Saturday, November 1, 2014

For the Record: October 2014 (plus Seattle!)

It's November! Congratulations everyone! We've made it to the end of the year.  If I thought life was crazy before, the next two months are sure to prove me wrong.  The weather has finally (FINALLY) cooled down around here.  It was in the high 80s for most of the summer and I am such a wimp in the heat/humidity that I was barely surviving.  Even with air conditioning.  That's how pitiful I am. What can I say...I'm a mountain girl that loves winter and living in SoCal can be rough.  It's so same/same all the time.

Last weekend we took a mini vacation with our daughters (10 & 14 yo) to Seattle.  It was my first time in the city (well, as an adult) and I almost melted from the adorableness of the whole thing.  The mountains and hills, the trees and water, the art and technology, the rain.  Even the downtown areas are so cozy.  I loved it terribly. Though, now that I'm thinking about it, I did just confess how starved I am for weather.  So there's that.

6 Books Read in October: (56 year-to-date)

3 Read Aloud to my 10yo:
  - The Whipping Boy, Sid Fleischman (3.5) Cute, simple, and short.  Perfect way to start our school year.
  - Master Cornhill, Eloise Jarvis McGraw (3.5) Slow to start, but ultimately captivating.  Great for solidifying a picture of London during 1666 with the plague and fire and all.
  - The Gate in the Wall, Ellen Howard (3) Provides a picture of canal life in Britain.  It was enjoyable, but the author was too heavy handed with the dialect to make it truly enjoyable.

1 Audio Book:
  - Burial Rites, Hannah Kent (4.5) Really solid, poetic, biographical fiction. Well written and well read.  This portrayal of the last woman executed in Iceland (close to 200 years ago!) was a fascinating peek at the country while under the rule of Denmark.

2 Others:
  - The Good Lord Bird, James McBride (3.5) This was a National Book Award winner, and I can see why.  It presents a history of abolitionists (namely John Brown of Harpers Ferry fame) in an accessible, enjoyable manner.  Having read Cloudsplitter a few months ago, on the same topic, I found myself thinking that McBride had written the "True Grit" version of the real story. The lack of seriousness was both enjoyable and grating. It was often repetitious, both in story and in writing, which was mildly irritating.  That being said, if I hadn't had recent experience with the topic, I might have enjoyed it more.  As it was, it didn't compare to Cloudsplitter.
  - The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, John Boyne (2.5) I remember seeing the trailer for this movie and thinking it looked good, so when I happened across it in the B&N YA section, I picked it up.  It's super short, and I feel a little terrible for not loving it, but there was just too much left wanting. The end was a bit of a shock, but since I didn't care much for any of the characters, I wasn't hugely impacted. There were a lot of things that were improbable and unbelievable, but instead of feeling magical (like Life is Beautiful) it felt contrived (like The Alchemist).


1 Current Read:
  - All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr. Rereading for book club, and it is just as wonderful this time around.


On My Nightstand:
These are the books that are actually, literally, on my nightstand. Whether they'll be the next ones I read or not, I don't know.
  - Stillwater, Nicole Heglet. Impulse buy at my local book shop, set in Minnesota during the Civil War.
  - The High Divide, Lin Enger. From LibraryThing's Early Reviewers, this novel takes place across the plains, post Civil War.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

For the Record: September 2014

I guess the big news this month is that our house project finally feels like it's progressing. We have tile going in and cabinets being built.  I, quite simply, am more than ready for it to be complete and put the whole construction event behind us.

Other great news is that my book club will be reading All the Light We Cannot See in October, so I'll have some people to really discuss it with (yay for book clubs!) and an excuse to re-read it.

I have a great thirst developing for classics, and no wonder.  When looking at my list of books read in 2014, I see only 4 classics.  Four.  This is a reflection on the quality and quantity of available reading time I've had this year in general.  All the more reason to get that house done! And go on more vacations!


