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.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Februrary in a Flash

The first week of February was a good one and I was optimistic about the rest of the month. I had thought I'd post a little more often on the blog, but I didn't after all. Now I want to catch up on February and can't seem to remember anything significant happening. I got really sick during the second week of February--I went to bed on Tuesday night feeling fine, but at some point during the early morning hours I started feeling hot and restless. Thankfully the kids were at Mr. Fob's, as they usually are on Tuesday nights, because by Wednesday morning I felt like I had been run over by a truck. It's been a while since I have been that sick. I managed to crawl out of bed long enough to send some emails to people letting them know I wasn't coming to work. I also took my temperature, confirming that I had a fever, and went back to bed. I knew that if I could get up and fix myself some food, and take some medicine, I'd feel better. I just couldn't do it. Finally, at about noon, I got out of bed and made some oatmeal. After eating and taking some medicine I started to feel a bit better, and somehow made it through the rest of the afternoon and evening routine with the kids. Then I got them in bed and crashed some more--Thursday I felt slightly better and my fever finally went away. Friday I was well enough to get back to work, but it took a few more days before I really felt recovered. 

That weekend was the long holiday weekend and Valentine's Day. I hate it when I've looked forward to spending time with the kids and then things don't go well and we're all in a bad mood. I think I wasn't entirely recovered from being sick, so that didn't help either. On Saturday we made a last-minute decision to go to Ikea to get a few things, including new sheets for S-Boogie since hers were worn out. I thought it would be fun to get lunch and do some shopping, and that part of the trip was generally pleasant despite the crowds in the store. However, we also needed to go to the grocery store and that part of the trip used up the rest of my patience. I have a hard time grocery shopping with the kids, and I know part of the reason why I have a hard time is because I'm mentally beating myself up for having a hard time. We always have to go on Saturdays when the stores are really crowded, and I don't take the kids very often, so we aren't used to it. I get mentally overloaded really fast by having to make decisions about what to buy while monitoring three kids that are all milling around and grabbing the cart and asking me questions all the time. Next time we all go shopping together I need to have a better plan and deal with it better--this time Little Dude had a crying meltdown in the check-out lane (after I told him, for the tenth or eleventh time, to stop hanging on the cart and tipping it). We survived the grocery store without making too much of a spectacle of ourselves and spent the rest of the day at home. I made some fun heart-shaped jello for dinner, and attempted heart-shaped calzones that didn't quite work. The day ended nicely despite that afternoon's missteps. It was cold on Monday so we went to the movies--the only kid one available was Paddington and it wasn't terrible. The kids enjoyed it. 

Little Dude got sick later that week and then P.Bibby got sick this past week--both apparently had the same virus I'd suffered from. I stayed home from work last Wednesday, and admit that it was kind of relaxing to be home all day when I was well enough to enjoy it. I kept an eye on P.Bibby, who spent the day snuggling on the couch alternating between reading books and watching shows. I also did some laundry, caught up on homework, and made a big batch of banana muffins. 

The kids were here this weekend and we took things easy; yesterday was cold and snowy, so after running errands in the morning we stayed inside. Thankfully I could go to the grocery store with one kid while the other two were at a piano class--and we discovered that Target at 10 o'clock in the morning is pretty empty (good info to have for future reference). Yesterday afternoon we watched a Harry Potter movie and after dinner we played a board game together. Last night we did have a moment that I thought was going to be terrible and turned out great. We were playing the game Sorry!, which is a bit annoying but is one of the only ones that all three kids can play together. Little Dude had been in a bad mood for a while, for reasons that I really could not understand. As per their usual dynamic, S-Boogie was being silly and teasing him a bit, and not noticing that he really was not in the mood. Finally he got sick of it and punched her really hard in the back. That was a surprise since he doesn't usually do that very often. I took his game pieces off the board and sent him to his room to cool off. After a while he came back out and asked to rejoin the game. I suddenly remembered a concept we had talked about, but that I hadn't really tried out much--the better way to apologize outlined in this blog post. I talked both S-Boogie and Little Dude through their apologies and the mood lightened. It really worked! Little Dude joined us in playing and ended up winning the game. After I got P. Bibby in bed, I let the other two stay up a bit so we could play Rummikub together. This was a much better Saturday than we had two weeks ago, and I can see that my attitude played a big part in it.

