Books: May-June 2019

Notes on the recent round-up…

100 Days to Brave: Devotions for Unlocking Your Most Courageous Self100 Days to Brave: Devotions for Unlocking Your Most Courageous Self by Annie F. Downs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I heard about this book in December on Aarti Sequiera’s IG feed (one of my fav Food Network Stars) but couldn’t get it in time to start on Jan 1. Still, it was the right book at the right time. Simple writing and not always applicable (I’ve been married for a long time, while Downs is still hopeful she’ll meet the right guy), but still, the challenge to be brave is the same no matter what individuals face on any given day. I heard myself using brave as a verb: “I braved up today and…” and God used it to help me make a courageous decision I’d put off for too long. On to new adventures which will require even more bravery!

“…hold on until the Lord makes it really clear that you’re supposed to let go. Ask God. Ask people you trust. Ask your own heart. But while you are listening, persevere, and lean toward holding on until God and other people make it really clear that you’re supposed to go” p130.

“I hope you’ve already taken that first step because I am sure, like I’ve rarely been so sure of anything before, that your people are waiting and your God is watching with expectancy for you to see where your map is going to take you” p231.

Outer Order, Inner CalmOuter Order, Inner Calm by Gretchen Rubin
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I enjoyed The Happiness Project and thought this would be similar. Not. It’s a ton of short practical tips for decluttering, creating order, and achieving inner calm. She admits throughout that some tips will work for some people and not others since we all have different triggers and tolerance levels. For my taste, it was almost too much. Her Top Ten Tips were helpful, but I encountered most of those in her first book.

UnshelteredUnsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

My favorite thing about this book is that the last few words of each chapter also serve as the title for the following chapter, a neat literary trick.

Such a smart writer, Kingsolver took on so much in this book that at times it felt tedious. The house falling down around the characters stands as metaphor for our world cracking from the havoc we’ve wreaked on it as well as our country under the dubious leadership of a Pied Piper’s false promises. Evolution requires conflict, as do ideological debates, and evolution and debate both play central roles in this book. Shocking how, in some cases, characters can hold staunchly to their false beliefs despite truth like the nose on their face, while in other cases two seemingly opposite views can be equally accurate depending on perspective.

In these last few years I have despaired for the house crumbling around us. I have felt fear and loneliness, anger and frustration for the division in our country that lies in people with whom we at least occasionally share a roof. In the end, I think Kingsolver means to leave us with hope. The walls are, indeed, crumbling. We may very well soon find ourselves unsheltered. We feel ourselves likely to die, yet we might yet discover the warmth of the sun.

“‘No creature is easily coerced to live without its shelter.’
“‘Without shelter, we stand in daylight.’
“‘Without shelter, we feel ourselves likely to die.'” (90)

“‘My mother used to say when God slams a door on you, he opens a window.’
“Tig gave this two seconds of respectful consideration before rejecting it. ‘No, that’s not the same. I’m saying when God slams a door on you it’s probably a shitstorm. You’ve going to end up in rubble. But it’s okay because without all that crap overhead, you’re standing in the daylight.’
“‘Without a roof over your head, it kind of feels like you might die.’
“‘Yeah, but you might not. For sure you won’t find your way out of the mess if you keep picking up bricks and stuffing them in your pockets. What you have to do is look for blue sky.'” (415)

“Unsheltered, I live in daylight. And like the wandering bird I rest in thee.” (453)

The EditorThe Editor by Steven Rowley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Having loved Lily & the Octopus, I was excited to discover this on our library shelves and even more so to dive headlong into its pages. Rowley has an entertaining voice as a writer, original, creative, page-turning. In this novel, he presents us with a loving portrait of Jacqueline Onassis as an editor for a discouraged and lost first-time novelist. This is a beautiful book about self-discovery and the people who participate in shaping us to become better versions of ourselves.

“‘Saudade. It’s a word my grandmother used to say when she was missing home.’ Daniel’s grandmother was born in Brazil, and so every now and again some Portuguese pops up in conversation.
“‘What does it mean?’
“‘Oh. It doesn’t have an English translation….Not a direct translation, anyhow….It’s like a nostalgia or melancholy, but more than that. With a recognition that the something we’re longing for hasn’t happened, or isn’t returning. Or maybe never was.'” (199)

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works by Dan Harris
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I grabbed this book for the title, having no idea that it’s the story of how Harris learned to meditate. As a Christian, I call meditation “prayer” and the practice is a little different. I stuck with the book because all truth is God’s truth and I can always learn to be more compassionate, gentler with myself and the world, and–to the title–happier.

Once Upon a RiverOnce Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a magical tale, set in a Thames-side pub frequented by storytellers and story-lovers who become players and tellers both in another magical tale.

