Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Knowing (The Masked City by Genevieve Cogman)

Chaos thrives in a world of masks, but knowing one's identity brings power to break through that chaos. The Masked City, book number two in The Invisible Library series has the backbone of an excellent story; however, I struggled to get through the opening chapters -- chapters which fill in much for someone who has not read book number one or has not read it in a long time. I had rushed from book one to reading book two, and my mind was twiddling its synapses impatient to get into the new part of the story.

Sadly one of my favorite characters was not exactly missing in book two but had very little interaction in the book. That knocked my rating down for this book. I did not, however, stop me from bookmarking some favorite pages or stop me from wanting to read the next book in the series.

I continue to enjoy running into allusions to other literary works and authors. I've bookmarked an historical reference (also found in a famous play) as well as a reference to Murasaki, an author whose works I hope to get around to reading. Also, Cogman continues to grow Irene in her sense of identity, but I was disappointed in one particular rescue made in the book. With these disappointments, I want to give the book a middling rating -- a 3. Then, Cogman writes in a discussion between Lady Guantes and Irene. Irene is questioning Lady G on the benefits of Venice (this alternate Venice) for humans. Lady G claims the humans are happy. Irene claims, "The moment one of your kind interacts with them, the humans lose their volition, their freedom. Their life. In your world, the humans are just background characters."

To which Lady G replies, "But such happy background characters..." There's more and all worthy of discussion, and, if you've read my reviews before, you know how much I love discussion worthy books. UP goes the rating to 4 stars.

For now, I'll skip over the family ties and spiritual formation ties...oh, wait. I did think of something that would be intriguing: where would the various characters fit in the Enneagram? 

Monday, February 25, 2019

Reading 3.0 (The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman)

I could stick with rating this book with a range of 4-5, but 'The Invisible Library' was clearly a 5 star book for me.

This book was displayed with librarian favorites at my local library. It's listed as a science fiction book (not my normal reading genre although it is often one of my favorite genres in television series or movies). I was intriguingly lost rather than hopelessly lost at the beginning. Some readers don't like that feeling of being dropped into the middle of something and being overwhelmed (if you are one of them, this is not the book for you). If it had dealt with a subject unfamiliar to me, then maybe I would feel the same way, too; however, this was about books and libraries and dragons and alternate worlds, oh my! The author knows Tolkien and Sherlock and coding and gaming and books.

The protagonist Irene is a strong female character, and I'm fascinated with THE language of the THE Library. Maybe I was "glamoured" (have to read the book to know the expression), and maybe if I was more familiar with science fiction, I would not have been so enamored with the book, but I was, so much so, I rushed out and picked up the second book in the series. Book one can stand alone. I haven't finished the second book so I can't tell yet whether I will have wished I had read just the one. Since first writing this, I have finished the second book, and that review will follow this one.

💕💕💕 Family-wise, I keep coming back to the beauty of libraries. You don't have to be rich to use the library unless you are prone to overdue or lost books; however, our library system has recently stopped overdue fines! I feel a little guilty (wondering how am I going to support the library now), but I am hoping that getting rid of library fines goes well for the system! This novel also points out the power of language and that is a narrative from which every family can benefit.

---No matter what I read, I am one body in the physical world, one mind and heart in the story, and one spirit and soul indwelt by God (well, all of me is indwelt by Christ as in Christ, I live and move and have my being) -- hopefully you understand that I am saying that I sense God moments. And, there is a moment in this book when Irene understands how to beat back the enemy by claiming her identity. I won't say more than that in the interest of not spoiling the story for other readers.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Ageproofing (Age-Proof by Chatzky, Roizen, and Spiker)

Were these types of books out there when I was younger and I just ignored them? Maybe. Then, again, when I was younger, families thought they were feeding their children healthy food if they could afford the new boxed cereals, commercially canned fruits and vegetables (loaded with sugar and salt), and a commercial loaf of bread that could be molded into a marshmallow (with same type of texture).

A bit of a different picture this post. I actually don't know what connection I was making between these three! I may have been showing a family member how I can read three books at the same time. I started AgeProof (the book on the bottom of the picture) on January 1 and finished it on February 9. The book is meant to be worked through not raced through. The subtitle is "Living Longer Without Running Out of Money or Breaking a Hip." Jean Chatzky provides the financial information, Michael F. Roizen, MD provides the health information, and Ted Spiker writes it in a way so that the reader is not bored to death. The format is easy to work with and humorous as Spiker "spikes" (I had to) the information with quips from the two experts. The chapters alternate between finance and health (with connections to each other interwoven).

