. I am confident you'll find something to enjoy!

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The News - Alain de Botton

The News
Title: The News: A User's Manuel
Author: Alain de Botton
Publication Date: 2/11/14
Pages: 272
Genre: Nonfiction
How I Found It: Several sources have recommended it recently. 
Date Completed: 4/25/18

Summary: de Botton takes a wide angle look at our news climate. He breaks the book into sections, each one tackling a different type of news: political, international, celebrity, disasters, weather, etc. 

What I Thought: After seeing recommendations for this in several places, it seemed like a good time to pick it up. After all, we are struggling with how to handle media in our world right now. A user's manual seems like just the ticket.

The book is fascinating. de Botton has a lot of astute observations about how the news works and how we consume it. I particularly enjoyed the section on political news, as that is the majority of what I consume these days. 

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Homegoing - Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing
Title: Homegoing
Author: Yaa Gyasi
Publication Date: 6/7/16
Pages: 300
How I Found It: I can't remember.
Date Completed: 4/21/18

Summary: Generations of Ghanaians are separate by the Atlantic when one half-sister marries a British slaver and the other is sold into slavery herself. Gyasi tracks the fates of their descendants from the early nineteenth century to the modern era. 

What I Thought: This book was just so lovely and heartbreaking. It's a great concept and Gyasi executes it well. Each chapter centers around a different character, alternating between the family living in Ghana and the family living in America. It's really interesting to track two hundred years of history through those two lenses, separated only by fate. 

This book made me think quite about about alternate histories. What would the world have been like without the slaving exploitation of Africa. Would African culture have developed differently? Western culture certainly would have. 

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Pastrix - Nadia Bolz-Weber

Pastrix
Title: Pastrix: The Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint
Author: Nadia Bolz-Weber
Publication Date: 9/10/13
Pages: 204
Genre: Faith / Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I attended a conference Bolz-Weber spoke at.
Date Completed: 4/12/18

Summary: Bolz-Weber went from a child raised in the church to an alcoholic stand-up comic to a sober Lutheran pastor. She tracks those big shifts and muses about the nature of faith in this memoir.

What I Thought: Back in March, I attended the Why Christian conference for the first time. It's a progressive Christian conference hosted by Nadia Bolz-Weber and Rachel Held Evans, whose work I adore. It was being hosted at Duke University, which is basically in my geographic backyard. While I don't align with every theological stance the conference takes, I wanted to take the opportunity to learn and grow and listen. I'm so very glad I went. It was an incredible two days sitting under the testimonies and teachings of women of every stripe and color. It was a beautiful reminder of the diversity of the church and how we are united at the Eucharist table in our belief in Christ. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Daughter of the Gods - Stephanie Thornton

Daughter of the Gods
Title: Daughter of the Gods: A Novel of Ancient Egypt
Author: Stephanie Thornton
Publication Date: 5/6/2014
Pages: 442
Genre: Biography / Chick Lit / Historical / Royals / Fiction
How I Found It: I've read Thornton's other books.
Date Completed: 4/8/18

Summary: Hatshepsut likely served as one of ancient Egypt's only female pharaohs. Somewhere along the line, one of her successors attempted to erase her legacy from history. Thornton pieces together what little we know and adds a hefty dash of her own imagination to create this historical fiction look at the powerful woman's life. 

What I Thought: I feel as though my general disdain for historical fiction - particularly about royals - has been well established on this blog. It's why I steer so far clear of Phillipa Gregory's fictional Tudor empire. I know too much of the real history to be able to enjoy a fantasized version of events. Thornton, however, has consistently proved herself the exception to my rule.

Very little is known about the life of Hatshepsut (the number of times I've spelled that name wrong while writing this post gives me a whole lot of respect for Thornton's editor). Like with her other novels, Thornton had to draw extensively from her own imagination to craft the world her characters inhabit. It's a lot of educated guessing. Usually, that's what drives me crazy about historical fiction. Thornton, however, has been wise in selecting relatively unknown women. We know so little about them that all we really have is imagination and educated guesses. So, these stories feel indulgent and far less of a violation of historical truth than many other works in the genre. 

Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar
Title: The Bell Jar
Author: Sylvia Plath
Publication Date: 1963
Pages: 244
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: It's a classic.
Date Completed: 4/5/2018

Summary: Esther Greenwood seems to have a wonderful life as a young, single woman in the city. Things are, however, slowly unraveling at the seams.

What I Thought: I remember having the option to read this book at one point in a high school English class. I remember several of my classmates who did. We talked briefly about how Plath's journey is mirrored in some ways through this novel, which was published after her own battle with mental illness and suicide. Since that point, I've been intrigued by the book, but never had a particular impetus to finally read it. Having read it now, I'm rather glad I waited until this point. I definitely would not have understood its depths as well when I was a high school student.

When I was looking through my immense TBR list and trying to decide which specific books to select for Roof Beam Reader's challenge this year, I added this one as a whim. It's been on my list for quite a while and it just seemed time. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Dear Ijeawele - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Dear Ijeawele
Title: Dear Ijeawele, or A Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions
Author: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Publication Date: 3/7/2017
Pages: 63
Genre: Nonfiction
How I Found It: I've read other of Adichie's work.
Date Completed: 4/3/18

Summary: When a friend asked Adichie for advice on how to raise her new daughter as a feminist, Adichie responded with these fifteen suggestions. Later, she turned the letter into this book so more could apply the principles to their parenting. 

What I Thought: From the first few pages, I loved this book. Loved it. I want to send copies to every parent of young kids I know. Chimamanda's suggestions are practical and well-written. 

As with her earlier work, We Should All Be Feminists, the ideas she share are so simple and yet so profound. It just baffles me that what she is saying isn't common sense. 

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Rich People Problems - Kevin Kwan

Rich People Problems
Title: Rich People Problems
Author: Kevin Kwan
Publication Date: 5/23/2017
Pages: 398
Genre: Chick Lit / Fiction
How I Found It: I've read the rest of the series.
Date Completed: 3/28/18

Summary: When Nick Young's grandmother, the formidable Su Yi, is on her deathbead, the family rushes in from all corners of the globe. Drama abounds as they begin jockeying for a better place in her will before she passes. 

What I Thought: I found these books (this is the final in a trilogy) to be cotton candy fun. They are utter fluff and a sugary delight. Reading them is like watching a soap opera or a tv show like Revenge - there is little substance but you can't turn away. This iteration in the series was no exception.

I did actually like that there was less romance in this novel. Nick and Rachel are settled and comfortable. While the first two books centered around whether or not they would ever get married, this one found them stable and happy. I liked that. Any relationship drama had shifted to Astrid and Charlie, who had a nice story line here that was pleasant but didn't monopolize the main plot of the book. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

March 2018 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 my reading goals, a few book-related links, and general blog news.  

March News 


Last month I was so effusive about the changing weather. And then, March tricked me. We had a week or two of glorious spring weather at the end of February and then came more snow and several more weeks of cold. I'm writing this on the 29th and yesterday was the first day I felt warm again and threw open the windows. My hope was misplaced, apparently, but I think spring is here for good this time. Our lilac bush out front is so close to blooming. Last year it only bloomed for a few days and I'm terrified I'm going to miss it while we are at my parents' for Easter. Of course, by the time you're reading this, we'll be back home and I'll hopefully be enjoyed the scent of lilac every time I open the front door.


Despite the weather, March was a better month than February. Still terribly busy, but in a normal way. I didn't get much reading in - again. 2018 is not turning out to be a super prolific reading year for me. At this point, I'm hoping summer can turn that around.

I am making good progress on my TBR challenge (as you can see below). I'm doing so much better about not adding books to the list unless I really think I'll read them. I'm also being brutally honest with myself about the books I'm taking off. I have no doubt I've taken some great books off the list, but I'm trying to be realistic about what I really will be interested in. I think if the 100 Best Novels challenge taught me anything, it taught me not to waste time on books I'm not enjoying or learning from.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Thousandth Floor - Katharine McGee

The Thousandth Floor
Title: The Thousandth Floor
Author: Katharine McGee
Publication Date: 8/30/2016
Pages: 448
How I Found It: I can't remember.
Date Completed: 3/17/18

Summary: The New York of the future is centered around a massive tower 1000 stories tall. The wealthier you are, the higher you work and reside. McGee centers her story around teenagers throughout the building. 

