Reading: Nov-Dec 2018

Goodreads tells me I’ve read 44 books this year, same as last. Misleading, because there are at least 3 DNF’s and a short story or two. Still, it averages to about 4/month, and of course you have to sift through ordinary stones to find the gems. First, the latest round up, and then my 5-Stars of 2018…

Little Fires EverywhereLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book feels intensely personal, each character so carefully enfleshed that I could recognize them walking down the street. The primary conflict, lived out in multiple story lines, revolves around the clean-cut, well-planned suburban lifestyle versus the creative and/or unconventional lifestyle. How many of us wonder about life might have been like on the road less traveled? Also, what does/should family look like, and more particularly, what does it mean to be a mother?

“Now, as a teenager, Pearl’s caresses had become rare–a peck on the cheek, a one-armed, half-hearted hug–and all the more precious because of that. It was the way of things, Mia thought to herself, but how hard it was. The occasional embrace, a head leaned for just a moment on your shoulder, when what you really wanted more than anything was to press them to you and hold them so tight you fused together and could never be taken apart. It was like training yourself to live on the smell of an apple alone, when what you really wanted was to devour it, to sink your teeth into it and consume it, seeds, core, and all.” (249)

“Sometimes, must when you think everything’s gone, you find a way….Like after a prairie fire. I saw one, years ago, when we were in Nebraska. It seems like the end of the world. The earth is all scorched and black and everything green is gone. But after the burning the soil is richer, and new things can grow….People are like that, too, you know. They start over. They find a way.” (295)

The Gospel of Trees: A MemoirThe Gospel of Trees: A Memoir by Apricot Irving
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

DNF.

I wanted to like this book. The author is just a few years younger than me, and I wanted to learn first-hand what it was like to grow up in a missionary family serving in Haiti. I wanted to hear about whatever intentional or accidental impact they had, and that the Haitians had on them. I wanted to know how the experience affected their family and their faith.

Irving’s writing is passable, occasionally better than, but also humid-heat-dreamlike to such an extent that, more than once, I had trouble following her. I kept thinking that yes, she did have a story to tell, but that she needed a far better editor.

The library wanted their book back, and I couldn’t imagine picking back up where I’d left off. So I won’t.

The WifeThe Wife by Meg Wolitzer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

At only seven chapters and 218 pages, this short novel packs an epic wallop! I picked it up after learning that the movie (which I haven’t yet seen) was based on a book, written by the incredible Meg Wolitzer. I would love to hear her speak about what this writing process was like, a woman writing about a woman hiding her fierce talent behind a man’s ego.

You sound bitter, Bone would say.
That’s because I am, I would tell him.
Everyone needs a wife; even wives need wives. Wives tend, they hover. Their ears are twin sensitive instruments, satellites picking up the slightest scrape of dissatisfaction. Wives bring broth, we bring paper clips, we bring ourselves and our pliant warm bodies. We know just what to say to the men who for some reason have a great deal of trouble taking consistent care of themselves or anyone else.
“Listen,” we say. “Everything will be okay.”
And then, as if our lives depend on it, we make sure it is. (184)

Gregor the Overlander (Underland Chronicles, #1)Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A friend bought me the Gregor series when she discovered I liked The Hunger Games but hadn’t read Collins’s earlier books. These are fun, imaginative books. Engaging enough to keep my interest and great for a quick, entertaining read.

Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane (Underland Chronicles, #2)Gregor and the Prophecy of Bane by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

 

 

ElevationElevation by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am not a horror fan. In fact, I stay well clear of that genre altogether, in books and movies. But having seen and appreciated the movie versions of King’s books Stand By Me, The Shawshank Redemption, and The Green Mile, I thought I’d give this one a chance.

I’m glad I did. The book invites readers to consider: What would change in your life if you actively anticipated the day of your death and, instead of feeling sick, you felt better than ever? How would you prepare for the end, and how could you help make the world a slightly better place before you depart?

Decluttering at the Speed of Life: Winning Your Never-Ending Battle with StuffDecluttering at the Speed of Life: Winning Your Never-Ending Battle with Stuff by Dana K. White
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Skimmed.

I read a lot of these books and my house is still way too cluttered. But this one had new light to shed on the piles.

