Monday, May 30, 2016

The Rainbow - D. H. Lawrence

The Rainbow
Title: The Rainbow
Author: D. H. Lawrence
Publication Date: 1915
Pages: 544
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels list
Date Completed: 4/22/16

Summary: In the classic family epic, we follow the life and times of several generations of the Brangwen family.

What I Thought: When D. H. Lawrence released this book back in 1915, people were scandalized - and I think that modern cover is trying to resurrect the feeling. Its content was quite racy for the day, although by today's standards an exact portrayal could easily be shown on primetime broadcast television. I mean, if Olivia Pope can have as much sex as she does in primetime, the sex  in The Rainbow would hardly ruffle a feather. Despite my modern desensitizing, knowing the book's contemporary impact definitely shaped how I read and interpreted the novel.

I tend to enjoy work like that of Lawrence. I like the rolling epics, the tendency to move quickly from one generation of characters to the next. Years can pass in a single paragraph. The author is clearly not concerned with expressing the mundane - or even the interesting - details of his characters' lives.

Friday, May 27, 2016

The Magus - John Fowles

The Magus
Title: The Magus
Author: John Fowles
Publication Date: 1965
Pages: 656
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels list
Date Completed: 4/19/16

Summary: Nicholas Urfe takes a job teaching on a small Greek island. Once there, he becomes unwittingly embroiled in a game of trust, tests, and defining reality.

What I Thought: This book is weird. Not bad, but weird. Because Fowles spends the whole time playing with the definition of reality, the reader struggles alongside Nicholas in determining just what is going on. This makes for an interesting and, at times, confusing reading experience.

I really liked the actual story. Nicholas is clearly going through that new adult phase of trying to figure out what in the world he is meant to be doing with his life. He's struggling with his profession, his relationships, his worldview...just about everything. Enter Maruice Conchis, a man who, at first, seems to have a lot of answers and valuable guiding wisdom. As it turns out, he has is own motives, the virtue of which quickly becomes murky. Throw in a confused love triangle and Fowles really has a great plot.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Out of Sorts - Sarah Bessey

Out of Sorts
Title: Out of Sorts: Making Peace with an Evolving Faith
Author: Sarah Bessey
Publication Date: 11/3/15
Pages: 259
Genre: Faith / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I read Bessey's previous book, Jesus Feminist, last year.
Date Completed: 04/17/16

Summary: Sarah Bessey continues her faith journey with her trademark transparency. Here she is, working out her salvation Philippines 2 style for us all to see and share in and learn from.

What I Thought: Say what you will about the rising female theologians within the North American church. I find them inspiring. For someone who grew up with the notion that women belong on the sidelines of the Church and are often merely sidepieces to the truly ordained players in God's plan, women like Sarah Bessey and Rachel Held Evans and Jen Hatmaker are a holy revelation for me. They make me feel welcome to the playing field. As my childhood pastor used to say, "the ground is level at the cross." I don't think he was talking about gender equality and he may well be perturbed by that interpretation of his words, but the sentiment rings true. If not equal for all, then what is equal? We are equal in our ability to share our stories, to express the lessons we are learning, to teach the truths we have learned, to proclaim the gospel, to seek redemption for our downfalls, to glorify God in our actions, both big and small.

Though I realize I'm talking about Bessey's work today, the day before I wrote this, she tweeted about another woman and declared her 'eshet chayil' - woman of valor! This is one of the strongest sticking points I have from Rachel Held Evans' book The Year of Biblical Womanhood. I want to do better praising the women I see doing God's work around me. I want to cry "Eshet Chayil!" to women like Suzanne at Tattooed Missionary and Bessey and Evans and Hatmaker and my mom and my best friends, who love on their babies so passionately and unconditionally, and Linda, who leads the choir I'm in which performs hymns at nursing homes, and Cindy, who serves behind the scenes at my church making everything about the services run smoothly, and Jess, who cares about marriage ministry, and Kelly, who sings opera with me and loves on kids who don't learn the same as others, and so many others. Seriously, Suzanne, you belong in that list! You inspire and encourage me with every post - whether they are about Jesus or books or randomness. 

