Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Reading Roundup: July 2015

A Heart Revealed by Josi Kilpack

This book is billed as a romance, which it is, but it's really more of a coming-of-age story. I enjoyed it and really liked watching the main character grow, but overall I felt like the tone and the characters didn't really feel like they fit the historical setting. 

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Hannah usually writes contemporary fiction, and I've read a few of her other books and thought they were a bit melodramatic for my taste. I'd heard good things about this book and wanted to see how she would do with historical fiction. It didn't really impress me--I guessed a lot of the twists in the plot before they happened, many of the characters were really just caricatures, and the little details just didn't ring true (too many scenes felt like they were based on novelizations about the war, not actual historical detail). There are many other great novels about World War 2, so there really isn't much need to read this one.

Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson

After reading three of his books, I can already tell that it's going to be impossible for me to choose a favorite Brandon Sanderson novel. This one, however, really was delightful to read (it wasn't always 'fun'--there are dark parts--it was just a great read). I thought the characterization was a particular strength of this book, as well as the plot and the intriguing magic system. This is a book I will most definitely re-read again some day, maybe sooner rather than later.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

 I read a different book by Genova a few years ago after listening to an interview with her on NPR. She is a neurologist turned novelist--an interesting career path--and writes novels about people afflicted with particular conditions. This is her first book, and her most famous, and I mostly enjoyed it. There were a few parts that got too bogged down in jargon and explaining, but generally it was a touching book.

The Life We Bury by Allen Eskens

This is the kind of book that makes me wonder whether the characters have ever read a crime novel or watched a crime show before--they make dumb assumptions and totally get themselves into trouble. However, the main character in this book is fairly young and naive, and it is a coming-of-age story in many ways, so I could forgive the fact that I saw all the major twists coming. That just made the book a little more fun to read, since at a few points I was practically shouting "don't be stupid!" at the protagonist.

The Children Act by Ian McEwan

So far I have loved everything I've read by McEwan and this book is no exception. The story focuses on one character, at one moment in her life, and it takes a while for all the threads to come together, but when they do, the impact is amazing.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Reading Roundup: June 2015

Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly

On the one hand, this book is pretty ridiculous if you think about it. An extremely privileged teenage girl (her mom's an artist and her dad's a Nobel-winning geneticist) is distraught by a family tragedy, ends up in France and finds a secret diary, and discovers new facts that change what we know about music history. Oh and (spoiler alert) there's some time travel involved. The writing is pretty overwrought to match the craziness of the plot. However, despite the fact that it was a bit silly, I really enjoyed being along for the ride.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

This was our book club pick for the month, and while it was not everyone's favorite, I really loved it. It started out slowly, but after a while I started to become really invested in the characters (even though I did not always like them very much). There is a lot going on in the novel--the plot is fairly complicated, and really doesn't pick up urgency until the last third of the book. There are also a lot of interesting things going on with character development, since the two main characters have particular qualities based on the nature of their creation. I always love a meaty historical novel, and am growing to love fantastic fiction more, so this was the perfect book for me. 

Eyes on You by Kate White

I read this within a few hours during one flight of the trip I took in June. I only checked it out because it was being heavily promoted on the library's e-book site and I thought a thriller would be a good way to pass the time on a long trip. It was a nice diversion, but not very well-written. It wasn't as suspenseful as it promised to be and the main character was too unlikeable to make me want to root for her at all.

Working Stiff by Judy Melinek

This was another book I read on my trip (I ended up reading four books), and I think my seatmate was a bit startled when he glanced over at my iPad because this book is really graphically gory. I thought it was fascinating and I love reading books about medicine and the human body. This book definitely delivered in that way, but it was pretty detailed in its descriptions and a few parts managed to turn my usually strong stomach.

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

I thought I had read this book once long ago, but after reading it now I realized that maybe I hadn't. I think this is the kind of book I would have loved if I had read it in high school. It's quite a lot of fun and I had a good time reading it, but I didn't love it as much as I thought I would. That could also be due to reading it electronically on a long plane ride--perhaps some day I should give it another chance. 

