Saturday, December 13, 2014

First They Killed My Father: A Daughter of Cambodia Remembers by Loung Ung

From Goodreads:

Chronicles the brutality of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, from the author's forced ''evacuation'' of Phnom Penh in 1975 to her family's subsequent movements from town to town and eventual separation.

I dated a guy in college who served his LDS mission in Cambodia. His occasional comments and recollections constituted 90% of my knowledge of Cambodia. The other 10% came from watching Tomb Raider (which had a few scenes filmed there).

I'm always a little embarrassed that I know so little about other countries and world events so when this title popped up as recommended in my Overdrive app I requested it. 

The book is narrated from a child's point of view but I couldn't help but read it as a mother. These kinds of books devastate me since having children. I can't stop putting myself in the shoes of Loung's mother, desperately trying to keep her children alive while slowly watching them waste away from hunger and overwork. When the father was killed I bawled great big tears onto my nursing baby's head. I can't imagine being in that situation and losing Aaron. The women who survived the Khmer Rouge were made of stronger stuff than I am.

This book is absolutely phenomenal, even if it led to me squeezing Emmy until she squirmed while I promised her she would never know that kind of pain or hunger. Reading the cold facts of the Cambodian genocide doesn't do justice to the horror and privations experienced by the people. I think books like this should be required reading in high school- when you learn about the events you should also learn about the people.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

I Don't Know What You Know Me From: Confessions of a Co-Star by Judy Greer

From Goodreads:

You know Judy Greer, right? Maybe from The Wedding Planner, 13 Going on 30, Carrie, Arrested Development, or The Descendants. Yes, you totally recognize her. And, odds are, you already feel like she’s your friend. 

In her first book of essays, I Don’t Know What You Know Me From, Greer writes about everything you would hope to hear from your best friend: how a midnight shopping trip to Walgreens can cure all; what it’s like to wake up one day with stepchildren; and how she really feels about fans telling her that she’s prettier in person. Yes, it’s all here—from the hilarious moments to the
intimate confessions.

But Judy Greer isn’t just a regular friend—she’s a celebrity friend. Want to know which celebs she’s peed next to? Or what the Academy Awards are actually like? Or which hot actor gave her father a Harley-Davidson? Don’t worry; Greer reveals all of that, too. You’ll love her because, besides being laugh-out-loud funny, she makes us genuinely feel like she’s one of us. Because even though she sometimes has a stylist and a makeup artist, she still wears (and hates!) Spanx. Because even after almost twenty years in Hollywood, she still hasn’t figured everything out—except that you should always wash your face before bed. Always.

This was an emergency download. I am incapable of cleaning my house without an audiobook and my house was in dire need of cleaning. This book was immediately available from my library's digital collection and I generally really like Judy Greer so I nabbed it and got scrubbing.

When it comes to this kind of book, audio is really the way to go (especially when it's narrated by the author). Judy has such a distinctive voice and, like the blurb mentions above, she already feels like a friend. I'm not sure I would have enjoyed it nearly so much in print form, but as an audio book? It was lovely. And now my house is clean.

Coroner's Journal: Stalking Death in Louisiana by Louis Cataldie

From Goodreads:

The frank and unvarnished memoir of a life spent stalking death in the Deep South.

Baton Rouge is a little town with big-city problems. Rich with Creole history, colorful locals, and a strong sense of community, it's also the home of Napoleonic codes, stubborn cops, and a sometimes-troubled leadership. Baton Rouge-which literally means "Red Stick"-lives up to its bloody namesake.

And after more than ten years as a deputy coroner and then as its chief coroner, Louis Cataldie has seen his fair share of unusual and disturbing cases. They range from the bizarre to the heartbreaking: an LSU professor killed by a barn door; the bones of a young woman found scattered in a churchyard; and as many as three serial killers loose at one time under Cataldie's watch. He has worked the scene of one of the Malvo/ Muhammad Beltway Sniper shootings and had a hand in bringing to justice serial killer Derrick Todd Lee in a controversial investigation that was featured in an ABC Prime Time special with Diane Sawyer and Patricia Cornwell.

Coroner's Journal is an unflinching look at a world that television dramas such as CSI can only begin to show us.

The stories in this book were fascinating and sometimes heart-wrenching (I bawled any time children were involved). I kept getting hung up on the writing though! Cataldie is a coroner, not an english major and it shows. Where was his editor?? Sometimes when I write a blog post I'll go through and rewrite a sentence here and there- the key, though, is to delete the original version so you don't have two sentences next to each other saying basically the same thing. This is like Editing 101, yes? It was weird coming across those kinds of mistakes in a published work.

Also, Cataldie was needlessly melodramatic and occasionally included details that were clearly for shock factor. His book is chock full of bodies but he declined to detail the process of slicing someone open for autopsy until halfway through, when he described it on a four-year-old boy who had been killed in a fire. I mean, really? That's an emotional sucker punch and totally unnecessary.

All that being said, I came out really liking Cataldie. He seems like a good guy who genuinely cares for the victims that come to him. He played a big part in the post-Katrina cleanup and spent months IDing bodies and returning them to families. Good guy, good stories, should probably change editors (call me!) if he decides to write another book.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith

From Goodreads:

Brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty insist they were commanded to kill by God. Krakauer's investigation is a meticulously researched, bone-chilling narrative of polygamy, savage violence and unyielding faith: an incisive, gripping work of non-fiction that illuminates an otherwise confounding realm of human behaviour.