What I Thought: I really wanted to like this book. Early on, however, I realize it was not what I thought it was. I thought McGee had written a futuristic exploration of class and the social ramifications thereof. While that does seem to be the framing from which she started, this is really a teenage drama and romance. Not what I was anticipating when I picked it up.

The story is interesting enough that I did read the whole thing - and it's not short. However, I found nearly every character insufferable. Worst of all, the main romance line is between an uber-wealthy girl and her adopted brother. Their attraction is, of course, taboo. Yet, McGee persists with it, trying valiantly to make readers want their forbidden love to work. Look, I understand they are not actually related, but I simply could not push through. It was a bridge too far for me to root for siblings of any kind to have a romantic relationship. 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Artemis - Andy Weir

Artemis
Title: Artemis
Author: Andy Weir
Publication Date: 11/14/2017
Pages: 305
How I Found It: I read and enjoyed The Martian.
Date Completed: 3/11/18

Summary: Jazz Bashara could have had just about any job she wanted. She's chosen to be a porter officially and a smuggler unofficially. When a wealthy customer makes her an offer she can't refuse, suddenly life on the moon gets significantly more dangerous. 

What I Thought: I was really excited for Weir's new book. Like everyone else, I really enjoyed The Martian. It was fun and different and the movie adaptation was fabulous. It was a little heavy on the science stuff and I would have liked some more characters, but I liked it a lot.

When Artemis was announced, I was excited and eager to learn more. The Martian was so unique that I wasn't sure how Weir would follow it up. It was so clearly a stand alone novel, so a sequel seemed out of the question. I think something like Artemis does the job well. It's set on the moon rather than Mars and about 100 years in the future so a city has been built and some of the modern complexities of space travel which Mark Watney faced in The Martian have become obsolete. Others remain integral plot points - include the fragility of human life in space.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Sister Citizen - Melissa V. Harris-Perry

Sister Citizen
Title: Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America
Author: Melissa V. Harris-Perry
Publication Date: 9/20/2011
Pages: 378
How I Found It: I can't remember.
Date Completed: 3/8/18

Summary: A thoughtful, thorough examination of the place of black women in America.

What I Thought: I am so glad I read this book. I can't remember what list of political book recommendations I read it on, but I'm awfully glad I did. It was incredibly eye-opening for me. 

One of my goals this year is to read books by a more diverse authorship. I believe strongly that reading about other people's experiences and beliefs is the second best option we have to expand our own understanding of the world (the best option is to build a real-life relationship with people who are different from you). This book demonstrates that perfectly. 

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Salt to the Sea - Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the Sea
Title: Salt to the Sea
Author: Ruta Sepetys
Publication Date: 2/2/2016
Pages: 393
Genre: Historical / Young Adult / Fiction
How I Found It: I've read Sepetys's other novel, Between Shades of Gray
Date Completed: 3/6/18

Summary: As WWII comes to a close and Germany is on the brink of collapse, Sepetys follows several characters on their journey to board the ill-fated Wilhelm Gustloff

What I Thought: When I read Sepetys's other novel, Between Shades of Grey, I was captivated by her ability to bring to life a part of history about which I knew so little. She has done it again here. Sepetys has a special skill for finding an obscured moment in time and making her readers wonder why such a captivating story ever fell off the pages of our commonly known history. 

In this instance, Sepetys tells the story of four people: three refugees of varying backgrounds and one Nazi soldier. They each are complex and interesting on their own, but their intersection is well written also. I found it particularly unique that Sepetys chose to give one of her main voices to a dedicated Nazi soldier. It is so rare in literature to see a character like that without remorse and yet still written in a vaguely sympathetic way. I didn't like that character, but his devotion to his cause, however evil, added an interesting element to the story that I don't think we could have gotten with a singular focus on those trying to escape the German and Russian armies. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Out of the Silent Planet - C. S. Lewis

Out of the Silent Planet
Title: Out of the Silent Planet
Author: C. S. Lewis
Publication Date: 1938
Pages: 241
How I Found It: A dear high school friend recommended this series back when I started the blog.
Date Completed: 2/28/18

Summary: An English professor finds himself kidnapped and taken to Mars to serve as a sacrifice for the native inhabitants. Instead, he finds himself learning a lot about both Mars and Earth in the process. 

