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.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Hard Choices - Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hard Choices
Title: Hard Choices
Author: Hillary Rodham Clinton
Publication Date: 6/10/14
Pages: 635
Genre: Political / Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: The author has been in the press a bit lately
Date Completed: 11/12/15

Summary: Clinton discusses her work as Secretary of State during President Obama's first term.

What I Thought: Let me say up front, I recognize Clinton is a current candidate for president at the time of this review and public opinion about her is divided. Whichever camp you fall in regard to her candidacy or her as a person, be willing to open your mind and think critically for yourself. I tell it to my students all the time: don't blindly accept what any one source tells you. Read, research, explore, and be informed! Only then are you qualified to add to the discussion.

That being said, reading Hard Choices is part of my effort to become increasingly informed. There are many things in this world about which we, the public, will never have the full story or truly know the motives and actions of others. Still, it is our responsibility to learn all we can and listen to both sides of a story before we draw any conclusions. The most obvious example in this instance is the attack on our diplomatic compound in Benghazi, Libya. I'll get to that.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Between Shades of Gray - Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray
Title: Between Shades of Gray
Author: Ruth Sepetys
Publication Date: 3/22/11
Pages: 344
How I Found It: Not sure
Date Completed: 10/22/15

Summary: Lina is taken from her home by Russian soldiers before she can even change from her pajamas. Along with her mother and younger brother, she is placed on a train and sent off to Siberia to endure terrible conditions and manual labor - all because the Soviet government suspects their family of subversion. 

What I Thought: The humanitarian tragedy which occurred under Stalin and other leaders of the USSR often gets brushed over when studying the era, largely because WWII tends to dominate the historical landscape of that era. So many people are unaware of the huge numbers of Russians sent to prison camps for little or no real purpose. Their stories are not told with the same frequency or fervency as those who suffered and died in the Holocaust. Both stories deserve to be told, both as cautionary tales of brutal governments and as memorials to the millions who died at their hands. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

All the Stars in the Heavens - Adriana Trigiani

All the Stars in the Heavens
This week, I'm partnering with TLC Book Tours to bring you a new book every day! They span a wide range of genre, so make sure to check back each day for a new review; you're bound to find something you'll enjoy.

Title: All the Stars in the Heavens
Author: Adriana Trigiani
Publication Date: 10/13/15
Pages: 464
Genre: Historical / RomanceFiction
How I Found It: TLC Book Tours
Date Completed: 10/25/15

Summary: In the Golden Age of Hollywood, "luster, drama, power, and secrets...thrive in the studio system." Trigiani takes real stars from the era and adds to and invents the details of their lives. She paints Loretta Young and Clark Gable as star-crossed lovers and supports them with a colorful cast of family and friends.

What I Thought: As someone who spends admittedly too much time reading celebrity gossip, it's easy to see why this book appealed to me. Hollywood stories of love and scandal are abundant, yet I know little about the stars of Hollywood's early days. When I started the book, I did not realize that Trigiani had used real personalities upon which to base her novel. That aspect certainly made the book more intriguing and, in a way, reminded me a little of how Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan fictionalized the love story of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge for their recent novel, The Royal We. That book has easily been one of my favorites this year, so I had high hopes for Trigiani's work as well.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Indifferent Stars Above - Daniel James Brown

The Indifferent Stars Above
This week, I'm partnering with TLC Book Tours to bring you a new book every day! They span a wide range of genre, so make sure to check back each day for a new review; you're bound to find something you'll enjoy.

Title: The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of the Donner Party
Author: Daniel James Brown
Publication Date: 4/28/09
Pages: 352
How I Found It: TLC Book Tours
Date Completed: 10/5/15

Summary: Brown follows the story of the infamous Donner party through his engaging narrative nonfiction style. 

What I Thought: As most people in America, I had a vague knowledge of the Donner party. "They ate each other to survive winter in the mountains, right?" Yeah, that's pretty much what it boils down to (no pun intended), but Brown takes this story far beyond its historical hook. Brown explores the lives and personalities of the people who were part of the doomed party traveling west to California and, more than anything, he looks at the chain of events that led them to their fateful decision. 

