Friday, December 30, 2016

December 2016 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 

While I cannot say I have felt especially festive this holiday season, it sure has been nice to start looking ahead to 2017. A new year always feels so hopeful, so fresh, so full of possibility. Starting next week, we begin again.

Before we do that though, here's one final monthly wrap-up. I'll be looking back on 2016 as a whole on Monday, but today is about December. I anticipate finishing another book or two today or tomorrow, so I'll update as I do.

In my book-ish world, it was a good month. I started a new series: Let's Talk About... and it's already off to an incredible start. I got a great response and record hits talking about the Gilmore Girls reboot. If you haven't read it and are a Gilmore fan, you totally should. I'm looking forward to continuing that series in the new year with a diversity of topics. It was nice to start with a fun one, because I'm sure we'll have some serious stuff to discuss in the new year.

I also participated in #TBTBSanta for the third year in a row this month. I love this event. Thanks so much to Jamie for putting it all together. I had an absolute blast putting together a package for Allison over at Aliza Shandel. I also was thrilled to get my package from Monica at Newbery and Beyond. She got my Half the Sky, which you know I think everyone in the world should read, and The Gammage Cup, which is a book I've been hunting for ever since I was a child. Also, she's doing the coolest challenge on her blog - reading through all the Newbery winners and Newbery Honor books. Both Allison and Monica have a new follower, fan, and friend in me. That's the real beauty of this Secret Santa exchange. I'm looking forward to joining the #otspsecretsister exchange in the new year to spread that same love and excitement throughout the year.

I really enjoyed getting back into reading this month, too. After the insanity of NaNoWriMo and final grading, it felt so good and cathartic to fall back into fiction for escape. I am so thankful for a way to clear my head and focus on something outside of myself even for small chunks at a time. I cleaned out my TBR this month and doing so got me really excited for the books I will read in 2017. I know there will be some amazing ones and I cannot wait to experience them.

For now, though, let's take a look back at this final month of 2016...

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Best Books of 2016

If you are a long-time reader, you know I have done a post like this the past four years. It is one of my favorite posts of the whole year. You can find the 20122013, 2014, and 2015 versions in the archives (or by following the links).

A note of procedure, I only ever select new reads for this post. I love rereading books and I have done more of it in the past couple years, but so often I reread books because I love them. It doesn't feel fair to include them in these "awards" because they've already made enough of an impression on me to be reread.

Monday, December 26, 2016

The Ambassadors - Henry James

The Ambassadors
Title: The Ambassadors
Author: Henry James
Publication Date: 1903
Pages: 528
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction 
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 12/20/16

Summary: Strether, an American widower, is engaged to Chad's mom. Chad's mom is not happy about the carousing her son is doing in Paris, so she sends Strether to bring him home. Turns out, Strether likes Paris and the lifestyle there.

What I Thought: Back when I read The Wings of the Dove, my first James novel, I marveled at how an interesting plot could come across so dry. I hoped it was a fluke. Then, I read The Golden Bowl and experienced the same befuddlement. In that second review, I labeled his work "wanting." Here now, we arrive at the third and final of James' work on the Modern Library list. Could it do what the others could not? Did it capture me?

In short, no. 

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas!

What a year. I've never been more thankful to end the year with a celebration and time of hope. Even in the darkest world, there is hope and love.

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. We could all use the escape and the education after this year.

I hope not only Christmas, but 2017 as a whole finds you warm, well-fed, healthy, and safe this Christmas. So many people around the world, and within our own country, 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!

Friday, December 23, 2016

The Fate of the Tearling - Erika Johansen

The Fate of the Tearling
Title: The Fate of the Tearling
Author: Erika Johansen
Publication Date: 11/29/16
Pages: 496
Genre: Fantasy / Fiction
How I Found It: TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins
Date Completed: 12/20/16

Summary: Having relinquished herself and her powerful sapphires to the Red Queen, Kelsea must now figure out how to save the Tearling - and maybe the world - from inside her prison cell. Her visions of pre-Crossing Lily have been replaced with visions of a young girl, Katie, born shortly after Crossing who also seems to have a big role to play in the fate of the new world. 

What I Thought: I have really enjoyed this series. Throughout, Johansen has impressed me with her bold approach and unique voice. She has written characters who are strong and broken and powerful and flawed. That takes skill. For me, the characters are easily her master stroke in this series. Here in the final book, the plot fell down for me a bit - not terribly, but noticeably. The characters, however, continued to keep me in awe and suspense to the very last page.