I've been wanting to read this book for AGES but I'm glad I didn't read it until now. It's mostly about polygamy but also includes some Mormon history that isn't particularly flattering. I don't know that I would have believed some of the history in this book until this year. Some people I'd been taught all my life to revere did some pretty sketchy stuff back in the day (I'm a lot more aware of that now, though).

I hesitate to say that I enjoyed this book- the subject matter is pretty awful- but...I enjoyed it. It was fascinating, especially as someone who comes from Mormon roots and has lived in Utah. I've read a few books about fundamentalism as well, so there were some familiar characters. Overall I thought Krakauer does a great job tying events together in such a way that helped explain people's actions and reactions. He weaves disparate tales about people and events together to create a cohesive narrative on polygamy and the history of violence among the saints (and their offshoot brethren).

Monday, June 2, 2014

Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott

From Goodreads:

From the bestselling author of Operating Instructions and Bird by Bird comes a chronicle of faith and spirituality that is at once tough, personal, affectionate, wise and very funny. With an exuberant mix of passion, insight, and humor, Anne Lamott takes us on a journey through her often troubled past to illuminate her devout but quirky walk of faith. In a narrative spiced with stories and scripture, with diatribes, laughter, and tears, Lamott tells how, against all odds, she came to believe in God and then, even more miraculously, in herself. She shows us the myriad ways in which this sustains and guides her, shining the light of faith on the darkest part of ordinary life and exposing surprising pockets of meaning and hope. Whether writing about her family or her dreadlocks, sick children or old friends, the most religious women of her church or the men she's dated, Lamott reveals the hard-won wisdom gathered along her path to connectedness and liberation.

My friend RA recommended this one to me after a long series of emails between us about faith and the struggles I've had over the past four years. I hadn't heard of Anne Lamott but apparently she's actually kind of well known, which just goes to show you how much of a bubble I live in.

I found her memoir incredibly eye-opening. She has a deep Christian faith but she approaches it from the complete opposite direction of most of the uber-conservative religious types I know. She's a sort of hippie liberal with dreadlocks who is all about seeing Christ in the brokenness. I wonder if she ended up there because of how hard she had to work to get where she is. She was a drug addict who ended up a single mother in deep poverty. She accepts the brokenness in others because she sees it in herself and knows where it can take you.

Lots of good thinking came from this one.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Still Foolin' 'Em: Where I've Been, Where I'm Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys by Billy Crystal

From Goodreads:

Billy Crystal is turning 65, and he’s not happy about it. With his trademark wit and heart, he outlines the absurdities and challenges that come with growing old, from insomnia to memory loss to leaving dinners with half your meal on your shirt. In humorous chapters like “Buying the Plot” and “Nodding Off,” Crystal not only catalogues his physical gripes, but offers a road map to his 77 million fellow baby boomers who are arriving at this milestone age with him. He also looks back at the most powerful and memorable moments of his long and storied life, from entertaining his relatives as a kid in Long Beach, Long Island, his years doing stand-up in the Village, up through his legendary stint at Saturday Night Live, When Harry Met Sally, and his long run as host of the Academy Awards. 

Pros: Audiobook was narrated by Billy Crystal. Listening to him is never a BAD thing.

Cons: I didn't find any of this particularly funny. And when something is not only written but SPOKEN by Billy Crystal, you kind of expect to laugh more than a few half-hearted chuckles.

 To be fair, much of this book is based on the humor to be found in aging, so perhaps in 35 years I will find it significantly funnier.

Crazy Salad and Scribble Scribble: Some Things About Women and Notes on Media by Nora Ephron

From Goodreads:

Two classic collections of Nora Ephron’s uproarious essays—tackling everything from feminism to the media, from politics to beauty products, with her inimitable charm and distinctive wit—now available in one book for the first time.

This edition brings together some of Ephron’s most famous writing on a generation of women (and men) who helped shape the way we live now, and on events ranging from the Watergate scandal to the Pillsbury Bake-Off. In these sharp, hilariously entertaining, and vividly observed pieces, Ephron illuminates an era with wicked honesty and insight. From the famous “A Few Words About Breasts” to important pieces on her time working for the New York Post and Gourmet Magazine, these essays show Ephron at her very best.

I feel like I need to admit here and now that I apparently knew nothing about Nora Ephron. I mean, I knew she's the brains behind a bunch of truly fantastic chick flicks but that's about it. As it turns out, Nora Ephron has done a ton of writing in her career (especially for newspapers and magazines) and a lot of it was extremely feminist. She rubbed shoulders with Gloria Steinem in the 70s. She was hardcore, my friends. And a lot of her writing reflects that.

And so, this collection of essays was NOT at all what I was expecting. It was, however, deeply interesting. Most of the stuff here was written in the 70s but it's still incredibly relevant today. I listened to the audio book while doing some sewing and it was fantastic. I'm now even more of a fan.

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh

From Goodreads:

This is a book I wrote. Because I wrote it, I had to figure out what to put on the back cover to explain what it is. I tried to write a long, third-person summary that would imply how great the book is and also sound vaguely authoritative--like maybe someone who isn’t me wrote it--but I soon discovered that I’m not sneaky enough to pull it off convincingly. So I decided to just make a list of things that are in the book:

Stories about things that happened to me
Stories about things that happened to other people because of me
Eight billion dollars*
Stories about dogs
The secret to eternal happiness*

*These are lies. Perhaps I have underestimated my sneakiness!

