What I Read: August 2017

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What I Read: August 2017

August was such a great reading month for me! All of these books were at least four stars, and two were five-star books for me on Goodreads.

What Falls from the Sky by Esther Emery – This memoir follows Emery as she chooses to take a year without the Internet: no e-mail, texting, blogging, or even using a debit card. She has just moved to Boston with her husband and kids after a major marital rift and leaving a theatre career. Esther’s raw emotions definitely spring off the page as she discovers the art of writing letters, how to bake bread, contemplates her odd childhood, and reconnects with God and her late mother’s memory.

I didn’t come away ready to give up the online world myself (or move to a yurt, like Esther and her family have), but it definitely gave me a lot to think on and desiring more quiet. A really beautiful book that speaks to our modern age. (I also love that the events of this book happened quite a few years ago; I don’t think she was performing the experiment just to get a book deal.)

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas – You may have heard the premise of this timely book: teenager Starr is with one of her best friends, Khalil, when they are pulled over by a white police officer and Khalil, unarmed, is shot and killed. In the aftermath, Starr tries to make sense of her two worlds: the projects where she lives and the wealthy school where she and her brother are two of a handful of minorities.

The book is gritty but feels so real, and I think it’s an important one for those of who are who privileged, white people to read especially. It’s YA, but if your kids are going to read it do be warned there is a lot of language and some sexual content.

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui – This graphic memoir explores Bui’s family history: her parents’ growing-up years in Vietnam, their marriage and the young years of Bui and her siblings, and how they all fled to America in the midst of conflict in Vietnam. There is still a lot I don’t understand about the history of Vietnam, but Bui’s drawings and writings both illuminated the grief and hope of the times. I found the way Bui wove her current situation as a parent with reflections on her own parents’ parenting to be skillful and thoughtful.

Trajectory by Richard Russo – Trajectory is Russo’s latest work, a collection of four short stories. I am not generally a short-story reader, but I liked that these are longer, about 75 pages each, giving time to know the characters and get the feel of the story. I loved how the first three felt slightly connected – like a minor character from the previous story morphed into someone in the next tale. (Although the fourth one didn’t have that connection, so maybe it was coincidental?) I found “Voice,” the third story, to be the most provocative.

Russo’s writing is just so darn good. The only one of his books I have read is Bridge of Sighs, but I think I’m going to need to dig into his other works. There’s a reason he is a Pulitzer Prize winner.

Beartown by Frederick Backman – Y’all, this book broke my heart into little pieces. (That might be a theme this month. Nothing light here.) It’s another way-too-relevant read for right now. If you’ve read A Man Called Ove, you know Backman is a masterful writer. He uses the same voice in Beartown, but a much more serious tone. You think this book is about hockey in a small town. And it is. But it’s also about small-town thinking, growing up, secrets, and the politics of wealth and privilege. So much good here, although it’s certainly not easy to read certain events in the book. Five stars all the way.

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So what have you been reading lately? 

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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?

That Whole Advent Book Thing? It FLOPPED.

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By far, the most popular post on my site (in ten and a half years’ worth of writing!) is my list of Jesus-Centered books to use as a countdown to Christmas during Advent. We started this activity in 2012, when Libbie was a new 4-year-old and David turned 2 during Advent.

It has worked, faithfully, for our family every year. The kids got excited about unwrapping a book. They cuddled with us, sat, and for the most part, listened to the story. Even when Joshua was a baby (he was born in March 2013), we all enjoyed the tradition.

I have accumulated SO MANY Christmas books that now I have to choose 25 to wrap. I was definitely scrounging and thrift-store searching that first year! I probably have an extra 20 books (many of the ones that are more “Santa Christmasy”) that I put in a basket under the tree to be enjoyed any time.

This year, I cheerfully wrapped all the books I needed and set the pile in my bedroom. Before December even began, Joshua (3, nearing 4) took a few to his room and unwrapped them. I tried to convince a three-year-old who argues with me about every little thing that these were not presents for right now. I re-wrapped some books.

We started on a good note. Sure, David (who turned 6 on December 20) didn’t want to sit still and was often doing a wiggle dance and singing during the book reading. Or maybe Libbie (8) was in the bath or still doing homework. Or maybe Joshua went to bed and we did it without him.