Let's start with the stuff I did not love about this last book. I want to get past that so I can rave more about the things I did like. I've always been a delayed gratification/bad news first kind of girl (with the notable seasonal exception of Christmas presents, which I mercilessly searched the house for hoping to ruin any surprises. Sorry, Mom.). So, here we go:

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

The Invasion of the Tearling - Erika Johansen

The Invasion of the Tearling
Title: The Invasion of the Tearling
Author: Erika Johansen
Publication Date: 6/9/15
Pages: 515
Genre: Fantasy / Fiction 
How I Found It: TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins
Date Completed: 12/4/16

Summary: Kelsea has come into her role as Queen of the Tearling. Despite the impending invasion from the Mort army, she is rallying troops and making preparations among her people. However, her mind is pulling her away more and more frequently to visit the life of Lily, a woman from pre-crossing times. Kelsea must figure out the meaning of these visits as well as the visits from a mysterious man.

What I Thought: It has been a while since I have gotten excited about a series. So often, the first book is good enough, but I am either not compelled to continue the series or the sequels are letdowns. So far, that is not the case here. One book left to go, but I am optimistic.

This felt like a really well done middle book. There is enough independent story here to fuel the book on its own, but it clearly serves as a bridge between the beginning and the end of Kelsea's story. 

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Queen of the Tearling - Erika Johansen

The Queen of the Tearling
Title: The Queen of the Tearling
Author: Erika Johansen
Publication Date: 7/8/2014
Pages: 434
Genre: Fantasy / Fiction
How I Found It: TLC Book Tours and Harper Collins
Date Completed: 8/6/16

Summary: The future of our world looks a lot like our past - at least according to Johansen. Though the characters are clearly living in the future, the setting and culture of the story largely replicates the era of Arthurian legends, magic included. Young Kelsea, having been raised in hiding, finds herself Queen of the Tearling and facing a variety of personal and national threats with which she must deal.

What I Thought: I am so glad TLC offered me a chance to be on this tour. I had heard of it before and placed it on my TBR, so I jumped at the opportunity. I'll be reviewing all three books in the series this week, so make sure you come back on Wednesday and Friday to see what I have to say about the sequels.

Today, however, is all about book one. 

I have heard some people compare this to George R. R. Martin's popular A Song of Ice and Fire series - better known as Game of Thrones. Others have compared Queen Kelsea, protagonist, to my beloved Katniss Everdeeen. I can see some thin parallels with both. I think, though, that trying to lump it in with something else is a discredit to Johansen's work. I found it delightfully original and fresh. 

There are a number of familiar premises - a 'regular' teenager finds herself suddenly in a unique position of power, something has happened to our world and this is a distant future, power struggles plus magic equals a dangerous situation...we know all of these, right? Somehow, when Johansen brings them together, they feel new and different. None of the tropes felt stale to me. I was actively engaged and interested in Kelsea's fate. 

Friday, December 16, 2016

The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter

The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Title: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
Author: Carson McCullers
Publication Date: 1940
Pages: 368
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction 
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 12/7/16

Summary: McCullers follows deaf-mute Singer as he gains and loses friendships in a small Georgia town. Though Singer is at the heart of the story, the cast of characters is rich and diverse.

What I Thought: I really did not know what to expect going into this book. I was excited because this is one of few on the Modern Library list written by a woman (a fact about which you'll hear my extensive feelings next year when I finis the challenge). The small collection on the list written by women have brought an unsurprisingly fresh perspective. They simply have a different tone and perspective, as you can see in modern literature as well. This is why diverse authors and voices matter in literature.

Ok, so I'm getting off the point here. Let's stick with this book for the moment. 

There is so much depth here. This is a book I feel I will need to read several times to fully extract its goodness. On the surface, I did not find it to be a particular stand out. However, if you are reading on more than a cursory level, there is a depth and richness here that cannot be ignored. As with some other 100 Best books this year, I do not feel my reading of this did it justice. I want to come back and languish in the words, the characters, the story-telling. 

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The 39 Clues: The Maze of Bones - Rick Riordan

The Maze of Bones
Title: The Maze of Bones
Author: Rick Riordan
Publication Date: 2008
Pages: 220
How I Found It: I can't remember
Date Completed: 11/27/16

Summary: Amy and Dan Cahill are orphans in the care of a horrid old aunt and a carefree nanny. On weekends, they visit their charming, mysterious grandmother - at least until she dies and they find themselves among a cast of quirky, distant relatives at her enormous mansion, hoping to be included in the division of her assets. What they don't expect is to be launched into an international scavenger hunt with ancient family power on the line.