As a longtime fan of Allie's blog I was REALLY excited to discover that this book was available for immediate download as I sat in the terminal before boarding our flight to Virginia. I had sort of mixed feelings about it though, which made me sad. The very best stuff from the book can already be found on her blog (my favs are her bits about moving with dogs and going to a birthday party after having dental work done). The newer stuff was a little darker, which I'm sure reflects her recent bout with depression. I didn't LOVE it quite like I hoped I would, but it was still a perfectly pleasant way to pass the time on a very long day of flying.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson

From Goodreads:

On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, she dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Clearly history (and Kate Atkinson) have plans for her: In Ursula rests nothing less than the fate of civilization.

Wildly inventive, darkly comic, startlingly poignant — this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best, playing with time and history, telling a story that is breathtaking for both its audacity and its endless satisfactions.

Ok, this is one I really wish I hadn't listened to. This is an extremely complex book with multiple story lines, lots of characters, endings and beginnings. I think reading it as a physical book so I could flip back to previous plot lines to remember minor characters and piece things together.

What I did manage to piece together, though, was lovely. Ursula Todd, through her various attempts at life, slowly becomes a strong, smart woman. What a gift to be able to try life over and over until you get it exactly right. Her stories are fascinating, heart-breaking, life-affirming. I'd like to come back to this one someday when the hold list at the library isn't a million people long.

Cut Me Loose: Sin and Salvation After My Ultra-Orthodox Girlhood by Leah Vincent

From Goodreads:

Leah Vincent was born into the Yeshivish community, a fundamentalist sect of ultra-Orthodox Judaism. As the daughter of an influential rabbi, Leah and her ten siblings were raised to worship two things: God and the men who ruled their world. But the tradition-bound future Leah envisioned for herself was cut short when, at sixteen, she was caught exchanging letters with a male friend, a violation of religious law that forbids contact between members of the opposite sex. Leah's parents were unforgiving. Afraid, in part, that her behavior would affect the marriage prospects of their other children, they put her on a plane and cut off ties. Cast out in New York City, without a father or husband tethering her to the Orthodox community, Leah was unprepared to navigate the freedoms of secular life. She spent the next few years using her sexuality as a way of attracting the male approval she had been conditioned to seek out as a child, while becoming increasingly unfaithful to the religious dogma of her past.

I don't remember how I heard about this book but it fit right in with my religious memoir kick. This one, however, was FAR more intense than the others. Leah Vincent was cut off from her family and community for the sin of exchanging letters with a boy. She was completely unprepared for regular life alone in a big city and ended up in...situations. I don't want to spoil it but I seriously sat there wide-eyed through most of the book. I kept thinking, "Surely this is rock bottom." And then something else would happen and I'd be like, "Oh...nope, this is it." And get the picture.

At one point she decided she was so broken that her only real option was prostitution. That did not go well for her. 

The thing that totally broke my heart about this book is that Leah was really trying. She didn't CHOOSE to leave her faith tradition. They unceremoniously kicked her out because they saw someone who was struggling a bit.

That hit pretty close to home. I'm a part of some groups of people who are all over the faith spectrum when it comes to the Mormon church. The saddest part is that most of these people are really trying. They want to stay. But when they ask questions or raise concerns an incredibly common response from the community is, "Why don't you just leave the church?" Why are orthodox religions so quick to shove the struggling ones from the nest? What is it about doubt that scares us so much that we're willing to kick a soul out completely rather than try and help them through it and find their place? 

There was a lot in Vincent's book that I couldn't relate to but a surprising amount that felt familiar. This book isn't for everyone (there's some sexual content) but I found it honest and amazing.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes

From Goodreads:

Lou Clark knows lots of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.

What Lou doesn't know is she's about to lose her job or that knowing what's coming is what keeps her sane.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he's going to put a stop to that.

What Will doesn't know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they're going to change the other for all time.

I actually finished this one a while ago but then the nausea hit and I just never got around to writing about it, despite the fact that I really liked it.

This is kind of a hard read, to be honest. The story is very sweet but the ending is rough. You're pulling for the power of love and isn't enough. The story made me think hard about the idea of euthanasia. Honestly I've never been opposed to it...if people want to die and their life is total crap for whatever reason, who am I to judge? But I feel like I came away from this story feeling the opposite. That idiot had something to LIVE for! Why didn't he even give it a TRY with Lou? I'm not sure becoming anti-euthanasia was the point of the book, but whatever. My change of heart is on YOU, Jojo.

Monday, February 17, 2014

FDR by Jean Edward Smith

Very shortened summary from Goodreads:

One of today’s premier biographers has written a modern, comprehensive, indeed ultimate book on the epic life of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In this superlative volume, Jean Edward Smith combines contemporary scholarship and a broad range of primary source material to provide an engrossing narrative of one of America’s greatest presidents.

This audiobook was about an hour shorter than the Oppenheimer beast I tackled in January but I loved it just as much (if not more?). I mentioned in my post about The Fault in Our Stars that history doesn't tend to elicit much emotion buuut this one kind of made me cry periodically. FDR was an amazing person. He did and said some incredibly inspiring things. The book described the book on Pearl Harbor then went on to talk about FDR's speech, which famously began, 
Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy -- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

And I'm not ashamed to admit that I cried. It's such an amazing moment in history. SO MUCH of this book was comprised of amazing moments in history. The preface states that the 3 most important presidents in US history were Washington, Lincoln, and FDR. Now, having read (heard) about his life, I have to agree. FDR shaped the US as we know it now. He saved it from collapse during the depression. He was BFFs with Winston Churchill (need to add him to my bio list) and was the first US president to fly in an airplane. He rose above a serious physical handicap and inspired a nation. Pretty sure he's my new hero.