What I Thought: Sometime shortly after I created the Read.Write.Repeat. Facebook page, a dear friend from high school commented and recommended this series to me. That was literally years ago. I can't believe it has taken me this long to take him up on the recommendation. Let this serve as proof of just how desperately I needed this 2018 TBR Challenge. It's making me finally go back and either cull or read long-ago suggested books. 

Of course, after reading this first one, now I know I want to read the other two as well. Sigh. Is this project helping or hurting me? I'm getting to read great books, so we're going to stick with helping! After all, the whole point of this is reading, not checking off things on a to-do list, right? 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

L'Appart - David Lebovitz

L'Appart
Title: L'Appart: The Delights and Disasters of Making My Paris Home
Author: David Lebovitz
Publication Date: 11/7/2017
Pages: 368
Genre: Food / Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.
Date Completed: 2/24/18

Summary: After years of renting in Paris, Lebovitz decided it was time to own his own place. L'Appart recounts the harried process of buying and renovating his new home. 

What I Thought: Most books I read about life in France have me half-packed by the last page. I'm enamored of French culture and, while I would still move overseas in a heartbeat, this particular memoir pulls back the veil from the harsh reality of what international life can be. Lebovitz really went through the ringer. Of course, upon conclusion, I'd argue that many of his issues could have happened in any country in the world. French culture just aggravated the intensity of it all. 

Thursday, March 8, 2018

An Altar in the World - Barbara Brown Taylor

An Altar in the World
Title: An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith
Author: Barbara Brown Taylor
Publication Date: 2/10/2009
Pages: 216
Genre: Faith / Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I can't remember.
Date Completed: 2/24/2018

Summary: Taylor looks at some of our most quotidian acts and how they can be spiritual experiences which point us to God. 

What I Thought: When I first started this book, I was skeptical. Taylor's idea of seeking the spiritual in the mundane felt...too simple? too touchy-feely? Too something. My gut reaction was to push back a bit. My upbringing and education relied strongly on doctrine and data, not how we feel about God or our faith. 

As I started reading, though, I was struck by how little I practice what Taylor is promoting. I so rarely set aside the academic approach to faith and allow myself to experience God in the small ways around me. Taylor's focus on bodily practices of faith was refreshing once I opened myself up to it. 

Each chapter is devoted to a different discipline which we can use to reconnect with God. Taylor spends time relaying the spiritual benefits of walking, getting lost, saying no, feeling pain, and prayer, among others. Some spoke to me more than others, of course. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Emma in the Night - Wendy Walker

Emma in the Night
Title: Emma in the Night
Author: Wendy Walker
Publication Date: 8/8/2017
Pages: 320
Genre: Thriller / Fiction
How I Found It: I saw it on someone else's blog last year as a recommended thriller. I'd give credit for the recommendation, but I can't remember where I saw it!
Date Completed: 2/19/2018

Summary: Teenage sisters, Emma and Cass Tanner disappeared three years ago. The highly publicized case explodes back into the public consciousness when Cass returns alone with an incredible story. 

What I Thought: I put this on my TBR list back in the fall when I was looking for a good Halloween-time thriller. After reading it, I wouldn't categorize it as quite what I was looking for, but it's a pretty good psychological thriller. 

The narration alternates between returned victim Cass and a psychologist working the case, Dr. Abby Winter. At first, the dual narration concerned me as I thought it would be harder to sustain suspense that way. However, Cass reveals her story in small pieces, both to Dr. Winter and to us. She holds her cards close to her chest through the whole book. At times, that suspense feels manufactured (I mean, this is a fiction book, so of course it's manufactured, but Walker's machinations felt a bit clunky at points). Overall, however, I stayed engaged and interested in guessing the outcome.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

February 2018 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 my reading goals, a few book-related links, and general blog news.  

