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 Beyoncé 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. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler's Wife
Title: The Time Traveler's Wife
Author: Audry Niffenegger
Publication Date: 2003
Pages: 500
Genre: Fantasy / Romance / Fiction
How I Found It: I bought it at a library book sale ages ago, plus I think I've seen the movie at some point.
Date Completed: 9/19/16

Summary: Henry and Clare do not have a traditional relationship. It's hard to when Henry's experience of time is extremely irregular. He never knows when he'll simply disappear to another time or how long it will be until he comes back. 

What I Thought: This book was very popular back around the time it came out. I was in high school then and never got around to reading it. I saw the movie at some point (which was lovely and I wouldn't mind seeing again now that I've read the book), but I am so glad to be reading this story now and not as a teenager. I feel a much greater appreciation for the complexities of Henry and Clare's life as a married adult than I ever could have back then.

This is a love story. There is no doubt about it. The idea of two people being connected across time and space is terribly romantic. Niffenegger does a lovely job of exploring the logistics of such a relationship, but she also does not sacrifice the depths of emotions one expects in a romance. 

While the terror of Henry's situation certainly keeps the book moving and interesting, it's Clare with whom I find myself much more intrigued. While Henry is flitting through time, often fighting for survival, Clare is left with more questions than answers, despite being the one who has to present a picture of normalcy to the world. In some ways, I see her as similar to a military or spy wife; she waits at home hoping for the best while simultaneously having to go about life as though nothing were strange or wrong.

That idea really helped me to connect to Clare. While I do not go through anything like she or military wives go through, I am a worrier. The idea of Kevin simply disappearing randomly and possibly being in danger would terrify me. I would never handle it with as much grace or sanity as Clare does in the book.

It seems somehow appropriate to be sharing this book today. Yesterday Kevin and I celebrated four years of marriage. So, to talk today about this book, in which the marriage relationship is so central, feels right. I understand better than ever now that marriage is hard, even with you don't have a time traveling spouse. But it's a good hard. The work is rewarding and worthwhile and I'm so happy to be doing it. This story was a nice reminder of that.

Rating: ★★★★☆
Will I Re-Read: Probably not - I'd like to watch the movie again, though
If You Liked This, Try: The Royal We / Fates and Furies / Landline

A Reduced Review: A love story both sweet and sad; I enjoyed this one more than I thought I would.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

All the King's Men - Robert Penn Warren

All the King's Men
Title: All the King's Men
Author: Robert Penn Warren
Publication Date: 1946
Pages: 672
Genre: Classic / Historical / Political / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 9/18/16

Summary: The dramatic career of politician Willie Stark is narrated by political reporter, Jack Burden. Their stories become intertwined as the plot advances.

What I Thought: I've always really wanted to like this book. It feels like a book I should like. And yet...

Maybe I read it at the wrong time. Maybe reading about about corrupt politics was not the right choice right now. Normally, you know I'm a huge political junkie. But this election cycle is even wearing on me. I'm binging on The West Wing and political idealism, not seeking out further commentary on how the system is broken. 

The story is good. The writing is good. I get why this book won the Pulitzer. And yet...

Monday, October 17, 2016

The Book of Unknown Americans - Cristina Henríquez

The Book of Unknown Americans
Title: The Book of Unknown Americans
Author: Cristina Henríquez
Publication Date: 2014
Pages: 286
Genre: Fiction
How I Found It: I can't remember
Date Completed: 9/15/16

Summary: Upon moving to Delaware so their daughter Maribel can attend a special education school, the Riveras are faced with a much different world than their Mexican home. Living alongside them are Hispanic immigrants from all across Central and South America, each facing their own challenges in their new home.

What I Thought: As our country is deep into a divisive debate on immigration leading up to this election, I cannot think of a better time to read this book. As we bandy about rhetoric and policy arguments about immigration, it becomes easy to forget the real lives that hang in the balance. Henríquez is doing her best to help us remember.

The book centers around the Riveras, a family from Mexico who arrive in Delaware anticipating a better education for their daughter, Maribel. Maribel has recently suffered brain damage and the educational options available to her in Mexico paled in comparison to possibilities in the States. And so, Alma and Arturo pick up and move the family across a continent with hopes of healing for both Maribel and their hearts. They find themselves in an apartment complex largely populated with other Hispanic immigrants. 