Looking for Alaska by John Green

From Goodreads:

Before. Miles "Pudge" Halter's whole existence has been one big nonevent, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave the "Great Perhaps" (Fran├žois Rabelais, poet) even more. Then he heads off to the sometimes crazy, possibly unstable, and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed-up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young, who is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart.

After. Nothing is ever the same.

Well that was...unexpected.

Warning: here be spoilers. 

I was more than a little flabbergasted when Green killed off the title character halfway through the book. I thought she'd run away or they'd all get expelled after a crazy prank but DEATH never even crossed my mind. 

As always, Green includes wonderfully snappy and playful dialogue. His characters are likeable and relateable. He just sort of GETS teenagers, you know? I love that he introduced some deeper thinking in this book- what IS the labyrinth? How do we get out of it? What comes after life? Can we ever really know another person? Exceptionally deep thinking considering it's a novel geared toward high schoolers.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

From Goodreads:

Despite the tumor-shrinking medical miracle that has bought her a few years, Hazel has never been anything but terminal, her final chapter inscribed upon diagnosis. But when a gorgeous plot twist named Augustus Waters suddenly appears at Cancer Kid Support Group, Hazel's story is about to be completely rewritten.

Ugh, this book. 

I've been fairly submerged in nonfiction as of late. Despite the fact that my past several reviews have been of fiction books, the fact is that I'm 20 hours into a 26 hour biography of FDR, halfway through a book about how feminine traits are becoming desirable in the workplace and a few chapters into a history of Canada. I am loving my nonfiction reading but you can't really pretend that nonfiction has much feeling. It's deeply interesting without drawing out any kind of real strong emotions.

So The Fault in Our Stars kind of blind-sided me with FEELS. TOO MANY OF THEM. Even though I closed it sort of hating the world, I also recognize that it's a fantastic book. The dialog is snappy and the main characters are loveable and flawed in a very relateable sort of way.

Also, it has to be said: I hate and love that it didn't have a happy ending. I know I've written several reviews that say something like, "I would have written a different ending but this is YA so you kind of have to do sunshine and rainbows." John Green doesn't buy into that and I kind of love him for it. Life doesn't always get wrapped up in a pretty red bow. It's messy. People break up, they die, they drift apart. I feel like he's setting more realistic expectations than, say, Stephenie Meyer. I actually had a conversation with a teenaged friend about this as soon as I finished this book and she actually said how annoyed she is about all the happy endings that get shoved at her age group. Bless her. Teenagers are smart enough to know better and I think John Green gives them credit for that.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

From Goodreads:

Matteo Alacran was not born; he was harvested with the DNA from El Patron, lord of a country called Opium. Can a boy who was bred to guarantee another’s survival find his own purpose in life? And can he ever be free?

This one won a bunch of awards so I really expected to like it more. It's not that I didn't like it. I just felt like I'd read all of it before in varying forms. Futuristic dystopian society? Been there. Socialistic overtones? Done that. Growing people for their organs? Seen it.

Granted, I just looked it up and apparently it was published in 2004. So odds are good that it was published BEFORE all the others ones I read (except Animal Farm, which totally came to mind in the scenes with the Keepers) so it may have actually been an inspiration for a lot of the others I've read over the past 10 years. I think I just read it at the wrong time. Sorry, Nancy Farmer. I spent the whole book thinking you were derivative when in fact you are probably a pioneer. Props.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

From Goodreads:

Set over the course of one school year in 1986, ELEANOR AND PARK is the story of two star-crossed misfits – smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try. When Eleanor meets Park, you’ll remember your own first love – and just how hard it pulled you under.

This book was a lot heavier than I was expecting but I also think it's an important one. Yes, it's about the beauty of first love and the sweet awkwardness of navigating a new relationship and I'll get to that in a second. But it's also about the victims of abuse and poverty. Park's family situation is loving and secure enough that he has the mental energy to spend a lot of time thinking happily of Eleanor. He can admit to being in love. Then we switch to Eleanor's point of view and she may be thinking about Park OR she may be carefully navigating family politics, trying to protect her siblings from their stepfather, or walking 40 minutes in the dead of winter o the store with her mother because they don't have a car. Park becomes her escape but then she can't trust the situation or any of the feelings involved because she knows how fleeting happiness can be. When you grow up with that kind of instability you come to expect it. Even create it. At the end of the book Eleanor has all but torpedoed her relationship with Park (though it does end on a hopeful note and Rowell has hinted that she may revisit the characters in another book). I know a lot of people disliked the ending since it wasn't hearts and rainbows but I loved it. I feel like Eleanor did the best she could with her situation.

While there is heavier stuff here, there's also a wonderfully sweet romance. It brought back some long buried memories and left me grinning like an idiot. Rowell obviously remembers what it was like to be a teenager and she captures it really well. Although, I do call shenanigans on Park's thoughts. No 16-year-old boy is that poetically romantic.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? By Mindy Kaling

From Goodreads:

Mindy Kaling has lived many lives: the obedient child of immigrant professionals, a timid chubster afraid of her own bike, a Ben Affleck–impersonating Off-Broadway performer and playwright, and, finally, a comedy writer and actress prone to starting fights with her friends and coworkers with the sentence “Can I just say one last thing about this, and then I swear I’ll shut up about it?” 

If you're going to read a comedian's book and they have an audio version in which they narrate their own book- do that version. Listening to Mindy Kaling prattle on about her life for 4ish hours was the most pleasant possible way to get through my Saturday cleaning. She has that hilarious neo-valley girl way of speaking that sounds like she's just having a casual conversation with you over lunch. I feel like we're BFFs now.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Wonder by RJ Palacio

From Goodreads:

August (Auggie) Pullman was born with a facial deformity that prevented him from going to a mainstream school—until now. He's about to start 5th grade at Beecher Prep, and if you've ever been the new kid then you know how hard that can be. The thing is Auggie's just an ordinary kid, with an extraordinary face. But can he convince his new classmates that he's just like them, despite appearances?

