Sunday, January 10, 2021

Reviewing (52/52/2020)

Wow, one blog post in 2020. I haven't written so little since 2012. Yet, I did read 52 books in 52 weeks in 2020...barely. I squeezed in fourteen books during the month of December after asking for recommendations for books under 250 pages. I received a great many recommendations for which I'm thankful. Not all were so short. I finished two books which I had started earlier in the year, and I listened to two audio books (How have I missed 84 Charing Cross Road all these years?!) I even wound up with one book extra and one extra day in 2020! Libby, an online library was a lifesaver this year (although excruciatingly hard on my eyes until I got special online glasses). To a lesser extent so was Hoopla, online books attached to our local library system. Unfortunately, they only allowed me to check out five books a month. 

Since I did not blog for each book in 2020, let me give reviews here which are shorter than the ones I put on Goodreads. I will post my Goodreads Books in Review pictures after I post a picture of the books I do own. 

Neal Shusterman's Sythe series -- discussion worthy; violence and death; sci-fi
Rene Gutteridge Boo series -- first was okay; I could barely get through second; Christian-fi
Julie Yep-Williams -- The Unwinding of a Miracle -- one of the best non-fiction dying books
Blake Crouch -- Recursion -- I think part of a series also; sci-fi; discussion worthy
Audi Kolber -- Try Softer -- 5 stars --non-fiction; brain research+Christian; discussion worthy
Tembi Locke -- From Scratch -- non-fiction; one of the best grief books + love story + Italy

Georgette Heyer needs her own paragraph here as this was definitely a Georgette Heyer year for me. I needed her lighthearted fiction. Definite cultural issues in her treatment of certain types of women and of men who "cuff lightly their women" along with bad boys who meet the right woman and become good. Why then did I read her? Incredible vocabulary and dialogue along with stories that are as funny as Shakespeare and Austen (not the same, just saying don't give the grace to Shakespeare and Austen and take it away from Heyer). Also, Heyer is a master of satire so don't miss that she shows the upper class who supposedly have "good manners" being crude and the lower class who supposedly have bad manners being of worth and value. Most of the ones I read were her regency romances. The one mystery I fully read Footsteps in the Dark was a good one. The rest of her mysteries I did not finish. I hated her historical novel Beauvallet and only finished it because I thought I could rate it and warn others not to expect the same quality. 

Akilah Hughes -- Obviously -- non-fiction; part of my ever-growing list of books by women, books by those of a deeper coloring than I am

Lori Gottlieb -- Maybe You Should Talk to Someone -- non-fiction; therapist going to therapy and doing therapy; funny and real 

Richard Rohr -- Falling Upward -- Christian theology/formation; young life/older life
Lacy Finn Borgo -- Spiritual Conversations with Children -- Christian; one of the best; good for adults
Susan Meissner -- Bright as Heaven -- story with setting of 1918 epidemic -- read it before stay-at-home
Henning Beck -- Scatterbrain -- non-fiction; made me feel better about my brain. Lol. 
Liane Moriarity -- two books; I will say chosen for humor, but I never solve the mystery before the end

Kevin Kwan -- Okay, so I didn't read as many of his as Heyer's, but then again, he hasn't written as many as Heyer. Caveat: sex and language. I knew nothing of the cultural setting for which he wrote so that intrigued me. His books and Heyer's were somewhat chosen for the same reason -- nothing heavy in 2020; quick reads. I have to add that a person who has read a lot and read widely will pick up on his allusions to other literary pieces. Then, in his Sex and Vanity, I knew many of the settings in his book, plus he does take on, in a subtle way, biases. 

Kim Michele Richardson -- The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek -- finally a book I don't have to explain why I chose it -- historical background of blue people and librarians on horseback (or mule/donkey) 

Patrick Rothfuss -- The Name of the Wind -- just about killed my eyes trying to get this 662 page book finished in time, and all I wanted to do was read the story. Fantasy Epic novel -- think Tolkein and Homer even though, yes, there is a modern sensibility (or lack thereof for some readers). This is more so in his second book in the series which I finished the first week of 2021. Violence. Oh...and unfortunately his choice of cuss words ("Black hands!") bothers me tremendously. Discussion worthy book. 