What I Thought: I heard of this series ages ago and had put it on the back burner of my mind, thinking it would make a good listen for Kevin and I on a car trip. Well, this Thanksgiving, I timed the library reservation correctly and got it for us as we drove to and from the Midwest for the holiday. 

As I've discussed before, Kevin has high audio book criteria, Mostly, it has to be interesting and exciting enough to keep him engaged and every moment. No lulls in the action. Hence, why I picked out a children's book for us to listen to. Haha. I don't mean that as harshly as it sounds, just that kids' books don't often have the long descriptive passages or focus on internal character development. Kids, like Kevin on a car trip, want to be entertained and have a short attention span.

Monday, December 12, 2016

But What If We're Wrong? - Chuck Klosterman

But What If We're Wrong?
Title: But What If We're Wrong?: Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past
Author: Chuck Klosterman
Publication Date: 6/7/16
Pages: 272
Genre: Nonfiction
How I Found It: I can't remember, but I'm so glad I did.
Date Completed: 11/17/16

Summary: We like to think we are the zenith of human civilization. More likely, however, is that we are yet another step in the progression of human progress. So how will our descendants look back at the twenty-first century? Klosterman has set out to answer that question - or at least ponder its possible answers.

What I Thought: When the first chapter focuses on exploring the idea of what contemporary books will one day be considered classics, I know I'm in for a treat.

Klosterman has really put together a series of essays - although he expressly denies that qualification in the introduction. Each chapter looks at a different issue (books, television, gravity, football, etc.) and imagines how our descendants will think similarly or differently from us on these topics.

Klosterman does a nice job of blending academic, high-brow thought with a conversational tone - and not just because he includes "curse" words in the text. Rather, he makes complex issues and ideas understandable and something about which you could genuinely see yourself having a dinner conversation. It's rare that a book both expands my vocabulary and is something I bring up in conversation with friends. This one did. 

Friday, December 9, 2016

Wolf Hall - Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall
Title: Wolf Hall
Author: Hilary Mantel
Publication Date: 2009
Pages: 653
Genre:Historical / Political / Royals / Fiction
How I Found It: It's been around and popular for a while.
Date Completed: 11/15/16

Summary: Thomas Cromwell played a huge role in shaping English history as we know it. He was an advisor to Henry VIII at the time when he was seeking a way out of his first marriage. Mantel's book examines the famous historical events from Cromwell's perspective.

What I Thought: Y'all, I know people love this book. People love it. People also love the TV show based on it. it awful to say I found it terribly dull?

That Times quote on the cover seriously made me laugh. This book was far from gripping - at least for me.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Tropic of Cancer - Henry Miller

Tropic of Cancer
Title: Tropic of Cancer
Author: Henry Miller
Publication Date: 1934
Pages: 318
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 11/6/16

Summary: A partially autobiographical work, the novel follows Miller's years in Paris. He struggles as a writer, but mostly he engages in all sorts of lascivious behavior.

What I Thought: Where to even begin?

My experience with this book reminded me so much of my experience with Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint. I did not enjoy either at all. 

Historically, I can see the literary value in this book. It broke down a lot of barriers regarding erotic content in literature and what should or should not be banned. Whether or not those barriers were worth breaking down is a completely different discussion. I just want to focus on the book itself. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Take Tuesday: Dust

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: Dust
Author: Hugh Howey
Publication Date: 8/17/13
Pages: 458
Previous Readings: 2013
Date Completed This Time: 11/8/16

Summary: In the trilogy conclusion, work must be done across silos in order to save humanity. Characters from Silos 1, 17, and 18 join forces and defy expectations, hoping they can outwit the men who brought down the world. 

What I Thought Before: My original post about Dust is the most popular post ever on the blog. That makes me happy. Howey is still a relative unknown author and I'm glad to sing the praises of this series.

When I originally reviewed the book, I commented on how drawn out things seemed to be in this finale. I did not notice that as much this time, but maybe that's because I knew all the pieces that had to be put into place before the real ending. Overall, though, I raved about the book and encouraged everyone to go out and get a copy.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Girl with Seven Names - Hyeonseo Lee

The Girl with Seven Names
Title: The Girl with Seven Names: A North Korean Defector's Story
Author: Hyeonseo Lee
Publication Date: 7/2/15
Pages: 304
Genre: Memoir / Political / Nonfiction
How I Found It: My dad actually bought it for me.
Date Completed: 11/5/16

Summary: Born and raised in North Korea, Hyeonseo Lee became an accidental defector. This book tells the story of her life, including her years after leaving the country and her efforts to get her family out as well. 