R. J. Palacio has written a spare, warm, uplifting story that will have readers laughing one minute and wiping away tears the next. With wonderfully realistic family interactions (flawed, but loving), lively school scenes, and short chapters, Wonder is accessible to readers of all levels.

Oh this book. I laughed. I cried. I googled mandibulofacial dysostosis.

This is one I'll absolutely be having my boys read. I think the multiple viewpoints help the reader understand that everyone has things they're going through and we shouldn't judge just from what we can see. Miranda seemed like she was just turning into a stuck-up popular teenage girl but then we switch to her viewpoint and...that's not the case. 

Auggie's English teacher talks about precepts and has a new one each month for his students to think about. I feel like the precept for the book is "Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle." A valuable lesson no matter what your age is!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman's Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine by Sue Monk Kidd

From Goodreads:

The acclaimed spiritual memoir from the author of The Secret Life of Bees
"I was amazed to find that I had no idea how to unfold my spiritual life in a feminine way. I was surprised and, in fact, a little terrified when I found myself in the middle of a feminist spiritual reawakening."
Sue Monk was a "conventionally religious, churchgoing woman, a traditional wife and mother" with a thriving career as a Christian writer until she began to question her role as a woman in her culture, her family, and her church. From a jarring encounter with sexism in a suburban drugstore to monastery retreats and rituals in the caves of Crete, Kidd takes readers through the fear, anger, healing, and transformation of her awakening. Retaining a meaningful connection "with the deep song of Christianity," she opens the door for traditional Christian women to discover a spirituality that speaks directly to them and provides inspiring wisdom for all who struggle to embrace their full humanity.

This book came as a recommendation from a woman I deeply admire (Aaron calls her my girl crush). She's been where I am and came out the other side full of peace and light. So when she recommended it and then I discovered that my library didn't carry it, I actually BOUGHT myself a copy. Something I do approximately...never.

I wish I could write separate reviews for each section of this book because they held varying values for me. The first section is called Awakening and I devoured it thinking, HOW DOES THIS WOMAN KNOW MY LIFE. She had words for things I experienced but couldn't articulate. She understood my difficulties, my discomfort, and my fears. It was a powerful feeling, knowing that I'm not even remotely alone. I highlighted this section all over the place, finding the words and inspiration I needed to make some hard decisions.

The second section, Initiation, took me a couple weeks to get through. There was so little about this part of her journey that I related to. I highlighted one single quote. I think that, perhaps, she had issues to work through that I didn't and that's why I didn't find the same kinship with the Initiation section. I also don't feel quite the same pull toward Goddess that she does. Especially not to the exclusion of my generally Christian understanding of deity. There has to be a happy medium.

I warily started into the third section, called Grounding. She continued to discuss things that held no resonance with me (I don't need to create my own ceremonies. I am not hippie enough for that, apparently) but I loved her discussions of the Divine Feminine. She talks about how She has manifested herself through the ages in varying religious traditions and even within the Bible (though She has been mostly scrubbed out in modern translations). There was a lot in the third section that felt eye-opening and important. I have a lot of processing to do with this section but I ultimately came out of it feeling deeply empowered. That there is power in being a woman and I have every right and responsibility to stand up for myself and my gender against that which denigrates or wounds.

The final section, Empowerment, felt a bit fluffy. I skimmed. It was sort of a rehash. I already FELT empowered, no need to beat the horse. Again, different women have different issues. She worked through her issues whereas I feel like I was already good to go.

I also couldn't help but feel her dreams were awfully convenient. How nice for her to dream in strong, clear, feminist symbols. I dream about showing up places in my underwear but I'm sure my white buffalo will show up any time.

While there was a lot that I couldn't relate to or that made me raise an eyebrow, overall this book had a hugely positive effect on me. There were specific lines or words in there that hit me like a shock to the brain. I felt strong and empowered as I read and greatly comforted that there are women who have walked this same path before.

I really wish, though, that she talked about balancing strong feminist sensibilities with Christianity. Instead, she sort of went the total opposite direction into ignoring God the Father in order to embrace the Goddess. I said this a few paragraphs up, but there has to be a happy medium. She helped me understand a LOT about myself and my experiences but she didn't lay a path I can follow. Guess I have to forge my own.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

January Reading Summary

It's possible that January 2014 was my best month ever for reading. Just for kicks and giggles, here's an amateurish little visual breakdown:

I must say that I am absurdly proud of the amount of nonfiction I read. I'm not normally a huge reader of NF but I found lots this month that interested me and I tore through them. Also, of the 10 audio books I read, only 3 were fiction. For me, the best way to get through nonfiction is to turn on an audiobook and start cleaning my house. I find history or political theory significantly more interesting when someone is reading it to me while I scrub my stove top.

If I had to choose only ONE fiction book to recommend from my January reading it would probably be The Girl of Fire and Thorns by Rae Carson. It's so fantastically well written while also being entertaining and empowering.

If I had to pick ONE nonfiction book it would be Half the Sky by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl Wudunn. That book was life-changing. I think it should be required reading.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

From Goodreads:

Under the streets of London there's a place most people could never even dream of. A city of monsters and saints, murderers and angels, knights in armour and pale girls in black velvet. This is the city of the people who have fallen between the cracks.

