Wednesday, March 30, 2016

All Stories Are Love Stories - Elizabeth Percer

All Stories are Love Stories
Title: All Stories Are Love Stories
Author: Elizabeth Percer
Publication Date: 3/22/16
Pages: 368
Genre: Literary Fiction / Romance / Fiction 
How I Found It: TLC Book Tours
Date Completed: 3/24/16

Summary: Max, Vashti, and Gene all find their lives at risk when the big one finally hits San Fransisco. In the midst of the physical catastrophes and the upheaval, they seek to understand and affirm the relationships that shape them.

What I Thought: Percer's writing is unexpectedly beautiful. I never going into a book hoping for mediocrity, but it so often is there. To find, instead, such a lovely command of words and expression is always a delightful surprise.

Set against the backdrop of a massive earthquake and the ensuing fire, Percer offers up three equally engaging, equally broken protagonists. They are so different, yet so similar in their desires. Each wants happiness and reconciliation in their most cherished relationship, even though it may seem impossible for some. The details of these love stories are revealed little by little. The climax of the plot comes in tandem with the climax of understanding for the reader. For me, this parallelism played beautifully. 

Monday, March 28, 2016

Movie Monday: Ender's Game

Ender's Game
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: Ender's Game

Book Title: Ender's Game
Release Year: 2013

Summary: A young boy is put into a military training program for children with the hope he will one day lead humans to victory over an alien race.

What I Thought: Ender's Game has consistently been for me an example of how some literature appeals more to specific genders. While I have always recognized the craftsmanship and importance of the book, I have never been able to connect to it. Going into the movie, therefore, I was apprehensive about how it would resonate with me. Admittedly, my main motivators for watching were to write this review and to admire Harrison Ford. Both completely valid in my view.

The movie, however, surprised me. Thanks to both good acting, the prominent placement of a few female characters, and the elimination of a lot of the brute violence, I found myself appreciating the story more than I had in the past. I think, also, the more times you walk through this story, the more you recognize and learn from its subtle moral lessons. 

Friday, March 25, 2016

Brunelleschi's Dome - Ross King

Brunelleschi's Dome
Title: Brunelleschi's Dome: How a Renaissance Genius Reinvented Architecture
Author: Ross King
Publication Date: 11/1/01
Pages: 167
Genre: Historical / Nonfiction
How I Found It: It's been on my TBR for ages
Date Completed: 2/21/16

Summary: 15th century Florence was consumed by a singular task: completing construction on Il Duomo di Firenze, also know as the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. The cathedral had been designed with a massive, record-setting dome on top. Yet, no one knew just how to accomplish that. Enter Filippo Brunelleschi.

What I Thought: You may not know that I teach a Humanities course. I am in my sixth year now. It's a bit of art history, a bit of music history, a bit of philosophy. I love it. Upon college graduation, I knew little about visual art. Music majors really miss out on that element; some cross-medium instruction would have been nice. Through teaching the course, however, I have learned so much. I am particularly fascinated by and in awe of the cathedrals of Europe. The way their architectural and artistic elements pointed the contemporary worshiper toward an almighty God amazes me; it's such a beautiful expression and I wish modern churches offered more of that element. We Protestants sort of fell off that wagon back when John Calvin banned decoration of any sort from church buildings.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The U.S.A. Trilogy - John Dos Passos

The U.S.A. Trilogy
Title: The 42nd Parallel, 1919, and The Big Money
Author: John Dos Passos
Publication Date:1937
Pages: 1312
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels list
Date Completed: 2/16/16

Summary: Dos Passos examines characters and events both real and fictional through vignettes, partial news reports, and "camera eye" segments. All comes together to paint a picture of a distinct era in history.

What I Thought: This tome is one of the longest books on the 100 Best Novels list. Technically, it's three books. For the sake of the list, however, I am counting it as one. Plus, I was able to pick it up from my local library with all three books published in one edition, which was quite helpful.

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this one. As you know if you've been around long, World War era novels do not usually do it for me. I think, however, Dos Passos really focused on characters and their personal stories rather than entrenching himself in the minutia of battles and armament. And continually hopping from one character to another kept me engaged. If there was a particularly storyline in which I was less interested, I knew I only had to hang on for a bit and it would transition into something else.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Portnoy's Complaint - Philip Roth

Portnoy's Complaint
Title: Portnoy's Complaint
Author: Philip Roth
Publication Date: 1969
Pages: 274
Genre:  Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels list
Date Completed: 2/13/16

Summary: Alexander Portnoy is relaying his troubles to his therapist. Most of them revolve around his intense sex drive and/or his stereotypical Jewish mother.