I have not read any of these authors other works so it was not a rehash for me. I did know much of the information, but it was nice to see it in writing with the background research written in common vocabulary and not medical or financial jargon.

Reviews are all over the place with this book -- the first that I've seen that happen on a site like Goodreads. The fluctuations in ratings seem to come from whether the reader gained much from the book or little, and that makes sense. If you already know the information, then the book will be boring or shallow. If the reader doesn't want to hear that Americans need to eat healthier, then that reader is going to think the doctor is pompous. Was it totally new to me? No, but did I find useful information or encouragement? Yes. Do I think the book is worth working through, if only as a checkup if you already know everything? Yes. Do I already believe in healthy eating and living healthy financially as well? Yes. My rating range: 3-5.

💕💕💕 In our family, we tend to make wise eating choices and we ended up eventually making wise financial choices, but, oh how we wish we had made those wise financial choices from the moment we married! I like how this book encourages everyone that it is never too late and even has sections for the different stages of life. My children are getting this book as a gift (and now I will find out which ones read my blog...ha).

--- It may seem strange to think that I am including my spiritual formation section in a review of a finance and health book; however, these authors have wise words about forming habits and making changes by small steps. Also, when one is wanting to change, change happens best when one replaces an unhealthy or unwise habit with a better choice rather than simply to stop the bad habit. For example, if a person wants to stop buying sugar laden lattes everyday (hard on the finances and the gut), then replace it with a smaller plain latte (less money and less sugar but still caffeine) and a small piece of extra dark chocolate.

With Christ-following spiritual formation, the replacement for gossip or lack of kindness or (fill in the blank) is knowing Christ. Not knowing about Jesus, but knowing Jesus daily. In order to do so, one way to make time for knowing Jesus and stopping the gossip or the unkindness might be to practice small steps of silence  or maybe it will be to start small steps of journaling or maybe singing grateful songs. I'll revisit these thoughts in later blogs. 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Surviving (The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah)

When it comes to getting a beautiful book cover (and end sheets with beautiful gold embossing), it helps to be a well-known bestselling author like Kristin Hannah.

I would give the book a rating range of 4-5 stars even without the beautiful cover. Five stars because Hannah's writing continues to be excellent (and she knows how to keep her verb tense consistent -- lack of which drives me crazy as you know if you read my last review of another author's book), and the story itself is mesmerizing even more so, for me, when I found out that Hannah has lived in Alaska (and I found the link to her life embedded within the story). Four stars because I don't know that I will read the book again, and I have no bookmarks in the book. Bookmarks show me that I found a thought that I want to come back to again and again, usually something philosophical or theological or thought-provoking.

My response to other reviews of this book:
The main antagonist deals with some issues that will annoy, frustrate, irritate, or anger some military families. Some of those reviews have a point. Hannah's explanations might have been a bit too pat and convenient. For one of my family members, characters putting up with abuse frustrates him and makes him stop reading. Yes, here is your forewarning: there is abuse in this story.

Some felt the ending was abrupt and again, conveniently romantic. After the tension of surviving in the country itself and surviving the situations in the book, a more uplifting ending was fine with me. Resolutions generally are short.

I can tell you right away, no thinking about it, I would not survive living in Alaska. I admire those who do. I enjoyed the story; I appreciated the characters. I was as frustrated with some of them as my family member would have been (but I kept reading). Also, I felt Hannah kept the story based in reality.

💕💕💕 Family -- the good, bad, and ugly are included in this book. From my own personal experience, I am not good at teaching survival skills (see above -- I would not survive). My preparation for sending children off to college was to make sure that they had tasted baked goods such as Twinkies and Ding Dongs (food we normally did not eat). In situations where teaching children to survive is needed, I am not the one.

--- Ask me about surviving spiritually, and I want to talk about not just surviving but growing and thriving. The "great alone" lower case, not the story of the book, can be beneficial when it is silence, solitude, and time between one and one's Creator. But, it can also be gut-wrenching when it is alone and lonely.