5 Books Read in September: (50 year-to-date)

2 Nonfiction:
  - MFA vs. NYC, edited by Chad Harbach (4) I enjoyed this collection of essays, as it shined a light on the general state of publishing in America today.  I heard about it on GoodReads from Carrie (NomadReader) and am glad I had my local book shop order it for me. The variety of writing styles and opinions kept me interested and let me draw my own conclusions.
  - The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown (3.5) I read this with my book club, and thought the last 100 pages (and the pictures) were fascinating.  However, the 275 preceding pages were repetitive and somewhat dull.  I continually compared it to Unbroken and thus didn't enjoy it as much as I could have.  It also fell a little short in the organization. Still, it was a nice little look at Seattle in the 1920s and 1930s, and introduced me to George Pocock: the real star of the story. I'd recommend it if you have a hankering to round out your view on the era leading up to WWII.

1 Read Aloud to my 10yo:
  - Misty of Chincoteague, Marguerite Henry (4) My second (third?) time reading this story.  It never gets old.

1 Audio Book:
  - Brooklyn, Colm Toibin (3.5) A few minor issues (and the fact that my feelings hinged on the ending) weren't enough to detract from the loveliness of visiting Ireland for a few brief moments.  The narrator did a wonderful job with that wonderful Irish lilt.

1 Other:
  - The Impossible Knife of Memory, Laurie Halse Anderson (3.5) Loaned to me from a book club friend, and better than some YA (most notably Please Ignore Vera Dietz) in many ways.  Quick but serious.


2 Current Reads:
  - The Good Lord Bird, James McBride. Bought at my local book shop with no prior knowledge about it, except that it's about John Brown (of Civil War/Harpers Ferry fame) just like the tome Cloudsplitter that I finished earlier this summer.  This one is written in a very different tone and style, and from a different perspective.
  - Burial Rites, Hannah Kent. My current audio book - another wonderful narrator capable of speaking the dialect.


On My Nightstand:
Where to start? I just bought The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, I'll be rereading All the Light We Cannot See, and I've a hankering to dive into We Are Not Ourselves.  I'll also be on the lookout for a new audio book pretty soon here? Any recommendations?

Saturday, September 6, 2014

For the Record: August 2014

Me and my friend Elizabeth...friends
since kindergarten!

Oh August. Crazy times.  And now school has begun again, and I'm tired.  We did so much this month! Apart from our house project (which is finally drywalled and seeing finish materials go in) we also went to our 20-year high school reunion and celebrated my grandma's 90th birthday.  On top of all that, we put on a Christian music festival over Labor Day weekend, which really absorbs the entire month in preparation.  All of our kids helped out during the festival, which was great fun, but we are all exhausted now and ready to be back in a routine!

4 Books Read in August: (45 year-to-date)

2 Nonfiction:
  - Loving Our Kids on Purpose, Danny Silk (3.5) Read on the recommendation of a friend...I can see how the parenting approach in this book might be novel for some, but focusing on love and respect (instead of punishment and shame) is second nature to me.  That aside, my only real criticism stems from the brevity of the book itself.  There isn't enough detail to get past the overview stage, leaving many things up to chance.  In particular, the line between teaching kids to take ownership of their problems and having mercy and compassion enough to help them with their problems is quite vague and can easily end up looking more like manipulation than anything else. As an overview of a Love and Logic based parenting style, however, this book fits the bill.
  - The Soul of All Living Creatures, Vint Virga (2) I received this book from the publisher through LibraryThing, and was expecting something different than I received. I was hoping to find a book that approached the relationship between animals and people with a graceful yet scientific point of view, and was let down. This book would have been more touching had it simply been a memoir of the author's experiences, and more educational had he utilized his many years of experience in behavioral medicine to explain the situations in more detail.  As it stands his stories feel incomplete, making the book feel rather pointless.

1 from my Shelf:
  - The Yellow Phantom, Margaret Sutton (4) What fun this was! I actually bought it years ago because I loved the cover and was going to use it in some sort of art project.  Published in 1933, the treasure is less about the mystery (which was still enjoyable) and more about the chance to spy on a bygone era through the fashion, the language, the daily life, and the view of New York City way back when. I'm not going to be able to use it in an art project now—I enjoyed it too much.