We had several late nights where we just tossed the kids in bed when we got home. We had nights where we just forgot to open the book. We’ve gotten out of our real bedtime routine with everyone; we’ve always put the kids all to bed at the same time, but with Joshua not napping he’s often ready to go down for the night at 7. Oh, and we had a six-week-old baby when December began. So there was that, too! Many nights I was nursing, dealing with a fussy infant, or just in flat-out zombie mode.

This tradition – the one I was sure was going to be our thing, that my kids would want to pass on to their kids – felt like a total flop this year. 

I truly love to read to my kids. But reading to one child who asks incessant questions, one who is pretty much running laps around the living room, and one who may or may not be sitting on my head, while I also try to keep an eye on baby sister and oh gracious, now they are fighting because someone touched someone else PLEASE JUST GO TO BED RIGHT THIS SECOND.

So um, yeah. Now you know my feelings about that! Having four kids seems to be a new world I was not really expecting.

They read to themselves. I read to them individually as I can. But the whole pile on the couch and all of us read together thing? It just isn’t working right now.

Tonight, I took a deep breath. I told the older three they could color or play quietly while I read. And from my chair, while holding Hannah, I read them the prologue and first chapter of Begin, the first Growly Bear book that I have heard great things about as a read-aloud. And you know what? They did color. Joshua only talked once. Libbie moved closer to me so she could actually hear the story (and made me a note that said “Your the best mommy ever”) (I can forgive her your/you’re error because BEST MOMMY).

Things flop. We learn. Next year, who knows what the case will be? And even if they’re running laps around the room, at least I’m speaking Scripture to them through those Jesus-centered books, right? God’s Word will not return empty. Something will stick in their brains.

And next year, they’ll be 9, 7, 4, and 1. And things will be totally different. And I will wrap those dang books again and see what happens. 

Books We Both Love

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This week on the What Should I Read Next? podcast, Anne talked to a couple who wanted to read some books together and talk about them. It was a fun listen. And it made me think about those books that my husband and I have both loved.

I honestly never thought there would be books that Mr. V and I would have in common 10 or 15 years ago. (We started dating 15 years ago this fall! Holy moly!) Mr. V loves science fiction and fantasy. I used to read a lot more Christian fiction and chick lit, with a lot of memoirs and some contemporary fiction bestsellers thrown in. This is not to mention that Mr. V is a mathematician with science interests, and I was an English major with a travel bug.

But as we’ve aged, we’ve both broadened our horizons a little bit. I am no longer scared by scifi. We both read a thriller here and there. And if a book gets great buzz, no matter what it is, one of us will probably try reading it.

Here are some of the books that have hit the sweet spot as ones we both loved.

The Martian

The Martian by Andy Weir – I was a little more lost at some points than Mr. V (lots of math and science and botany …), but the overall story was so well-told that I could get over the science and love Mark’s tale about being the lone man left on Mars.

Wool by Hugh Howey

Wool by Hugh Howey – I probably never would have picked up this self-published, post-apocalyptic book; but Mr. V urged me to read just the first part (I think it’s only about 30 pages) and see if my mind wasn’t blown. It was. Here, a generation has grown up inside a silo, and people are sent outside only as the ultimate punishment. But things start to go bad … and the people of the silo have to decide how to continue on. Note: I did find that the second book in the trilogy, Shift, was a little too much for me, and I didn’t read the third, Dust. Mr. V did, and he liked them, but not as much as Wool. 

Station_Eleven_Cover

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel – Mr. V read this closer to when it first came out in 2014; I just read it this June. My immediate reaction was to scold Mr. V for not making me read it IMMEDIATELY after he was finished. He told me it was good, but obviously didn’t tell me I would love it. Another post-apocalyptic story with vivid characters and several interesting plot lines. It will definitely be in my top books I read in 2016!

passage-300-450-1

The Passage by Justin Cronin – Mr. V always says that the school librarian at the time pressed this book on him, telling him it was about “vampires, but not teenage vampires kissing.” I think it’s a pretty apt description. Really, The Passage is more about a science experiment gone wrong, and the humans struggling to survive in the aftermath. We both adored this gargantuan novel, although I was glad Mr. V warned me there was a short section about 150 pages in that would get a little boring, but the facts were necessary. If you can get through it, the rest is absolutely riveting.