What I Thought: My interest in North Korea began shortly after college. I read Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick (this was pre-blog) and it totally captivated me. Since then, I've read a book about the isolated country nearly every year. 

This memoir is a logical next step. It's the first book I have read written by an actual defector. My dad actually sent it to me, thinking I would enjoy it. He was right.

It's a very interesting story. Lee grew up in a relatively privileged family. In fact, her defection came about sort of accidentally. She lived on a town bordering China and decided to cross the river for just a few days, wanting to have an adventure and see what the other country was like. However, once she crossed, circumstances conspired against her and she had no choice but to flee deeper into China. So began her years in exile. She was suddenly confronted with a very different world from the one in which she had grown up. Lee is very straight forward about the pros and cons of such a drastic change.

Friday, December 2, 2016

Let's Talk About...Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

Let's Talk About... is a chance for us to talk about anything and everything. It's a way for me to get some of what I am thinking and feeling out onto the page and to engage in real, honest discussion about it with you. I hope these posts can be fun, interesting, educational, and, more than anything, a chance to learn from each other. 

Welcome to my first Let's Talk About... post! This series has been months in the making. My poor husband bears the brunt of my mental ramblings, but he's not always interested in whatever happens to be weighing on my mind. Case in point: today's topic.

Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life

How we Gilmore fans have longed for this day. It has been literally years of wishing and hoping. Now, here we are... and boy, do we have a lot to talk about.

I became a Gilmore fan in college. My best friend introduced it to me and we binge watched the early seasons together. The final seasons aired during those college years and we often watched together. When the show hit Netflix last year, I was thrilled and immediately re-watched the whole series with utter delight. When news of the revival came out, I, like thousands of others, freaked out just a little.

And now, here we are. I've seen the revival. I watched all six hours within three days despite the fact that we were on a trip to see family and enjoy the Thanksgiving holidays. Priorities, y'all.

I'm fully aware that there are already about a thousand think pieces regarding the revival out there on the interwebs. Please bear with me through one more. I have a lot to say.

(btw...there are MAJOR spoilers ahead, so if you continue reading, it's at your own peril.)

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

November 2016 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 

Remember last month when I was cheerfully looking forward to the end of the election cycle?

Can I take that back?

While the election was three weeks ago at this point and some of the fervor does seem to be dying down, things are so far from over. Instead of celebrating the end of the cycle and a historic milestone for the country, this month has been, for me, a time of grief. I know politics are controversial, particularly this year, and I know you, my dear readers, likely have a range of feelings on the state of American politics. I absolutely respect your views and your right to have them. I hope you can do the same for me. All I can speak to is my personal perspective and my earnest desire to understand experiences different than my own. While I have been struggling daily with my response to the election results, more than anything I am resolved to learn, to listen, and to advocate for the maligned. I'm spending a lot of time in prayer, a lot of time reading the news, and a lot of time researching how to be an even more active participant in our political process.

It's hard to pivot from the veil of political uncertainty for me right now. It's hard to think about other things. It's hard to think about a cheerful holiday season when so many in our country fear for their futures. I saw someone on social media pointing out how they want to caption all their Instagram food pictures with "Here's a picture of my lunch, but I haven't forgotten that other thing." That really nailed how I'm feeling. Life goes on. Work. Errands. Chores. We have no choice but to continue. But, the approaching changes never leave my mind. I'm constantly thinking and praying about the future of our country and how I can contribute good into our world on a daily basis.

All of this thinking (and, admittedly, stressing), has left me wanting an outlet to share my heart and thoughts. I know this blog is about books and they will always be the heartbeat. These days, though, I need it to also be a space for me to talk about other things sometimes. So, I'm introducing a new series of posts. "Let's Talk About..." posts will give me a space to share some of what's on my heart - both serious and not - and for you to join me in the discussion. I'm going to post the first one this Friday. Since we're all tired of talking about the election, it's not going to be about that. It's going to be about something way more controversial: the Gilmore Girls revival. Yep. I'm going there. I have a lot of thoughts and I need to talk them out. I'm certain that, in the future, I'll tackle some of my political feelings, but I think that day is down the road a bit. For the moment, it's going to be a place to talk about whatever happens to be dominating my head space that week. Please bear with me and give me some grace as I figure out exactly what these posts will look like. Mostly, I want them to give us all space to digest and sort through relevant topics in a thoughtful, respectful way.