What I Thought: There's no easy way to put this. I hated this book.

Seriously. Hated. It.

Most times, when a book appears on the 100 Best list, even if I do not care for it, I can recognize the skill behind its words or the importance of its message or...or something. But this one, I simply could not stand on any level. Maybe for sex-crazed Jewish boys, it was a revelation, a recognition that they were not alone in their emotions. For me, however, it fell very, very flat.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Alchemist - Paulo Coelho

The Alchemist
Title: The Alchemist
Author: Paulo Coelho
Publication Date: 5/1/93
Pages: 197
How I Found It: It's incredibly popular
Date Completed: 2/12/16

Summary: Santiago, a shepherd boy from Andalusia, leaves his flock in search of Egyptian treasure. The resulting journey teaches him about the world, its ways, and the people living therein.

What I Thought: So many people love this book. Just looking on Goodreads, it looks like almost all of my friends there have read or want to read it. Most rate it highly. The more you read reviews there, however, the more you realize the zeitgeist is divided. Some find it a brilliant story with a beautiful message; others believe it to be philosophical drivel espousing erroneous ideals.

My take? Everything in life requires a balanced approach and this is no different. The book is undoubtedly a beautiful piece. Coelho has a lovely way with words and his story is compelling while retaining a relaxed, literary feel. Still, he gets a bit preachy at points and I did not always agree with his premises. A main message of the book is, "When you want something the whole universe will conspire together to help you get it." I disagree. Also, I did not love that the messaging seemed specifically directed at men, while women had to wait on the side to become a part of a man's journey. It would have been nice if Coelho had given women a bigger, more influential role in Santiago's journey.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The News Sorority - Shelia Weller

The News Sorority
Title: The News Sorority: Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Christiane Amanpour, and the (Ongoing, Imperfect, Complicated) Triumph of Women in TV News
Author: Shelia Weller
Publication Date: 9/30/14
Pages: 496
Genre: Nonfiction
How I Found It: I can't remember
Date Completed: 2/9/16

Summary: The glass ceiling in television news has not cracked easily. Weller explores the lives and careers of three women who have faced it head on and achieved more than many of their compatriots.

What I Thought: This was an absolutely fascinating book. While I knew Sawyer, Couric, and Amanpour by name and their work to a point, I had little idea of the backstories which led them to their success. Weller, in a way, offers three mini-biographies of these women. She discusses the journey each took to success in television news, including the hurdles they did and do face.

I know very little about the journalism and television industries. Obviously, we see the results of these industries on a daily basis, but I know very little about what goes on behind the scenes and what it takes to become a success therein. Weller does a good job of filling in those informational gaps for those of us unfamiliar with the process. Still, I think even those deeply involved in the fields would not find the content too simplified. It's interesting and engaging.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Movie Monday: The Martian

The Martian
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: The Martian

Book Title: The Martian
Release Year: 2015

Summary: When astronaut Mark Watney is accidentally left alone on Mars, he has to "science" his way to survival. Meanwhile, NASA scrambles to formulate a feasible rescue plan.

What I Thought: Back when I read this book in 2014, I speculated it would not be long before a film adaptation would be made. The reality of that prediction proved itself so much better than my expectations. 

First of all, Ridley Scott and Matt Damon are so good at their jobs. As is everyone else who worked on this movie, of course. Scott and Damon, however, carry the film. Damon makes being completely isolated far less mundane than Tom Hanks did in Castaway (though I love him, too, and fully recognize that Damon had supporting cast while Hanks literally just talked to a volleyball the whole movie) and Scott brought his incredible directorial skills out in full force. That this movie has not been nominated for more this award season is astonishing. Why don't the Hollywood elite realize that science fiction and fantasy can be compelling, beautiful, powerful stories as well?

Friday, March 11, 2016

Deliverance - James Dickey

Title: Deliverance
Author: James Dickey
Publication Date: 1970
Pages: 288
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 2/8/16

Summary: Four men head into the mountains of Georgia with the ambition of canoeing down the river. What starts as a casual journey from city to country turns into a true return to the most basic of human instincts: survival. Events transpire and decisions are made with will forever alter them.

What I Thought: As with many books on the Modern Library list, I had never heard of this one. I had no idea what it was about or if I would like it at all. Going in with so little information proved to be a wonderful thing in this case. The twists and turns kept me on the metaphorical edge of my seat.