February News 


I have always loved February. Kevin cites it as his least favorite month, but I have a special affinity for the briefest of months. When I was young, I think it was because of Valentine's Day and my half birthday (yeah, that was a thing I tried to get people to celebrate for longer than I'd like to admit). Neither of those events registers much on my radar now. In fact, for a few years there, when Kevin and I were first together and living in Ohio, he nearly pulled me over to his disdain of February. But now we live in the South. And spring comes in February. February marks the end of winter. Sure, we may get one random cold streak yet - even a brief snow is possible, but not probable. Now, February brings pink buds on trees and sleeping with the windows open and putting our coats away after their whole six weeks of work. Spring in the South is beautiful and February ushers it in.


So, did this February live up to expectations?

Well, I finally got my feet underneath me after a rough first month of the semester. I felt so underwater there for a while; it is nice to feel more stable again. We're still intensely busy; we always are. February at our house has mostly been an interesting dichotomy. On one hand, we're once again engaged in some active measures to sort out Kevin's health issues. It's been five years since he was diagnosed with an auto-immune disease and we have yet to find a solution. It's a thing we live with daily, but we go through periods where the search for answers is more active. This is one of those periods. It's exhausting and hopeful and disheartening all at once. In contrast to that emotional soup, though, is the sheer thrill of having finally booked our tickets to Italy! We have been planning this trip for about two years. It got pushed back several times because of things both within and outside of our control. I had honestly gotten to place where I no longer believed it would happen, but it is happening! We're spending 9 days there at the start of the summer. Rome, Cinque Terre, Florence, and Tuscany...here we come!!

With work and doctor's visits and hours spent on Airbnb finding Italian lodging, I haven't done a ton of reading. Two months in and I can already tell 2018 is going to be my least prolific reading year in quite a while. However, I'm actually very pleased so far about the intentionality in my reading. I know I don't have as much time or energy for it and so I'm only picking things I really want to read. The TBR Challenge (see below) is helping me feel less guilty about culling my to-read list. I'm trying to be more realistic about what I really will read or enjoy. After doing the 100 Best Novels challenge, I don't feel much obligation to read things just because they are supposed to be good or classics. That mentality applies to older books and newer ones. I just don't want to spend time reading things other people loved and I won't. In this phase of my life, I need enjoyment. Depth, but depth with pleasure. No more slogging through things I'm not appreciating. At least not this year.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? - Alyssa Mastromonaco

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?
Title: Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?: And Other Questions You Should Have Answers to When You Work in the White House
Author: Alyssa Mastromonaco
Publication Date: 3/21/2017
Pages: 244
Genre: Memoir / Political / Nonfiction
How I Found It: Mastromonaco is a frequent guest on the popular political podcast, Pod Save America.
Date Completed: 2/14/18

Summary: From her days in the office of then-Senator Obama to her role as Deputy Chief of Staff to President Obama, Mastromonaco pulls back the curtain to life as a political staffer - the good, the bad, and the hilarious.

What I Thought: This was such a fun read. Not only was there tons of interesting behind-the-scenes info about working for and with Barack Obama, but Mastromonaco is also quite funny. She has a sharp, witty sense of humor which aligns well with my own. Hearing her retell the stories of how she got a tampon dispenser installed in the women's restroom in the West Wing (seriously?! It took until the Obama administration for this to happen?!) or how then-Senator Obama walked in on her doing sit-ups in her office...she's self-deprecating and amusing and delightfully honest about the realities of working such a unique job. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Prince Charles - Sally Bedell Smith

Prince Charles
Title: Prince Charles: The Passions and Paradoxes of an Improbable Life
Author: Sally Bedell Smith
Publication Date: 4/4/2017
Pages: 624
Genre: Biography / Historical / Royals / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I've read Smith's biography of Queen Elizabeth II.
Date Completed: 2/10/18

Summary: A thorough, thoughtful biography of the man who has waited longer than anyone else for the British throne.