Brown focuses specifically on young newlywed Sarah Graves and her family. Sarah and her brand new husband decided to make the trek along with her parents and siblings, all hoping to start a new life together in the prosperous west. Focusing on Sarah specifically gave the book a lovely emotional base. It's easy to identify with Sarah and her young heart full of love and hope as she sets out on the journey. It makes the end result that much more tragic and impactful. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Food Whore - Jessica Tom

Food Whore
This week, I'm partnering with TLC Book Tours to bring you a new book every day! They span a wide range of genre, so make sure to check back each day for a new review; you're bound to find something you'll enjoy.

Title: Food Whore: A Novel of Dining and Deceit 
Author: Jessica Tom
Publication Date: 10/27/15
Pages: 352
Genre: Food / Fiction
How I Found It: TLC Book Tours
Date Completed: 11/1/15

Summary: New to NYC, Tia is hoping for a graduate internship with her idol, food writer Helen Lansky. Instead, she finds herself working the coat check at a prominent Manhattan restaurant and being pulled ever deeper into a world of secrets she had never anticipated. Designer clothes, fancy meals, and professional connections all dangle before her, so long as she stays quiet about her real work.

What I Thought: First and foremost, let's address that title. Despite the suggestive name of the book, Tia does not prostitute herself - at least not in the traditional sense. The book's back cover defines a "food whore" as someone who would do anything for food. Tom seems to placing Tia in that category, although I would mount a strong argument that Tia's morally questionable actions are driven by professional ambition, not her love of food. While Tia does not offer up her body for prestige and power, she does basically sell her loyalty, her trustworthiness, her relationships, and, in many ways, her true identity. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Mendocino Fire - Elizabeth Tallent

Mendocino Fire
This week, I'm partnering with TLC Book Tours to bring you a new book every day! They span a wide range of genre, so make sure to check back each day for a new review; you're bound to find something you'll enjoy.

Title: Mendocino Fire
Author: Elizabeth Tallent
Publication Date: 10/20/15
Pages: 272
How I Found It: TLC Book Tours
Date Completed: 10/7/15

Summary: A collection of short stories.

What I Thought: As I mentioned recently, short story anthologies have occupied a tenuous ground for me for many years. Lately, though, I have been willing to give them more of a shot and have been trying to realign my thinking about short stories.

Tallent's collection reminded me of the beauty of writing and the skill needed to capture characters without the benefit of hundreds of pages of dialogue and decisions. Her writing is absolutely beautiful, if a bit mired down at times by the theoretical. There isn't a lot of action, but this isn't that type of book. To truly enjoy Tallent's writing, you have to be willing to devote some of yourself to it. This is one of those books where you get back as much as you are willing to put in. Spend the time and energy truly absorbing her words, and you will find them rich and rewarding. Try to skim through for the action and the high points and you'll be left wanting. I can admit to using both, depending on the day I picked up the book. Experiencing such satisfaction on the days I gave the book my full attention makes me want to go back and read the stories which did not receive the same my first time through.

Monday, November 2, 2015

After Alice - Gregory Maguire

After Alice
This week, I'm partnering with TLC Book Tours to bring you a new book every day! They span a wide range of genre, so make sure to check back each day for a new review; you're bound to find something you'll enjoy.

Title: After Alice
Author: Gregory Maguire
Publication Date: 10/27/15
Pages: 288
Genre: Fantasy / Fiction
How I Found It: TLC Book Tours
Date Completed: 10/16/15

Summary: In his now well-known style, Maguire takes a classic tale and approaches it from a completely fresh angle. Timed neatly with the 150th anniversary of Lewis Carroll's classic tale, Maguire sends some new children down the rabbit hole and through the looking glass after Alice, while also capturing the experiences of those above ground who are searching for the missing adventurers. 

