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.

Books: end-2017 reading

Goodreads (jokingly) tells me there are two reasons to read a book: to enjoy it, and to boast about it. But Goodreads stats page isn’t working, so I can’t boast about my year-end reading results. I know I read 44 books, less than last year but enough considering the year it was. I think I’ve now read most of Fredrik Backman’s books (there may be a short story I haven’t seen). I’ve read a good balance of fiction and non-fiction, books for adults and books ‘for’ teens. I’ve always enjoyed fiction that takes me places I’ve never been and introduces me to people in situations I’ve never encountered, so little surprise that I’ve found my way to a few books about immigrants, especially given our world situation.

Below are the books I read October-December 2017. What are you reading?

Behold the DreamersBehold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This. Book…!

Dreaming of a better life, a family struggles and saves to move from Cameroon, where they have no prospect of bettering their lives, to New York. To America, the land of opportunity. There they encounter other dreamers, Americans by birth, each of whom live out the American dream differently.

I have no idea what it’s like to be an immigrant, but this book helped me to imagine it, to see their perspective and my own privilege with new eyes and insight.

High school teachers and college professors: find a way to incorporate this book into your curriculum now! It deserves a place alongside American classics such as The Grapes of Wrath and The Great Gatsby.

My Not So Perfect LifeMy Not So Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Light, fluffy, funny–just the kind of simple-sweet escapist book I was looking for. Not perfect, but that’s fine by this not-so-perfect me!

 

The Art of Creative ThinkingThe Art of Creative Thinking by Rod Judkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book offers lots to chew on, 89 different ways to see things, in fact. I kept googling artists and art pieces because I had to see for myself the amazing work he described. I underlined so many quotes that I have four typed pages of notes! Some of the entries seem to contradict each other, but that’s okay, too, since creativity can be different each hour for each artist…

A few quotes:

“Creativity is not about creating a painting, novel or house but about creating yourself…” (vii)
“A creative mindset can be applied to everything you do and enrich every aspect of your life” (3).
“Put your personality before practicality and your individuality into everything” (32).

The Revised Fundamentals of CaregivingThe Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving by Jonathan Evison
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m not sure when I’ve read a novel about such sad and pathetic characters that held so much hope. Trev can’t help himself physically; Ben can’t pull himself out of life’s biggest emotional pit; together, they take a trip that changes both their lives. I didn’t always love this book–it was slow at times–but by the end I enjoyed it. The author tells more than one story, back and forth between short chapters; sometimes it gets confusing, but not overly. And it works to keep you turning pages.

“Listen to me: everything you think you know, every relationship you’ve ever taken for granted, every plan or possibility you’ve ever hatched, every conceit or endeavor you’ve ever concocted, can be stripped from you in an instant. Sooner or later, it will happen. So prepare yourself. Be ready not to be ready. Be ready to be brought to your knees and beaten to dust. Because no stable foundation, no act of will, no force of cautious habit will save you from this fact: nothing is indestructible” (236).

“Because I still care deeply… I’ll never stop caring. But the thing about caring is, it’s inconvenient. Sometimes you’ve got to give when it makes no sense at all. Sometimes you’ve got to give until it hurts. It’s not easy, and it can be downright thankless…” (275).

Tomorrow There Will Be ApricotsTomorrow There Will Be Apricots by Jessica Soffer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Two women at opposite ends of life, both grieving from losses of different kinds, come together through cooking. A familiar premise, and the end was also a bit predictable, yet satisfying. This was one of the saddest books I’ve read in a long time, and I thought about putting it aside. I’m glad I didn’t. The heavy descriptions of grief, the ways people hurt one another intentionally and inadvertently, and the power we have to help one another heal even as we move ourselves toward healing–powerful.

“Happiness is an act of faith. But you can’t let it in and be done with it. Emotions come at you from all directions. I forgot to cover my head. It had been a while” (122).

The Sun Is Also a StarThe Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I almost never reread books, simply because there are too many books to be read. But I liked this book so much I could imagine rereading it–even as I was reading it!

Do you follow your head or your heart?
Do you move with the wind or follow a plan?
Do you live to fulfill someone else’s desires for you, or your own?

Daniel and Natasha couldn’t be more different, and maybe that’s exactly what makes them good for each other. They represent different values, different cultures, a different way of moving through life.

I liked this book for so many reasons: short chapters kept me turning pages. Characters who obviously represent ideology, but passionately so. Daniel and Natasha come from different cultures (he’s Korean, she’s Jamaican), and their American-ness stands in contrast to their immigrant parents. The book read almost like a play, with bit parts fleshed out in significant ways to add nuance to the story. And I enjoyed the diversionary chapters that provided information on science, culture, back or future story, or fairy tales.