Richard Mayhew, a young businessman, is going to find out more than enough about this other London. A single act of kindness catapults him out of his workday existence and into a world that is at once eerily familiar and utterly bizarre. And a strange destiny awaits him down here, beneath his native city: Neverwhere.

I read Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book at some point and loved it. I also read American Gods and thought it very good. He's got such a rabid cult following that I assumed I would love just about anything he wrote. But....I didn't.

Neverwhere was just a little too dark for me, I guess. The characters were plenty engaging (seeing a publicity shot for the radio broadcast really helped me envision them) and the plot was adequately twisty but I think the biggest part of the problem is that I couldn't see myself in the world of Neverwhere I wouldn't want to. It's a dark, violent, unfriendly place and apparently I like my alternative universes a little more sunshiney. Oh well.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels

From Goodreads:

The Gnostic Gospels is a landmark study of the long-buried roots of Christianity, a work of luminous scholarship and wide popular appeal. First published in 1979 to critical acclaim, winning the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award, The Gnostic Gospels has continued to grow in reputation and influence over the past two decades. It is now widely recognized as one of the most brilliant and accessible histories of early Christian spirituality published in our time.

Another book I'm reading included a fantastic quote from this book about women in the primitive church that really struck me so I hopped onto Overdrive and picked up the entire book. I'm so glad I did! I knew little to nothing about the gnostic gospels and even less about the gnostic branch of Christianity that didn't make it much past 200 AD. This is a great introductory type book if you're totally clueless- Pagels gives plenty of background and none of her analyses are too esoteric for the casual reader. 

I especially loved her discussion on the divine feminine, a subject of particular interest to me lately. She expounds a few different theories that were popular during early Christian times but have since been mostly quashed: a divine mother, a feminine holy spirit as the 3rd member of the Trinity, a dyadic god, and a few more pagan ideas that were adopted by some followers of gnosticism. All utterly fascinating. It was a LOT of new information- I kind of want to listen again!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin

From Goodreads:

American Prometheus is the first full-scale biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer, "father of the atomic bomb," the brilliant, charismatic physicist who led the effort to capture the awesome fire of the sun for his country in time of war. Immediately after Hiroshima, he became the most famous scientist of his generation - one of the iconic figures of the twentieth century, the embodiment of modern man confronting the consequences of scientific progress.

I'm going to take a wild guess and say this is the longest non-fiction book I've ever read for fun. It is exhaustively detailed and impeccably researched. It clocks in at 725 pages in book form and TWENTY-SEVEN HOURS in audio form. Fortunately, due to double speed listening on the Overdrive app, I spent about half that working my way through.

I stopped in the middle of listening to this book in order to listen to Bomb, which ended up being kind of a funny coincidence of timing. They cover a lot of the same ground, though American Prometheus covers it much much MUCH more minutely while focusing exclusively on Oppenheimer rather than the Manhattan Project (and its people) as a whole. 

I also stopped toward the end to listen to Unbroken which was, again, a funny coincidence of timing. I've never been particularly interested in the WWII era but now I'm feeling like a bit of an expert.

Despite this book's exhaustive length I can honestly say I only felt bored briefly and infrequently. Bird and Sherwin move Oppenheimer's story along at a fairly fast clip and greatly humanize this god of science. They aptly illustrate his genius as well as the travesty that was his hearing in the 50s. This is a book I never would have looked twice at if not for the mention in Outliers but I'm really glad I picked it up.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

From Goodreads:

On a May afternoon in 1943, an Army Air Forces bomber crashed into the Pacific Ocean and disappeared, leaving only a spray of debris and a slick of oil, gasoline, and blood.  Then, on the ocean surface, a face appeared.  It was that of a young lieutenant, the plane’s bombardier, who was struggling to a life raft and pulling himself aboard.  So began one of the most extraordinary odysseys of the Second World War.
In her long-awaited new book, Laura Hillenbrand writes with the same rich and vivid narrative voice she displayed in Seabiscuit.  Telling an unforgettable story of a man’s journey into extremity, Unbroken is a testament to the resilience of the human mind, body, and spirit.

I've been hearing about this book for ages from just about everyone. For some reason I've been putting it off (as I often do when it comes to things everyone else raves about) but since I'm really making an effort to work through my "to read" list, I finally put it on hold. My hold happened to become available during a month when I've been reading all kinds of books about the WWII era so I felt like I was in a better position to wrap my mind around the story.  

I've read some really amazing books so far this year but this is a contender for one of the best. It's amazing what people can (and have) survived and also what some human beings are willing to do to others. Also, if I thought I was terrified of sharks before...

Anyway, Louis's story is one of courage, survival and redemption but also so much heartbreak. I feel like books like Unbroken are so important for helping people understand the true cost of war. It's not just uniforms and glory. There's a real human toll and it can be very steep. Even after he survived his ordeal on the raft and then years of abuse in Japanese camps, he went on fighting the war in his mind for years, slumping into depression and alcoholism before he finally found redemption and a measure of peace through God and forgiveness. A lovely ending to a rather terrifying tale.  

Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor by Jana Riess

From Goodreads:

This wry memoir tackles twelve different spiritual practices in a quest to become more saintly, including fasting, fixed-hour prayer, the Jesus Prayer, gratitude, Sabbath-keeping, and generosity. Although Riess begins with great plans for success (“Really, how hard could that be?” she asks blithely at the start of her saint-making year), she finds to her growing humiliation that she is failing—not just at some of the practices, but at every single one. What emerges is a funny yet vulnerable story of the quest for spiritual perfection and the reality of spiritual failure, which turns out to be a valuable practice in and of itself. 