If I Stay by Gayle Forman

This was a re-read, again because it was available for immediate e-book checkout from the library's website and I was bored in an airport. I really love this book--yeah, the conceit of a dying girl saved by love is a bit of a cliche, but I love the way that Forman really builds up Mia's character and the world of her family (the parts with her family are my favorite part of the book). The action (what there is of it) all takes place in a fairly compressed period of time under extreme circumstances, and the author still makes it compelling without being overwrought. Over the last few years since this has been published it's taken a place in the YA canon, and I think it deserves it. 

The Book of Unknown Americans by Cristina Henriquez

This book has beautiful writing and I love the way it portrayed Hispanic immigrants that are not all illegal and not all from Mexico. It has chapters told in alternating voices, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't as far as plot and character development go. I also thought the ending was a bit rushed--there was a rather sudden twist near the end that wasn't developed as much as I wanted it to be. However, this was still a great book and I would recommend reading it. Two of the major characters are in high school, and while this is not a YA book, I think it would be great reading and discussion material for an older high school class.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Reading Roundup: April & May 2015

 The Way of Kings by Brandon Sanderson

When I read the second book first in this series I felt like I was caught up on what was going on in the world and admired Sanderson for doing such a good job setting things up so that I didn't really feel too lost. However, after reading the first book, I realized that there were quite a few things that might have been more understandable if I had read it first. Oh well--it was still a great read and somehow felt too short despite reaching a thousand pages. I'm eagerly anticipating the third book when it eventually comes out.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Just like I can't resist eating some cheap candy bars now and then, I have a hard time resisting mystery/suspense books like this. Even though they all end up having similar plots, they are still a lot of fun to read and a great escape for a few hours. This one had the interesting twist of including a particularly unlikeable and unreliable narrator, and I honestly didn't even like her by the end of the book, but the twists in the plot were surprising and I enjoyed being along for the ride.

The Book on the Bookshelf by Henry Petroski

This was an excellent book to read while finishing up a class on the history of books and libraries. Petroski had some fascinating insights and I learned quite a lot from the book. It was a bit dry at times and definitely a slow read, but if you are interested in the history of books, architecture, or libraries you would probably enjoy this.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande

Gawande is one of my favorite nonfiction writers; I find medicine to be a fascinating subject and he always writes about it in relateable, insightful terms. This was an excellent book and gave me quite a lot to think about. I'm not that old, and neither are my parents really, but it's never to soon to think about quality of life and healthcare issues.

Softly Falling by Carla Kelly

This was the perfect book to reward myself with at the end of the semester. I have loved all of Kelly's historical romances that I've read over the last few years and this was no exception. The characters were all unique and memorable, the action was realistically suspenseful, and the romance was sweet and satisfying.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

A coworker saw me reading this book and asked me what it was about, and I struggled a bit to respond. It's post-apocalyptic, but moves back and forth in time between the years before the catastrophe, the moment of crisis, and twenty years later. Unlike books like World War Z or The Passage, it's heavy on philosophy and light on action (there is some violence though). It's the kind of satisfying book where various pieces of the story are woven throughout until they all come together in the end and you want to read it again just to see how all the moving parts work. I think this was one of my favorite books of the year so far.

The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

This book didn't quite work for me. It had an intriguing premise--a woman keeps slipping into dreams that show her an alternate reality until she can't decide which is her 'real life' and can't decide what she really wants to do with herself. My main issue was with the characterization; I never really connected with the main character and hard a hard time really caring much about what she did. There were also some little historical details and continuity errors that bugged me too. It wasn't bad enough to make me stop reading, but it wasn't a great read either.