What Alice ForgotWhat Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As we’ve passed books back and forth, my friend has been on me for some time to read this book. She was right (as always): my fav of all Moriarty’s books so far, better than Big Little Lies.

If you woke up and ‘forgot’ ten years of your life, what would you have missed? Who were you then, and who might you have become, and which would be preferable? What relationships would you miss, want to re-cultivate, to let go or rediscover? Even if you regained all those lost memories, what would you do differently going forward?

I’ve read a few amnesia books, but this was the best. The most thoughtful. The one about which I want to wonder, ponder, journal. Who was I? Who am I? Who would I like to be?

And entertaining read (thick book, quickly digested), with lots to consider.

“She had always thought that exquisitely happy time at the beginning of her relationship with Nick was the ultimate, the feeling they’d always be trying to replicate, to get back, but now she realized that she was wrong. That was like comparing sparkling mineral water to French champagne. Early love is exciting and exhilarating. It’s light and bubbly. Anyone can love like that. But love after three children, after a separation and a near-divorce, after you’ve hurt each other and forgiven each other, bored each other and surprised each other, after you’ve seen the worst and the best–well, that sort of a love is ineffable. It deserves its own word” (421).

Of Mess and Moxie: Wrangling Delight Out of This Wild and Glorious LifeOf Mess and Moxie: Wrangling Delight Out of This Wild and Glorious Life by Jen Hatmaker
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I liked For the Love, but I love Of Mess & Moxie! I’m convinced that Jen is my Southern, funnier, sarcastic personality doppelganger. We both write; we both married pastors; we both come from 3-sister/1-baby brother families; she is also an introvert who uses her phone as a phone never and married a verbal processor; and really, I think I’ve written less funny versions of so many of these chapters. She is just so real, so vulnerable, so the kinda gal I want to hang out with or, TBH, be.

Fav quotes:

“We have important memories from every house—some painful, some instructive, some delightful, some necessary. But how thrilling to realize that even now God is designing a new blueprint, tailor-made, and His creativity extends to the very trajectory of our lives” (9).

“…fear is a liar. It cannot be relied upon to lead well, to lead out, or to lead forward. It is an untrustworthy emotion, not of God, and it never leads to health, wholeness, wisdom, or resurrection….The truth is, God created us with resiliency. Mankind is incredibly able to heal, to rise back up, to stare down pain with moxie….Rather than cower under its weight, we force pain into a partnership, using it to grow, to learn, to catapult us into a deeper, wider, sturdier life” (39, 41).

“Love is a genuine solution. It breaks down barriers and repairs relationships. It invites in the lonely and defeats shame. It provides the lighted path to forgiveness, which sets everyone free. Love makes us brave, pulls up seats to the table, defuses bigotry, and attacks injustice. It is our most powerful spiritual tool. Do not underestimate it as the solution to almost everything that is broken” (82).

“I, too, just want to make beautiful things. Don’t you? Don’t we want our lives to be lovely and creative and productive and meaningful? Don’t we want to offer exquisite, sacred things to the world? This draw toward creation is important, worthy of our time and attention and nurture. We have these magnificent minds and hands and ideas and visions, and they beg us to pay attention, give them permission, give them life.
“I sincerely believe we are created by a Creator to be creative. This is part of His image we bear, this bringing forth of beauty, life, newness….That thing in you that wants to make something beautiful? It is holy” (94).

“…creators create and creating is work and work takes time” (97).

“I cannot write a good story if I am not living one” (99).

“Send kindness out in big, generous waves, send it near and far, send it through texts and emails and calls and words and hugs, send it by showing up, send it by proximity, send it in casseroles, send it with a well-timed ‘me too,’ send it with abandon. Put out exactly what you hoop to draw in, and expect it back in kind and in equal measure” (211).

Exit WestExit West by Mohsin Hamid
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a phenomenal book! Blending the world’s current volatile and distressing dystopian reality with just enough sci fi to allow us to enter in without risking too much, this book provides a personal and insightful look at the refugee/immigrant crisis.

Favorite quotes:
“…to love is to enter into the inevitability of one day not being able to protect what is most valuable to you” (165).