Ok....let's switch gears!

The other thing which totally dominated my life this month (besides the epic, exciting World Series win by the Chicago Cubs) is NaNoWriMo. This was my second year doing the challenge and I was totally determined to scale that literary mountain. And I did!! Ok, technically I'm writing this on Monday night and I have two days and 1,786 words to go. But I'm totally going to do it. I'm so proud of myself for reaching this goal. It was so much work and I read and blogged so much less than I usually do. But, here at the end, I have about a third of a novel written (I'm a little too loquacious for my own good). It's a story I care about and which feels deeply personal. I know it won't be done any time soon. This is a book I think I could work on for ten years and continually polish and adjust. So, I'm not running off to a publisher any time soon, but the last few weeks definitely taught me that I do have time for writing if I make time for it. I was such a passionate writer as a kid and it's something I've wanted to get back to for a while, so this feels so good.

I also must give a quick shout-out to Suzanne at Tattooed Missionary. Without her, I genuinely don't think I could have met the NaNo goal. She was such an encouragement to me, especially after the election when I felt like so lost and like words would never make sense again, much less be worth writing down. Plus, she helped me look up tattoo artists near me and listened to my overly personal ramblings. What a friend! How anyone achieves NaNo without such a supportive partner, I'll never know. Thank you, Suzanne!

I have a lot more on my mind to share with you, but I've already gotten way deep and way long-winded, so I'll be saving more of these thoughts for those upcoming "Let's Talk About..." posts. For now, here's what was happening on the blog during the emotional whirlwind that was November.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Grape, Olive, Pig - Matt Goulding

Grape, Olive, Pig
Title: Grape, Olive, Pig: Deep Travels Through Spain's Food Culture
Author: Matt Goulding
Publication Date: 11/15/16
Pages: 368
Genre: Food / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I got a copy courtesy of Harper Collins and TLC Book Tours.
Date Completed: 11/26/16

Summary: Goulding takes readers on another sumptuous journey, this time all across Spain.

What I Thought: Remember a couple months ago when I read and reviewed Rice, Noodle, Fish? You may recall how I gushed over Goulding's rich descriptions of both Japanese food and culture. After that delightful experience, you can imagine how I was to read this second installation in the Roads and Kingdoms series.

Thankfully, TLC Book Tours had be covered on that front. They and Harper Collins graciously provided me an advance copy of the book to read and review. My thoughts?

Goulding's prose is as on point as ever. The magic web he weaves over Spain is enchanting and tantalizing. It may make you want to scrap planning your trip to Italy and reroute to the Spanish countryside it did for me. I think we're still going to least until I get my husband to read the book. 

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Henderson the Rain King - Saul Bellow

Henderson the Rain King
Title: Henderson the Rain King
Author: Saul Bellow
Publication Date: 1959
Pages: 352
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 10/27/16

Summary: Henderson is a rich man who travels to Africa in hopes of finding contentment or adventure or a combination of both. Though he certainly finds adventure, one can debate the success of his search for deeper meaning.

What I Thought: Though thematically this book is very similar to others on the 100 Best Novels list, it is quite different in tone and style. I really enjoyed the laid-back character of Henderson. His levity brought a fun quality to the book that many other search-for-meaning books overshadow with their serious tone. 

That is not to say that Henderson's cheerful demeanor is always fitting to his situation. He gets himself into some pretty serious scrapes in Africa. In the midst of them all, he continues to reflect back on his life and think of his wife and family. He seems to be one of those people who can charm just about anyone, yet not in a way which you resent. I found him to be a lovable character, though I do not think we would get along in practically. We are far too different. Still, I enjoyed reading about his journey. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway

The Sun Also Rises
Title: The Sun Also Rises
Author: Ernest Hemingway
Publication Date: 1926
Pages: 256
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 10/26/16

Summary: Ex-patriots wonder the European continent drinking, having affairs, and experiencing French and Spanish culture to the fullest.

What I Thought: I am a big fan of F. Scott Fitzgerald's work. He was a bit of a scumbag in his personal life, but his writing, to me, is some of the best by an American author. He and Hemingway were close. In the same way that C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkein were close and have some similarities in their works, I can now see that Hemingway and Fitzgerald were very similar. 