What I Thought: When TLC offered me the chance to read Maguire's latest work, I knew I wanted in. I actually haven't read much of his catalog; he has an extensive one. I have only read Wicked - you know, that book that was turned into a hugely successful, Tony-winning musical? I enjoyed the book and I absolutely adore the musical, so I figured another venture into Maguire's unique perspective on classic stories would be fun.

I should have realized right out of the gate that reading Lewis Carroll's classic books Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass first would have helped immensely. It's hard to appreciate Maguire's work fully if you are unfamiliar with the source material. It's like watching an SNL skit without being up on recent pop culture or news. I, of course, am vaguely familiar with Carroll's work. I know the general story of Alice in Wonderland; I have, after all, seen the Disney adaptation. That, however, is pretty much where my knowledge ends. I have not read the books and I have no clue what happens in Through the Looking Glass, other than a return trip to Wonderland (I think). 

Friday, October 30, 2015

October 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.  

October News 

As I am writing this, I am looking out the window at some very dreary rain and gray skies. It's almost like being back in Ohio. I really do not mind days like these. A little cold weather and rain can do me good once in a while. It's the snow which is my mortal enemy. How thankful I am to be living somewhere where I see the white evil so rarely! The cold air and rain signal our without-a-doubt transition into fall. The clocks change this weekend and Thanksgiving is only weeks away (to my delight). I've worn boots more days than not in the last week and I wore a coat to class today. The leaves are shifting hue to show their versatility and beauty. Adele has made her triumphant return and lives on repeat in my speakers. Autumn is officially among us here on the East Coast. It's beautiful, even in the dreary rain.

Of course, maybe I can admire the beauty of autumn fully since last weekend Kevin and went to the beach to celebrate our third anniversary. It was perfection. We ate buckets of fresh seafood and walked the beach in bare feet and reflected on a wide spectrum of topics, including how we have grown in the past years together. The sun and the waves made it hard to believe it is the end of October. Additionally, next weekend, I am going to see one of my very dearest friends at her home in southern Florida. So, of course I can love autumn in this moment; I'm bookending its entrance with beach trips.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Adventures of Augie March - Saul Bellow

The Adventures of Augie March
Title: The Adventures of Augie March
Author: Saul Bellow
Publication Date: 1953
Pages: 586
Genre: Classic / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels list
Date Completed: 10/15/15

Summary: Augie March, a Chicagoan born during the Great Depression, recounts the story of his life and the adventures therein. Bellow's classic work comes across as almost episodic as Augie has one unique experience after another.

What I Thought: This book could so easily be turned into a TV show or a miniseries. As Augie goes from one (mis)adventure to another, an astute reader can easily see episodes forming under the right direction. The right writing team could drag it out quite well: a season containing Augie's trip to St. Joseph (which, ironically, is my husband's hometown and, thus, was quite fun for me to read about in an historical context), a season of Augie and his unscrupulous brother trying to climb the social ladder, a season with Thea in Mexico....I'm picturing this British-TV style with 6-8 episodes per series; or, better yet, as a two-hour episodes of a miniseries. It really surprises me that this has not been done already.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Unbecoming - Rebecca Scherm

Title: Unbecoming
Author: Rebecca Scherm
Publication Date: 1/22/15
Pages: 320
Genre: Thriller / Fiction
How I Found It: Not sure
Date Completed: 10/11/15

Summary: Grace, whose going by 'Julie' these days, lives in fear. Every day, as she goes to her job as an antiques restorer in Paris, she worries about the life she left back in Garland, Tennessee, specifically, those two boys who have just been paroled from their jail sentences. After all, they went to jail because of her.

What I Thought: I really enjoyed this novel. I wish I could remember how I discovered it, because I want to go back to that source for more recommendations. The book was not perfect; there were some mild writing downfalls, as can be found in most thrillers. As a whole, however, I found it unique and engaging. 