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

On the one hand, I can see why this book is getting a lot of buzz and winning a lot of award. The plot is fascinating and the characters are compelling. Sometimes, though, I think I'm getting too old to read teen books because I identify too much with the parents and not with the kids. I'm not sure I would have identified much with these kids as a teen either--some teen books are about amazingly talented teens who live oversize lives, and this is one. If you can not roll your eyes at it and just go along with it, this is a great book.

Landline by Rainbow Rowell

Somehow I ended up reading two books about magic ways to see an alternate life. This one is contemporary and involves a magic phone, though. I've loved Rowell's other books, but this is my least favorite. I just had a hard time understanding the main character's relationship with her husband couldn't quite see why they liked each other. There was a lot of telling me about it, but not much showing it and I didn't quite get it.

Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy

I've loved Thomas Hardy ever since high school, but I really don't think I'd ever read this book. Like most other books, destiny turns on small events and on people choosing passion over prudence. Unlike some Hardy books, it at least has a somewhat happy ending. I still like Tess the best, but this was a satisfying read anyway.

Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight

Another mystery/suspense--I think I'm averaging one a month lately. I did guess some of the twists in the plot, but there was one at the very end that I didn't see coming at all. There was some good social commentary in here too, but some of the characters were more like caricatures and the writing was a bit too melodramatic at times.

Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

This book restored my faith in Rowell's writing--funny, realistic characters who fall into an unconventional romance. I like that Rowell seems to really understand people who are shy and socially awkward, and gives them a chance to grow and find new connections. I think Fangirl is still my favorite, but this is a close second.


Far from the Madding Crowd

I actually made it to a movie in a theater this month. I thought the cinematography and acting were excellent in this adaptation, but it still felt a little flat. I think the problem is that I had recently read the book, and though the movie hit all the high points of the plot, it necessarily left out quite a bit of the backstory and explanation that really give it depth.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Sometimes I Am Too Optimistic

This past week was not very good. I was tired and didn't sleep well most nights--I should have been writing a draft of my paper that is due next Sunday, but I haven't done it yet. There were several nights where I felt exhausted and decided to try going to bed early instead of writing, and instead I didn't fall asleep right away so I was still tired and I have no draft of my paper. I also spent most of the week stressing about our final exam that took place this morning. Spoiler alert: I took the exam and think I did a pretty reasonable job even though it's hard to write seven decent short essays in 75 minutes.

We're all adjusting after the death of our sweet kitty last Saturday. Surprisingly the kids have been mostly fine with the new state of things. My other kitty spent the first few days wandering the house and meowing, which was more heartbreaking than actually saying goodbye to the other cat. She peed on the couch on Monday but has otherwise not changed her behavior too much other than spending more time hanging out with us. I've also felt discombobulated all week because last Saturday night someone in Illinois tried to use my credit card number (I have the card here in my hand), and my card company cancelled it immediately. Thankfully I have excellent fraud protection included with my card. Unfortunately my new card hasn't arrived yet and I've had to use my debit card all week. Normally I put everything on the credit card and pay it off monthly so I can maximize my reward points. This week has also included quite a bit of drama at work, which is unfortunate because we usually don't have drama at work. We're making some changes in our department, and change has a tendency to make people unhappy and scared. I've resolved to do a better job next week of staying out of it, because I have a bad habit of jumping into the middle of everything. Time to be more positive and patient. Oh, and I had applied for a different position at work, one that I thought I might be qualified for (and had several people urged me to apply for), and found out that I didn't even get an interview. That was a bit disappointing too. I really do like where I'm working and look forward to the opportunities I have--especially once our departmental changes actually happen and things settle down a bit. 

By the time yesterday rolled around I was feeling pretty tired and worn out. The perfect time to start a home improvement project, right? Earlier this week, the flusher in the kids' bathroom toilet broke and we've had to flush the toilet by hand. Yesterday morning S-Boogie and Little Dude were busy, so P. Bibby and I went to the hardware store to figure out what we needed to get to fix the toilet. Instead of just buying the one part, I discovered that you can completely re-do the inside of the toilet for not much money. This seemed like a good idea since this toilet is very old and didn't work very well. We came home and I optimistically estimated that it would take an hour or so to swap the parts out. An hour later, when we had to go pick up S-Boogie and Little Dude, I had not yet finished the first step of removing the toilet tank. My toilet was so old and covered in hard water deposits that it was taking forever to get the old nuts off and the old bolts out. My fingers were bruised and aching from the effort, and I wasn't even finished yet.