“They were collectors of words the same way so many of the gravel diggers were collectors of fossils. They kept an ear constantly alert for them, the rare, the unusual, the unique.” 31

“‘I saw her myself, I did. She ran down to the boathouse quick as could be, and when she come out in her rowing boat, the little old one of hers, off she went, haring up the river…I never seen a boat move like it.’
“‘Haring up the river?’ asked a farmhand.
“‘Aye, and just a little slip of a girl too! You wouldn’t think a woman could row so fast.’
“‘But…”haring,” you say?’
“‘That’s right. Quick as a hare, it means.’
“‘I know what it means, all right. But you can’t say she was “haring up the river.”‘
“‘Whyever not?’
“‘Have you ever seen a hare rowing a boat?’
“There was a burst of laughter that bewildered the gardener and made him flustered. ‘A hare in a boat? Don’t be daft!’
“‘That’s why you can’t say “she went haring up the river.” If a hare can’t hare up a river, how can Mrs. Vaughan?'” 202-203

You Are a Badass Every Day: How to Keep Your Motivation Strong, Your Vibe High, and Your Quest for Transformation UnstoppableYou Are a Badass Every Day: How to Keep Your Motivation Strong, Your Vibe High, and Your Quest for Transformation Unstoppable by Jen Sincero
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I ❤ this book! It’s not rocket science, but it gave me little shots of enthusiasm for my own life.

“…the excellent thing about success is that it always comes down to one simple thing: the decision to keep going until you’ve reached your goal.” 2

“Contrary to popular belief, it’s not as important to know exactly what you want to do with your life as it is to know what makes you feel good.” 39

“What comes out of your mouth comes into your life, so choose your words wisely.” 76

“Procrastination is just fear in the form of brakes, and fear is not the boss of you.” 125

“The Moment of Truth or Poof: when all our no-nonsense dedication to achieving our goals and all our excitement about the brand-new life we’re creating for ourselves either stays strong or goes poof…” 151

“Overwhelm is a mindset; it’s the choice to focus on everything all at once and stress yourself out. Instead, choose to take your life moment by moment and savor it…” 167

Just the Funny Parts: ... And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking Into the Hollywood Boys' ClubJust the Funny Parts: … And a Few Hard Truths About Sneaking Into the Hollywood Boys’ Club by Nell Scovell
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Scovell has made a consistent and interesting career in writing mostly for TV. This book was funny at times, but not as funny as I wanted it to be. She drops a lot of names because they mean something to her, and probably to others in the industry, but meant mostly nothing to me as a reader. I hung in there mainly because she occasionally drops some gems about how to hang in with the hard work of being a writer. It got better towards the end as she lives into her identity both as a woman and a writer and takes a stand on behalf of other women in male-dominated fields.

“Writing is not what you start. It’s not even what you finish. It’s what you start, finish, and put out there for the world to see. Sometimes we’re afraid to share our work because we know those twin jerks–criticism and rejection–are out there waiting to beat us up. Once the assault begins, there are three possible responses: (1) run away from the jerks; (2) defend yourself against the jerks; (3) assume the position and say, ‘Thank you, sir, may I have another.’ The third choice hurts like hell, but the jerks often have useful feedback.” 22

“It’s always better to like doing something that to be instantly good at it. If you’re successful but hate the process, you’ll stop doing it. If you suck, but the work intrigues you, you’ll keep at it and get better.” 45

“An episode, article, or book doesn’t flow out of a pen or keyboard fully formed. Each work is built concept by concept, beat by beat, word by word. It’s a process of discovery. You head down a path which leads to another and another and another until you hit a dead end. Then you backtrack to where you made a wrong turn and look for a better way through.
“When I write, I feel like an optometrist, constantly flipping between lenses and asking, “Is this better? Is this?’ Slowly, the work comes into focus.” 87

“…while work expands to fill the time, time expands to fill a mission.” 255

2019 Reading So Far

Apparently, today is World Book Day. I didn’t know this was a thing but, as an avid reader, this seems like a good day to post about what I’ve been diving into so far in 2019.

The Clockmaker's DaughterThe Clockmaker’s Daughter by Kate Morton
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was like a meandering dream, weaving in and out of place and time, characters familiar and strange, each drawn and returning to a beloved house along the river. It’s an ode to home, and one in particular, currently occupied by a lovely ghost.

I liked the book while between its cover but, as I shut them, I felt disappointed. Some of it was too predictable, some threads too neatly tied while others were left to dangle. I guess I felt like I simply woke up from the dream.

“He would never see her again. And yet he wished he could have told her that he’d lost his way, too. He’d lost his way, but hope still fluttered in and out of focus like a bird, singing that if he kept putting one foot in front of the other, he might just make it home” (261).

“Home…the perfunctory description accorded the building in which one currently resides, but also the warm, rounded name used to describe the place from which ultimate comfort and safety is derived” (310).