Ok, let's talk about Bessey's actual book. I'd apologize for getting off on that tangent, but I'm not sorry at all. Plus, I think Bessey would fully support me taking time out of a review of her book to praise women sacrificially serving Jesus.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Outlander - Diana Gabaldon

Title: Outlander
Author: Diana Gabaldon
Publication Date: 1991
Pages: 896
Genre: Fantasy / Historical / Romance / Fiction
How I Found It: One of my dearest friends loves this series. Plus there's a new Starz series about it on now.
Date Completed: 4/12/16

Summary: Claire stumbles into a time warp between post-WWII Scotland and its 1700s, rugged predecessor. As she adapts to her new era and tries to find a way home, she becomes entangled both in the political troubles of the day and an unexpected love affair.

What I Thought: Guys, I really wanted to like this one. One of my most cherished friends, with whom I have talked books for nearly two decades now, recommended it. It's one of her all-time favorites. Frankly, I was surprised it took me this long to get to. It's extremely popular in its own right. In fact, you may have noticed the recent uptick in infatuation as Starz is partway through the second season of a television adaptation.

With all that in mind, I sat down to the massively long tome. Seriously. This thing is Game of Thrones length. Sidebar: I feel like Gabaldon and George R. R. Martin are probably friends. Like, they hang out at author things together and exchange plot ideas and commiserate over feeling locked into one popular series for the entirety of their careers. If none of this is true, it probably should be. The first couple hundred pages I felt really good about. I liked the time twist and seeing Claire try to adjust to life several hundred years before her own birth. Gabaldon's writing is not bad and her characters are acceptably decent. Not ground-breaking or super well-developed, but good enough to find yourself at least mildly invested in their journeys.

Then, things took a sharp downward turn.

Friday, May 20, 2016

The Lost World - Michael Crichton

The Lost World
Title: The Lost World
Author: Michael Crichton
Publication Date: 1995
Pages: 448
How I Found It: I read Jurassic Park last year.
Date Completed: 4/11/16

Summary: Years after the original escapades of Jurassic Park, Ian Malcom seeks out the secondary site, a potential "Lost World," with a new crew of characters. Spoiler alert: dinosaurs attack. 

What I Thought: When I read Jurassic Park last year, I so enjoyed it. I've always loved the movies, but had never read the books. I found the first installment of the series delightful and just different enough from the film adaptation to keep me engaged.

Imagine my pleasant surprise upon realizing the second book, The Lost World, has very little in common with the film sequels. Instead, this story line felt incredibly fresh to me. Of course, I haven't seen the second or third movie in quite a while, so I'm sure there was some overlap I missed. Regardless, on the whole this story felt very new to me, something which made me happy. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh

Brideshead Revisited
Title: Brideshead Revisited
Author: Evelyn Waugh
Publication Date: 1944
Pages: 351
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels list
Date Completed: 4/8/16

Summary: Charles Ryder, who comes from a family of no particular significance, becomes entranced with the lifestyle of the Marchmain family. Their life of privilege and the way it has shaped them shape Charles himself as he forms an enduring relationship with the family.

What I Thought: I really enjoyed this one. A publisher's description calls it "the most nostalgic and reflective of Evelyn Waugh's novels." I think that sentiment captures the book quite well. It all felt very Downton Abbey-esqe to me, in the best way.

I found the interplay between the characters to be simultaneously charming and complex. I loved the dialogue. It really felt like Downton Abbey come to life. I cannot say that enough. It helped, of course, that Jeremy Irons narrated the audio book to which I listened. Friends...I just said 'narrated' in a British accent in my head as I typed it. Emphasis on the second syllable and all. It's contagious and I love it. Can I be British now, please? 

Monday, May 16, 2016

The Fever - Megan Abbott

The Fever
Title: The Fever
Author: Megan Abbott
Publication Date: 6/17/14
Pages: 320
Genre: Thriller / Fiction
How I Found It: I can't remember
Date Completed: 4/6/16

Summary: When a mysterious illness begins taking down female students in a small town high school, the response is intense. Abbott examines how the potential epidemic affects parents, administration, and students while they search desperately for the cause and cure. 