1 New Book:
  - All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr (5) Oh my, what a book! I received it through Powell's Indiespensable subscription, and just absolutely loved everything about it.  In fact, I recommended it every single person I know.  And I want to reread it already.  It was so well balanced that it almost threw me off...the language, the characters, the story...magical.


2 Current Reads:
  - The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown. Captivating nonfiction!
  - The Best of McSweeney's, edited by Dave Eggars. almost done almost done almost done


On My Nightstand:
I haven't had much time to read, which makes me crave it all the more.  I'd like to reread All the Light We Cannot See but don't know if I'll actually do that...I may have packed it away already.  I received some interesting books in my Book Riot Quarterly box that I think I may try to read before they get lost on my shelves, and my Indiespensable shipment will be here any day.  Lots of options!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

For the Record: July 2014

July was a better month than I expected it to be...although some of that was probably at the expense of my husband (sorry hunny).  You see, my summers usually go like this: I'm excited to finally have time to organize my house and finish up projects around the house, and Chris is excited to finally have a school schedule that permits taking vacations.  This year, however, he has an inordinate amount of things he is juggling so we've been at home more than usual.

We got word from our landlord that he wants to put the house we are renting on the market on September 15.  Hopefully it won't sell right away, because the house we are remodeling still has a bit of work to be done on it before we can move back.  Either way, it definitely complicates the remaining months of the year!  Thank goodness I've gotten pretty good at just taking things as they come.

7 Books Read in July: (41 year-to-date)

1 Nonfiction:
  - Seven: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess, Jen Hatmaker (3.5) This was an impulse buy at Barnes & Noble.  We ran in to pick up the next couple books in my daughter's Warriors series and this one had such a cute cover. (Plus, I'd heard a friend talking about it, but still...the cover.) Since I've been in the mode of de-cluttering and simplifying, this book's topic suit me perfectly.  I appreciated the chapter about food the most - especially in light of the large homeless population in SoCal - we are truly so abundantly blessed that it is almost hard to fathom.  The rest of the book felt a little repetitive to me, though still easy and enjoyable to read due to the author's conversational blog-like tone.

1 Read Aloud to my 10yo:
  - James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl (3) I had remarkably little Roald Dahl in my childhood.  Like, maybe watching Charlie and the Chocolate Factory once.  So I've tried to make up for that with my kids, working through his books little by little.  This one, I have to say, has been my least favorite so far.  I liked the characters well enough, but felt that the story arc was weak.

2 AudioBooks:
  - We Were Liars, E. Lockhart (2.5) All the hype about this book combined with some long plane rides at the beginning of the month made me decide to give the audio version a try.  It was short (nice) but struck me as somewhat dramatic and predictable.  Note to self: resist the hype.
  - The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin (4) What a sweet story! Sort of a vanity read due to the wonderful amount of bookish discussion: the authors, the titles, the community. I had to go buy a hard copy so that I could reread it and loan it out.

3 "Obligation" Reads:
  - The Road From Gap Creek, Robert Morgan (4.5) Sent to me from the publisher via LibraryThing...I remembered enjoying Gap Creek back in the day but wasn't sure how that would translate to my current tastes.  I'm happy to say that it solidified my appreciation for Morgan's prose (poetic and contemplative but not overly so).  It took place in the Appalachian mountains (a setting which never fails to remind me of the Sierra Nevada mountains I grew up in) in the midst of the Great Depression and WWII. It meanders through the past the way your memory does: without regard to keeping a strict timeline.  I get it, I appreciate it, but was still confused a few times. Still, it reminded me of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn in its coming-of-age, reminiscent tone.
  - King Dork, Frank Portman (2.5) My latest book club pick...It isn't hard for me to imagine that many people would like this book more than I did.  There was much about it that was good - funny, deep, etc. I just couldn't get over two things: first, I really don't think I'd like the author himself (he seemed self-absorbed and I'm just not into that); second, I couldn't figure out when it took place and that bugged me more and more as the book progressed. Everything about it felt mid-1980s: the style, the music, the microfilm.  And yet at one point there was mention of a plaque in the high school from the class of 1994.  And that's not to mention the amount of hooking up this kid did, even though he was apparently the dorkiest kid in the class.  It didn't work for me.
  - The Ice Cream Queen of Orchard Street, Susan Jane Gilman (3.5) Sent to me from the publisher via LibraryThing...On one hand, this book was fun to read.  It had the whole immigrant pre-WWI thing happening, it had history and culture, good stuff.  On the other hand, the main character was so annoying (SO annoying) that I was glad to be done with her.  She was self-centered and ungrateful throughout the entire book.  I felt sorry for her husband, poor guy.  What some people call spunky, I call selfish.