After picking up the other two kids, we all decided to go see a movie. We saw Home because Little Dude read the book last month--he thought the book was better. I've seen worse movies, but I've also seen better. After the movie we came back to our house and Little Dude started helping me with the toilet. After we finally got the tank off, we realized that our toilet was the kind that has a special gasket that you have to buy separately. Back to Lowe's for the gasket. Then back to the house, where Little Dude noticed that the kit we bought probably wasn't going to work with our toilet (today we realized that it probably would have, but yesterday we weren't quite expert plumbers yet). So we packed up the kit and took it back to Lowes, where we exchanged it for a different one. Back to the house to finish the installation--but by then it was close to dinner time. We took a needed break for food and then Little Dude and I tackled the toilet. Once we had the old parts all taken out, it really was easy to install the new set-up and it was mostly done within a half hour. However, we couldn't figure out how to make the flusher handle we had work with our particular toilet. I was tired and stressed out and decided that it could wait until Monday when we could go back to the store to look at our options. 

Then this morning I woke up to the sound of Little Dude in the bathroom fiddling around with things. He'd figured out how the flusher was supposed to work, hooked it up to the flapper, and was trimming a tube that completed the set-up. We tightened up the last few nuts, hooked up the water, and the toilet worked! Sometimes all you need is a good night's sleep and a new perspective. That's my lesson I learned today, and I hope next week is a better one than last week. 

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Today Was Strange

While I was making dinner on Thursday night I heard the unmistakable sounds of kitty barf happening in the hallway. I got there too late to move the cat, but realized that she was barfing up a large quantity of white foam and water. As soon as I saw that, my heart sank--that's exactly what has happened the last two times she ate something and got sick. I cleaned up the mess and finished dinner; later I checked the basement (her preferred barfing spot) and found more evidence of a sick cat. Friday morning she was curled up on the downstairs couch, and when I got home last night she was still in the same spot. This morning she made her way upstairs and lay down next to the water dish, looking sadly at it but not drinking. Thankfully the vet's office has Saturday hours, so I decided not to wait until Monday and gave them a call to make an appointment. 

Before taking the cat in to the vet, I had already decided that if she had a foreign object in her stomach I wasn't going to have them operate on her again. I know I wrote in that last post about taking responsibility for choosing to own a cat, but over Thanksgiving last year she ate a dart she found somewhere and had to have surgery again. I've spent about $2000 on this cat, and I've seen evidence in the litter box that she eats other things that do manage to make their way through her body. You can't train a cat, unfortunately, so there's not a good way to keep her from eating foreign objects. The kids were with Mr. Fob today, but I had him stop by the house with them so they could say goodbye to her. Then I took her to the vet. She had a fever and complained when the palpitated her abdomen. The vet took some x-rays and called me back to look at them. The routine was sadly familiar to me. This time there was something large in her intestines and something else in her stomach. Despite the fact that I'd made a decision before going to the vet's office, it was still hard to confirm it and sign the papers for the vet. We talked a while about what the options are in this situation, but the vet agreed with me that the future prognosis was not good for a cat with this bad of an eating habit. It's not just the cost of repeated surgeries or cleaning my carpet--it's the trauma for the cat and the time I have to take to care for her too. So, with a heavy heart, I signed the permission to euthanize her. Actually making the decision was harder than I expected it to be and I've felt bad about it all day. 