And, that was February in a nutshell. We've had some cold and snow, though never enough to stick. We've had a few illnesses, but not enough to keep us down for long. February flew by and we're excited for a busy month of March. Next month the kids have Battle of the Books, Knowledge Bowl, and the school play. Plus I have to register S-Boogie for junior high (I know!), which involves choosing electives, deciding on an instrument to play in band or orchestra, and testing for advanced math. And of course we can't forget Pi Day or Saint Patrick's Day. Hopefully we'll survive and actually have some fun.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Reading Roundup: January 2015

Wedding Cake by Josi Kilpack

This was a fun and suspenseful end to this mystery series; I have enjoyed reading Kilpack's books and think she is a strong writer. She did a great job wrapping everything up in this conclusion--I like the way that each of the books has had its own plot in addition to the ongoing conflicts that have lasted through the series. Sadie is a great character and I loved watching her grow through all the crazy things she went through in each book. 

Three Story House by Courtney Miller Santo

My reaction to this book was mixed. I think it had a lot of potential but didn't quite come together in the end. First of all, there is a lot of mystery surrounding the house and why it was built, but none of that ever gets resolved or explained in the book. I was expecting some kind of flashback or explanation at some point that would tie together all the hints and answer the questions, but nothing was really resolved. The end matter of the book included a short story about the house's origins, which seemed like an odd choice to me. I also felt that the book was simultaneously too long and too short. On the one hand, the inclusion of three different characters with three separate conflicts felt like overkill. Parts of the book dragged and other parts were confusing. On the other hand, this made the book feel like it wasn't doing enough to give each story a full resolution. I especially felt like the story of Lizzie was confusing--I felt like I missed something at some point, because the end of her story felt rushed and abrupt, and really didn't resolve the conflict much at all. I just felt like this book was trying to do too much and didn't quite get there with any of it.

The Rosefields of Zion by Marilyn Brown

This book is in desperate need of a good editor and a major rewrite. There is a dog that changes breeds from chapter to chapter, characters that change ages between chapters, historical details that felt inaccurate, and a very confusing chronology that really distracted me from enjoying the book at all. Not only that, but the plot of the book is based on an antagonist that is cartoonishly evil and a protagonist that is unrealistically naive. The only thing I enjoyed about the book were the beautiful descriptions of southern Utah and Zion National Park that made me want to go back for a visit.

Blood Will Out: The True Story of a Murder, a Mystery, and a Masquerade by Walter Kirn

Most of the negative reviews of this book that I've seen seem to be from readers who were expecting a more thorough discussion of Clark Rockefeller and his crimes. That really isn't what this book is about; in fact, the book really isn't about Rockefeller at all. It's a memoir, written by Kirn, about his relationship with Rockefeller--before and after learning about his true identity. I think it helped that I have read a few other things about Rockefeller so my curiosity about him was satisfied and I could appreciate Kirn's self-searching about why he had such a friend and why he didn't become more suspicious about him over the years. There were many things I loved about this book, but I can also see why some people would not like it.

Fresh Courage Take by Dean Hughes

This was the final book in a trilogy that I have read as they have individually been published, which means that by now I have forgotten some of the details from the first two books. Hughes is a solid writer and his characters are all realistic and engaging. He doesn't shy away from presenting some of the real conflicts of the early days of the Church, while still treating that past with respect and empathy. My only complaint with this series has been that the historical storyline is much more compelling than the contemporary one and I think that it could have been done as a straight historical trilogy without including the contemporary characters at all.

Pale Harvest by Braden Hepner

This book had beautiful, dense writing, but I am tired of books about how stultifying life in rural Utah is. Also, while I hate the concept of "likeability" and think that books can be readable without their characters being particularly reader-friendly, I thought that none of the characters in this book was very pleasant and some were rather disturbing. I can see why this book is well-written and deserving of much of the praise it has received, but it was not one that I enjoyed at all.

A Generation Rising by Gerald Lund

This is apparently the first book in a series, which might explain the lack of conflict and sense of plot. The writing wasn't bad and it wasn't unpleasant to read, but it was a bit boring and I'm not sure I want to read the rest of the series when it comes out. 