This was my first Hemingway novel. For someone who loves literature so much, I'm a little shocked and ashamed that it took me until almost 30 to read any Hemingway. Somehow he slipped through the cracks of my education to this point. As with Fitzgerald's work, I really loved the tone and voice of Hemingway's writing. 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

The Ragamuffin Gospel - Brennan Manning

The Ragamuffin Gospel
Title: The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out
Author: Brennan Manning
Publication Date: 1990
Pages: 240
Genre: Faith / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I can't remember.
Date Completed: 10/18/16

Summary: The good news is here! Grace comes through faith alone. Manning shouts it from the rooftops in his best-selling book.

What I Thought: After reading Love Does by Bob Goff in September, Manning's book felt refreshingly deep. Now, I enjoyed Goff's book, but it lacked a depth I was looking for. Manning delivered on that front. 

Ragamuffin joyfully proclaims the message of grace. We don't have to work for our salvation. Rather, forgiveness and freedom is available to every ragamuffin. Manning, who comes from a Catholic background, has no qualms about declaring his message. I really enjoyed the book. While none of Manning's thoughts were new to me, they were a great reminder. It certainly never hurts to be told again that God loves and accepts you unconditionally. All we need to do is accept His gift of grace. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

To the Lighthouse - Virginia Woolf

To the Lighthouse
Title: To the Lighthouse
Author: Virginia Woolf
Publication Date: 5/5/1927
Pages: 209
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 10/11/16

Summary: An intended family trip to the lighthouse is delayed by many years. Much more than this simple plot, the book revolves around the complexity of relationships and the reality of personal experience.

What I Thought: I have a feeling I will come back to this book multiple times in the future. In this particular reading, my first, I did not feel swept away by the book or immediately infatuated with it. Rather, I felt a slow pull, a sense that this book matters and has a depth which will take more than one reading to explore. 

To me, this felt very much like a test read, an exploration of what Woolf is about, an examination in preparation for future endeavors. I want to read more Woolf. She's one of the few female authors to have really broken through and impacted the literary world in her time. I like her writing style (a realization which was a bit of a relief considering how much I wanted to like her writing before even opening the book). The style and the story both reminded me quite a bit of Kate Chopin's The Awakening, which is one of my absolute favorites. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Language of Flowers - Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Language of Flowers
Title: The Language of Flowers
Author: Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Publication Date: 2011
Pages: 323
How I Found It: I can't remember, but I read it along with two of my best friends.
Date Completed: 10/11/16

Summary: Upon leaving the foster care system, Victoria has nothing. No job, no family, no future, it seems. Her only interest or care in the world is flowers and the Victoria language of flowers. As she attempts to turn that interest into a sustainable life, she is forced to face some tough realities about the world and about herself.

What I Thought: I really had no idea what this book was about when I started it. I wish I could remember how it came to my attention in the first place. If I could, I would go back to that source for more recommendations. I really enjoyed this one.

Victoria's story was really moving. Throughout the book, she is dealing with some major emotional and mental barriers. She has no reason to trust or love anyone, yet life without those things is more than a little challenging. After years in the foster care system, she has been seemingly stripped even of the ability to open her heart. She imagines an adulthood before her where she can exist in near isolation and be happy that way. After all, if she never opens herself to others, she can never be hurt by them. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

First Women - Kate Andersen Brower

First Women
It's Election Day! This seemed an incredible appropriate book to share with you today. Regardless of your political perspective, the privilege of voting should not to be taken for granted. Take a moment in the midst of the craziness today to be thankful both for our rich presidential history and the fact that this election cycle is finally over!

Title: First Women: The Grace and Power of America's Modern First Ladies
Author: Kate Andersen Brower
Publication Date: 4/12/16
Pages: 400
How I Found It: I read Brower's previous book, The Residence.
Date Completed: 10/12/16

Summary: The First Lady is an immense presence in the American zeitgeist. She stands as an emblem of what it means to be an American woman and wife. Each of the women who has served in this role has brought her own personality and beliefs to the position. Bower takes a look at the modern First Ladies (Jackie Kennedy onward) and how each of them handled the task.

What I Thought: I read Brower's previous book, The Residence, last year and greatly enjoyed it. I have always been fascinated by the first families and their stories, so this book seemed like a natural next step for both Brower and myself.

As with her first book, Brower takes each chapter topically, rather than working chronologically. This bugged me at first with The Residence and this book as well. However, by mid-way point of each, I had settled into Brower's rhythms and can concede that her method works well. While it's not typical for a book like this to be organized thematically, it functions smoothly. It does lead to a few anecdotes being repeated, but that's the only real downfall. 