Three take-aways:
Start with the visible-to-others areas (and in so doing I now have a decluttered kitchen bookshelf – win!)
Containers – not as in “I need more” but “the containers you already have limit what you keep.” As in, my house should have space to contain my life, not just my stuff. And my closet should contain my clothes; if it doesn’t, I have too many wearable items. Or (ouch), my bookshelf should contain my books (and a few knickknacks, like framed photos, etc); if my books don’t fit my shelving, I don’t need more shelving but fewer books.
What you reach for first is your fav. Before you put away the clean dishes or laundry, get rid of something still in the cupboard or drawer, since clearly the thing you used and cleaned is the thing you prefer.

The Very Worst Missionary: A Memoir or WhateverThe Very Worst Missionary: A Memoir or Whatever by Jamie Wright
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’ve been following Jamie’s Facebook page, and occasionally her blog, for years. She had left Costa Rica before I discovered her, and I was about to leave with my family for a three-month sabbatical. We both have a thing for Jesus, so we also share that in common. I knew what I might expect in this book, but I didn’t know I’d crack the cover in the morning and finish reading the book before dinner.

This is a good memoir, but it’s not a book I’d recommend to everyone. People inclined to dislike Jesus-followers, the Christian church, and missionaries probably shouldn’t bother. People inclined to defend the Church and the way missions have been done over centuries without question also shouldn’t bother.

But those who want a fresh take on all of the above–and who have an open mind (and aren’t overly bothered by sarcasm and swearing)–might truly appreciate this book. In fact, I am hoping others I know will read it so we can have a conversation about it.

“If our calling is who we are, not what we do, and our equipping is our practical capacity to serve others, then, based on who God created me to be and how He equipped me throughout my life, I think maybe I was drawn to Costa Rica for the express purpose of seeing how naivete and brokenness like my own have affected global missions and humanitarian aid, and then inviting whoever would listen into a difficult but necessary conversation about setting things right.” 183

My 5-Star Ratings for 2018:

The Wife, Meg Wolitzer
Blood, Water, Paint, Joy McCullough
Connect the Stars, Marisa de los Santos & David Teague
The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe, C.S. Lewis
Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter
Monterey Bay, Lindsay Hatton
Educated, Tara Westover
The Hate U Give, Angie Thomas
The Serpent King, Jeff Zentner
Refugee, Alan Gratz
The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivy
Tell Me More, Kelly Corrigan

Reading: Sept-Oct 2018

I read exactly the same number of books (seven) in two months of my busy season than I did in my slow-speed summer, opposite reactions to bad news. This summer, I felt too stunned to read much. Summer came and went and, other than our trips, I’m not sure what I did. This fall, I escaped inside books. A couple were light and fluffy; a few were for young readers, though that doesn’t mean fluffy; three were written by the same author; one was exceedingly excellent.

Surprise MeSurprise Me by Sophie Kinsella
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Dan and Sylvie have a physical on their tenth anniversary, the doctor tells them that, due to increasing lifespans and their overall good health, they can plan to enjoy another 68 years of marriage. Which sends them into a tailspin of dread over how they will possibly maintain a marriage for so long…

This one took me a while because I’d have quite the opposite response. When I said YES to “til death do us part,” I truly hoped it would be forever and then some.

But true to Kinsella’s style, they have more than a few LOL comic moments and eventually the story becomes bigger than the immediate crisis and, in the end, they grow as individuals and as a couple. Yay, them!

I'll Be Your Blue SkyI’ll Be Your Blue Sky by Marisa de los Santos
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Clare meets an old woman, Edith, who speaks such gently piercing truth that she calls off her wedding with only hours to go. Weeks later, Clare discovers that Edith has died and left her a house, a place of her own. Thus begins Clare’s adventure into unraveling the mystery of Edith’s life even as she discovers her way back to her own true home.

de los Santos is an excellent writer, and occasionally I read and reread a beautiful turn of phrase. But I found myself working too hard to recall her characters’ relationships in her previous books, Love Walked In and Belong to Me. And then when the big reveal happened in this book, again, I slowly pieced things together although the characters made it sound obvious. Maybe if you read the trilogy altogether it would work better.

Connect the StarsConnect the Stars by Marisa de los Santos
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The book jacket explains, “Sometimes you have to get lost to find yourself.” And this book beautifully illustrates that point in exquisite detail.

Audrey and Aaron are both middle school misfits. But then, just about every middle schooler I’ve ever met is a misfit during that time of life. It’s kind of the whole point. Anyway, they each find themselves on a journey through the desert and into belonging as The Fearless Foursome (alongside Kate and Louis).

They have an adventure I would never have undertaken at their age, nor would I knowingly send my kids on such an adventure. But then, that’s the point of adventure, right? If you knew, you might not go. No one intends to truly get lost. Yet that’s the very point of discovery.

