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.


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