The Thieves of Summer by Linda Sillitoe

This book was a delightful surprise, and unique enough that it's hard to describe. I wasn't sure about whether I would like it or not based on the plot summary. Precocious triplets? An elephant? A kidnapper on the loose? It sounds like it might be zany, but it's really not. One of the things I thought Sillitoe did best was balancing some fairly heavy topics with a light tone--she doesn't sensationalize, but she also doesn't gloss over things either. This family feels real and their conflicts are relatable, even though the story takes place nearly eighty years ago. Some parts of the book feel uneven and a bit choppy, and I thought it could have been a bit longer, but the imperfections can be excused with the knowledge that this is a posthumous publication. I think this is a great contribution to the world of Mormon literature.

Movies

You've Got Mail

It's been a long time since I last watched this move, probably at least ten years. I really don't like Sleepless in Seattle for a lot of reasons, but thankfully Hanks and Ryan don't bug me half as much in this movie. It also hasn't aged too much, surprisingly, but that could just be because I'm old and have no idea how romance works in this day and age.

Notting Hill

I was in a rom-com mood during my break from school and decided to re-watch this one since it had also been a very long time since I had seen it. I have a soft spot for Hugh Grant, and he does his schtick quite endearingly in this movie. I actually think my favorite aspect of the movie is his group of friends and his relationship with them, and not so much the romance part of it.

Mao's Last Dancer 

I don't usually write down "kids movies" that I've just watched with them, but I watched this one with S-Boogie since she had read the book for a biography assignment for school. I haven't read the book (she says it's a pretty faithful adaptation), but I enjoyed the movie and thought it was pretty well done.

Sunday, February 08, 2015

First Week of February

This has been a busy, but fun, week for me and the kids. On Tuesday we celebrated P. Bibby's birthday--she is a whopping 5 years old now. A fully potty trained, sitting in a booster in the car, going to preschool, big kid. She has always had a fairly mellow, sweet personality and that is still holding true at five. She has her moments of frustration, especially with 2 older siblings who often like to remind her of their wisdom and power, but generally is a happy kid. P. Bibby loves to color and to read books, and she loves her preschool/daycare and all her little friends there. We celebrated with a party the Saturday before her birthday at an indoor play area that has a bunch of giant inflatable slides and bounce houses. Some of her friends from church and school came as well as her cousins. She had a great time with all her friends and I'm so glad I paid the money to let some other place do the entertainment and clean-up for the party. I actually didn't get to see her on her birthday until that evening since the kids slept over at their dad's house on Monday night. They went to McDonalds for breakfast, then she went to school, and then when I got home we had pizza, chocolate milk, and strawberries for her birthday dinner. 

Mr. Fob was out of town on Wednesday and Thursday, which affects me because he usually handles the after school circus with the kids. My Wednesday ended up being very busy. First thing in the morning I took P. Bibby to the doctor for her annual check-up and kindergarten shots. She did a great job, even with painful shots, and is growing nicely. Then I dropped her at her preschool and went to work for a while before leaving early to get home for after school. Normally Little Dude and S-Boogie would have had piano, but their teacher was sick and had to reschedule. We still had Knowledge Bowl practice for him and Activity Days for her, and then we ran over to the school for parent-teacher conferences (both kids are awesome and their teachers love them), then home for quick dinner, then to drop P. Bibby off at her music class, then a trip to Target during the music class, then picking up P. Bibby again before we came home to rush off to bed. And then I did my homework. I conquered Wednesday!

Thursday wasn't too eventful other than some meetings at work to discuss in more detail the changes in my department. I'm getting some different responsibilities and we're moving office space around--but I did successfully lobby to retain my desk next to the large south-facing windows. I didn't have the kids this weekend so I used Friday and Saturday to catch up on homework and to get some things done around the house. I ran a few errands, including picking up some fun Valentine decorations for this coming Saturday and ingredients to make fun food like heart-shaped jello and heart-shaped calzones. I'm looking forward to having a fun weekend with the kids.

The other big thing happened today at church. For two years I've been serving as the secretary in the Primary, and today the presidency was released. It was a bittersweet feeling and I honestly hadn't been feeling good about the change until today. I loved being the secretary and finally felt like I was good at it, and I liked the ladies I was working with in the presidency. But then today I was released and called as the Primary pianist, which is a pretty awesome calling, and I really felt that the change was all right and that everything was going to be OK. The older kids are singing in sacrament meeting next week so I get to jump into my calling right away.