What I Thought: This book could have been good. It had the set up for it. Instead, I felt Abbott circled around and around unnecessarily. 

I liked that she told the story from the perspective of three family members: Deenie, the young girls whose friends are rapidly falling victim to the unknown illness, Eli, her older, hockey-star brother who also attends the school, and Tom, her teacher father who represents both concerned parent and school administration. Abbott did a good job changing the voice of each character (of course, it helped that the audiobook I listened to for part of the book had three separate actors). I appreciated how she told the story from three unique points of view. It lent more gravitas to the story, particularly when Deenie's perspective felt so teenage girl - dramatic and socially-centered. 

Friday, May 13, 2016

Invisible Man - Ralph Ellison

Invisible Man
Title: Invisible Man
Author: Ralph Ellison
Publication Date: 1952
Pages: 581
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels list
Date Completed: 3/17/16

Summary: A young man comes of age in the 1930s and finds himself relocated from the south to Harlem. Despite his best efforts at becoming an upstanding citizen and successful professional, he cannot catch a break. He becomes involved in the Marxist movement and, ultimately, finds himself made symbolically invisible by his race.

What I Thought: It worked out well that I read this around the same time as Native Son. The two novels, published only about a decade apart, both tackle the racial inequality and institutional racism present in America. Sadly, their words, though written decades ago, hold largely the same efficacy today as they did upon first publication. 

Invisible Man is much more widely known, yet, I found that I enjoyed Native Son much more. For me, that story was more compelling and interesting. I did not dislike Invisible Man, but I found it much harder to connect to. For one, we are never given the narrator's name. Of course, this is an intentional literary device used by Ellison, but it makes it harder for me to identify with the protagonist right out of the gate.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

How to Be a Heroine - Samantha Ellis

How to Be a Heroine
Title: How to Be a Heroine: Or, What I've Learned from Reading Too Much
Author: Samantha Ellis
Publication Date: 2/3/15
Pages: 264
Genre: Memoir / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I spotted it on display at Barnes & Noble and, after a brief look, added it to my TBR.
Date Completed: 4/1/16

Summary: Ellis looks back at the literary heroines she has admired over the years. She examines how these heroines have impacted her life and her perspective and just how accurately she was interpretting their tales. 

What I Thought: The very concept of this book was fascinating to me. As someone who has also spent much of her life engrossed in literature and idolizing the heroines therein, I found this idea entrancing. Ellis went through this process in such an intentional way, making the journey that much more engaging to read about.

The book is part memoir, part self-analytic reflection. Ellis spends each chapter examining a different literary heroine (and her compatriots) that held her heart at different eras in her life. Starting with the Little Mermaid and ending with Scheherazade she gets to the bottom of why each heroine connected with her in that time and how their stories shaped her real life. I found this reflection really interesting. Albeit, the chapters about heroines with whom I was already familiar were much more interesting. Some of the middle chatpers were about literary characters with whom I am not yet acquainted and, thus, I did not understand as much of the analysis of their effects on Ellis.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Eve - Wm. Paul Young

Title: Eve
Author: Wm. Paul Young
Publication Date: 9/15/15
Pages: 320
Genre: Faith / Literary Fiction / Fiction
How I Found It: I've read Young's previous work.
Date Completed: 3/31/16

Summary: Through the lens of a broken, young woman, Young explores the story of Creation and the subsequent wrestling between Love and evil.

What I Thought: Young's writing is definitely not for everyone. His breakout hit, The Shack, flustered a lot of evangelicals because of his allegorical portrayal of God as an elderly black woman. Sigh. People, if you didn't like The Shack, don't bother with Eve

Young writes allegorically. He clearly is starting from a place of faith and belief, but he opens himself and readers up to imagination, filling in the space between the lines. I do not find his work heretical. Rather, I see it as an expression of and response to some of the questions we all carry. There are many blank spaces left by Scripture. God never chose to give us all the answers. He retains so much mystery about His person, His ways, and His plans (using those male pronouns so repetitively in a post about Young's work feels a bit ironic). So, Young allows imagination to do its work within the information we do already have. If you cannot appreciate an exploration of the possible, even in a fictional, literary structure, then avoid this. Young embraces the poetic, not the literal. 