Friday, November 4, 2016

Red Rising - Pierce Brown

Red Rising
Title: Red Rising
Author: Pierce Brown
Publication Date: 1/28/14
Pages: 382
How I Found It: I've seen it quite a few places lately.
Date Completed: 10/6/16

Summary: Darrow lives deep under the surface of Mars. He is a Red, a member of the lowest working class, sent to prepare the planet for human life. The oppressive ruling class leaves him with nothing and he starts on a journey of vengeance. To defeat the Golds, he must first rise to their level.

What I Thought: This book was so interesting and unique. I really enjoyed it. Brown has a fairly unique premise here - or at least a fairly unique setup. The later portion of the book felt a bit Hunger Games, but definitely with some different elements. Brown has taken many classic plot elements - Cinderella included - and brought them together into something fresh and interesting.

Darrow, a young, successful newlywed, lives under the thumb of an oppressive regime. He slaves away under the red earth of Mars, mining the resources needed to make the planet habitable - or so the Reds have been told. After a series of tragic and troubling circumstances, Darrow comes to find out that Mars was long ago settled by the higher classes. He and his fellow Reds are kept enslaved for the profit and advancement of others. This realization is the push Darrow needs to join the resistance. He agrees to pose as a Gold, the highest caste in the solar system, in order to bring down the system which lies to and subjugates his family and friends.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

A God in Ruins - Kate Atkinson

A God in Ruins
Title: A God in Ruins
Author: Kate Atkinson
Publication Date: 5/5/15
Pages: 468
How I Found It: I read Atkinson's first novel, Life After Life, and loved it.
Date Completed: 10/6/16

Summary: Teddy Todd, brother of Ursula Todd of Life After Life, gets his own turn in the spotlight. His life as an RAF pilot during WWII, his life as a newlywed, his life as a father, his life as a grandfather, his life in old age - Atkinson moves fluidly throughout Teddy's story.

What I Thought: I loved Atkinson's Life After Life. In fact, I named it one of my favorite reads of 2015. I called it "charming, whimsical, serious, and, above all, well-written." While I would not call A God in Ruins a sequel, per say, it definitely pairs well with the first book. It follows Teddy Todd, Ursula's brother, over the nearly 100 years of his life. Atkinson moves fluidly throughout time and changes perspective at a few points as well. Each piece of the narrative is smoothly sewn together with the others; she has created a beautiful story, one piece at a time. 

I read this book with the book club I've recently started attending. This book has been on my list pretty much since it came out and I am so thankful I had this catalyst to finally read it. I should have done so months ago. I really enjoyed having a chance to talk about the book in an in-person format; this book club thing is nice. 

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

October 2016 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 

In eight days, the election will be over. Can we talk a moment and celebrate that? I'm super into politics (as you've probably guessed from some of my reading), but my gosh... I have never been so politically exhausted as points in this past month. Regardless of your political position, I think we're all looking forward to the end of the campaigns. Just think, it's at least 2.5 more years until any of us have to endure another presidential debate!

Outside of politics, this month has ended much better than it started (I suppose you could say the same about the political world, too). Kevin was traveling so much in September and early October and it was hard. But, we took a trip together over Fall Break and now we're back home until the holidays. No traveling for either of us. Just normal life. As much as we love our adventures, it's nice to have stretches of time where we're focused on moving forward rather than just moving.

I mentioned last month that I attended a book club for the first time. Well, I went again last week. I'm really liking it. It's nice to have a chance to sit and talk with people who love books like I do. I really enjoyed digging into the depths of a book with others and I don't get much of a chance to do that. I'm glad I joined and I plan to keep going. Plus, I think the organizer likes me, and that's always a plus.

Now if I could just figure out why every social organization I join is populated by people so much older than me. Sometimes I feel like I'm already living the life of a 50 year old. If only we could join a country club, my social circles would feel complete.

Thoughts about November and NaNoWriMo are at the end of this post so make sure you get there if you're interested in my plans!

Monday, October 31, 2016

The Silkworm - Robert Galbraith

The Silkworm
Title: The Silkworm
Author: Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling)
Publication Date: 6/19/14
Pages: 455
Genre: Thriller / Fiction 
How I Found It: I read the first Cormoran Strike novel, The Cuckoo's Calling
Date Completed: 9/29/16

Summary: Cormoran Strike and his assistance Robin Ellacott are still living in the aftermath of the Luna Landry case when an interesting new case comes to the door. Owen Quine, a mildly successful author, has disappeared and his concerned wife has come to Strike rather than involving the police. When it turns out Quine had just been refused publication of his latest salacious and libel-filled novel, things begin to take a dark turn.