What I Thought: I've been doing a lot of royal reading lately. Books about royals are not uncommon for me, but I'm in the midst of quite a streak, specifically concerning Prince Charles and the late Princess of Wales. In December, I read the companion book to the second season of The Crown, which doesn't include Diana, but is about Prince Charles's parents, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip. His portrayal gets some significant screen time as well. Then I picked up a book that HRH himself wrote regarding his views on conversation and all sorts of other things, Harmony. Plus, my wonderful secret sister got me the latest version of Andrew Morton's seminal biography of Diana. With all the back and forth between the famously feuding pair, it felt like the right time to finally read Sally Bedell Smith's biography of HRH. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Take Tuesday: Ready Player One

Ready Player One
Some books are just so good, you have to read them again. And some books deserve a second chance. And some books I think about and change my opinion or have more to say. Take Tuesday is a chance to do just that. 

Title: Ready Player One
Author: Ernest Cline
Publication Date: 8/16/2011
Pages: 374
Previous Readings: October 2013
Date Completed This Time: 2/2/18

Summary: In a not-so-distant future, the world has been ravaged by fuel shortages. Most people spend their days plugged in to the OASIS, a virtual reality world that is increasing intertwined with the real world. When the creator of the OASIS dies, he leaves behind an intense scavenger hunt leading to control of his fortune and tech kingdom. 

What I Thought Before: I loved it. I found it fun and fast-paced and surprisingly interesting despite my lack of interest in the gaming world.

What I Think Now: Still loved it. Maybe even more this time around. It's been almost five years since the last time I read it, so I had forgotten a lot of the details. It kept things fresh for me and I was definitely still on the edge of my proverbial seat at times. I remembered the really big picture plot points, but much of the book felt new to me.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Cinderella Ate My Daughter - Peggy Orenstein

Cinderella Ate My Daughter
Title: Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Frontlines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture
Author: Peggy Orenstein
Publication Date: 1/25/2011
Pages: 245
Genre: Nonfiction
How I Found It: I can't remember
Date Completed: 1/29/17

Summary: The explosion of pink and princesses is seemingly inescapable for parents of little girls. Orenstein explores what led us to this cultural moment and how parents can and should deal with the intense cultural pressures.

What I Thought: It may seem odd for someone who is not a parent to be so interested in a book that really is directed toward that group. I don't have kids, yet I found myself riveted to Orenstein's exploration of how parents of daughters navigate our modern princesses obsession.

I think I found this book especially interested because I grew up with one sister and no brothers. Though the princess culture was not yet in full force during our 90s childhood (Disney rolled out that marketing machine in the early 2000s), we did a lot of stereotypical "girl things." We had American Girl dolls (which Orenstein spends a chapter discussing), Polly Pockets, Barbies (another chapter), and lots of paper dolls. We loved it all, but I've never spent a lot of time thinking about how my adoration of Kitchen Littles may have influences my perception of gender roles as an adult. I'd venture to guess that the gender roles displayed in the home did more in that regard, but our toys did reinforce those stereotypes in some ways. Of course, I also loved Legos, so it's not like we were restricted to dolls and dress-up. I think my parents just got us what we were interested in. After all, my sister was obsessed with cash registers as a child and that hardly fits into any gender stereotype. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Hallelujah Anyway - Anne Lamott

Hallelujah Anyway
Title: Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy
Author: Anne Lamott
Publication Date: 4/4/2017
Pages: 176
Genre: Faith / Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I've read Lamott's work before and this book was widely publicized last year.
Date Completed: 1/25/17

Summary: Lamott reflects on continuing faith in the midst of questions and disappointments. She focuses on the beauty of mercy. 

What I Thought: Lamott's writing is lovely. So raw and real, but still infused with hope. It's not a cliché hope, but rather one that comes with years of experience in the cycle of death and rebirth and redemption. 

I didn't find this work to be life-changing...rather, life-affirming. She calls out the good and the bad and our role in it all. She emphasizes the importance of mercy for ourselves and for others. She weaves the uncertainty of faith into the most mundane and the most miraculous. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Radicals - Ryan McIlvain

The Radicals
Title: The Radicals
Author: Ryan McIlvain
Publication Date: 2/13/2018
Pages: 320
Genre: Fiction
How I Found It: First to Read website
Date Completed: 1/29/18

Summary: New York graduate students become increasingly embroiled in their protest movement - and it leads them to dangerous ends. 

What I Thought: Honestly, I just didn't like this book all that much. I struggled to get through it. If I hadn't been reading it for First to Read, I probably would not have finished it.

