What I Read: July 2017

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I’m so excited to share my July reads because several of them were so good!

Moloka’i by Alan Brennert – This book is more than a decade old (2003), but I hadn’t heard of it until I became a part of a Facebook group that talks books. It got rave reviews there, and so I grabbed it somewhere (a thrift store, I think) when I saw it for cheap. I was not at all disappointed.

Moloka’i is the island to which Hawaiians with a form of leprosy are shipped in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Separated without choice from their friends and family, the “colonists” of the island form family units and unshakeable bonds. Rachel is just 7 when her sores are discovered and she is cut off from her close-knit family, including her beloved father, a merchant who sails around the world. Rachel finds her own dreams of seeing the world cut short, instead facing a lifetime of the sameness of Moloka’i.

The novel follows Rachel’s whole life. It is heartbreaking – especially because this island and the epidemic really did exist – and beautiful. I was so moved and tearful over one part that I had to chant “it’s just a book” to myself for awhile. I highly recommend you invest the time to read this 400-page novel soon if you haven’t yet.

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon – Dimple and Rishi are betrothed. Except Rishi knows, but Dimple doesn’t. All Dimple knows is that she’s going to her dream camp, a six-week summer program centering around designing a smartphone app. Fiercely driven and Stanford-bound, Dimple has her eyes set on the prize, not on having a relationship, and especially not finding that “Ideal Indian Husband” her mom is always talking about.

Rishi is the boy you fell in love with in high school or wanted to find: hopelessly romantic, artistic, utterly devoted to his family and culture.

Yes, the plot may have been slightly predictable, but the different cultures and people represented really livened it up. I thought the one scene of intimacy probably could have been left out, but that’s just not my thing.

I stayed up way too late finishing this one, because it swept me away in ooshi-gooshyness, as any good YA romance should.

Someone Else’s Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson – I have mixed feelings about this one. I even emailed (my now obvious best friend since I was on her podcast) Anne Bogel, because she’s highly recommended Joshilyn Jackson as an author, and we had a chat about this book and others.

I think the plot of this book is really interesting. Shandi, a young, single mom, is held up at a gas station with her son. William puts himself in the path between the robber and her son, and her heart is stolen. Shandi doesn’t know William has his own long and sad story, and their attraction might be just too messy.

Meanwhile, there’s a lot of very graphic sex here as we find out how Shandi’s son was conceived and about William’s past relationships. It doesn’t feel entirely extraneous to the book, but it was a lot for me. I really don’t enjoy reading graphic stuff like this. Anne assured me not all her books are like that, and I’m willing to give another one a try, because I really did think the story was excellent. Just a little gritty for me.

Light a Penny Candle by Maeve Binchy – Have I had this book in my possession forever? Yes. Have I ever read it? No. Why? I have zero idea. This is Maeve Binchy’s first novel, and I think it’s the only one of hers I had never read. I’m a huge Maeve fan, but this one was a little awkward.

The first half felt like many of her other books: comfortably settling oneself into the story of Elizabeth, an English girl, and Aisling, an Irish preteen, who are thrown together when Elizabeth’s mother sends her off to live with Aisling’s family in Ireland during World War II. After spending five years together as sisters and best friends, their bond extends throughout their lives.

Here are my two complaints: first, the last maybe 10 percent of the book feels incredibly clunky and like it was rushed. It doesn’t feel like Maeve to me. Second, my copy had what I thought I was a spoiler on the back cover. If it was really a spoiler, it would have been for the last 50 pages of the book; but I came to find out it was really juicier than what actually even happened. I was annoyed the whole time that I hadn’t reached that obviously pivotal event from the back cover, and then realized it wasn’t even accurate. Granted, this copy was probably from 1985 so I guess I can’t complain to the publishers now. Note to self: never read the back cover or flap copy. Ever.

(This makes five finished and one abandoned from my 2017 Read the Shelves challenge!)

Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett – And now for something completely different … this is a new book, published in March. It’s about a 10-year-old girl but not classified as YA, but it is written in a 10-year-old voice. Elvis loves animals passionately, adores and is scared of her older sister Lizzie, and misses the rabbit cakes her mother baked. Because her mother sleepwalked herself to a river and drowned, and Elvis’s counselor has given her 18 months to complete the grieving process. Meanwhile, she’s trying to keep Lizzie from sleep-eating, her dad is wearing her mom’s robe and lipstick, and Elvis still has to stumble through fifth grade.

It’s as quirky and crazy as it sounds, and I found it absolutely charming.

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So those were my reads for July! I’ve already finished one five-star read in August and am working through another which I think will also be five stars for me! (COMPLETELY different books.) You can follow me on GoodReads if you want to know what I’m currently reading and finishing!

My Read-the-Shelves Challenge for 2017

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I don’t make a lot of reading goals – I like to read what I want to read, when I want to read it. (Perhaps that’s a personality thing. I am an INFP.) I do make a GoodReads goal that I think is reachable, just for fun. (This year mine is 80 books.)

But after I read a whole lot of new releases last year, I decided to make a small goal this year of reading my shelves. Whether these are actual books on my actual bookshelf, or books I’ve bought for my Kindle, I’m trying to get through some of what I already have.