I survived the first week of February and it was generally good. I didn't get any exercise and I didn't get to bed on time most nights, but I'm trying my best. Tonight we had a lovely evening together as a family; we all enjoyed split pea soup and homemade rolls before we had Family Home Evening. I love it when we have a nice Sunday evening because it feels like we are getting ready to have great week.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

January: Good, Bad, and Ugly

I'm not a fan of January--I'm sure you can look back through this blog and find plenty of posts describing all the reasons why this is not one of my favorite months. It's long, cold, and doesn't have any birthdays or anything to make things exciting. The first part of the month is always swallowed by recovery from Christmas break, and I always set too many high expectations for the new year.

This January was a mixed bag. The weather was ugly--the entire western part of the country has been stuck under a high pressure ridge that's pushing all the cold and snowy weather to the east. It's been a moderately cold, hazy, polluted month around here. I've barely seen any rain or snow, and it's gotten warm enough for trees to think they need to pop out some buds. I like winter weather and feel sad that we haven't had any this year. 

I've settled into work and made plans through the rest of the year. At the end of last November I interviewed for a position in different department, but I finally found out this month that I didn't get it. That is all a very long story and I felt a bit disappointed for a few days. In the long run it's really not a big deal--I like my current job and there is nothing wrong with sticking around in my current position for a while longer. Last week we also had a meeting that discussed some upcoming changes in my department, so I may have some new opportunities after all.

School started last week and I feel good about my decision to just take one class. I'm taking a class called the "History of Books and Libraries" and so far it is a lot of fun. There is quite a lot of reading, and I'm glad I can put all of my energy into just focusing on one class this time around. I still feel a bit behind because life this week was crazy, so hopefully my slightly relaxed schedule won't lull me into a false sense of security and I'll still keep up on my homework even when I'm not too stressed. 

My parents came up here for a few days over the holiday weekend and we had a good time together. It was a few days after my dad's birthday so I had an excuse to make a delicious chocolate cake. On Monday morning we went bowling together and had lunch at a restaurant before they left to go home. I love that they live close enough that my kids get to see their Grandma and Grandpa regularly. 

Mr. Fob got married this month--I wasn't surprised by this since had been dating his partner for two years. I was surprised, however, by the fact that it did bother me a bit. I didn't expect it too--it might also have been the fact that the day of the wedding coincided with my monthly one-day PMS angst fest. I think the weirdest thing for me is accepting the fact that my kids have a stepfather and stepsisters--before, all that just seemed temporary, but obviously it's not. Oh well, I'll get over it and life will just keep moving on. It always does. 

In general, January was really not too bad. Last week I had to give a talk in church and I think I did a great job. I got a lot of compliments from people in my ward--a number of people were also impressed that I was the concluding speaker and took a full 20 minutes (the bishop thanked me for that too). I was asked to base my talk on a talk from General Conference by Carlos A. Godoy about seeking the Lord's guidance in making decisions, and obviously that is a topic I have thought about and written about quite a lot in the past. I wish I knew what I actually ended up saying--I just had some notes and quotes prepared before I got up to speak. I enjoyed preparing for the talk and it motivated me to remember times in the past when I have been better about praying, studying my scriptures, and writing in my journal. I know I can do better than I have been lately. 

One other positive thing I did this month was recommit to cooking healthier meals. I made a monthly menu plan--weekly plans don't really work so well since the kids are gone at least one night a week and sometimes more. I had the month planned out and I made some things ahead of time that were ready in the freezer, so we were able to eat a lot of good, healthy food. Last year I got in a bit of rut by not planning ahead, so that by the time I got home from work I often ended up just throwing together things like pancakes or grilled cheese sandwiches. The kids got excited about seeing the month planned out as well, and with a plan they can sometimes start getting dinner ready while I'm on my way home from work. 

That was my successful goal for the month. My regular goal of getting to bed on time didn't work out so well, yet again. I'm still trying to solve that puzzle. I also tried setting a goal of writing in my journal, and even tried saying that I would have to write in my journal before I got on the internet to browse random sites. It didn't work. I think I'll try it again next month. February is always more fun--and this year Valentine's Day is on a Saturday and I have the kids so I'm looking forward to doing fun things like heart-shaped pancakes for breakfast. Goodbye January--you won't be missed too much.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Reading Roundup: 2014

(Previous years: 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007)

 I read at total of 74 books this year; this is 14 less than I read in in 2013. I actually feel good about the number going down a bit--I work full-time and I'm in school so I don't have as much free time any more. I still should be doing other things besides reading, but finding balance in my life is still a work in progress. I did read the Whitney finalists for all the adult fiction categories this year, which accounts for 20 of the fiction books (there were 25 finalists, but I had already read some of the books in 2013).