I Owe You OneI Owe You One by Sophie Kinsella
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I hit a total reading slump and needed a light bit of chick-lit to jump start me out of it. This did the trick.

I’ve read most of Kinsella’s books, with some clearly rising to the top (Can You Keep a Secret? or Remember Me?). This one feels more emotionally mature than all the others combined while still maintaining the meet-cute/rom-com strategy that clearly works for her. I appreciated the emotional growth a whole family experiences as our heroine questions her long-held beliefs and pays down her own emotional debts.

Two Steps ForwardTwo Steps Forward by Graeme Simsion
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I finished this novel (based on the authors’ real-life experience) about walking the Chemin/Camino through France to Spain feeling much as I did after reading Cheryl Strayed’s Wild about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from California to Oregon–I want to undertake a long walk!

If you know me, that probably sounds both surprising and true. I am not the fittest tool in the shed, and I am one to undertake crazy adventures for the sake of spiritual discipline.

I enjoyed the back-and-forth between female and male characters on the trail, both the main characters and the many they encounter along the way. Watching how their physical quest allowed their emotional/spiritual quest to…”unravel” isn’t quite the right word, because, though unraveling did occur, they arrived at a more enlightened place….so, whatever it did, it kept me turning pages to grow with the characters.

“The Chemin will change you…” or “The Chemin walks you…” – both were offered as predictions of what would occur. Both did. And I feel just a little like I’ve been changed as well.

Now, which of the many world-wide walks will call to me? I can’t wait to find out!

Almost Everything: Notes on HopeAlmost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

As she wished her father, who wrote a lot of knowledge but not much truth, had written a book of all the truth he could pass on to her, here Lamott attempts to write down all the truth she can pass down to her grandson and niece. And, by extension, us. As such, it’s a little haphazard, hit and miss. But then, such is life, and I’m so grateful Anne keeps plugging away at her computer, butt in chair, writing shitty first drafts that eventually come to us, cleaned up but still imperfect. Who of us can hope to do more?

“That we are designed for joy is exhilarating, within reach, now or perhaps later today, after a nap, as long as we do not mistake excitement for joy. Joy is good cheer…. Joy is always a surprise, and often a decision.
“Joy is portable. Joy is a habit, and these days, it can be a radical act.” 56

“Reading and writing help us take the blinders off so we can look around and say ‘Wow,’ so we can look at life and our lives with care, and curiosity, and attention to detail, which are what will make us happy and less afraid.” 99

“…more than anything, stories hold us together. Stories teach us what is important about life, why we are here and how it is best to behave, and that inside us we have access to treasure, in memories and observations, in imagination.” 179

“‘Why?’ is rarely a useful question in the hope business.” 183

“Life is way wilder than I am comfortable with, way farther out, as we used to say, more magnificent, more deserving of awe and, I would add, more benevolent–well-meaning, kindly….
“We have all we need to come through. Against all odds, no matter what we’ve lost, no matter what messes we’ve made over time, no matter how dark the night, we offer and are offered kindness, soul, light, and food, which create breath and spaciousness, which create hope, sufficient unto the day.” 189

The Female PersuasionThe Female Persuasion by Meg Wolitzer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Brilliant! A feminist manifesto in story form, this book covers just about everything related to what is to be alive and a woman at this point in history. Smart, but not hit-you-over-the-head, not at all preachy, just great storytelling.

Sea PrayerSea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I snatched this off the library’s Lucky Day shelf having heard nothing about it. I let it sit until right before it was due, intuiting that it would be a quick but painful read. It’s an illustrated poem, a letter from father to young son, but it’s not a children’s book. Even though I had not yet read the author’s statement, throughout I couldn’t help but remember the images of the 3yo boy who drowned trying to escape Syria’s war. Little Alan Kurdi was, in fact, the child the author had in mind as he wrote. This book is beautifully written and illustrated, and I can imagine a middle school or high school English or social studies teacher reading it aloud to the class to help them imagine what that life would be like, leaving everything behind and risking everything in hope of escaping the horrors that people inflict upon each other.

The Curse of the Warmbloods(Gregor the Overlander#3)The Curse of the Warmbloods by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Gregor and the Marks of Secret (Underland Chronicles, #4)Gregor and the Marks of Secret by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Gregor and the Code of ClawGregor and the Code of Claw by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

 

 

Nine Perfect StrangersNine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Not at all what I expected, and far more intense. Nine strangers, all with their own backstory baggage, meet at a health resort for a ten-day restorative retreat that quickly turns more than unconventional. I enjoyed the romp, though it will make me think twice about signing up for something like this. I’ll get healthy on my own, thanks very much, minus the strangers and shamans.

Featured photo by Skitterphoto from Pexels

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!