I have realized I especially love the 100 Best Novels list for keeping me guessing. I don't expect these authors to take the standard literary paths or deliver cliché plots or characters. They must be on the list for a reason, so I expect them to take a road less traveled. This makes reading so much more enjoyable for me as I truly want to discover both the journey and the ending; I do not assume I already know.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The Red Queen - Victora Aveyard

Red Queen
Title: Red Queen
Author: Victoria Aveyard
Publication Date: 2/10/15
Pages: 383
How I Found It: It's been quite popular in YA circles the last year
Date Completed: 2/4/16

Summary: In this world, those with red blood are deemed pedestrian and live as the lower classes. Those with silver blood possess special powers and live as nobles and rulers. Mare Barrow, a Red thief, finds herself in trouble when it's discovered she inexplicably has powers of her own.

What I Thought: I did not know much about this book going in besides its recent popularity (I'm doing so great at that lately!). In fact, it's pure coincidence that I am publishing this post almost a year to the day since the book was published. In that year, it's made some serious waves in the literary community. It even won a Goodreads Choice award for 2015. No small deal to us book nerds. 

I am always so hesitant when it comes to YA novels, even the popular ones. There are some good ones, but they are well outnumbered by the mediocre and downright bad ones. My trepidation is well deserved; I've pushed my way through some real winners (can you hear my sarcasm in that statement?). I open the covers of this genre with a heavy dose of skepticism and a small portion of anticipation. After all, what if I just love it?

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith

The Cuckoo's Calling
Title: The Cuckoo's Calling
Author: Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling)
Publication Date: 4/30/13
Pages: 455
Genre: Thriller / Fiction
How I Found It: It's J. K. Rowling...
Date Completed: 2/1/16

Summary: Private Investigator Cormoran Strike is in a bad place personally, professionally, and financially. A shot-in-the-dark case investigating the death of a supermodel may be his chance to right the sinking ship.

What I Thought: Several years back, I selected this book for Kevin and I to listen to on a car trip. That choice is always a bit of a risk; he's pretty picky. Back then, we got a chapter or two into this novel and he deemed it "boring." Since then, we've listened to the full Harry Potter series and I thought Rowling's second series deserved another shot. Kevin, unfortunately, saw through my ruse to attempt the same book again, but this time I went on without him. As such a big fan of Rowling's other work, I wanted to see what this would be like.

I find it incredibly interesting that this is the genre into which Rowling ventured after Harry Potter. I love the idea that she used a pen name to see if her work would be accepted and enjoyed without the premise of fame. This book is a huge departure from what she is known for, so I imagine she must have felt some serious trepidation before letting it out into the world. 

Thursday, March 3, 2016

Zoo - James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge

Title: Zoo
Author: James Patterson & Michael Ledwidge
Publication Date: 9/3/12
Pages: 395
How I Found It: I watched the TV adaptation
Date Completed: 1/17/16

Summary: The animal kingdom is rising up against humans. Jackson Oz is trying to sound the alarm, but is finding himself met with a lot of skepticism and laughter. Can he convince the world of its impending doom before it's too late?

What I Thought: I grabbed this one on a whim for Kevin and I to listen to on a road trip. Back in the fall, I totally binge watched the TV adaptation of this book and loved it. It's suspenseful, keeping you on the edge of your seat, but still lightly episodic in nature. I enjoyed the actors in it and, although the writing was not spectacular, the concept is interesting and relatively unique. I'm definitely excited for if and when a second season is made. Anyway, all that to say, in my hunt for a good audio book for the trip, I saw this one and figured it would be interesting to compare the two. Kevin didn't watch the show with me so I thought it woul keep him engaged enough. I expected to get some sleep during familiar segments.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

February 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.  

February News 

I relish the first couple months of the year. Everything is still building, warming up for what's to come. I always read so much and feel so optimistic about the year ahead. By the end of February, though, inevitably the rush and routine have both returned. Spring is always a busy time for us professionally and we're usually planning summer travel as well. This year is no exception. All of that is true of 2016 as it has been in years past.

So, as we plunge headfirst into the sprinsanity (Yes, I did just make up a word), I relish the moments of quiet and reflection that are already slipping away, becoming elusive and difficult to achieve.

I am slowly, slowly making my way through Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman. Her sad death this month made me only more aware that I will never get to read any more of her writing after I finish. I have never savored a book more. That mindset has been perfect in the quiet moments this month.

Despite of or, more likely, becasue of my intentional efforts about what and how I am reading, I read more this month than I have in any month since starting this blog four years ago. I'm in a great phase of being so eager for new information and new words and new content. I know it will not last forever, so I'm soaking up as much as I can. I am loving the learning.