1 DNF:
  - Big Mouth & Ugly Girl, Joyce Carol Oates. I was reading this with my 13yo daughter but she felt it was completely implausible and I felt the characters were not up to par with Oates' typical fare. So we stopped.

5 Current Reads:
  - Loving Our Kids on Purpose, Danny Silk. Reading on recommendation from a friend.  It's something I would have enjoyed more...18 years ago? But there isn't anything that strikes me as revolutionary at this point in my parenting career.
  - MFA vs. NYC, edited by Chad Harbach. Still working on this bit by bit. Still enjoying it.
  - The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown. My new book club pick. I'm actually barely into this one but I think it's going to be a good one.
  - The Best of McSweeney's, edited by Dave Eggars. I've picked this up again in an effort to wrap it up.  I had to skip the David Foster Wallace story - I had stalled out on it, just couldn't get through it, and now I'm trucking along again.
  - West of Here, Jonathan Evison. Current audio book. I actually have the physical copy, but was starting to think I'd never read it so I opted for the audio version instead. It's okay so far. The narrator is great, but the writing itself makes for a somewhat detached, disjointed story.


On My Nightstand:
Honestly? Nothing. After I get through the five books I'm currently in, who knows what I'll read? Something quick and easy maybe. All I know is that once September hits, life is going to be crazy.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

All the Light We Cannot See

Open your eyes and see what you can with them before they close forever.

I'm stingy with my 5-star ratings.  Sometimes I regret that and try to change, but then a book like All the Light We Cannot See comes along and simply deserves to stand above the rest.  If I weren't stingy with my 5, I'd have to break the rules and give this a 6 or 10 or 100 and that's a spiral I'm not ready to slide down.

Doerr's new book came to me in a Powell's Indiespensable shipment.  I didn't know much about it, except that it told the story of a blind French girl and an orphaned German boy as their lives converged during World War II. (And that it has short chapters.  I love short chapters.  Makes me feel so accomplished.)

From the start, the mood is magic.  Doerr illuminates the small thoughts and actions that create how a person or a place feels. It was familiar, and yet completely new.  The settings were vivid, and the characters were whole, genuine people. Themes run through the book so seamlessly that you can give them as little or as much attention as you want.  The writing is poetic but not heavy (nor too sparse). There is family and love, action and mystery, good and evil. There is literature, science, art, history and technology. The story switched back and forth between different times, yet remained organized and easy to follow.

It seems big enough to contain everything anyone could ever feel.

Looking back at World War II, it is easy to wonder how it was possible.  How did the Germans go along with this plan? How did people let this happen? Why didn't people stand up and object? When this question is taken out of the philosophical, however, it is easy to see how human nature compartmentalizes actions and events in order to cope with reality. From the way Marie-Laure adjusts to being blind in a city the size of Paris with only her father to help her, to Werner's ambitions to escape the fate of the coal mines that claimed his father's life, we see very real examples of how difficult it is to accurately assess the big picture and apply it to your life.

I recommend this book heartily! It's been a long time since I've read a novel as complete and filling as this.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

For the Record: June 2014

Turns out, a proper vacation is just what I needed to get my reading life moving along.  Isn't it always? Being halfway through the year, I can see that I am quite a bit under my target number (of books to read each year) but wonderfully enough, I'm totally fine with that.  I've enjoyed the reading I have done, so nothing else really matters much.