The narrative of 'The Great Alone' is set in a vast lonely place; however, community shines throughout the story. As my own family was discussing so many sorrows hitting at once, the common saying, "God never gives you more than you can handle" tends to come to mind. Actually,  the Bible verses people base the above saying on doesn't refer to tragic suffering. Sometimes we do get more than we can handle...alone. We need help, from God, from others.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Reading 2.0 (I'd Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel)

My reading of this book I'd Rather Be Reading by Anne Bogel came about because of happy coincidental timing of two reading challenges ("a book about reading" on the 2019 Reshelving Alexandria Reading Challenge), (2019 Modern Mrs. Darcy Reading Challenge which led me to her blog), and the book itself offered at half price from two different vendors.

At first glance, I felt the special offer price was the only price I would ever pay for a book this small; however, that was before I actually read the book. It would make a great gift book which was another reason I thought it should be under $10 until I looked at the prices of the gift books on my shelves, and I realized $10 and more is not an unusual price for a gift book.

So, pricing aside, I went from a range of 3 stars (I like this book) to 4 stars (I really like this book).  I'm glad I bought it, and my "Want to Read" list of books grew especially since I discovered via Goodreads' book compatibility analysis that I have a 90% book compatibility with Anne Bogel, so I am likely to enjoy the books she mentions in this book.

The opening chapters were fine. I felt like I could read those same chapters on her blog, but, as I continued reading, her chapters (really, each stand alone pieces in themselves rather than connected chapters -- "charming essays" one reviewer called them) held some deeper thoughts (a quality I like). Interestingly, a reader who gave the book a rating of 3.5 liked the opening chapters and not the last chapters. Differences in enjoyment for various chapters is probably fairly common in a book of essays. My guess is that any voracious reader would enjoy this book as a gift (and at 156 pages, it is little in size, not in number of pages).

💕💕💕 It's definitely a great book for parents who are short of times to read (because the chapters are short and complete within themselves) and who want to raise children who read.

----Those interested in spiritual transformation, I loved the sighting of the influence of Dallas Willard on pages 27-28. 

Tuesday, February 05, 2019

Siblings 2.0 ('The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag' by Alan Bradley AND 'The Immortalists' by Chloe Benjamin)

I am writing about these two books in one post because of two common factors: I started out disliking both of them, and siblings are involved in both. Other than that, the differences between the two books will leave some of my friends open-mouthed and amazed that I paired up the two. I'm not sure I came to truly like either of them, but I did move both to a range of interest beyond one star, "I hate the book" rating.

I started reading the second book of Alan Bradley's Flavia de Luce series, 'The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag' on the third day of January (hence the holiday mug in the picture), and didn't finish it until the end of January, dragging my eyeballs all along the way. I wasn't overflowing with love for the first book in the series; however, it grew on me enough to consider reading books 2-4 in order to fulfill "three books by the same author" on the 2019 Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge.

However, protagonist Flavia's love of poison and the treatment of the three sisters toward each other annoyed me from the beginning of the book. Also, unlike the first book, I didn't like the mystery to be solved. Still I kept on for reasons I don't even know. Possibly it is because I didn't realize until I wrote up above "three books by the same author" that the challenge wasn't to read "three books in a series by the same author". Since I could not think of another series, I keep plodding along. Then, I reached the point where a character I do like entered the story: Inspector Hewitt. Unfortunately, he is not in this particular story often. I also like the author's writing skills, excellent vocabulary, and wonderful allusions to other literary works. Sometimes Bradley even has a witty or thought-provoking quote such as this: "...I have learned that under certain circumstances, a fib is not only permissible, but can even be an act of perfect grace" (268).

Then, Bradley, does something at the end that makes me say to myself: "Drat, he did it again! He offers a controversial statement by the pre-teen narrator that causes me to want to discuss this book and this thought!" I shall give a portion of that statement, only a portion so as not to spoil any plots (which I never see coming because mysteries are not my "go-to" genre): "We were puppets, all of us, set in action upon the stage by God -- or Fate -- or Chemistry, call it what you will..." (354).

Bradley's protagonist also highlights a difference between his book and 'The Immortalists'. Flavia remarks upon the undertaker's use of the phrase "final journey" and several pages prior means to ask Dogger (another favorite character) what it meant when Emma Bovary "gave herself up to him" (281). My star range for this book: 2-3 stars and the possibility that I might (emphasis on "might") try the next book in the series.