So far, I’m not doing so hot. I picked out 10 books to tackle in the first three months of 2017, and I’ve only read one of them so far. Maybe by posting them here, you will hold me accountable for reading them! (Or at least that will happen in my head.) Or you can convince me to give up on a title that’s not worth the time.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi – This is one I snuck in, because I bought it for my Kindle when it was on sale right after Christmas. And it’s the only one I’ve read so far. Review coming in my January book round-up.

Light a Penny Candle by Maeve Binchy – Why haven’t I read this yet? I have no idea. I think I read half of it at one point and then put it down for some reason. Binchy is one of my very favorite authors and I’ve had this book sitting on my shelf for years while I’ve read all of her other work as it’s come out. (While she was living and even now, posthumously.) This is the year I actually finish Penny Candle!

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova – This book has made it from my shelf to my parents’ and back to mine, and I don’t think any of us ever read it. But after hearing someone give it rave reviews on the WSIRN podcast, I am excited to dive in to this creepy thriller. I think it will be an excellent wintery read.

Boundaries with Kids by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend – I know I really need to read this, but I have to make myself read nonfiction. Also it scares me.

Rhinestone Jesus by Kristen Welch – Yep, this one kind of scares me too. But so does being complacent.

The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio by Terry Ryan – This true story has great reviews, has been made into a movie, and just sounds like plain fun. I picked it up in a thrift store a couple years back and I am ready to dig in.

Bittersweet by Shauna Niequist – I’ve read and loved Shauna’s other books Cold Tangerines and Bread & Wine; I don’t know why I’ve let this one sit on my Kindle for years unread. I just downloaded it on my phone to be my stuck-nursing or waiting-office read.

Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider – Notice a theme here? I really like Christian living books. I WANT to read them, especially those by bloggers I’ve read/met/love. But I often push aside nonfiction for the new fiction I want to read. I really enjoy Tsh’s writing and philosophies, and I can’t believe I’ve let this one languish since (SHAME) June 3, 2014, according to my friend Mr. Amazon.

Emily of New Moon by L.M. Montgomery – I waited until I was 34 to read all the Anne of Green Gables books. What a travesty! I ADORED them, and so reading Emily is next on my list. I have the whole series on Kindle, but I will just put this one on the “by the end of March” list.

Harvest of Gold by Tessa Afshar – This is the follow-up to Afshar’s Harvest of Rubies, a fictional story about Nehemiah’s cousin Sarah, also a scribe. I ADORE Afshar’s books. This one has a 4.8/5 rating on Amazon so I am pretty sure it’s not going to disappoint me, either. (If you are at all into biblical retellings, check out her book Pearl in the Sand about Rahab. It’s so good. And it’s only $3.49 for Audible, which is kind of awesome!)

So those are my first 10 books on my Reading-the-Shelves challenge for this year. Anyone want to join me? Or do you have other reading challenges for yourself this year?

What I Read: June 2016

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Ready to hear about the 10 books I read in June? I know … that’s a somewhat frightening number. (Plus I read Harry Potters 4, 5, and 6. Helloooo summer + getting to that point in pregnancy where I just want to lay around all the time.)

It’s more difficult to share these reviews on months when I read several things I really didn’t love. Of course, that doesn’t mean they aren’t for everyone; they just weren’t for me. I’ve tried to outline why and accentuate some positives.

vanityfair

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray – My best friend and I have been reading a classic a month for almost a year now, and this is the first one I wish I had just laid aside. It has interesting characters, but probably half the writing is detailed descriptions of things that have nothing to do with the actual plot line. I realize it was written in 1847-48, but as a 2016 reader I just did not care for the style at all. Especially considering in April we read Wuthering Heights, which was published in 1847 and such an incredible page-turner.

Eight Hundred Grapes

Eight Hundred Grapes by Laura Dave – Very rarely do I feel like books would make better movies than they do books, but this was one of those cases. The plot seemed almost too theatrical: in the first chapter, main character Georgia flees her LA life for her hometown, showing up at the bar her brothers own … in her wedding gown. When she returns to her childhood home, she gets another shocker straight off the bat. As we follow her through the next week of her life, we encounter some flashbacks from her father’s point-of-view, giving some clarity to the current situations. I didn’t feel like it was enough, though–the plot seemed hurried, none of the characters were very likable, and in the end I was very unsatisfied. Like I said, though, I honestly think it would make a great romantic movie. The pieces are there, they just weren’t quite fleshed out enough for me for a novel.

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The Last Anniversary by Liane Moriarty – A lesser-known title from the author of What Alice Forgot and Big Little Lies, The Last Anniversary is very much in the beloved style of Australian author Moriarty. There is a little mystery, and while we unearth it we’re treated to the lives of many intertwined, real, crazy characters. In this novel, the main character is Sophie, who is shocked to find she’s inherited a house from her ex-boyfriend’s great-aunt. The house is on Scribbly Gum Island, home to only a few houses, all of whose occupants are related. They survive happily through the fame of the island’s mysterious Munro Baby, whose parents disappeared without a trace decades before. Sophie, a single 39-year-old with a womb crying for children, navigates her way through the family drama. Moriarty’s quirky, entertaining style makes tough topics seem like light reading, and this book is well worth a cover-to-cover read. (Note: lots of language and sex talk, plus a few “trigger topics” – happy to expand if you want via e-mail.)