I love Marisa de los Santos even more for providing me with a book I can put in the hands of my own middle school child. A book about family, friendship, the instructional power of the wilderness, forgiveness, and self-appreciation.

“‘If the four and a half billion years the Earth has existed were compressed into a single twenty-four hour day,’ said Aaron, very, very quietly, ‘humans would have appeared one minute and seventeen seconds before midnight.
“All that time, without us.
“A shiver went from my heels to the top of my head.
“Who cares if people lie? I thought. This–right here–is why the word ‘awesome’ was made.” (179)

All We Ever WantedAll We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book, like our current cultural/political climate, sits uncomfortably. While very readable, I wasn’t expecting to read a story that could have been ripped from today’s headlines.

The One-in-a-Million BoyThe One-in-a-Million Boy by Monica Wood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is not a perfect book. It meanders like the mind of an old woman recalling her 104 years of life in the company of an unusual Boy Scout. But it is a charming book, with characters unique and human, the best and worst of themselves on display as they bump into and around one another like pin balls. In the end, it’s a reminder that life can be hard and sweet and we need others with whom to share it fully.

“But certain [people], they move in and make themselves at home and start flapping their arms in the story you make of your life. They have a wingspan” (p199).

Saving Lucas BiggsSaving Lucas Biggs by Marisa de los Santos
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I love that books for young readers can take on serious issues and make them understandable and engaging. No smut, just great story. This one takes on corporate corruption and its effects on individuals and families over generations; fracking; murder and the death penalty; bravery and fear; love, friendship and family. All in one entertaining package.

Another one I’m passing on to my 14yo!

“…sure, the past matters–but the present? The present is here and here and here, a sky full of light, a path under your feet, your hair lifted by wind, the smell of flowers, green grass, red rocks, all of it tumbling toward summer, and all of it yours. All you have to do is set fear aside and stretch out your hand” (278).

Blood Water PaintBlood Water Paint by Joy McCullough
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are a woman who reads, get your hands on this book. Do not let the verse intimidate you. It’s not difficult poetry, just carefully chosen words to convey the thoughtful reflections of a woman who prefers self-expression through paint over words.

This beautifully written book is art about art. The layers of women’s stories, the use of different writing styles to convey different voices, the truth it tells about what it’s like to be a woman in a man’s world, and an extraordinary woman in anyone’s world, all compelling.

Reading: Summer 2018

Summer has come and gone and I read a measly six books, probably a new low record in my life. But, as they say, life happens while you’re making other (reading) plans.

Monterey BayMonterey Bay by Lindsay Hatton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I bought this book in Monterey as a gift for my mom on our annual family vacation. She read it that week and gave it back so I could read it. Two years later, I finally read it on this year’s Monterey vacation.

I rarely read a book twice because there are so many great books to read. But this book… Hatton’s subtle prose is so rich and nuanced I imagined going immediately back to page one after reading the last word.

Almost two decades of vacationing in this one place, Hatton tied together all the loose ends, the past and present, locations and landmarks, and characters real and created.

I held off on starting over immediately–the anticipation of a good read builds enjoyment, after all–and decided to save it for next year’s trip. I’ll also read Cannery Row (have I read it? If so, it’s been too long), and I expect the two books and the location will all have something to say to one another and to me.

Everything, EverythingEverything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I typically try to read the book before seeing the movie, but that didn’t happen this time. And, surprisingly, I preferred the movie, which rearranged and edited scenes for a tighter presentation. Though obviously there wouldn’t have been a movie without the book, and this is a fun and creative read with a surprising twist. The Sun is Also a Star was a better novel, though.

Beautiful RuinsBeautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This one sat on my shelf for years waiting for the right moment, but once I opened it I could not put it down. I spent an entire lovely day wrapped up in a blanket on the couch, lost in its story. I cried when I finished, not because it was so sad, but because it lived up to the beauty in its title.

It always fascinates me when I read back-to-back books, entirely different yet hitting the same theme. In this case, Everything Everything and Beautiful Ruins which, from varied angles, preach the distinction between existence and living.