My star range for Chloe Benjamin's 'The Immortalists' is 2-4 stars -- a whole lot of two stars, a handful of 3 stars and barely squeaking in there, 4 stars for this book that includes much to discuss. No mild "final journey" or "gave herself up to him" phrases in this book. It's graphic and detailed even in a sixteen-year-old's careless, dangerous (the author's words) sex. I knew from the first page description of a thirteen-year-old's body that I was going to dislike this book. Why did I keep on reading? Because my grown daughter and I were reading the book at the same time (and she gave me  the book). So, I read on even though, after the detailed section stopped, the lack of consistent verb tense drove me almost crazy!

Here's my issue with this book: I felt as if the publisher knew this was going to be a popular book (read "a book that would sell a lot of copies") and so the editors did not send it back for 13, 16, 20 revisions (the number of revisions I've heard other authors mention). They wanted to get this book to market.

I don't know what book people are talking about when they say this is a "joyous" book; it is a sad book, a painful book, a grieving book, and I only bumped my rating up into the 3-4 star range because sad books are also often discussion worthy books.

The "big idea" issue I see in this book revolves around knowing one's future. Research shows us that when we're young, our older selves don't connect in our minds as a part of who we are, yet, knowing the future may not be the best for our present selves either.

The other connected issue involves the lengths we go to extend our lives. I won't say more as it could be a plot spoiler. And, an issue that returns again and again: lack of communication. Lack of communication between the siblings in this book hurts.

The pain is in reading through this time period of the AIDS epidemic (so many lives lost), of a time when a female magician was a novelty like a "pink volcano" in Vegas (when men had more value than women), a time when waivers were needed to send young men into war, and bringing us up to current times: what kind of research do we do to extend our lives (and what if what we learn actually takes the joy out of living?)

Quotes worth discussing:

"She understands, too, the loneliness of parenting, which is the loneliness of memory -- to know that she connects a future unknowable to her parents with a past unknowable to her child" (134).

"In time was their culture. In time, not in space, was their home" (139).

"That was the problem with God: he didn't hold up to a critical analysis" (179).

"As a species, God might be the greatest gift we've ever given ourselves. The gift of sanity" (180).

"But perhaps God was nothing like the dreadful, lurid fascination that brought him to the fortune teller...For Saul, God had meant order and tradition, culture and history. Daniel still believed in choice, but perhaps that did not foreclose belief in God..." (181).

I'll stop here. In the first half of the book, I have no highlighting bookmarks; in the second half, I have bookmarks every five pages or so.

Monday, February 04, 2019

Truthing (Golden State by Ben H. Winters)

I started to use "Lying 2.0" as part of my post title because I thought "truthing" was not a word; however, possibly it is a rare word used in the Late Middle English period. Some would say that "truthing" is rarely used now as well. But, I digress. Or, do I? The story of Golden State by Ben H. Winters revolves around telling the truth and any digression from the truth (telling a lie) is a punishable crime. The picture below pairs water with the book as the setting is California, the golden state, and, until recently, a state in drought.

This dystopian novel (a favorite genre of mine as my daughter, who read it with me, accurately claims) feels like a modern day twist on Fahrenheit 451. Just as Fahrenheit 451 foresaw big screen televisions, reality shows, and bluetooth earbuds ("seashells" I think Bradbury called them), I have to wonder if Winters is foreseeing a time where our desire to know the truth based on webcams and instant replay, etc., actually imprisons us in some false notion of truth.

Discussion groups will have no problem finding points to discuss especially centered around "What is truth?" I have to confess while reading this book I went to coffee with a dear friend and we forgot to take a picture. What an amazing thought that two people would go to coffee and not take a picture! This little sentence crossed my mind: "Did we truly meet up for coffee if we did not record the occasion in a photo?" The whole thought is laughable, and yet...

I'm tending to give books a ratings "range" these days, and the range for this one is 3-4 stars. Four stars because I do like dystopian novels, and this one does have a story, even a mystery to solve. (I didn't see the answer coming, but then I never do.) Three stars because the story flounders at the end; however, I think Winters has a sequel planned (otherwise, the ending stinks, and I am left wondering what happens to some particular characters I grew fond of).

💕💕💕 Not really a family friendly book, but great ideas in here for adults to discuss with the younger generation.

Spiritual formation -- I'm wondering if a practice that might lend itself to discovery would be to go for a certain period of time without taking any "selfies". To remember something by way of art or conversation. Or, to compare pictures taken, art drawn, memories and discuss how each member of a family sees and perceives an event or even "coffee time."