“…in Marin, Saeed prayed even more, several times a day, and he prayed fundamentally as a gesture of love for what had gone and would go and could be loved in no other way. When he prayed he touched his parents, who could not otherwise be touched, and he touched a feeling that we are all children who lose our parents, all of us, every man and woman and boy and girl, and we too will all be lost by those who come after us and love us, and this loss unites humanity, unites every human being, the temporary nature of our being-ness, and our shared sorrow, the heartache we each carry and yet too often refuse to acknowledge in one another, and out of this Saeed felt it might be possible, in the face of death, to believe in humanity’s potential for building a better world, and so he prayed as a lament, as a consolation, and as a hope, but he felt that he could not express this to Nadia, that he did not know how to express this to Nadia, this mystery that prayed linked him to, and it was so important to express it, and somehow he was able to express it to the preacher’s daughter, the first time they had a proper conversation, at a small ceremony he happened upon after work, which turned out to be a remembrance for her mother, who had been from Saeed’s country, and was prayed for communally on each anniversary of her death, and her daughter, who was also the preacher’s daughter, said to Saeed, who was standing near her, so tell me about my mother’s country, and when Saeed spoke he did not mean to but he spoke of his own mother, and he spoke for a long time, and the preacher’s daughter spoke for a long time, and when they finished speaking it was already late at night” (202).

“We are all migrants through time” (209).

The Storied Life of A.J. FikryThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Great book! A widowed bookstore owner, depressed and a little snobby, adopts a baby girl and falls for a publishing rep. Love changes his life, unsurprisingly. The book takes shape as A.J. recommends to his daughter his favorite short stories, like the “book talker” recommendations you see attached to bookstore shelves. Very readable, an easy recommendation to most readers, and a great way to stave off the post-Christmas blues.

Favorite quotes:

“No man is an island; every book is a world” (8).

“We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone. We are not alone” (249).

“We are not quite novels…We are not quite short stories…In the end, we are collected works” (249).

“…we are what we love. We are that we love….We aren’t the things we collect, acquire, read. We are for as long as we are here, only love. The things we loved. The people we loved. And these, I think these really do live on” (251).

“…we tell stories to understand the world. All stories–anecdotes, cave paintings, blog posts, book reviews, news articles, songs, poems–are attempts to explain the world to one another and for ourselves” –Conversation with the Author (266).

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and LongerAnd Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This novella is imperfect, patchy and broken, and so lovely because of it. The author comments that he wrote it to personally process life’s big questions, never intending to send it forth in the world. The world is better for his having chosen to send it out.

As Grandpa comes to the end of his life, as his brain stops working, son Ted and grandson Noah (or “Noahnoah”–because Grandpa “likes his grandson’s name twice as much as everyone else’s”) look for ways to help Grandpa ease into Space. Meanwhile, we see Grandpa and Noah, and Grandpa and Grandma (who has preceded her husband into Heaven), enjoying time together inside Grandpa’s Square, the place of memories inside his brain. The Square gets smaller every day, while the road home gets longer. Ted and Noah have the sweet privilege of walking the long road home with Grandpa.

I don’t often reread books, since there are So Many Books, but I can foresee myself rereading this short gem. So many insights into life, love, and death. A sweet, perfectly imperfect last read of the year.

One bit of Grandpa’s wisdom: “The only time you’ve failed is if you don’t try once more” (29).

Thankful Thursday – Books!

I read 30 books in 2015. Not a lot, but more than two a month. So far in 2016, I’ve upped the ante, closer to one a week. I may not keep it up, but it’s been fun so far. I keep my library queue updated as I hear about books I want to read, which makes it like a game of library roulette – I read what I get, and I set reading goals based on due dates and which books are more likely in demand and so unlikely to be renewable. Just last week my neighbor popped over and found me in my pj’s too late in the morning, because I just had to get to the end of a book. She loaned me the library book she’d just finished, with four days left to read it. Done! And wouldn’t you know it? The day I returned it, my queue provided my next book to take its place.

Another coincidence that made me chuckle: the first four books came in young adult-adult pairs of two, one pair on death and another on female friendships.

So here you go, the low-down on what I’ve read so far in 2016.

All the Bright PlacesAll the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I almost stopped reading after one chapter – the subject matter is raw – and I’m so glad I didn’t. This book is beautiful, with beautifully-drawn characters, people I feel I know, struggling in the wake of tragedy and the daily tragedy called High School. For those who liked Paper Towns and Eleanor & Park, this book might be even better.

Ordinary GraceOrdinary Grace by William Kent Krueger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A middle-aged man recounts his thirteen summer as son of a Methodist minister in a small Minnesota farming town, the summer death stripped him of childhood and forced him to face life as a young man. The book feels slow and almost dreamlike in its reflection but superb in capturing the superlatives that make up ordinary life: doubt, faith, friendship, family, anger, fear, joy, beauty, love. It portrays what it looks like to live faith, which necessarily includes doubt, without being preachy even during the few snippets of sermon. The story points to grace which leads to hope.