6 Books Read in June: (34 year-to-date)

1 Nonfiction:
  - Devil in the White City, Erik Larson (4.5) Incredible nonfiction here!  I had to keep reminding myself that this story was for realz. I enjoyed reading Thunderstruck, but was blown away by Devil in the White City.  That is not to say that it was perfect...I think that Larson tends to include too many names in his narrative instead of finding other ways to include those extra fascinating details...but it still doesn't get much better than this. I listened to this on audio, and thought the narrator did a fabulous job.  If you haven't read this, put it on your list.

1 From my Shelf:
  - Cloudsplitter, Russell Banks (4) This book was 758 pages.  That's one important thing about it. Other than that significant fact (which kept it on my shelf for over a decade before I was finally guilted into reading it) it's a pretty great read.  It almost felt like a real account from pre-Civil War America at times, I was so thoroughly immersed in the story.  This was the story of John Brown (of Harpers Ferry fame) and his fanatical abolitionist actions, this was a wonderful perspective on the Civil War.

4 Vacation Reads:
  - Please Ignore Vera Dietz, A.S. King (3) Sent in the Book Riot Quarterly box as an exemplary example of Young Adult Fiction, this troubled-teen-story didn't knock my socks off.  It was an interesting story, but didn't seem deeply felt.  The characters were a little thin, the edgy content didn't feel entirely genuine, and overall wasn't very compelling.  Maybe I'm just super picky, but it wasn't very memorable. My socks were still all the way on.
  - The Sisters Mortland, Sally Beauman (4) Surprisingly enjoyable story in the same vein as The Thirteenth Tale.  Some mystery and intrigue, a touch of the unreliable narrator, and a lovely British setting had me turning the pages quickly.  Being stuck in bed with a sprained ankle turned it into a mini read-a-thon, and reading it quickly probably improved my opinion of it in general. Still, if you liked The Thirteenth Tale or have enjoyed any of Kate Morton's book, this one may please as well.
  - Flora, Gail Goodwin (3.5) I loved the setting in this book: a small mountain town in the American South at the end of WWII. The mood reminded me somewhat of To Kill a Mockingbird.  There were some POV/timeline issues for me, that ended up pulling me out of the story and meant I wasn't very invested in the ending.  Still, solid and enjoyable.
  - Longbourn, Jo Baker (3) I wasn't going to read this one, but the cover art is so gorgeous and everyone was talking about how good it was.  So I read it, and concurrently discovered that I am a Jane Austen Purist.  I was entranced by the idea of hearing from the servants' perspective, but that's about where the fascination ended.  The story didn't stand on its own, which compounded the feeling that the details were all gratuitous.  It might as well have been a behind-the-scenes-of-the-Keira-Knightly-version of Pride and Prejudice.  And there...when I heard myself think that, I knew I was a purist. Sorry, turns out I've got a bit of a snob in me after all.  It wasn't bad, but it wasn't as good as the cover art.


5 Current Reads:
  - King Dork, Frank Portman.  My current book club book, I'm hoping to tear through it this weekend.
  - The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, Gabrielle Zevin.  I just started this audio book and I'm already hooked.  Fun stuff!
  - James and the Giant Peach, Roald Dahl. Reading aloud to my 10yo daughter.
  - Big Mouth & Ugly Girl, Joyce Carol Oates. Reading with my 13yo daughter.
  - MFA vs. NYC, edited by Chad Harbach. This was brought to my attention by Carrie (NomadReader).  It's a collection of essays about current American fiction.  I'm really enjoying it as a way to widen my view on how things are working in publishing.


On My Nightstand:
Even though there's a ton of work left on my house project, I've started to think in terms of what books I'll read before I move back into my home.  It's kind of a weird feeling, since that might be close to the end of the year, but I'm just so excited at the thought of nearing the end of this phase of my life. Somehow, this makes me want to read some of the books that have been on my shelf for quite a while, but who knows if I will?  I don't have anything lined up right now, except for perhaps All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.  That's been calling my name. Have you read it?

Pass it on!