“I’ve been thinking about how people sit around for years waiting for their lives to being, right? Like a movie. You know what I mean?…I know I felt that way. For years. It was as if I was a character in a movie and the real action was about to start any minute. But I think some people wait forever, and only at the end of their lives do they realize that their life has happened while they were waiting for it to start. Do you know what I mean, Pasquale?” (54)

“Stories are people. I’m a story, you’re a story…your father is a story. Our stories go in every direction, but sometimes, if we’re lucky, our stories join into one, and for a while, we’re less alone.” (62)

The Secret Zoo (The Secret Zoo, #1)The Secret Zoo by Bryan Chick
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

If you have an animal-loving child under eight years old, this might be a fun read-aloud. I think we got this book for my son at about that age for that purpose. But he decided to read it on his own (obviously fine), and then, years later in a coming-of-age moment, put it in my hands when he saw I was between books and the library was closed.

Mostly, it seems like a good idea poorly executed–awkward sentence structure, oddly used verbs, plot and even scene inconsistencies, and an almost irrelevant villain.

At the Water's EdgeAt the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Money and poverty; family politics; war; friendship and romance; betrayal and abuse; adventures and monsters and mythology… This book has it all. At certain points I wasn’t sure about this one, but I kept reading.

When Life Gives You Lululemons (The Devil Wears Prada, #3)When Life Gives You Lululemons by Lauren Weisberger
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Sometimes you just want a fluff read… But I didn’t love this one. Andie is a more likeable character than Emily, so making Emily one of the main characters may have done this in for me. As chapters rotate between three main characters, I had to keep reminding myself which one was which. And while I could commiserate with each in certain ways, I didn’t love any of them. I did, however, dive in and finish the book in less than a 24 hour period.

Reading: May-June 2018

It’s the official first day of summer! My summer reading is about to commence in earnest, so I’m posting the recent round-up a little early. Two stand-outs: The Hate U Give and Educated. Completely different, both amazing.

Clara and Mr. TiffanyClara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I wanted to like this book more than I did. Clara Driscoll, a woman working in the arts at the turn of the 20th century, is both a completely normal (in love with her work and struggling for recognition in a male-dominated profession) and unusual character. But the long descriptions of glass work were hard to follow (I wanted pictures) and sometimes tedious. Occasionally, the book became rapturously poetic, as one would expect from a woman so enamored with the natural world that she feels most alive as she turns the inspiration into something gloriously other. But in the end I wish there had been much tighter editing overall.

The Best Kind of PeopleThe Best Kind of People by Zoe Whittall
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

DNF, but made it halfway before deciding life is too short for bad books (and my reading queue too long).

School shootings and sexual harassment are all too relevant, and I hoped this book might have more to add to the conversation. That, being story, it could give us access to the questions we don’t want to have to address personally: how well do I really know those I love? What secrets might anyone be hiding? How do we balance “innocence before proven guilty” with speculation, even practicality? What if…?

But I felt like I was losing my mind. How could this book have received such glowing reviews when the writing was so clunky, so poorly edited? Maybe my copy alone had all the mistakes? Seriously, a character says he’s going home for a day but will be back tomorrow at the beginning of a conversation, and at the end says he’ll see her in a few days. Elsewhere the accusers are 14yo girls, and then the alleged events took place on the “senior ski trip” where no 14yo’s would have been present. Redundant hard-to-follow dialogue kept me wondering why that (and then that one, and that one) character would spout that at this moment…? I kept thinking: This is not how mothers and daughters talk to each other. This is not how mothers of children the same age talk to each other. This is not how sisters talk to each other. And so on.

I flipped ahead enough to figure out some critical plot points and decided I’d had enough. Bad writing leading to a bad ending is just not going to work for me.

The Hate U GiveThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Get your hands on this book and read it Right Now!

This book is an excellent example of the power of literature. Starr’s life is not mine; I have not, nor do I expect to, experience what she has been through. But having read her story, I have a better understanding of the world we share. My heart has grown bigger.

Passing the book to my 14yo son…

Bush (Kindle Single)Bush by Janice Y.K. Lee
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Loading up my Kindle with vacation reads, I was so excited to find a new book by an author I’ve enjoyed. I had no idea it was a short story, so imagine my shock when, on the plane, shortly into our flight, this riveting tale I’d hoped to carry me through the week just…ended. Dramatically, leaving me wanting So Much More! It was unsettling in the best way short stories can be and I imagine it will stick with me for some time to come.

The WoodcutterThe Woodcutter by Kate Danley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m picky about vacation reading and this one fit the bill. The writing was solid. The plot was fun–mash up a bunch of fairy tale characters with some odd characters from mythology and Shakespeare, and let them play together in new ways. It had nothing to do with everyday life and whisked me away to the Wood and the Twelve Kingdoms in which the Woodcutter maintains peaceful balance. It wasn’t life-changing, but I didn’t need that, just a good story to read by the pool.