I absolutely loved the art & antique aspect of the book. As someone who holds a Master of Liberal Arts and teaches a Humanities course, it should not come as a surprise that I delighted in this choice of Scherm's. Integrating fine arts happens to rarely in modern novels, at least of this genre. Sure, Donna Tartt explored the art world to an extent in The Goldfinch, but I don't think back on that book fondly, despite its Pulitzer Prize status. What I like is when an author, such as Scherm, utilizes the fine art world as a plot point, but also allows a character to grow and learn through it. Grace does just that. Her exposure to the art world shapes her as a person and a character. She uses her newfound knowledge as both an excuse and an escape. Since the novel pivots around art theft, the subject if never far in the background and Scherm does a lovely job of showing us how Grace falls in love with true art: that which has meaning and intention beyond the surface level.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell

Title: Fangirl
Author: Rainbow Rowell
Publication Date: 9/10/13
Pages: 445
Genre: Young Adult / Fiction
How I Found It: So many book bloggers love Rainbow Rowell - I had to give her work a try!
Date Completed: 10/3/15

Summary: Cath and her twin sister Wren are starting college in Nebraska. Cath would rather be at home, watching over their bipolar father and writing fan fiction about the Simon Snow series (a total Harry Potter knockoff). College, however, brings new personal challenges are she takes a Fiction Writing course, begins to bond with her roommate, and navigates her own love life.

What I Thought: I honestly did not know what to expect going into this book. I have seen so many other book bloggers raving about Rainbow Rowell's work, but I was wary it would fall into a more cliché YA lit category (i.e. not well written and a little too emotional and romance driven for my taste). I found myself pleasantly surprised when I, too, raced through Rowell's work, enjoying it far more than I had anticipated.

First and foremost, I love how self-aware Cath is. Rowell's decision to make Cath not only aware but snarky about some of the more cliché college moments happening around her kept the story from veering too far into a classic coming-of-age story. 

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Sous Chef - Michael Gibney

Sous Chef
Title: Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line
Author: Michael Gibney
Publication Date: 3/25/14
Pages: 240
Genre: Food / Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: You know me and food memoirs...
Date Completed: 9/27/15

Summary: Gibney captures a unique look at life in a prestigious restaurant kitchen. With his use of second person narrative, he describes one day as a sous chef, with all its highs and lows.

What I Thought: You all know how I love books in this genre. Give me a memoir about food and I will devour it (no pun intended). Lately, though, I have begun to feel like the genre is either becoming over saturated or I have lost that same early fervor I felt for it. Several of the books I have read have felt far more solidly in the memoir genre, rather than having anything to do with food. That's not always a bad thing, but it leaves my craving for knowledge and experience of the food industry unsatisfied. Wow...I'm using so many food metaphors completely unwittingly here...

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Keep Moving - Dick Van Dyke

Keep Moving
Title: Keep Moving: And Other Tips and Truths About Aging
Author: Dick Van Dyke
Publication Date: 10/13/15 - Today!
Pages: 256
Genre: Memoir / Self-Help / Nonfiction
How I Found It: NetGalley
Date Completed: 8/18/15

Summary: Dick Van Dyke shares his approach to aging gracefully and maintaining an active lifestyle long past the point when culture expects you to do so. 

What I Thought: Who doesn't like Dick Van Dyke? He's charming and vivacious, at least on television. And, I imagine, in real life - at least if his memoirs are any indication.

I read Van Dyke's earlier memoir, My Lucky Life, back in 2011. It was, in fact, the very first book I ever reviewed for this blog. How times have changed! I enjoyed his literary voice back then and did in this new memoir as well.

I found this guy on NetGalley. I don't know that a Van Dyke memoir is going to be getting tons of marketing at this point, so I was glad to have noticed it there. I enjoy these inside looks at the lives of celebrity personalities, particularly when told from their own perspective. 

Friday, October 9, 2015

French Women Don't Get Fat - Mireille Guiliano

French Women Don't Get Fat
Title: French Women Don't Get Fat: The Secret of Eating for Pleasure
Author: Mireille Guiliano
Publication Date: 12/28/05
Pages: 263
Genre: Self-Help / Food / Nonfiction
How I Found It: It's been around for a while now.
Date Completed: 9/25/15

Summary: Guiliano explores the idea that French women have a secret to staying thin. Their diet includes all sorts of things Americans find guilt-inducing: chocolate, wine, bread, rich foods. Yet, the obesity levels in France are far below those in America. Guiliano wants to get to the heart of the issue.