The rest of the day was a contrast to such an unfortunate morning. This afternoon I had plans with a friend to go see a play called Pilot Program, which is about a couple who is called to participate in the restoration of polygamy. It was well-written and well-performed, and I'm glad I saw it with someone so we could discuss it together.  We decided to get dinner afterwards and went to a nice restaurant; I ordered the most expensive thing on the menu, which was a steak with roasted fingerling potatoes, and it was delicious. Then we went to Trader Joe's since we were in Salt Lake anyway. It was a delightful afternoon and I'm glad I got to spend time hanging out with a friend. I have too many Saturdays that are full of errands and homework and not enough fun. 

Maybe some day I'll get caught up on the blog again. I don't know. March was mostly nice. We celebrated Pi Day with friends and we ate green muffins for breakfast on Saint Patrick's Day. S-Boogie went to the state Geography Bee, Little Dude participated in district Knowledge Bowl, and we all survived S-Boogie's participation in the annual school musical. My parents came up for a quick visit to watch S-Boogie's performance, and once again it was amazing. I got the windows in my house replaced, and bought new blinds for the living room since the other ones didn't fit anymore. S-Boogie got notice that she was accepted to the special advanced learning program at the junior high this fall, so we're all excited about that. Somehow we're halfway through April now and I'm feeling a bit of panic about finishing up my school assignments (hello 20-page paper I still need to write) as well as all the things the kids need to do during the last bit of their school year. Then it's time to figure out our summer schedule and find someone to watch the kids each day. Life just keeps moving--hopefully we'll have more happy days ahead and not so many sad ones like today.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Reading Roundup: March 2015

The Good Girl by Mary Kubica

If anyone has been keeping track of my reading habits over the years, they will have noticed that I have a weakness for the "literary thriller of the month" (as I like to call it). I don't read a lot of mysteries otherwise, but every now and then I grab something like this book because it sounds fun. I figured out most of the plot twists in this book before they were revealed, but the ending still managed to have a few more that surprised me. Not the best thriller I've read, but certainly not the worst.

The Faraway Nearby by Rebecca Solnit

This is the first time I've read anything by Rebecca Solnit, and I fell in love with her beautiful writing and powerful insights. This book is hard to describe; it's a series of essays that are interconnected, and somewhat chronological. It's not quite a memoir and not quite a simple collection of standalone essays--the chapters describe a period of time in her life, with themes and images that connect them to one another and give the book some forward momentum. She talks about family, memories, and stories, as well as concrete things like apricots and ice (yes, I know that sounds weird). This was a lovely book that immediately made me want to re-read it, just to savor the images. It also inspired me to spend more time pondering and writing about my life, to perhaps find some connections and recurring themes of my own.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

This was another lovely book (March was a good month for reading this year)--although "lovely" feels like a strange word to use to describe a book about an unhappy family and the death of a teenage girl. This book has some similarities to The Lovely Bones in its mood and themes, so if you liked that one, you probably would like this one. 

Daring Greatly by Brene Brown

As I read this book, I kept asking myself, "why didn't I read this book a few years ago?" I also spent a lot of time telling people I know all about how amazing this book and Brown's thoughts are. Even though I wish I had read the book sooner, I also don't know if the impact would have been the same because part of the reason why I liked it so much was the way it fit in with things I discussed with my therapist last fall and other changes I've been trying to make in my life. Even if you think you don't have problems with self-esteem or shame, I'd still recommend reading this. 

The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook

I read a lot of historical fiction, and particularly historical fiction about World War Two. I always like it when I find a book that either describes an aspect of the war I had not considered before. This book focuses on the British occupation forces in Hamburg in 1946--a time period I had not really read much about previously. The plot did not hold very many surprises and some of the characters are more developed than others, but this was still an engrossing and thought-provoking read.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Reading Roundup: February 2015

Will Wonders Never Cease by Douglas Thayer

Thayer's short stories were among some of the first works of Mormon literature that I ever read, and I loved them. I've read almost all of his work during the last decade or so--some I've enjoyed and some I really haven't. I wasn't sure about this book before I read it; the subtitle and the obvious moralizing agenda put me off a bit. However, it turned out to be better than I thought it would be and I actually enjoyed reading it. Some of his books about teenage boys have not felt very realistic too me, but I felt like he got the voice of his protagonist right this time. That was important since this book has a somewhat thin plot and is mostly a character study. I think it would be interesting to hear the same story from the point of view of his mother since she plays such a large role in this book.