(I can't get the cover image to upload for some reason.)

I remember hearing about Flunking Sainthood when it came out a couple years ago. I kind of avoided it because the author is Mormon and...I dunno. I'm prejudiced against my own kind? As it turns out, though, Riess takes an almost non-denominational Christian approach to her year of attempting sainthood. She never mentions specifically that she's Mormon (although clues are there) but tries to embrace a wide variety of spiritual practices, teaching and writings. The end result is a comfortable hodge-podge of faiths that feels homey, familiar and inclusive. This is likely because she's a convert married to a non-member and has spent time in Benedictine monasteries after attending a religious seminary. If there's anyone who could write such a cross-denominational approach to faith, it's her.

I came away from Flunking Sainthood interested in trying religious practices outside my faith tradition. I'm all about finding different pathways to Christ and it sounds like she found some good ones. I'd also like to try being more grateful and less judgmental (especially since I often accuse people of being judgey. Oh the irony). Despite Riess's insistence that she "flunked" her project, I found the whole thing inspiring and uplifting.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Opal by Jennifer L. Armentrout

From Goodreads:

After everything, I’m no longer the same Katy. I’m different... And I’m not sure what that will mean in the end. When each step we take in discovering the truth puts us in the path of the secret organization responsible for torturing and testing hybrids, the more I realize there is no end to what I’m capable of. The death of someone close still lingers, help comes from the most unlikely source, and friends will become the deadliest of enemies, but we won’t turn back. Even if the outcome will shatter our worlds forever.

Ok this is still far FAR from highbrow literature. But! I really really enjoyed this one. The teenagey angst! The hilarious faux-swears! The twists that made me gasp "NO!" in my empty kitchen. I dunno, I was just really responding to this, the third book in the series. It helps that I'm 20 hours into a 27 hour nonfiction audio book so something fluffy and fun was perfect.

I totally thought this was the last in a trilogy but, judging by that ending, the adventure isn't over yet! Onward!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Fire and Thorns Novellas by Rae Carson

While I was waiting for The Bitter Kingdom to become available I realized that Rae Carson wrote 3 novellas about secondary and tertiary characters from the series. It speaks volumes about her characterization that I found then every bit as good as her full length books with Elisa at the center. Mara's story (The Shattered Mountain) in particular was fantastic, but I really enjoyed all 3. It really helped to explain why these characters became the people they are by the time The Girl of Fire and Thorns happens. If you're mildly obsessed with these books (I aaaaam) then these novellas are well worth your time.

On Goodreads:
The Shadow Cats
The Shattered Mountain
The King's Guard

Monday, January 20, 2014

The Dark and Hollow Places by Carrie Ryan

From Goodreads:

There are many things that Annah would like to forget: the look on her sister's face when she and Elias left her behind in the Forest of Hands and Teeth, her first glimpse of the horde as they found their way to the Dark City, the sear of the barbed wire that would scar her for life. But most of all, Annah would like to forget the morning Elias left her for the Recruiters.

Annah's world stopped that day and she's been waiting for him to come home ever since. Without him, her life doesn't feel much different from that of the dead that roam the wasted city around her. Then she meets Catcher and everything feels alive again.

Except, Catcher has his own secrets -- dark, terrifying truths that link him to a past Annah's longed to forget, and to a future too deadly to consider. And now it's up to Annah -- can she continue to live in a world drenched in the blood of the living? Or is death the only escape from the Return's destruction?

About halfway through this book I thought, "WHY am I doing this to myself??" The spark of hope I felt during The Dead Tossed Waves when I thought maaaybe they'd be able to use Catcher's immunity to save people flickered out as Carrie Ryan just sort of ran roughshod all over the remainder of humanity. 

This is why I can't watch The Walking Dead and why I am Legend scarred me for life. I just can't handle how bleak zombie stuff tends to be. And this one was BLEAK. Sure, it ends on a very small note of hope but it's not what I was hoping for.

Also, something that keeps bothering me- why are they not BURNING the zombies? Like they knew there was this huge valley full of downed zombies that could all awake and overtake the ONE big city left in the entire world...and they chose not to just start dropping all kinds of burning things down there from the bridge above? That seems short-sighted. 

Anyway, I loved the characters but I'm still a little annoyed at myself that I finished the series. I feel kind of depressed now.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Love Does by Bob Goff

From Goodreads:

Bob Goff has become something of a legend, and his friends consider him the world's best-kept secret. Those same friends have long insisted he write a book. What follows are paradigm shifts, musings, and stories from one of the world's most delightfully engaging and winsome people. What fuels his impact? Love. But it's not the kind of love that stops at thoughts and feelings. Bob's love takes action. Bob believes "Love Does."

When "Love Does," life gets interesting. Each day turns into a hilarious, whimsical, meaningful chance that makes faith simple and real. Each chapter is a story that forms a book, a life. And this is one life you don't want to miss.

Light and fun, unique and profound, the lessons drawn from Bob's life and attitude just might inspire you to be secretly incredible, too.

I picked this up because RA recommended it. I found a few parts a little slow but, for the most part, I felt really inspired. Goff is a great storyteller with some really fascinating life experiences behind him. He ties these experiences to how we can better do the work of God by being more kind, more loving, more willing to DO stuff.

The timing of reading this book was really interesting as I'm going through a bit of a faith journey myself, trying to work harder at just doing good things in Jesus' name rather than focusing so much on the the "fluff" and performances of organized religion. Goff validated my approach and made me feel good about the path I'm taking.