Friday, October 14, 2016

The Light Between Oceans - M. L. Stedman

The Light Between Oceans
Title: The Light Between Oceans
Author: M. L. Stedman
Publication Date: 3/20/12
Pages: 343
Genre: Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: Kevin's aunt told me about it ages ago and now the film adaptation is in theaters.
Date Completed: 9/14/16

Summary: While manning the lighthouse on a remote Australian island, Tom and Isabel Sherbourne find a baby washed ashore. The decisions they make from that point shape their lives forever.

What I Thought: Kevin's aunt, who shares my love of literature, recommended this to me years ago. I should have picked it up much sooner than this. Knowing the film was about to come out, I knew the time had finally come.

What a moving story. I am not a mother, but I imagine that to read this and be a mother would only amplify the emotions felt. To read about mothers losing children is so powerful. I have friends and family who have lost babies and who have fought for their lives in the NICU. As I read about Isobel and Hannah each grieving their forfeiture of motherhood in different ways, my heart ached for them. While I have no experience with it personally, I believe losing a child to be the most intense grief a human can endure. It's why the date of divorce skyrockets after a child is lost - an issue with which Stedman deals in the novel. 

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Sheltering Sky - Paul Bowles

The Sheltering Sky
Title: The Sheltering Sky
Author: Paul Bowles
Publication Date: 1949
Pages: 342
Genre: Classic / Historical / Fiction
How I Found It: 100 Best Novels
Date Completed: 9/11/16

Summary: Americans Port, Kit, and Tunner are exploring Saharan Africa in the years after WWII. Port and Kit are trying to work out their marital issues while the group also struggles with the inherent dangers of the region.

What I Thought: I knew basically nothing about this novel going in. As I've mentioned before, that's turning out to be the best way to approach these Modern Library list books. I have no expectations.

I was pleasantly surprised. I was expecting something more akin to other books on the list. The Sheltering Sky is both similar and very different from the 100 Best patterns I've noticed. It follows a married couple and their friend as they explore Saharan Africa in the years directly following WWII. As you can imagine, a love triangle ensues, though I was grateful it did not consume the book. You would think this setup would make it too similar to some of the British novels on the list. Yet, Bowles writes with a very different tone and allows his characters experiences, desires, and emotions that would be either far too déclassé or far too progressive for other authors. 

Monday, October 10, 2016

Snobs - Julian Fellowes

Title: Snobs
Author: Julian Fellowes
Publication Date: 2004
Pages: 288
Genre: Chick Lit / Romance / Satire / Fiction
How I Found It: Julian Fellowes wrote Downton Abbey
Date Completed: 9/7/16

Summary: When Edith Lavery meets Charles, Earl Broughton and heir to even bigger titles, she seems to have met her dream. With Charles comes acceptance into the high-brow world of English aristocracy. But is it enough to make Edith happy?

What I Thought: This book was delightful. My Anglophilia was well sated. Think of this as Downton Abbey set in modern times. All the intrigue and colorful characters without the historical bent. After all, Fellowes was the writer and creator of that hit show not long after he wrote this book. 

I think what I enjoyed most about this book is how much it poked fun at the world. I love the idea of this world - my obsession with British royalty should have made that clear by now. And, because of the 100 Best Novels challenge, I have read so many books set in this world. Not the modern version, to be sure, but the antiquated Britain of Downton Abbey and the surrounding decades. If you've been following my progress on that challenge, you know I am bored to death with that genre at the moment. It's a genre I used to love, and yet the list is so saturated with it, the stories have become too familiar for me. Enter, Snobs

Friday, October 7, 2016

Rice Noodle Fish - Matt Goulding

Rice Noodle Fish
Title: Rice Noodle Fish: Deep Travels Through Japan's Food Culture
Author: Matt Goulding
Publication Date: 10/27/15
Pages: 352
Genre: Food / Nonfiction
How I Found It: It's been on my TBR
Date Completed: 9/3/16

Summary: An in-depth look into the regional cuisine of Japan.

What I Thought: I went to Japan in high school. I was part of a cultural delegation from my suburb of Columbus to a suburb of Tokyo. I had previously been to Europe, but that didn't make the journey to Asia any less revolutionary for my young self. 