I read 61 fiction books and 13 nonfiction books, which seems to be about average for most years for me. I like nonfiction, but that usually means reading books that are dense and need more than a few hours to read. 60 of the books I read were written by women and 14 were written by men; this ratio has gone up and down for me over the years, but generally has been dominated by women. I don't consciously seek out women authors, but apparently I have a bias in this area.

As usual, here are some of my favorite books of the year (in no particular order):

Fiction
Mile 21 by Sarah Dunster
Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
Love Letters of the Angels of Death by Jennifer Quist
Longbourn by Jo Baker
My Name is Resolute by Nancy Turner
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
One Plus One by JoJo Moyes
The Martian by Andy Weir
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

 Nonfiction
The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sarah Corbett
My Life in Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead
All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior
The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
This is How We Grow by Christina Hibbert

I usually say something about movies that I watched, but this year I only saw 4. That's the lowest total I've ever had, probably at any point in my life. The only time I made it to the theater all year was to watch The Lego Movie with the kids (not included in the 4 I counted), and it was probably the best movie I watched. I did watch the last two seasons of Downton Abbey on DVD, as well as at least 2 seasons of Call the Midwife and I love both shows.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Reading Roundup: November and December 2014

Marmee and Louisa by Eve LaPlante

This was our book club for November, and I thought some parts of it were better than others. I'm not a huge fan of Little Women and I don't know a lot about Louisa May Alcott. I thought the book was most interesting when it discussed Alcott's mother, Abigail, and her life as a woman in early America. The parts about Louisa's life didn't feel as focused to me and if often seemed that the author was making assumptions about what the readers already knew about Alcott. Also, Bronson Alcott mostly seems like a horrible, selfish person in this book, so it might be good to read a biography of him some time to get a little more balance.

Painting Kisses by Melanie Jacobson

I've loved everything I've read so far by Jacobson, but this was not as good as some of her other books. One of the things I like about her writing is that she writes about contemporary LDS single adults in a way that is very insightful and realistic. This book is still a romance, and set in Salt Lake, but the characters are not LDS. The book was a fun, escapist read and perfect for a sick day I spent at home. But in the end I really wanted more from it--I felt like the book could easily had another 50 pages or so that would have added more depth to the story. I loved the characters but felt that the plot was a little thin and rushed.

Nora Webster by Colm Toibin

After reading a fluffy romance, I decided to spend some time with literary fiction from Ireland. I've heard Toibin's name for a while but never read anything by him. Then I saw this on the new books display at the library and thought I'd give it a try. It's a beautiful novel--a deep, slow character study more than an action-focused book. I don't know much about Ireland in the 1960s and found myself turning to Wikipedia more than once to get a bit of context, but the political and social background really weren't that necessary to enjoying the book. if you are in the mood for a slow, dense novel, this is the book for you.

A Song for Issy Bradley by Carys Bray

There is a lot I could say about this book--easily an entire blog post. At first I didn't want to read it, simply because I have a four-year-old daughter and also because I have a few friends that have lost children. Dead or dying children are not something I like to read about. However, I read enough reviews of the book that I became intrigued by it and decided to check it out after it crossed my desk at work. On the one hand, I was frustrated by the fact that the novelist managed to reduce an entire ward (and stake) to a few of the most ridiculous characters. Yes, there are Mormons that are that weird, but usually there are plenty of others to balance them out. I understand that authors have to limit the number of characters in a book for many reasons but I still didn't like it. It didn't really strike me as deliberately anti-Mormon; instead, I mostly didn't like it because it felt like the worst kind of contemporary fiction where every character in a novel is some kind of freak or oddball (I'm looking at you, Jonathan Safran Foer and Brady Udall). I get tired of books like that. However, despite the many things I found uncomfortable about the book and the characters, I admired the author's skill in constructing the story. The ending was beautiful and I loved the way the many different threads of stories came together; I ended the book on a positive note, but still violently disliked some aspects of it.