Henry Van Dyke -- The Story of the Other WiseMan -- one of the short books recommended to me; perfect for December 

Helene Hanff -- 84, Charing Cross Road -- recommended to me, and I can not believe I have missed this book all these years. I could not find an ebook online (well, I think it was on Hoopla, but I had already used up my allotted five books) so I listened to it with the various narrators. Now I can't think of reading/hearing it in any other way! 5 stars!! 

George Saunders -- Congratulations By the Way -- Commencement speech written down -- excellent
Jessica Day George -- Tuesdays at the Castle -- upper elementary school book; excellent; new idea 
Sophie Kinsella -- I've Got Your Number -- What can I say? See Heyer and Kwan--see 2020
Matt Haig -- The Midnight Library -- Christmas gift; not embarrassed on this one; 5 stars; discussion
Richella Parham -- Mythical Me -- Christian, dealing with comparisons

Kate Bowler -- Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies, I've Loved  -- theme of prosperity gospel and dying...tempted to give you a plot spoiler in this non-fiction, but I won't. 

Nick Page -- A Nearly Infallible History of the Reformation -- Christian history, and I wish all history books were written with as much humor as this one. History class would have been a lot more interesting. 

In the words of my grandson, "Ta-da!" 

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Sheltering on the First Day of Advent

Yes, it has been a long time since I long that Blogger asked me for not only one but two ways of verifying that I am who I say I am. However, today is the first day of Advent for 2020 (a year unlike other years), and the first word for #adventword2020 is "tender." I'm not sure that I'll post for every day of Advent, but I have some thoughts on this word (which even include a reference to a book although not one I have read this year in spite of thinking of it often). 

My first thought was "Why tender?" Maybe they were thinking of the Christmas song "Silent Night"? ("Holy infant so tender and mild") Yes, babies are tender; mild? My second thought was my tender arm after getting shots, specifically since I am due soon for my second shot of the shingles vaccine, and my knowledge from the first shot leads me to believe my arm is going to be tender for a week. However, I do not have that tender spot to take a picture of...yet. 

In an effort to understand the word better, I brought out my 1828 dictionary and also took a picture of my very tender Genovese Basil. 

From here on out are my random thoughts about "tender". (Bear with me, I'm out of practice with blog posts.) My arm will be tender after my next shot, but it will be worth it because I saw how my mother suffered from a full blown case of shingles. My basil leaves are tender, but when they are crushed is when the sweet fragrance and taste comes from the spice. Still, when some people are tender and crushed, their spirits, souls, and bodies are quenched and destroyed, so there is a tension between knowing when to be compassionate and when goodness will be released through touching that which is tender. 

I believe the Divine has that balance, and I would even go as far as to say that God "tenderizes" humans far less than some people think. I must write that I have known people who were given tenderness, but I wonder sometimes if a bit of crushing might have led to better outcomes (sort of like a shingles shot) because they wasted the tenderness given to them. 

Basically, I surmise that God is tender toward us because we were given choice. I have not found anyone who has convinced me that love can exist without choice. I picture Stepford Wives. Some are happy (the men?) but there's no love. I picture Brave New World where everyone is soma'd into bliss. There's no love. Love requires choice, and when humans have choices, they can choose to do devastatingly horrible acts. 

And now, dear readers (dear because you're actually reading this!), I'm not quite sure how to end this all Christmas-y. The first Advent candle is said to represent expectation or hope or expectation of hope. My hope is that in following Christ, I can choose a compassionate tender mercy over judgment and be rare in touching tender spots. There's Someone Who does it better than me. 

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Reading (52 Books in 52 Weeks)

What a year this has been! I would not like Job of the Old Testament wish a day or year away because it would be wishing away all the joys that happened as well. Instead let me desire to walk into the new year with Immanuel, God with me, and walk into it with strength, grace, and perseverance. When one has as many older family members as I have, I can not completely have a season without grieving. Let me take the blessing of having them with me for so long along with the sorrow of missing them when they leave our presence.