The Wendy ProjectThe Wendy Project by Melissa Jane Osborne
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a beautiful book! This modern retelling of J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan is well-written and gorgeously illustrated. A quick read, this is worth your while.

Miranda and CalibanMiranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A creative retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, I wish the play were in production somewhere local right now so I could see it again through a different lens. It’s one of my favorite plays and this book did a good job filling out the characters. There were some repetitive paragraphs towards the beginning, but it gathered steam as it went.

Educated: A MemoirEducated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I wish this book was a work of fiction. I shuddered throughout, imagining the violence wrought against a family because of a parent’s insanity under the guise of “faith.” Even though the story gripped me from the preface, I could only read a chapter or two at a time because of its intensity. I am so grateful that, as the author puts it, she found her way out of the junk heap, into school, and eventually into writing down her story.

“Everything I had worked for, all my years of study, had been to purchase for myself this one privilege: to see and experience more truths than those given to me by my father, and to use those truths to construct my own mind. I had come to believe that the ability to evaluate many ideas, many histories, many points of view, was at the heart of what it means to self-create. If I yielded now, I would lose more than an argument. I would lose custody of my own mind.” (304)

Reading: March-April 2018

It always sounds cliche, but I simply cannot fathom how we are almost to May. One-third of this year has slid out from under my feet. The good news: summer is coming up fast, with slower days and more time for reading. Not that I’m wishing the days away, hardly, just wishing for more leisure time to read! (Note: I did not intentionally choose to read back-to-back two books with PB&J cover art. That’s just the comedy my life dishes up!)

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely FineEleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn’t spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.” (227)

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine. At least she thinks she is. Until she realizes she is not, not at all. And then she is.

Through all of it, Eleanor is a complete character (in every sense of the word). She is unlike anyone you’ve ever met. She talks (mostly to herself) so much like a cantankerous old woman that you have to remind yourself that she is just thirty. She is one thousand percent practical. She has no social skills whatsoever. She is searingly honest to the point of being rude, though she has no idea. Which makes her endearingly funny to boot.

Above all, Eleanor is a survivor and a testament to the human drive to survive.

“These days, loneliness is the new cancer–a shameful, embarrassing thing, brought upon yourself in some obscure way. A fearful, incurable thing, so horrifying that you dare not mention it; other people don’t want to hear the word spoken aloud for fear that they might too be afflicted, or that it might tempt fate into visiting a similar horror upon them.” (227)

“I suppose one of the reasons we’re all able to continue to exist for our allotted span in this green and blue vale of tears is that there is always, however remote it might seem, the possibility of change.” (182)

Sputnik's Guide to Life on EarthSputnik’s Guide to Life on Earth by Frank Cottrell Boyce
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“Home isn’t a building. People leave buildings. Buildings fall down….Home isn’t a place on a map. Home isn’t the place you come from. It’s the place you’re heading to. All the times you’ve ever felt at home–they’re just marks on the map, helping you to find your way there.” (308)

What an original book! I actually don’t want to say too much, because it should be read and enjoyed for all its originality, humor, and poignancy. Prez and Sputnik–and the Blythes, especially Jessie–plus Granddad have an adventure that doesn’t lead them home so much as to a new understanding of it.

The Serpent KingThe Serpent King by Jeff Zentner
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gutted! It’s been a long time since I have openly sobbed while reading a book and not just at its conclusion. To be honest, a few chapters in I wanted to hate this book–I hate when people use God or the Bible or faith to hurt others, especially kids. But, too bad, I already liked the kids (almost like they needed me to stick it out for their sake, to be there to stick up for them). Zentner handled sensitive matters gently. He calls this book, his first novel, a love letter to young people who struggle, and the reader feels his love for the young people he portrays.

“…if you’re going to live, you might as well do painful, brave, and beautiful things” (327).

Take This Bread: A Radical ConversionTake This Bread: A Radical Conversion by Sara Miles
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read this book based on a recommendation by another author I respect. I started, and stopped, and started again several times before committing to read it all the way through. Sara and I aren’t on the same theological page, and yet (or because of that) I learned so much from her. Her memoir challenged my faith and strengthened my determination to listen to people with whom I may not agree, or with whom I would anticipate more disagreement.

And, at my core, it caused me to remember: God can use any and all things to bring people to Himself.