“In your dark night, I urge you to hold to your faith, to embrace hope, and to bear your love before you like a burning candle, for I promise that it will light your way.
“And whether you believe in miracles or not, I can guarantee that you will experience one. It may no be the miracle you’ve prayed for. God probably won’t undo what’s been done. This miracle is this: that you will rise in the morning and be able to see again the startling beauty of the day” (195).

Big Little LiesBig Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Without the raving of friends I might not have picked up this book, but I’m glad I did. I know these characters, and if you’re a parent with kids in grade school, you do, too. They made me laugh and made me want to stomp on their toes and/or hug them. The bitchy, controlling parents who believe their kid can do no wrong. The meek who get trampled for listening to and believing their kid. The life of the party and the parent-organizer. And oh, the issues: gossip, manipulation, parent v. parent v. administration. It’s all real, frustratingly so.

But it’s really about friendship, family, and parenting in a cultural environment that doesn’t always prioritize the right things. And in the end, it does a good job of revealing that exteriors and reality don’t always match up. We all need more compassion. As the book says, “It could happen to any of us.”

Goodbye StrangerGoodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Stead has mastered the thoughts and voices of middle school girls. So spot on and surprisingly smart. In fact, it’s evident that Stead loves her characters, refreshing as culture tends to look down on middle schoolers. The story broke my heart in all the right ways and handed it back fully restored. It’s not a great book, but if you like early adolescents, or if you want an inside peek into their complex inner lives, this is a good book. If you haven’t read Stead’s When You Reach Me, do so quickly. It is amazing.

I Dare Me: How I Rebooted and Recharged My Life by Doing Something New Every DayI Dare Me: How I Rebooted and Recharged My Life by Doing Something New Every Day by Lu Ann Cahn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I really liked this book. A wowza-successful middle aged woman decides to try something for the first time every day of the year, and in so doing “unsticks” her life. Some of her Firsts seem drastic – New Year’s Day Polar Bear Plunge or riding a mechanical bull; others are wacky – eating a scorpion; some are playful – hula hooping; some are ordinary – trying a new restaurant or recipe; some are life-changing – she learns new skills and takes risk that may eventually pay off in her career. The overall take-away is to open your eyes to see the invitations – and say YES! – to live a full, creative, exuberant, playful life.

The Sword of Summer (Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard, #1)The Sword of Summer by Rick Riordan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While my guys have read just about every Rick Riordan on the market, this was my first. Tween and I needed a new read-aloud, and as this series is based on Norse mythology (my heritage), we dove in headlong. Surprise, surprise, I liked it! There may have been too many characters considering my woeful Norse myth-knowledge, but it was fun. Just right for a read-aloud with a middle grade reader boy.

Finding AudreyFinding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Different from Kinsella’s other books, while maintaining her style, makes this foray engaging in new ways. I related a little too much to the mom freaked out by her teenage son’s gaming habits. She made me feel better about myself, actually, until I realize she’s got way more on her hands than I want. Poor Audrey is making her way through her “broken” brain’s reaction to tragic events, and her family is doing their best along with her. I don’t know enough about how teenage brains heal, so this effort may be a little too romantic and unrealistic. Still, it was sweet.

Who Do You LoveWho Do You Love by Jennifer Weiner
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was a very readable down-to-earth love story, beginning with Rachel and Andy as children and following each one as they weave in and out of each other’s lives through middle age. It was good, not great. I much prefer Good in Bed and In Her Shoes, but if you’re looking for a light, don’t have to think too much love story, this is it.

When Organizing Isn't Enough: Shed Your Stuff, Change Your LifeWhen Organizing Isn’t Enough: Shed Your Stuff, Change Your Life by Julie Morgenstern
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Because I constantly fight with clutter, I constantly pick up organizing books. This one is different and at first I thought it wasn’t for me, as it really has to do with people moving through life transitions: change of employment or relationship status, for example. The paradigm is this: Separate the treasures; Heave the trash; Embrace your identity; and Drive yourself forward = SHED. Of course those 4 steps can apply to anyone at any point. They’re broader than just Stuff as well, because you can apply the paradigm to mental and emotional clutter as well as physical. I mostly skimmed the book, but there’s some good stuff in there you won’t find in your average organizational book.

Three WishesThree Wishes by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book fell into my hands courtesy of my neighbor and I had four days to read it before it was due at the library. It’s an easy read, so I devoured it like birthday cake. It looks light and fluffy, but is surprisingly rich as it follows triplets from their 34th birthday celebration back in time to before their conception and through life as these look-alikes live out their individual identities.

Our families assign us roles we live out:
Lyn – driven, achiever, martyr
Cat – dramatic, funny, bitch
Gemma – forgetful, drifter, surprisingly smart but unfocused
And yet we have the power to make different decisions, ones that may seem out of character to others but drive us forward in new and better directions.