I couldn't accomplish all that I thought I would this year, and that's okay with me. I did not blog about all the books I read (although I took a few cool pictures); however, I did read 52 and more (71 actually -- maybe 72 if, before the end of the year, I finish The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton).

I did keep track on Goodreads and was able to take some (very poor) snapshots of my Year in Books 2019. So, here (or better displayed on Goodreads) you can see all of my 2019 books.

The shortest book was a book of poetry and I did not count it toward my 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge. Nor did I count any of the children's books. I'm surprised a marketing person did not talk Samantha Shannon into dividing her book up into thirds for more sales; however, I'm not sure where she could have broken the book up.

I read The Donkey's Gift because it was on the bookshelf at my daughter's house and her friend suggested I read this book of his childhood. I'm surprised more people have not read it. (And, now by calling him her friend, I will find out whether either of them read my blog posts. Lol!)

The star rating for Daring to Hope is well-deserved. If you read her first book Kisses From Katie, I highly recommend that you follow up with her Daring to Hope. First, because she is six years older in the second book and she has had time to reflect on her 2011 story. Secondly, her expression and description of her grief at losing a good friend is both accurate and healing at the same time.

Liane Moriarity is known for her book Big Little Lies; however, it was the second book I had read by her. I found her first funny enough that I wanted to read this one also. I have not seen the television series of the same name.

All of the books pictured above, I did write blog posts for.

I wrote on all of the above except Austin Channing Brown's book I'm Still Here Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness. I wanted to do a special post just for Brown's book because it was so incredibly good. I gave the book five stars and bought the book. I now follow her on Instagram.

After reading Austin Channing Brown's book, I started reading many more books by authors who are not considered white and male. It started an excellent practice -- one which I am continuing.

Books not blogged on (but reviews can be found on Goodreads)--

22. Under Our Skin by Benjamin Watson
24. The Librarian of Auschewitz by Antonio Iturbe (trans. by Lilit Zekulin)
25. The Power of Moments by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
26. How to Be a Good Creature by Sy Montgomery
27. A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum (5 stars as you can see in the picture)
28. The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden
29. The Donkey's Gift by Thomas M. Coffey
30. The Tattoist of Auschewitz by Heather Morris
31. Twelve Patients Life and Death at Bellevue Hospital by Eric Manheimer, M.D.
32. Empire Falls by Richard Russo
33. Reunion by Hannah Pittard

34. Reconstructing the Gospel by Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
35. The Neuroscientist Who Lost Her Mind by Barbara K. Lipska
36. Italian Rustic by Elizabeth Helman Minchilli
37. The Sellout by Paul Beatty (not for the faint of heart; check out Goodreads reviews first)
38. My Reading Life by Pat Conroy
39. All the Place to Go by John Ortberg
40. The Source of Self-Regard by Toni Morrison
41. In the Unlikely Event by Judy Blume (my granddaughter chose this one for me to read)
42. Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
43. Running with a Police Escort by Jill Grunenwald
44. The Stars are Fire by Anita Shrive
45. Old in Art School by Nell Painter (audio version; recommended on a list of books for each age)
46. The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White

47. The Pilot's Wife by Anita Shrive
48. My (Not So) Perfect Life by Sophie Kinsella
49. Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarity
50. How the Bible Actually Works by Peter Enns (chosen by nephew to discuss with me)
51. Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis Majors
52. Daring to Hope by Katie Davis Majors
53. Love Does by Bob Goff
54. Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen
55. Arabella by Georgette Heyer (my first introduction to this prolific writer)
56. Frederica by Georgette Heyer

57. Lady of Quality by Georgette Heyer
58. The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines
59. Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis -- actually I did blog on this one last week
60. Crucial Conversations by Patterson, Granny, McMillan, and Switzler (a work read)
61. The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon
62. Dominicana by Angie Cruz
63. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
64. The Quiet Gentleman  by Georgette Heyer
65. The Sacred Enneagram by Christopher Heuertz
66. How to Walk Away by Katherine Center
67. Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin
68. Sorry, I'm Late, I Didn't Want to Come: One Introvert's Year of Saying Yes by Jessica Pan

I'm not sure how Goodreads wound up with 71 books. I know I did have a couple of children's books in there that I did not count for my 52 Books in 52 Weeks Challenge.