A few quotes:

“Christianity wasn’t an argument I could win, or even resolve. It wasn’t a thesis. It was a mystery that I was finally willing to swallow.” (274)

“To say that communion means we are ‘eating Jesus’ reminds me of how risky—and how thoroughly physical—the encounter with God is.” (287)

“First, do something. Feed, heal, help. Don’t just argue about ideology. Second, pray for your enemies. Don’t pray that they become different, or start doing what you want them to do. Just pray for them.
“You don’t get to practice Christianity by hanging out with people who are like you and believe what you believe. You have to rub up against strangers and people who frighten you and people you think are misguided, dangerous, or just plain wrong.” (289)

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday LifeLiturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Warren takes the ordinary–waking up in the morning, brushing teeth, searching for lost keys, fighting with my spouse–and reminds us of how very sacred those ordinary events truly are. Now, when I wake up in the morning, sometimes I remember that God looks at me as lovingly as I looked at my tousle-haired, warm-sleep-smelling babies. Now, as I make my bed, I remember that God cares about the small, simple moments of each day. Overall, I appreciated the simple and profound nature of this book and anticipate returning to it time and again.

Everything is Perfect When You're a LiarEverything is Perfect When You’re a Liar by Kelly Oxford
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

DNF.

I cannot remember where I heard about this book. It’s rare for me to get halfway through before ditching a book. I kept trying to give her one more chapter, one more chance. But I just can’t!

The intro is poorly written, but includes cute kid-quotes from her own babies who don’t want to be in the book. So I kinda thought it would be a fluffy/snarky mommy book.

Halfway through and she’s only seventeen years old. And she’s not nice. Adventurous? Yes. Crazy? Probably. Funny? Well, she tries…

She’s also mean–obviously smart, and she can (at least mostly) write–and I just don’t like her. At All. And I like most people.

Maybe I just don’t get her sense of humor. But God bless her kiddos having to grow up with this sense of snark!

Reading: January-February 2018

Two memoirs + two books on how to live your best life + three novels = my 2018 reading so far.

Sometimes it cracks me up how books come to me in relationship to each other and how they seem to reveal to me the state of my own heart. Two books about how to live: I desire to live intentionally and I’m willing to shake things up to get better at my own life. Two memoirs: well, I am a blogger, after all; I write and regularly publish memoir. In addition, one of the memoirs is by a young woman who wrestles in her relationship with the Church (my own struggles take different forms and reach different temperatures, but I relate) and the other is by a Bay Area wife and mom learning to live well after death steals some of her beloveds (I live here and I’ve been there).

Nine weeks of 2018, and I’ve read seven books, several with 5/5 ratings. Not a bad start!

Tell Me More: Stories about the 12 Hardest Things I'm Learning to SayTell Me More: Stories about the 12 Hardest Things I’m Learning to Say by Kelly Corrigan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Kelly Corrigan lost two precious people to cancer. So have I. She’s raising teen girls in the San Francisco Bay Area; I’m raising teen boys, also in the Bay Area. She works and volunteers and balances all that family life holds and I can relate to the whole big, beautiful mess.

Fav quotes:
“Minds don’t rest; they reel and wander and fixate and roll back and reconsider because it’s like this, having a mind. Hearts don’t idle; they swell and constrict and break and forgive and behold because it’s like this, having a heart. Lives don’t last; they thrill and confound and circle and overflow and disappear because it’s like this, having a life.” (25)

“…we can be damaged and heavy-hearted but still buoyant and insightful, still essential and useful, just by saying I know.” (102)

“This abstract performance art called Family Life is our one run at the ultimate improve. Our chance to be great for someone, to give another person enough of what they need to be happy. Ours to overlook or lose track of or bemoan, ours to recommit to, to apologize for, to try again for. Ours to watch disappear into their next self—toddler to tyke, tween to teen—ours to drop off somewhere and miss forever.
“It’s happening right now, whether we attend to it or not.” (220)

How to Be Alive: A Guide To The Kind of Happiness That Helps The WorldHow to Be Alive: A Guide To The Kind of Happiness That Helps The World by Colin Beavan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The standard life approach doesn’t work for most people: get good grades, go to a good college, land the perfect career that makes enough money to live well, marry the love of your life, live happily ever after. That might have worked at one time, but the world has changed. So why not take responsibility and develop the life you want? Live in line with what matters to you. Ask “How can I help?” in each situation, and see what happens.

I read the first section, then started skimming (it is long…), then read sections that interested me. Some good stuff but, funny, not all that truly life-changing. I picked up Designing Your Life (Burnett & Evans) at the same time – though they’re different, they are variations on a theme and that one is shorter and better.