I found the characters all insufferable. There wasn't anything appealing about them to me. Their entitlement made their radicalization feel inauthentic to me. I think in our modern moment of authentic protest driven by diversity, these upper-crust white kid protesters who went back to their comfortable lives between protests grated on me. I do think McIlvain did some of that purposefully. After all, he centers some of the book around his characters protesting on behalf of a Latina woman who is going to lose her home. The characters do seem to wrestle at least a little with how they are actually benifitting this woman. In the end, though, they are willing to sacrifice her needs in order to make a bigger point. Ultimately, their protests are driven by ideals, not the needs of actual people. 

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Timebound - Rysa Walker

Timebound
Title: Timebound
Author: Rysa Walker
Publication Date: 9/15/2012
Pages: 366
How I Found It: My 2017 TBTB Santa gave it to me. Thanks, @ExLibris_Kate!
Date Completed: 1/16/18

Summary: Kate's world is turned upside down when her grandmother suddenly reappears in her life and pulls Kate into a quest to save the world through time travel.

What I Thought: When I got this book in my TBTB Santa box at Christmas, I was immediately excited. I didn't know anything about it, but a cursory glance at the back cover drew me in quickly, as did the excited endorsements from some of my Twitter followers. I am often bad at reading the physical books I own (as is every book blogger I know), but I prioritized this one. 

I picked it up on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day weekend. I had gotten a lot done and figured I could spend at least part of the long weekend rewarding myself with some reading for pure enjoyment. I finished the book within 30 hours. I simply could not put it down. It's been quite a while since I had that thrill of literary insatiability, but Timebound definitely delivered on that front. 

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Tortilla Curtain - T. C. Boyle

The Tortilla Curtain
Title: The Tortilla Curtain
Author: T. C. Boyle
Publication Date: 1995
Pages: 355
How I Found It: My book club is reading it.
Date Completed: 1/15/18

Summary: Boyle explores the contrasts between two couples living in California's Topanga Canyon. Delaney and Kyra are wealthy liberals who live in a gated community. Cándido and América are illegal immigrants living in the canyon and doing their best to survive and find work. 

What I Thought: This book broke my heart. I listened to it on audiobook as that was the only way it was available from my library and there were some parts that were just so hard to listen to. Boyle doesn't shy away from the grim realities and dangers of life as a defenseless undocumented immigrant. It wasn't even necessarily the violent moments that were the hardest - although they were very difficult - it was the blatant xenophobia and hypocrisy of the white characters. Of course, that's Boyle's point. 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

January 2018 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 my reading goals, a few book-related links, and general blog news.  

January News 


This has been a weird month. I headed back to work, but the routine was quickly derailed by snow days and an unpleasant bout with the flu. My sleep schedule is so out of whack and I feel like I'm exhausted all the time. Plus, the start of the semester always feels a bit chaotic as I adjust to new students and ensure lesson plans and syllabi are set. Everything combined just feels strange this year. It's hard to quantify, but things just feel a little off. Not necessarily in a bad way, just like I can't quite get my feet underneath me.

Part of that is probably that our normal routine is really off because of experimenting with Kevin's diet. As I mentioned last month, he's doing a Paleo/SCD diet to try and help with his auto-immune struggles. It's meant we really haven't gone out to eat or do date nights, which is hard for us. We bond over food and eating out is our favorite treat. It's also meant way more food prep all the time. It's just been a big shift all around and it doesn't seem to be working, which is a big disappointment. We're reintroducing soy and rice this week, but keeping him off dairy, gluten, corn, and most sugars. Even though I haven't been doing the diet, eating has felt like a very isolated and lonely activity this month, which takes so much of our typical joy out of it.

I did read some great books this month. I'm excited to be getting, slowly, back into my reading groove. I haven't had tons of time for it, but I've really enjoyed what I have had time for. I already think this TBR challenge is great because I'm feeling so free to just cut things from the list. I started reading Alias Grace and just wasn't feeling it, so I stopped about 50 pages in. If you know me, you know I almost never fail to finish a book. However, I'm trying to make the most of my reading this year. There are so many books in the world and I don't have to like them all. I'm giving myself permission to say no, even partway through, and that feels delightful.