After 214 spam responses on the One of Our Thursdays is Missing, I decided to turn off the comment section on my blog, but feel free to respond to my reviews on Goodreads. I'm looking forward to 2020. See you next year!

P.S. My apologies to those reading this on a phone. I'm guessing that the formatting will be totally off.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Apologizing (Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis)

I have no apologies for not writing the past eight months. My sister died in May and withdrawal turned out to be my way of grieving; so to dear friends and acquaintances, I have thought of you; I do love you; and loving you from afar worked for my health and sanity as I navigated this new normal.

When I first made notes for this post, I thought it would be not an eulogy / sort of an eulogy. In a way all of my writing this day forward will reflect in some way the loss of my closest friend. I write that not to slight my other siblings or friends, but my sister Becky was my first friend and no one can ever take that position. Up to this point, she had been my longest endearing friend, and, someday, other siblings will pass by the number of years the two of us had together.

This return to writing does include both a review of the book Girl, Stop Apologizing, and a change in my signature pieces in each blog piece. I'm subtracting the "What I Would Do Differently" and the "Transformation" sections and going for a direct "Out of the Box" addition...with no apologies. Also, with no apologies, I'm leaving the former sections in the past and not going back and editing, even though I may not even have those same feelings or thoughts anymore.

Richard Rohr writes in Falling Upward (review to come later): "The supposed achievements of the first half of life have to fall apart and show themselves to be wanting in some way, or we will not move further. Why would we?"(xix) Why would we if we think we have it all together?

I happened to see this book Girl, Stop Apologizing at the local library during a time when I was ready to think about what I wanted my days to look like. I bookmarked Hollis's section on "Choose One Dream and Go All In" I liked the idea of closing my eyes and imagining the best version of myself. Pages 98 through 107 almost make it worth buying the book.

There's some solid ideas to remember, encouragement we've probably read from other authors as well, about comparisons, shame, guilt, boundaries; however, as one really good comprehensive review on Goodreads mentions (by Johanna), Hollis has some troubling issues in this book: pop culture references (continual), a lot of privileged feeling, ambivalence on weight and looks, just some things that feel a little off. I'm not expecting an apology; I'm just writing for me, there were parts I liked and parts that felt off.

I'm stopping here (with no apologies) because it's my first attempt back at writing and posting. This book is actually something like #67...way over my 52 books in 52 weeks, but I chose this one because of the title. My hope is to get back to reviewing all the books read from April through November. 

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Missing (One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde)

I'm going to hop out of order in my book reviews. I have three books I finished prior to this light-hearted one, but those reviews will take more time than I have to give at the moment. This book was a "blind date" book during the month of February at our local library. I finished it today, this last day of March...a very long blind date.

I don't know how I have missed reading any of the books in this series. It's a perfect book for me, not that I think it is for everyone. You really have to like books and all that goes into writing and reading books. I've been searching to see if someone else has found a way to describe the book: an alternate bookworld. Readers of this series write that one has to read the other 5 that came before this one, but I didn't know there were five others and I did just fine. I didn't feel as though I could fully navigate in this alternate world, but I felt this way because the whole novel was...well, so novel, truly! Perhaps if I had started at the beginning (as I did with The Invisible Library series), I would have been bored with the explanations of how the Bookworld worked (as one reviewer was).

Several other reviewers in Goodreads have fully written out the "dorky, readerly" quotes. I would have written quirky and humorous, but definitely "readerly" and I'd rather not rewrite them all out, but do peruse through Goodreads or Jasper Fforde quotes because they will tickle one's reader funny bone (e.g. trying to figure out who is speaking on page 133 written as a joke; the "Law of Egodynamics: 'For every expert there is an equal and opposite expert").

As a book to borrow from the library, it's a 5 star borrowing book. I can't quite give it a 5 star buying book rating even though there are a few thought-provoking parts when Professor Plum discusses RealWorld with written Thursday: " can discount at least eighty percent of chat as just meaningless drivel...In some individuals it can be as high as ninety-two percent. The people to listen to are the ones who don't say very much" (179).