My perspective: so long as you know where you stand, what you believe, and are able to critically evaluate what you take in, then read away. There is always something to learn, something to consider, ways to grow...even if they may come from unexpected or controversial sources.

Friday, May 6, 2016

My Holiday in North Korea - Wendy E. Simmons

My Holiday in North Korea
Title: My Holiday in North Korea: The Funniest/Worst Place on Earth
Author: Wendy E. Simmons
Publication Date: 5/6/16
Pages: 312
Genre: Memoir / Political / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I received it in a giveaway hosted by TLC.
Date Completed: 4/3/16

Summary: Simmons loves to travel and wants to visit every country in the world. Her trip to North Korea, NoKo as she calls it, is documented in this, her first book.

What I Thought: I have been interested in North Korea since I read Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick back in 2011 (pre-blog days). Demick's look into the closed country is absolutely fascinating and very engaging. It lit a curiosity and concern in me. Adam Johnson's Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Orphan Master's Son sealed the deal. Now, whenever I see a book on North Korea, it hits my TBR pretty quickly. 

When I had the saw that TLC, my favorite organization with which to do book tours, was hosting a giveaway of Simmons' memoir, entering was a given. I was thrilled when the publisher contacted me and offered a copy. As usual, receiving a free copy doesn't sway my opinion on the book.

I received Simmons' book in the mail within a week and had devoured it within two days. She's irreverent and honest. She uses plenty of profanity, so if that's not your thing, I'd consider skipping this one. In spite of her sailor's vocabulary, she is hilarious. I laughed out loud many times, something you do not expect when reading a book about North Korea.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Island of the Blue Dolphins - Scott O'Dell

Island of the Blue Dolphins
Title: Island of the Blue Dolphins
Author: Scott O'Dell
Publication Date: 1960
Pages: 184
Genre: Classic / Historical / Young Adult / Fiction
How I Found It: I read it as a child
Date Completed: 3/17/16

Summary: First, her community is betrayed and attacked by Aleut seal hunters. Then, she ends up left behind on the small island, where she lives in solitude for nearly two decades.

What I Thought: I loved this book as a kid. It's not surprising it won the Newbery medal back in the day. It's an engaging, enchanting story that is written beautifully. Best of all, it's based loosely on a real woman.

As a kid, and as an adult, I loved this book because of its adventure and excitement. Castaway stories have always appealed to me for some reason - maybe it's the introvert in me longing for my own shot at true isolation. I wouldn't want to stay forever, I know, but a month or two completely alone on a tropical island...I don't think I would complain that much, provided I had brought a suitcase full of books and all the food and drink needed. O'Dell's Karana does not exactly choose this life, but she certainly thrives in it. She conquers nature time and again in an effort to not only survive, but thrive. O'Dell's writing style remains simplistic enough for young readers and beautiful enough in its simplicity for older ones. It's a classic and an award winner for a reason.

Monday, May 2, 2016

April 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.  

April News 

Oh, April. I am so glad to see you go. This month has been crazy and hectic and exhausting, as predicted. I feel as though Kevin and I have barely seen each other - never a good thing for a couple who enjoys spending basically all our free time together. On one hand, all the time on my own while he's been at work or class or traveling or whatnot has resulted in a huge reading month. I read so much in April. I think it's a new monthly record for me. Still, I am looking forward to happily trading some of that reading time for husband time again. Summer is always a good time for reading, but I like it best when I'm sitting next to my man poolside. So many of my favorite activities can converge in that scenario and I love it. Summer is coming!

Since summer is such a good time for reading, you may be on the lookout for some books of your own for the upcoming season. Good news! I'm officially here to help you out.

I am launching personalized reading recommendations for anyone who wants them. I absolutely love doing this for friends and family. Recently, one of my best friends suggested I start offering the service through the blog and I thought it was a great plan. All you have to do is fill out a quick survey and I'll send you a list of at least five books I think you will enjoy. It's a great way to get your summer reading list started. Check out the page here!

Here's your April update...