What I Thought: Back when I reviewed The Cuckoo's Calling, I mentioned how rarely I traipse into the detective genre. Normally, I find such works so formulaic and, if not predictable, then groan-inducing when the final twist is revealed. Kevin enjoys them because they usually hold his attention. I simply cannot bear the sacrifice of writing aptitude that often comes along as a silent partner to literary detectives. Rowling has once again proven herself an exception to this rule. She brings her typical attention to detail and investment in character to the Cormoran Strike novels and I find myself enjoying each twist and turn. Most pleasantly, I found myself genuinely surprised and pleased by the ending. As always, hail to Queen Rowling, ruler of modern literature. She's basically the BeyoncĂ© of books. 

Friday, October 28, 2016

Ironweed - William Kennedy

Title: Ironweed
Author: William Kennedy
Publication Date: 1983
Pages: 208
Genre: Classic /Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 9/29/16

Summary: Francis Phelan is a drunk and a vagrant. He also talks to dead people - at least in his mind. 

What I Thought: This book is certainly very different from most others on the 100 Best Novels list and for that I am grateful. While many of the books I've read from the list thus far deal with men psychologically torn apart by their search for meaning, few have those men hallucinating conversations with the deceased. 

Phelan is an interesting protagonist. He's clearly very broken and wrestling with a host of internal demons. Anyone would after accidentally killing their own infant. Your heart breaks for him. Still, I had trouble connecting to him - probably because his situation seems so far removed from anything I have ever experienced and I would, hopefully, handle it very differently than him. Phelan walked away from his family after the accident and has been a drunken mess ever since. The book opens as he is beginning to think about reform. Reform, however, takes time and commitment. Phelan cannot redeem himself or return to grace over night.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Love Does - Bob Goff

Love Does
Title: Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World
Author: Bob Goff
Publication Date: 5/1/12
Pages: 224
Genre: Faith / Nonfiction
How I Found It: An acquaintance recommended it.
Date Completed: 9/27/16

Summary: A light, refreshing book about Bob Goff's life and philosophy: to love in every situation. 

What I Thought: While I enjoyed this book and thought Goff had some good things to say, I was hoping for it to be more substantial. I liked his casual style and how down to earth he is. It really felt like a conversation, which I liked. Each chapter was mostly anecdotal story with a bit of a faith-based moral at the end. 

My favorite chapter was when, after 9/11, his children wrote to world leaders asking to have conversations with them. While many did not respond, more than 10 did. The Goff family traveled the world to teach their kids about listening to people who aren't like them. It was a really powerful story, particularly in the wake of September 11; and it certainly felt important reading it now, as a teacher who is constantly trying to teach my students the same lesson. Unfortunately, I can't get them all on a plane to interview people from around the world. One thing I really appreciated in this section - and through the book - was Goff's lack of name dropping. He never named a diplomatic leader or even offered enough hints for the reader to figure it out on their own. I really respected that.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Emily of New Moon - L. M. Montgomery

Emily of New Moon
Title: Emily of New Moon
Author: L. M. Montgomery
Publication Date: 1923
Pages: 339
Genre: Classic / Historical / Young Adult / Fiction
How I Found It: I enjoyed the Anne of Green Gables series and figured it was finally time for me to read some of Montgomery's other work.
Date Completed: 9/21/16

Summary: When Emily's father dies, her late mother's family is faced with the unwanted responsibility of her care and well-being. She ends up at New Moon with two aunts and a cousin. There, her passionate personality and unfettered childhood serve more as liabilities than gifts as she tries to make a new life in a new home.

What I Thought: Since reading through the full Anne of Green Gables series, I have been more aware of talk about L. M. Montgomery's other work. Until recently, I did not even know Montgomery had written other books, much less another series about a Canadian orphan girl. 

Emily is more complex with Anne. She comes with some darker qualities. Where Anne was nearly eternally optimistic, Emily carries her shadows with her in a heavier, more pervasive way than Anne ever seemed to. She has darker shades to her personality. I know Anne had her faults, particularly in those earlier books, but Emily's seem to be of a deeper nature. Anne strove to please others; her antics often came out of forgetfulness or a misguided good intention. Emily more outwardly disobedient and fiery. This, of course, does not make Emily a lesser heroine. Instead, it makes her a more complex rewarding one in some ways. My allegiance still likes with dear Anne Shirley Blythe right now, but as I read more of Emily, I certainly see more of myself in her.