Japan is not a place I would have chosen to go at that age. Of course, my wunderlust was insatiable even then, so I was not about to turn away an opportunity to travel anywhere new. Even at 18, I understood how much world I had yet to see. Europe had, I suppose, whet my appetite to experience the world beyond the Midwest in big ways. Culturally, I got so much out of the trip. I stayed with a Japanese host family and was amazed by the vastness of Tokyo.

The big downside? My 18-year-old palate had hardly even begun the journey to become what it is today (and I still have a long way down that path to travel yet). It suffices to say I was still a pretty picky eater. I spent the trip desperately trying to hunt down as much white rice as I could consume. I certainly was not on the look out for learning about their food culture. The only culinary eye-opening I had was having shabu shabu with my host family. I've thought about it constantly since. In fact, since my sweet husband got me a fondue pot for my birthday, I'm finally going to be able to attempt a stateside recreation of that meal. 

I promise this whole post isn't about my own experiences in Japan. I share all that to say this: I've heard chefs rave about the glory of Japanese cuisine for years. I know it's a mecca of the culinary world for many of the best palates on the planet. I've never quite understood that since my own culinary experience was so different (due to my own immaturity). Goulding opened my eyes. I mean, really opened them.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Big Girls Don't Cry - Rebecca Traister

Big Girls Don't Cry
Title: Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women
Author: Rebecca Traister
Publication Date: 9/14/10
Pages: 352
Genre: Political / Nonfiction
How I Found It: I can't remember
Date Completed: 9/1/16

Summary: The 2008 presidential election had more major female players than any previous one. The impact of this shift is explored in depth by Traister.

What I Thought: This completely engrossed me. For the week or so I was reading it, I could not shut up about it. I thought about it near constantly, particularly in light of our current political cycle. 

While I think even a casual political observer could identify the 2008 election cycle as a major one in terms of gender equality and prominence on the national political stage, Traister digs much deeper. She looks in depth at Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Michelle Obama, and women in the media such as Tina Fey or Katie Couric who played large roles in the political conversation that year. She talks about feminism and sexism and the struggle we have in properly identifying either. The whole conversation is one I'm interested in anyway, admittedly, but this book did such a wonderful job with exploration and exposition of the ideas involved. 

Monday, October 3, 2016

September 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.  

September News 

September flew by, as it so often does. I finally have found my groove for the semester and things are going pretty smoothly. Teaching five days a week really exhausts me and Kevin has been traveling a lot for work, so I'm still very worn down, but things are slowly moving in a more balanced direction. As it often feels with fall semester, I'm just trying to make it to Fall Break at this point. We're going to D.C. and Baltimore for the weekend for our anniversary and I could not be more excited. We both need the break and the time to relax and travel together.

For the moment, though, things just keep plugging along. I did so much reading this month. Kevin's frequent travels have a few upsides, one of which is the amount of time it gives me to be productive. I've blazed through grading and lesson planning and TV binging and lots of books. I mean, I'd rather have him home than do any of those things, but it helps to stay busy while he's gone.

This month did have one particularly notable accomplishment: I surpassed my 2015 reading count this month. Considering that I was planning to cut back and slow down this year, this is definitely not what I expected to be saying in September. I've been reading such a broad range of things this year and that's been really great. I think when I finish the Modern Library challenge, I want to do some sort of diversity challenge for myself - reading authors from different backgrounds from me, in genres that are outside my norm, about things I don't usually gravitate toward, etc.

One last book related thing before I jump to the stats for the month. I went to a book club for the first time last week. While it doesn't always come across this way, I am very introverted, so doing this was a big step out of my comfort zone. It's a group in Greensboro that I discovered shortly after we first moved here two years ago. Y' took me two years to work up the nerve to go. But, Kevin was out of town and they were discussing Station Eleven, which you know I love, so I bit the bullet and went. I am so glad I did. It was fun and it was great to sit and talk with people about literature who love it as much as I do. I don't often get to do that offline. They are reading A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson next month and it's been on my TBR for ages, so I think I'm going to go again. I was really proud of myself for stepping outside of my comfort zone and happy that it had such a rewarding payoff.