(This book and review were featured in my post 5 Great Summer Beach Reads at the Chattanooga Moms Blog.)

Tell Me Three Things unexpectedeverything

Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum and The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson

This may be a weird grouping, but stick with me. These are both YA romances that came out this Spring. And I expected to love them more than I did. Note: this doesn’t mean I didn’t race through both, reading huge chunks at a time – because I totally did. They are good reads. But for me, they weren’t GREAT.

Here’s the thing: my high-school life was perhaps atypical. I was a youth-group girl. I didn’t go to parties that had alcohol and drugs; I wasn’t having sex. So when I read books that are maybe more “typical” teenager, it mostly makes me frightened for my kids. Bring on the nice, clean Jenny B. Jones stuff.

I think that has something to do with the fact that these didn’t quite hit the mark for me. Both are sweet stories with good characters. I didn’t LOVE The Unexpected Everything like I did Matson’s other books I’ve read – Second Chance Summer and Amy & Roger’s Epic Detour. But I think both hers and Buxbaum’s book have fun plotlines and are good YA reads. They just left me itching for something a little cleaner.

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An Invisible Thread by Laura Schroff – I can’t remember at all where I read about this book. It’s a few years old, a memoir by Schroff about her relationship with a young, panhandling boy in New York City. Prompted to turn around one day and actually see someone begging, Laura invited Maurice for McDonald’s … and into her life. It’s a sweet memoir, reflecting both on the relationship between Maurice and Laura and on her past. It doesn’t always seem quite to flow, and I would have loved to see more of Maurice’s point-of-view. But the nudge to see people and put yourself out there shone through.

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The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith – Galbraith is the pseudonym of J.K. Rowling, but don’t expect anything like Harry Potter from these novels. Set in real-live-modern-day London, Galbraith introduces us to her private detective, Cormoran Strike, currently on the cusp of losing everything. Strike is former military, brash, grizzly, and gets down to business solving a case brought to him by a deceased model’s adopted brother. Rowling/Galbraith paints a perfect picture of her hero, his assistant, the setting, and the mystery. Maybe I’m just naive when it comes to mysteries – I don’t read a ton of them – but I had no idea what was coming when I got to the end. I’m currently reading the second book in this series, The Silkworm.  (With the warning from several that the ick factor in this one is significantly higher.)

madwomanupstairs

The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell – Having read Jane Eyre AND Wuthering Heights in the last six months, I had really high hopes that I would adore this one. And I didn’t. Maybe I’m not quite nerdy enough about the Brontes, or maybe it was just that the main character, Samantha, was so incredibly unlikable to me. I think the premise could have been really interesting, but this one was just not for me. (I will say Anne Bogel had it in her Summer Reading Guide, it has 4 1/2 stars on Amazon, and the average GoodReads rating is 3.73. I am vastly outnumbered here, and that’s OK.)

fewofthegirls

A Few of the Girls by Maeve Binchy – I don’t know where her husband and publisher keep unearthing Binchy things to publish – she died in 2012 – but as long as they do, I will keep reading. (I did put down Maeve’s Times, a collection of her newspaper articles, which didn’t especially appeal to me.) I was very pleasantly surprised by A Few of the Girls. While I’ve read Binchy’s short-story collections, they are usually much less appealing to me than novels. I think I have said before that I am just not a short-story reader; I like to dive into a nice, long, detailed novel. But in this collection, the characters are bright and varied, and I truly enjoyed hearing Maeve’s unique voice in each essay. In the forward, her husband said she never suffered from writer’s block; her characters were always hopping out of her head and onto the page. I love that image, and it suits this book well.

Station_Eleven_Cover

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – I saved the best for last, even though I read this somewhere in the middle of this line-up. By far the best book I read this month and one of my few 5-star reviews this year, Station Eleven is a masterpiece detailing a world where a vast majority of the people have died from a flu epidemic. I’m kind of mad at my husband, who read this last year, at not insisting loudly that I read it RIGHT THEN. Mandel weaves together past and present, characters minorly entwined, in a perfect balance of knowing and not-knowing. Just really, REALLY good and unique among the long list of post-apocalyptic novels.

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So what did you read in June? Anything great? 

This will be added to Quick Lit at Modern Mrs. Darcy, assuming you can call 1300+ words quick …

A Week in Winter During a Week in Summer

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A Week in Winter

“I don’t want to finish this book,” I told Mr. V one night this week.

“So don’t finish it,” he retorted.

“No, I WANT to read it. I just don’t want to finish it. It’s her last book.”

Who else can write years in mere sentences without it being awkward? Who else can paint Ireland across the 20th century and into the 21st through characters beloved in only a few chapters?

I’m just pages from the end and I’m trying to enjoy it without mourning it too much. From now on I’ll just pick already-dead authors to love, I think.

Rest in peace, Maeve.