Also, I think I may have moments in the future while reading another author's fiction book where Fforde's Bookworld will intersect with my reading. I'll find myself wondering about the genre or a metaphor or whether there's tea in that teapot. Lol! (You just have to read the book for yourself.) Rating range of 3-5. Why did I start the range with a 3 which only means "I liked it"? It was a great "blind date" with an immediate attraction -- it was all so new and fresh to me, and every time I picked the book back up, I found parts to like; however, I did go out with some other books throughout this six week time of reading. I got bogged down a little in the middle section, picked up steam again after that, but then somewhat raced to finish it. I'm glad I read it and glad I was introduced to Jasper Fforde books via a "blind date", but it's still a rating range of 3 - 5 (a borrow from the library 5). 

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Borrowing (The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman)

If the title of this post led you to believe that this would be about finances, it is not. I finished the last three books of the Invisible Library series -- or, at least, the last three written. Since Cogman writes about one a year, and The Mortal Word, came out in 2018, perhaps another in the series will turn up. The stories are the types that could go on solving one crisis after another, while the reader wonders whether the heroine will wind up with the hero or not. Also, there are unsolved mysteries at the end of the fifth book. More on that at the end of this post.

I checked all five books in the series out from the public library which seems fitting since the series revolves around THE Library and libraries in various versions of the world. The first in the series The Invisible Library fascinated me with its references to books, its fantastical characters, its alternate many of my favorite elements all in one book and a storyline that was new to me. (Read that review here.) The Masked City was good in a three stars kind of way. I felt (as mentioned in my review here) that the author used a large portion of the book catching up readers who had not read book one of the series. Yet, moving on the book three The Burning Page, I started bookmarking pages...a lot of pages. This is always a good sign when I am reading a book. I started being impressed with Cogman's descriptions: "It wasn't psychic powers, as some people would have described them. It was simply alpha teacher, channelled with a side order of extra ice and public humiliation, and it worked far too well" (91).

Also included within a good solid story are lines that would make a discussion group happy (because they're so discussable): "'Not sympathy so much as pity,' Silver said. 'Sympathy would imply I might even try to help them. Pity is much safer. It can be delivered from on high without getting involved. I pity them. I sympathize with you, detective'" (189). Interestingly, one reviewer stated that YA ethical issues show up in this book (which I totally agree with although I would say those issues are not just for young adults), but those issues make me like the book even more, while for the reviewer mentioned, he feels he's "too old of a dog for that." The Language and its power continues to intrigue me as does the tension between chaos and rigid order. I don't think I'm going to actually buy the book so I can't quite give it 5 stars; however, 4.5 seems fair.

I checked all five of the books out of the library at the same time so a bit of boredom may have been setting in as I read The Lost Plot, not necessarily due to the plot, but due to the author's need to fill in readers who have not read any of the previous books. Also, this one is set in an alternate United States, and my own country's story of Prohibition as a setting didn't seem interesting. (The real history with the narratives of real people might be, but this setting was used as background for the story of Irene and Kai.) Also, while the wolves weren't as bad as the robotic alligators in book one, they're still a bit silly at times. I confess that my review is being written a number of days after reading the book so I may have had more to write if I had written the review right away. Mostly I remember liking the book and being glad I read it, and eager to read the next book in the series. Three stars for book four in this series.

By book five The Mortal Word, I was powering through this series, much as if I was bingeing on a television series (please, someone make this into a television series so that I can binge on it). As I close out this post on this series, I think what started to happen is the newness and the novelty started to wear off. Cogman still has the capacity to reach readers with her allusions to books, metaphors, other literary devices, but by book five, I was ready for a break from the series. I almost think it would have been better if I had read the books as they had been published with some time in between reading. I will be able to do that (let some time slide by) if a book six is forthcoming. Cogman could easily fit in a book six as not all has been resolved. Sure, there's the "will the heroine and hero get together?" but there's also the backstory of Irene and her parents--will the mystery be solved?...and, of course, will chaos and order find a way to stability and peace? Even though I don't have any bookmarks in book five, I do remember the story being better than book four, so let's go with 4 stars. Overall, I would give the entire series four stars.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Inspiring -- Four Books, Four Authors

Call this my "trying to catch up post" and "trying to get books back on the bookshelves and back to the library" post. I've grouped these four books together for no other reason than two of them I started in 2018 (so they don't qualify for my 52 Books in 52 Weeks reading challenge for 2019) and the other two books are short (but were read this year, 2019).