The Snow ChildThe Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book captivated and entranced me. It moved me and eventually broke my heart. One lonely couple hard-scrabbling to establish a life in 1920’s Alaska provides the landscape for the most wonderful ‘real-life’ fairy tale. This book has found a place on my forever-favorites list.

“In my old age, I see that life itself is often more fantastic and terrible than the stories we believe as children, and that perhaps there is no harm in finding magic among the trees.” (251)

“We never know what is going to happen, do we? Life is always throwing us this way and that. That’s where the adventure is. Not knowing where you’ll end up or how you’ll fare. It’s all a mystery, and when we say any different, we’re just lying to ourselves. Tell me, when have you felt most alive?” (258)

“When [joy] stands before you with her long, naked limbs and her mysterious smile, you must embrace her while you can.” (336)

Still Me (Me Before You, #3)Still Me by Jojo Moyes
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A good book for binge reading while sick. It’s not as heavy/thought-provoking as Me Before You and I like it better than After You.

“There are so many versions of ourselves we can choose to be. Once, my life was destined to be measured out in the most ordinary of steps. I learned differently from a man who refused to accept the version of himself he’d been left with, and an old lady who saw, conversely, that she could transform herself, right up to a point when many people would have said there was nothing left to be done.
“I had a choice….The key was making sure that anyone you allowed to walk beside you didn’t get to decide which you were, and pin you down like a butterfly in a case. The key was to know that you could always somehow find a way to reinvent yourself again.” (386)

RefugeeRefugee by Alan Gratz
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I found this book while looking for historical fiction suggestions for my 8th grade son. As he finished another book, I devoured this one. I will now pass it on.

Chapters go back and forth between three stories, three young people and families fleeing their homes: Josef, a Jew, fleeing Nazi Germany; Isabel fleeing Castro’s Cuba in 1994; and Mahmoud fleeing war in Aleppo, Syria, in 2015.

The chapters are short and compelling, which keeps you flipping pages even when the stories are heart-rending. This book holds in tension the horrors humans inflict on each other with the hope of those who seek refuge, who hang on desperately to hope and one another. Occasionally we see genuine human kindness break through like light in darkness.

Honestly, I’m more than a little wrecked at this wretched reality. And I’m concerned about my 13yo reading about these atrocities. Except this is the world we live in. When we don’t know our history, we are doomed to repeat it–and repeat it we do, as these characters spread out over almost a century could attest.

“I see it now, Chabela. All of it. The past, the present, the future. All my life, I kept waiting for things to get better. For the bright promise of manana. But a funny thing happened while I was waiting for the world to change, Chabela: it didn’t. Because I didn’t change it. I’m not going to make the same mistake twice.” (277) –Lito, Isabel’s grandfather

Designing Your Life: Build a Life that Works for YouDesigning Your Life: Build a Life that Works for You by William Burnett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a great book to encourage intentional decision making and action to becoming your best version of yourself. For anyone looking for a job, or even just wanting to tweak their current job, this book holds so much practical wisdom. But for anyone looking to live more fully into their best self, this book contains practical tools to urge you onward.

“A well-designed life is generative—it is constantly creative, productive, changing, evolving, and there is always the possibility of surprise.” (xvi)

“What do you want to be when you grow up?” becomes “Who or what do you want to grow into?” (xxi)

“…follow the joy; follow what engages and excites you, what brings you alive.” (49)

“Work is fun when you are actually leaning into your strengths and are deeply engaged and energized by what you’re doing.” (49)

“…if a problem isn’t actionable, then it’s not solvable.” (82)

“It’s important to think of ourselves as life designers who are curious and action-oriented, and who like to make prototypes and ‘build our way forward’ into the future. But when you take this approach to designing your life, you are going to experience failure. In fact, you are going to ‘fail by design’ more with this approach than with any other.” (182)

“We are always growing from the present into the future, and therefore always changing. With each change comes a new design. Life is not an outcome; it’s more like a dance. Life design is just a really good set of dance moves.” (184)

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the ChurchSearching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“…there is nothing nominal or lukewarm or indifferent about standing in this hurricane of questions every day and staring each one down until you’ve mustered all the bravery and fortitude and trust it takes to whisper just one of them out loud…” (187)

There is nothing nominal or lukewarm or indifferent about this book, as Held Evans whispers aloud her many doubts and questions, inviting us in to hear, to honor the silent pause, to nod in recognition, to receive graciously her vulnerability and there find that we are not alone. As she wrestles with God, we find that we are all held by God.