Millstone City by S.P. Bailey

I bought this book last year but never got around to reading it. It was a pretty well-written little thriller that read quickly and easily. I think it could have been a bit deeper in terms of characterization, but as an example of the genre it wasn't too bad. I'm still sad about the death of one character that I really liked. 

Love and Other Unknown Variables by Shannon Lee Alexander

This was an ARC I picked up at ALA and decided to read when I ran out of library books. It wasn't too bad--fairly standard teen fiction with a tragic manic-pixie-dream girl as the love interest. I thought some of the tension between math and art felt a little forced, but I thought the protagonist was one of the more realistic teenage boys I've met in fiction.

What She Left Behind by Ellen Marie Wiseman

Readers of my book reviews will probably have noticed by now that I have a weakness for contemporary 'women's fiction' (such a tricky term), particularly books that involve some kind of mystery about the past, family drama, and possibly some romance. This book fits that description, with a plot that alternates between a teen in the 1990s and a mental hospital in the 1920s. The historical story was pretty melodramatic, completely with fairly one-dimensional villains, but it was still a fun read.

The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison

This is another book that I could easily write an entire blog post about. It was heavily hyped at ALA this summer and I didn't manage to get an ARC before they ran out. I finally managed to get a copy to read and am afraid that I was a little disappointed. Perhaps I expected something different; I've read quite a bit of Harrison's writing and have particularly liked her non-fiction. This book was promoted as a mystery, and based on the blurbs I expected a faster pace and a bit more excitement. The plot meandered a bit and both of the big mysteries in the book (there are two) seemed to be resolved rather quickly and mostly without much actual help from the protagonist--characters suddenly and conveniently supplied explanations for both of the mysteries. The book is really more of a character study, but the characterization was the part that I struggled with the most. It mostly consisted of a lot of explanation and not a lot of action. I know what Linda thinks about a lot of things (and what she says the Church thinks about a lot of things), but I didn't see her actually doing very much. I felt that the amount of explaining done by her character was annoying and I was still left with a vague feel for who she really was. Despite the fact that I'm also a Mormon women living in Utah, I found this book surprisingly opaque.


Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell

Earlier this year I read Rowell's novel Fangirl and fell in love with it. This book is different from Fangirl in some ways; for one thing, the story is much less dense and is told in a more straightforward manner. It's a fairly simple story of awkward teenagers finding love and acceptance with each other, but Rowell's writing creates characters that are far from stereotypical. This was another book that left me wanting more at the end because the world the author created was so engrossing.

My Age of Anxiety by Scott Stossel

It's a good thing I read this memoir while I was on a relaxing vacation because otherwise I don't think I could have handled it very well. Compared to Stossel, my struggles with anxiety have been fairly mild, but I still sometimes had a hard time reading about his life because it made me feel so anxious in sympathy with him. This was a very interesting book--some parts were actually pretty funny (his various attempts at curing his emetophobia for example) and other parts were much more poignant. Reading about the evolution of both Stossel's personal mental health treatment as well as larger societal trends was really interesting and made me reflect on similar experiences I have had.

City of Brick and Shadow by Tim Wirkus

I ended up reading this book just a few weeks after Millstone City, which I guess was good because it made the inevitable comparison fairly easy to do. Although the books share a similar plot--Mormon missionaries run into trouble with gangsters in Brazil--they are quite different. Wirkus mentions Borges as one of his influences and it really shows; despite the fact that this book is written in English, the style feels like much of the contemporary Spanish literature that I have read. The writing is beautiful, with many little details that I am still ruminating about several weeks after finishing the book.

Movies

Pitch Perfect

I know I'm about two years behind the zeitgeist on this, but at least I finally got around to seeing it. It had its funny moments, I thought the acting was great, and the music was fun. However, the plot wasn't very strong (not surprising) and it couldn't seem to figure out whether it was trying to be a girl-power movie, a romantic comedy, or a gross-out comedy (not my favorite--ew). I don't have a strong desire to watch it again, despite the fact that I really liked Rebel Wilson and Anna Kendrick.

While You Were Sleeping

It's been a long time since I last saw this movie and I thought it was time to revisit it. Despite the fact that it's nearly twenty years old it has held up pretty well. The plot is kind of thin and I found myself cringing during some parts, but Sandra Bullock is delightful. I think this is one of her best movies.