[You can see the theme here. I read the books Mr. V tells me to. I have rarely read anything first and made him read it. See: exception below.]

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell – The Sparrow is one of the books I’m always recommending to people, because I think its themes of religion, sexuality, and language are so interesting set in this sci-fi story about interplanetary travel. I nagged Mr. V until he read it, too – probably the only time ever I’ve read a sci-fi book before him. He enjoyed it and went on to read the sequel, which I actually have not read.

Some other books we’ve both read and enjoyed:

How about you? Do you and your partner share any books? 

What I Read: May 2016 (Three New Releases)

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For some reason, May is usually a month where I read a ton. Well, this year that wasn’t so. Mostly because I am just slogging through Vanity Fair, which is 750 pages long and just not a quick read. I will conquer it! Here are the books I gave myself “VF Breaks” with this month.

I read three very new books (all of which were on my Spring Reading List).

 

ravenking

The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater – I have some very mixed feelings about this final installment in the Raven Cycle books. I adore Maggie Stiefvater, and I had looked forward to reading this book for an entire year, after I finished the other three in rapid succession. I wonder if part of the issue was that it had just been too long since I read the others; I could have used a good reread to get me ready for this one, but I didn’t do that. (Too many new books! So little time!)

Much of this was so well-thought-out and interesting, but for me the issues with the “bad guys” fell very flat, and I just didn’t love the ending or what should have been the climax of the romantic tension of four books. (Trying not to spoil here! If you want to chat more about this one, I would love it. Email me or send me a Facebook message.) So in all, for me it was a solid 3-star book, but I didn’t LOOOOVE it like I’d hoped I would.

amyzhang

This Is Where the World Ends by Amy Zhang – Unfortunately, this was another book I’d hoped to love but really didn’t. I appreciate Zhang continues to tackle hard subjects about growing up, as she did in Falling into Place (my review here). Where the World Ends just didn’t connect with me quite in the same way. In it, we are presented with the alternating viewpoints (and also the present vs. the past narrative) of Micah and Janie, one-time next-door neighbors and friends who pretend their friendship doesn’t exist at school. Micah is trying to unroll the tragedy that’s blocked out parts of his memory – and meanwhile we hear the story that led up to it from Janie’s point-of-view and journal entries.

forgettingtime

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin – After hearing this book so highly praised by Amy from Mom Advice and Jessica Turner, I was really excited to jump into The Forgetting Time, Guskin’s debut novel. It is absolutely a page-turner — the first book in months I’ve read waiting for my daughter’s bus instead of listening to a podcast, because I COULD NOT PUT IT DOWN. I definitely read it all in under 24 hours. Reflecting back, I felt like there wasn’t a ton of character development, but that’s not really the point of the book. The unique subject matter of past lives and the way the story is unveiled makes for a great, quick read.

justbetween

Just Between You and Me by Jenny B. Jones – This is Jenny B. Jones’s only adult novel, and I finally asked my library to order it just so I could read it (and many others could enjoy it, too!). It was published in 2009, and I still remember my friend Mary’s rave review about it. And how could I not love something Jenny wrote? Everything I said about I’ll Be Yours last month pretty much applies here: Jenny writes gorgeous romance with real, solid, complex characters with issues other than the romantic plot. Our main character, Maggie, has returned to her hometown to help her dad with her niece, whose mom is nowhere to be found. While on this “sabbatical,” Maggie is faced with her feelings about family, God, her mother’s death, and old acquaintances from high school who know her as someone completely different. Another one I read in just a few hours, cover to cover.

In the last two months, I’ve also read the first three Harry Potter books (for the billionth or at least fifth time), and I’m excited my awesome friend Jessica at Quirky Bookworm is doing a #harrypotterthon2016 – a read-a-thon on a two month place for all the HP books, so I can fangirl along with friends.

So yep. All that and a lot of Vanity Fair. What have you been reading lately?

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