This book isn’t for the faint of heart, Christians easily offended who don’t doubt or at least admit to their questions (not me). It also probably makes most sense to those raised in evangelical churches in the US, those who speak “youth group” and “quiet time” and “contemporary Christian music” as a first language (yes, me). Some won’t like it at all; however, I found grace here, and grace to me always indicates the presence of Jesus.

“This is the church. Here she is. Lovely, irregular, sometimes sick and sometimes well. This is the body-like-no-other that God has shaped and placed in the world. Jesus lives here; this is his soul’s address. There is a lot to be thankful for, all things considered. She has taken a beating, the church. Every day she meets the gates and she prevails. Every day she serves, stumbles, injures, and repairs. That she has healed is an underrated miracle. That she gives birth is beyond reckoning. Maybe it’s time to make peace with her. Maybe it’s time to embrace her, flawed as she is.” (250)

Meatless Monday – Thug Kitchen 101

Two years ago my love whisked me away for a night in Mendocino. After a lovely afternoon walk on the beach, we ate dinner at The Ravens, a vegan restaurant so good you simply have to try it to believe it (especially if you think you don’t like veggies). While we waited for a table, we sipped chardonnay and browsed the bookstore. They had a great cookbook collection, and there I first encountered Thug Kitchen.

I don’t remember which of their cookbooks I picked up, but I couldn’t stop flipping the pages–these were the recipes I had been longing for as I increasingly leaned toward a plant-based diet. And the irreverence made me laugh. I’m not big on curse words, but the profanity makes it clear that the writers don’t take themselves too seriously.

Recently someone asked for veggie cookbooks recommendations so I grabbed Thug Kitchen 101 from the library. When my Guy saw how much I enjoyed it, he quickly placed an order for one more Christmas gift for me–yippee!

I don’t typically read cookbooks cover to cover, but I did with this one. I laughed. I experimented. I got my Tween in the kitchen cooking with me. I have made some recipes more than once. Others I’m still dying to try. As of right now, this is my favorite ever cookbook!

So far I have tried: flautas (where have these been all my Mexican-food-loving life? Note: make with leftover roasted fingerling potatoes), sun-dried tomato carbonara, skillet beer chili mac, coconut-lime rice, panko pasta topping, and 60-second parm. Not a miss among them.

Last night I had a killer headache and felt chilled to the bone after two hours of watching middle school rugby in a very gray San Francisco. I thought we had leftovers (Guy and Tween had taken care of those leftovers, apparently), so I needed to cook. It needed to be easy, fast, and comforting. Skillet Beer Chili Mac, I’m coming for ya…

You guys… So easy, so fast, comfort food at its best. The Kid and I had more for lunch today and Guy got jealous when he saw our dirty bowls because he forgot. We still have enough for tomorrow’s lunch and we might all drool on ourselves in anticipation between now and then.

The only things I did differently from the recipe: I cooked the onions without oil, added 2 cloves of garlic, and left out the maple syrup, oh, and I cooked the whole thing in my large soup pot. I used whole wheat curly macaroni and one can each of pinto and black beans (drained/rinsed). If you don’t do beer, you can sub another cup of veggie broth.

Skillet Beer Chili Mac
Serves 4-6

2 Tbsp mild chili powder
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp salt
1 c diced yellow onion (about 1/2 of a large onion)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 jalapeno, seeded and minced (mine was large; use a smaller one next time!)
1/2 c carrot (about 1 large or 2 small)
2 Tbsp tomato paste
1 15-oz can tomato sauce
1 c light beer
3 c vegetable broth
3 c small macaroni/pasta
3 c mixed beans (or 2 15-oz cans), like pinto or black
1/4 c nooch (nutritional yeast)
1 Tbsp lime juice
Optional toppings: sliced jalapenos, cilantro, red onion, avocado

Combine seasonings in a small bowl and set aside.

In a large soup pot over medium heat, saute onion for about 5 minutes. Add garlic, bell pepper, and jalapeno and cook for another 2 minutes. Add carrot, spices, and tomato paste and cook for 1 minute.

Add tomato sauce, beer, and veggie broth and bring to a simmer. Stir in pasta, cover and cook, stirring occasionally for 9-12 minutes until pasta is cooked. Remove from heat and add beans, nooch, and lime juice.

Adjust seasonings as necessary and serve with whatever toppings your mouth desires (avocado & tortilla chips for me!).

Link to the recipe as written (includes profanity)