I finished Beasts of Extraordinary Circumstance by Ruth Emmie Lang while my husband drove us six hours to my mom's house for a Christmas gathering, December 2018. I remember liking the book, whether that means 3 stars or 4 stars, I don't quite recall. Perhaps, the dialogue on page 105 needs to be something I embrace: "I only buy a book after reading it twice. If you can enjoy it more than once, you know it's a keeper." This book, however, is mine, and I had not even read it once. It was a book club selection. I enjoyed it; I got along with the story fine even with the separate narrators for the chapters (something that tends to annoy me). There is some mild satire aimed at some home schoolers. As a mom who engaged my children in personalized learning (aka homeschooling), I knew of some people like the ones in the book, but it is not a description of homeschooling for all.

I had bookmarked a page with a quote mentioned by other reviewers. I'll give the comment in context (163):
"Malfunctioning air sacs..."
"Why do you do that?"
"Do what?"
"Take something beautiful and vandalize it with skepticism?"
"Because without beauty, we'd be bored. Without science, we'd be dead."

The book is labeled realistic fantasy or something like that. I have no problem with that label. It's a realistic story with fantastical elements in it. It's not heavy and dark and complex, but it does have parts worth discussing. Probably 3 stars, but I'm feeling generous (and I've forgotten if I just liked it or really liked it) so let's say 4 stars.

I bought The Circle Maker during a women's getaway time. I started it in September of 2018 but finished it in February of 2019, not because I drudged through it; I wanted the thoughts and ideas and practices to sink in deeply. I can see where reviewers with critical comments are coming from. At first, author Mark Batterson does seem to be "naming and claiming it" but if one reads the entire book, it is not. When all is said and done, prayer to Batterson is indeed about relationship with God. Is the book in the style of popular writing rather than academic and scholarly? Yes. But, goodness, I'm not going to say the book is for "no one". I have underlining and comments and dialogue with the author's words throughout the book. Did it point me to relationship and intimately knowing God, knowing Jesus, knowing the Holy Spirit? Yes. Did it inspire me? Yes. Did I push back (albeit only in my written comments inside the book) against how Batterson put some thoughts? Yes. Am I keeping the book and referring to the "discussion" I had with the written words and thoughts? Yes. Do I think the book is worth using in a book discussion group? Yes. 3-5 stars. Cautiously and generously, I'll go with 4 stars.

I read Out of the Maze by Spencer Johnson (published posthumously by his children) in one day. It's only 84 pages. It's an inspirational type of book. This book follows up on Johnson's book Who Moved My Cheese? While I would have chosen a different word than "beliefs" as in "Old beliefs do not lead you to a new cheese" I get the point of the book. If you hang on to how you thought life should be and refuse to face your fears and the habits that are keeping you captive, then you're going to starve your opportunities for growth and joy. Now, my wrapping that up in one sentence doesn't mean the book is not worth reading. A sentence alone can't do what an illustrative story does. 3 stars because I like the book, but I've already been quite generous with my stars today. ;)

The Power of Yes is also clearly marketed as an inspirational book to buy on a whim. I actually picked it up off of the public library shelves on a whim. Sure, it's kind of a self-help type of book, but somedays, one is in the mood for a light inspirational self-help type of read. Author Abbie Headon includes a story example of someone who said "yes" in his or her life, a motivational quote (and there's nothing wrong with reading something motivational if it helps to move beyond reading into action), and a "Yes Lab" with each section. The nice part about calling these "labs" are labs are made for experimenting. So, if the motivations and experiments lead one to actions for good, then possibly this book is worth saying "yes" to for less than twenty-four hours. (I started it on one day and finished it the next without staying up all night.) Three stars.