What I Thought: I am not in the habit of reading diet books. Although, I have put on a good 15 pounds since getting married three years ago, a fact with which I am extremely uncomfortable. Still, I know what needs to change if I want to lose that weight: diet and exercise. Portion control and physical activity are the way to a healthy lifestyle. It's well proven, but none of us like to hear or enact that wisdom.

Instead, Americans love diet fads. We love someone telling us there is another way - some secret path to success that doesn't require exercise and allows us to eat all of our favorite things. Guiliano is, whether she would admit it or not, appealing to that exact desire. The book is marketed in a way which makes you think it shares one of those secret pathways.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Underground Girls of Kabul - Jenny Nordberg

The Underground Girls of Kabul
Title: The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan
Author: Jenny Nordberg
Publication Date: 9/16/14
Pages: 350
Genre: Political / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I've seen it several places since its release
Date Completed: 9/19/15

Summary: In a culture where being a woman qualifies you as little more than property, a not-so-unique phenomenon has been taking place for centuries. Parents desperate for the prestige and protection provided by the presence of a son are parading their daughters as boys - at least until the practice becomes unacceptable at puberty. Nordberg explores the motivations, emotions, and the real girls living as boys.

What I Thought: As I have grown into womanhood, become a wife and a professional, furthered my education, I have also become increasingly sensitive to the burdens of women around the world. I know I was blessed to be born into an imperfect, but charmed environment. So many, at home or abroad, would see my life as idyllic. I know that. At times, that disparity makes me feel guilty for my own blessed existence. Though I had no control over my destiny, it makes me want to help those who find themselves oppressed and trapped.

Now, I'll be the first to say that, in these past few years as this topic has become more important and interesting to me, I have done far more learning than acting. I read, I watch, I study, I gather information. But I have done little. It's hard to know what to do, at times, though, that certainly doesn't stop amazing women like Katrell Christie or Malala Yousafzai. Still, I know I need to go beyond the thinking and take action if I really care about these women and girls. I'm just not sure what that looks like yet - at least for me.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Tiger Heart - Katrell Christie

Tiger Heart
I'm giving away a copy of this book at the bottom of the post! Don't miss your chance to enter!

Title: Tiger Heart: My Unexpected Adventures to Make a Difference in Darjeeling, and What I Learned about Fate, Fortitude, and Finding Family Half a World Away
Author: Katrell Christie & Shannon McCaffrey
Publication Date: 10/6/15
Pages: 232
Genre: Memoir / Political / Nonfiction
How I Found It: TLC Book Tours
Date Completed: 9/21/15

Summary: Katrell Christie was a pretty normal Atlanta citizen who happened to own a tea shop and play roller derby on the side - until a trip to India changed her life. Now, she runs a program empowering young Indian women and helping them get an education.

What I Thought: I found Christie's story pretty inspiring. She had no previous connection to India or even any particular desire to travel there. She went on little more than a whim and the trip changed her life. She continues to live her "normal" life in the States, but travels to India twice a year. She's a very normal person doing something extraordinary, and we do not see enough of that. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

September 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.  

September News 

How is it already October? I know saying that makes the most basic of, uh, girls, but I don't even care. September absolutely flew by and I simply cannot believe that fall is here in full force.

After coming off a (very) short hiatus in August, it felt nice to be back for September. As our lives has slowly returned to some semblance of routine and normalcy, so, too, has my reading and blogging schedule. I found myself in a serious reading funk for much of the month; I could not find anything I really was enjoyed and stopped reading more books than I finished - an absolute rarity for me. I think I have finally muscled through and am back on track.

