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.)