I Was Here by Gayle Forman

I really liked Forman's If I Stay when I read it a few years ago, particularly for the way it portrayed family relationships, so I've read a few of her other books since then but haven't liked them quite as much. This one was pretty good in some ways, but in others it didn't quite work for me. Perhaps it's just that I've read so many other similar YA books in the last five years--this one had a lot of the same plot elements that pop up in YA fiction and it didn't feel very original at all.

Joan: The Mysterious Life of the Heretic Who Became a Saint by Donald Spoto

This was our bookclub pick for the month and I was glad to read it because I really didn't know much about Joan of Arc before. Obviously I had heard of her and knew a little about her life, but never felt inclined to read much more about her. This is a very thoroughly researched biography that is written in an accessible style. I also liked the fact that Spoto avoids sensationalizing and speculation about the life of Joan, and even finds ways to look at some of the things that have been said about her in a more fact-based light. This was also a great book to read during the last month while I was studying medieval print culture in my class, since it complemented what I was learning about.

10% Happier by Dan Harris

The tricky thing about writing a memoir is that you have to make your readers care about your life without being so obnoxious that you put them off. Harris' memoir about his newfound love for meditation and mindfulness walks a thin line. On the one hand, he does have a fascinating story about how he was able to use meditation to manage his busy, stressful life and to overcome other bad habits like drug use. On the other hand, stress in his life came from being a fairly high-profile reporter who did a lot of cool travel and had other amazing opportunities that I'll never have. He was also able to directly interview many of the more famous writers about meditation that he reads, which is again an experience that I'll never have. I can see why some people would find this book to be pretentious and annoying--however, I was in a generous mood when I read it and I managed to enjoy it. I've tried meditation a few times and found it to be a positive experience and this book did convince me to give it another shot.

Arranged by Catherine McKenzie

I was really sick for a few days and discovered this book available for electronic check-out from my library. It's got a fairly standard chick-lit plot with some little twists. The book was fun and was a great distraction from the flu-of-death that I was battling.

Forgotten by Catherine McKenzie

There was a preview chapter from this book in Arranged and so I decided to read it next (on the second day of my terrible flu). I actually ended up buying this because I couldn't find it available at the library, in print or online. I feel slightly ashamed the the first e-book I've ever bought was basically a literary Twinkie. Thankfully it was cheap. This book had an interesting premise--the protagonist became ill while overseas, and then was stranded after a devastating earthquake in the city where she had been vacationing. By the time she gets home, everyone she knows has decided that she is dead and she has to rebuild her life. I thought that the book didn't really quite live up to its potential--first of all the protagonist was way too shocked that everyone thought she was dead. She was gone for six months and no one heard from her. Weird. There were also way too many plot holes for my taste, and the romance she fell into was a bit too sudden. Obviously I was feeling a lot crankier by the second day of my illness last month--maybe I would have liked this book more if I were in a better mood.

The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

I also thought the premise of this book was interesting, but it also didn't quite live up to it either. The idea was original and I liked the thought of looking at how two boys growing up in similar circumstances could diverge so thoroughly. However, I didn't feel like the author was very introspective and the narrative was also disjointed in too many spots.

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

This was my first time reading Sanderson, and more than one friend has poked fun at my new-found enthusiasm. I wrote a (trying to be funny) post over at Segullah about my experience, because I've never been much of a fantasy reader, especially not epic fantasy. My only regret about reading this book is that I should have read The Way of Kings first--I didn't think I wanted to take the time, but I now realize that I really could have. Watch for a review of that book at some point during the next few months.