This month, I had the absolute pleasure of meeting up with Maggie from Macarons & Paperbacks for the first time in person. I am so thankful we had the chance before she welcomes her little boy (any time now, really!). We had a great time chatting and getting to know one another in real life, even though the restaurant I blindly picked didn't turn out to be super great. I hope we have the opportunity to meet up again soon! Maggie is the first Internet friend I have met in real life and, despite Kevin's warnings that she was probably a serial killer in disguise, she turned out to be even more lovely in real life than online - inside and out.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Oryx and Crake - Margaret Atwood

Oryx and Crake
Title: Oryx and Crake
Author: Margaret Atwood
Publication Date: 05/03
Pages: 374
How I Found It: I've been wanting to read more Atwood
Date Completed: 8/26/15

Summary: In a futuristic landscape far different than our own, Jimmy, who goes by "Snowman" these days, wonders if he's the last real human left on Earth. He wanders mentally and physically into his past as he searches for the answer to that question.

What I Thought: In my mind, I have this great desire to be a Margaret Atwood fan. In my mind, I am one of those fans who picks up everything she publishes and devours it. In my mind, I have read every Atwood work.

I'm not sure why I feel this way. In fact, this book, Oryx and Crake, is only the second Atwood novel I have ever read. I think The Handmaid's Tale made such an impact on me, though, I find myself believing I am a more ardent fan than I actually am. 

Coming from Atwood's most popular work and with some weird sort of faux-fan complex, I picked up Oryx and Crake. I am not really sure why I chose this one with which to venture further into Atwood's world. In retrospect, I think there would have been a lot of other, better choices. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Coda - Emma Trevayne

Title: Coda
Author: Emma Trevayne
Publication Date: 5/7/13
Pages: 320
Genre: Dystopian / Science Fiction / Fiction
How I Found It: It's been on my TBR for quite a while.
Date Completed: 9/17/15

Summary: In Trevayne's future, music has been encoded with addictive properties and the corrupt government uses it to control the population. Any unauthorized music is illegal and every citizen is monitored to ensure their need for the hallucinogenic melodies.

What I Thought: I love the broad concept of this book. I think Trevayne has hit on a plot idea here that has yet to be exploited by the mass migration to the dystopian genre. The integration of music into the future is a concept that few have broached. Suzanne Collins touches on it a bit in The Hunger Games series as Katniss sings to her sister and the mockingjay birds repeat back short melodies. Yet, I have not seen another author fully explore what a dystopian future centered around music would look like.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Provence, 1970 - Luke Barr

Provence, 1970
Title: Provence, 1970: M. F. K. Fisher, Julia Child, James Beard, and the Reinvention of American Taste
Author: Luke Barr
Publication Date: 10/22/13
Pages: 320
Genre: Food / Historical / Nonfiction
How I Found It: A list of food books
Date Completed: 9/10/15

Summary: Once upon a time, in the magical region of Provence, France, a group of culinary giants spent time together sharing their inspirations, their ideas, and their meals.

What I Thought: As I have fallen in love with cooking over the past several years, I have also more and more enjoyed learning about the chefs and writers who brought culinary revolution to America in the mid-twentieth century. As with many, my knowledge and interest began with Julia Child, the accessible and irresistible friend who brought high-minded French ideals to the lowly home kitchen of the American housewife. From there, however, I have come to "know" many of her friends and colleagues. There are many to whom the shift in the American mindset can be partially attributed and very many of those appear in the pages of this book.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows - J. K. Rowling

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Title: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Author: J. K. Rowling
Publication Date: 7/21/07
Pages: 759
Date Completed: 9/6/15

Summary: Harry, Hermione, and Ron search the English countryside for Horcruxes and are ultimately led to a final battle at Hogwarts, where self-sacrifice, teamwork, and love are the strongest magic they have at their disposal. 

What I Thought: Where to begin?

Here at the close, I always feel so many emotions. It's like saying goodbye to a good friend. I know I'll return to the series again and again, but coming to the close always feels so final in a way. 

After nearly two years of taking the journey together, Kevin and I finished the final book at the start of this month. I had worried (unnecessarily) about having time to get through this final book before the fall. Yet, once we got going, it's hard to put it aside. We listened while we drove, while we painted, while we organized our new house. Pretty much any excuse was good enough.