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. 

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Hoping (Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson)

I've fallen in love with a new author: Jacqueline Woodson. I met her through her book Feathers which I picked up off of the Black History display of books for children in my town's library.

It's the skinny book on the right with 'J' for juvenile on it. My review of the book on the left, Children of Blood and Bone, can be found here. As for the book in the middle The Sellout, I'm still reading it. Beatty writes satire which is not my normal go-to genre to read.

However, Feathers is the type of book I enjoy immensely: thought-provoking and discussable with characters I care about even though the book is written for a juvenile audience and short in length, all of which makes it a good choice for middle school or high school interdisciplinary units...or for a adult discussion group in need of something with fewer pages (say during a holiday season).

I picked up this book from the local library's display of books for Black History month in February. This book, along with the other two books mentioned already and three other books (I'm Still Here, Under Our Skin, and Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy -- another children's book) are providing me with a diverse group of voices.

The voice in Feathers is gentle. As mentioned by other reviewers, Woodson includes a lot of issues--mom who keeps miscarrying, deaf brother, new boy in town who doesn't look like the rest of the classroom, classmate who struggles with living the Christ-following life versus saving souls, bullying, and outsiders.

I like that the deaf brother isn't just in the story to help the main character grow or move the story along. Granted, he is one of the "outsiders", but there is a little something "outsider" about each of the characters except the mean girls who are no longer interested in a good looking young man once they find out he is deaf.

I have to admit that my reading of the other books mentioned in this review raised a question for me as to whether the outsider coming into the community had to be this particular boy. I won't write more than that. There are some interesting twists at the end, and in the case of this book, you could read some of the reviews and find out all about the story, but I felt it meant something more to me to come at the story cold, knowing nothing about it.

๐Ÿ’•๐Ÿ’•๐Ÿ’• While I was able to pull from a small section (2 shelves) of our home library a number of books with diverse characters, I was disappointed to realize that only 3 of the 10 books had black or Hispanic authors. (We do have a large collection of books written by Alan Say, but he may be our only Asian author. ) Those three are Marie Bradby, Patricia C. McKissack, and John Steptoe. It's possible that when my children were young, we did not have access to more diversity anymore than we had access to characters with medical challenges being anything more than characters to help the main character grow. However, that is not the case anymore, and just reading about diverse characters is not enough. We all need to read works from a diverse group of writers.

--- At the moment, I can't think of a better way to grow in Christ-likeness in the area of seeing all humans as created in God's image than to get to know a diverse group of people as friends. And, if that is not forthcoming, then at least to start reading literature written by a diverse group of writers.   

Monday, March 04, 2019

Arising (Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi)

Let's start with the content warnings first. If you don't read books that have multiple deities and/or magic in them, then don't read this book. If you do read metaphorical, symbolic, and allegorical books, then you may or may not like this one depending on what you bring to the reading. I've pictured Children of Blood and Bone (CBB) by Adeyemi with The Master and Margarita (MM) by Bulgakov because what Elena N. Mahlow writes of MM is true of CBB: "...the subtext is the reason...the main story" (The Master and Margarita: The Text as a Cipher).

That subtext is socio-political with a good measure of religion thrown in...but make no assumptions about which is which. In Bulgakov's case, the religious parts of the story held the truth about the reign of Stalin whereas the political parts that looked like they held to a political line, were not really acquiescing to the current political state at all.

I'm not saying that Adeyemi had that deep of intentions in Children of Blood and Bone (CBB)  but Adeyemi, like Bulgakov, did have some political issues in mind (because Adeyemi tells this to her readers).

Also, like Bulgakov, Adeyemi is a powerful storyteller. I don't normally like authors to switch to a different character in the story for each chapter, but I was so engrossed in Children of Blood and Bone (CBB), the changes and transitions seemed flawless and smooth. I started this book on February 23 and finished it on February 24 -- a 531 page book.

A quick read through the reviews of the book really do point back to my first comment about how what a person brings to the reading determines how the reader values the book. A Yorรนbรก woman pointed out the flaws in the story (even though the story is fantasy, the Yorรนbรก really are a Niger-Congo ethnic group), and that took away some of the excitement I felt with the story; nonetheless, I still have to admit once again: I read the entire book within 24 hours.

The book was given to me by a daughter along with two other books. I kept putting her off on this book because I thought it was going to be scary (I don't like horror books or grisly realistic murder anything) so when we finally read it, I found the story intriguing and raced ahead of the daughter (just had to put that in here).

๐Ÿ’•๐Ÿ’•๐Ÿ’• I found out later that CBB is a YA book, which probably explains the light touch in the romance/sex department. I don't know that I would recommend it as a YA book, but I saw that a teacher has put together a classroom guide. I don't know that I'll buy it, but I am curious about what he pulled together. The "cutting" part of the book disturbs me a bit because the cutting in this book leads to powerful magic unlike the cutting in Storm Siren by Mary Weber -- in Weber's book, cutting is a mark of slavery.

--- The power in blood shown in CBB goes way back in time. In fact, I recently heard an old hymn about the power in the blood. Since this is my spiritual transformation section of my blog, I'm going to ask a question here that others have been raising. Has the emphasis on the blood of Jesus rather than the life, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus actually led to a lot of Vampire Christians (just a little bite of Jesus' blood gets you into eternity)?