Two quotes that I wrote down early on (before I forgot about writing stuff down and just focused on reading)-

[Talking about his friend Randy] "He was committed to me and he believed in me. I wasn't a project; I was his friend. I wondered if maybe all Christians operated this way. I didn't think so, because most of them I had met up until that time were kind of wimpy and seemed to have more opinions about what or who they were against than who they were for."

"To me, Jesus sounded like an ordinary guy who was utterly amazing. He helped people. He figured out what they really needed and tried to point them toward that. He healed people who were hurting. He spent time with the kinds of people most of us spend our lives avoiding. It didn't seem to matter to Jesus who these people were because He was all about engagement." 

I just saw that RA recommended reading a section a day rather than reading all 31 sections straight. Now that I've finished the book I really wish I had taken that approach. It allows a little more space for pondering and implementation.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Dead-Tossed Waves by Carrie Ryan

From Goodreads:

Gabry lives a quiet life. As safe a life as is possible in a town trapped between a forest and the ocean, in a world teeming with the dead, who constantly hunger for those still living. She’s content on her side of the Barrier, happy to let her friends dream of the Dark City up the coast while she watches from the top of her lighthouse. But there are threats the Barrier cannot hold back. Threats like the secrets Gabry’s mother thought she left behind when she escaped from the Sisterhood and the Forest of Hands and Teeth. Like the cult of religious zealots who worship the dead. Like the stranger from the forest who seems to know Gabry. And suddenly, everything is changing. One reckless moment, and half of Gabry’s generation is dead, the other half imprisoned. Now Gabry only knows one thing: she must face the forest of her mother’s past in order to save herself and the one she loves.

It's been a good long while since I read The Forest of Hands and Teeth so I struggled a bit getting back into the story. It IS a sequel but you could read it independently of the first book. I half wonder if the first book was meant to stand alone but then did so well that she decided to continue the story. However, I remember The Forest of Hands and Teeth being beautiful, almost hauntingly written. The sequel lacks some of the poetry I found in the first. 

However, The Dead Tossed Waves offers something that was seriously lacking in the first book: hope. I closed the first book feeling so dark. Everyone died except Mary, who would then have to find her way in a different town surrounded by different walls, still never escaping the Unconsecrated. The end. Things go a bit differently in the sequel. There are still devastating deaths and dark realities but that tiny spark of hope makes such a big difference in the overall feel of the book. What it lacked in poetry it made up for with faith that eventually there might be happy endings in a terribly bleak world. 

It still gave me nightmares but I think I enjoyed it a bit more than the first.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Naked by David Sedaris

From Goodreads:

Welcome to the hilarious, strange, elegiac, outrageous world of David Sedaris. In Naked, Sedaris turns the mania for memoir on its ear, mining the exceedingly rich terrain of his life, his family, and his unique worldview-a sensibility at once take-no-prisoners sharp and deeply charitable. A tart-tongued mother does dead-on imitations of her young son's nervous tics, to the great amusement of his teachers; a stint of Kerouackian wandering is undertaken (of course!) with a quadriplegic companion; a family gathers for a wedding in the face of imminent death. Through it all is Sedaris's unmistakable voice, without doubt one of the freshest in American writing.

I always enjoy David Sedaris's writing. This one is a little darker than his normal fare, dealing with his compulsive tendencies as a child and his mother's lung cancer (at one point I was like, "I'm not sure this is supposed to be funny?") but his trademark wit is still there. I listened to the audio book version, which he always narrates his books himself. It helps a lot to have him reading his own writing, especially when dealing with the darker humor. He injects lightness into the writing that I'm not sure I would have picked up on if I was reading it on the page. 

Not my favorite of his but still worth the time. 

Bomb: The Race to Build- and Steal- the World's Most Dangerous Weapon

From Goodreads:

In December of 1938, a chemist in a German laboratory made a shocking discovery: When placed next to radioactive material, a Uranium atom split in two. That simple discovery launched a scientific race that spanned 3 continents. In Great Britain and the United States, Soviet spies worked their way into the scientific community; in Norway, a commando force slipped behind enemy lines to attack German heavy-water manufacturing; and deep in the desert, one brilliant group of scientists was hidden away at a remote site at Los Alamos. This is the story of the plotting, the risk-taking, the deceit, and genius that created the world's most formidable weapon. This is the story of the atomic bomb.

The timing of this book becoming available was kind of funny since I'm also in the middle of American Prometheus, a biography of J. Robert Oppenheimer. 

This book is so fantastically well researched and written. It makes the subject matter a bit more palatable but I still found myself fairly emotional when Sheinkin got to the bombing of Hiroshima. It's a horrifying period in our national history and the epilogue, which discusses the consequences of using today's significantly more powerful atomic weapons, was quite sobering. 

That being said, it's one of the best nonfiction books I've read in a long time.

The Bitter Kingdom by Rae Carson

From Goodreads:

The epic conclusion to Rae Carson's Fire and Thorns trilogy. The seventeen-year-old sorcerer-queen will travel into the unknown realm of the enemy to win back her true love, save her country, and uncover the final secrets of her destiny.

Elisa is a fugitive in her own country. Her enemies have stolen the man she loves in order to lure her to the gate of darkness. As she and her daring companions take one last quest into unknown enemy territory to save Hector, Elisa will face hardships she's never imagined. And she will discover secrets about herself and her world that could change the course of history. She must rise up as champion-a champion to those who have hated her most.

I'm in the middle of like 4 other books right now but when I got the notification that my hold for The Bitter Kingdom had become available I pushed the others to the side and got cracking.

Yet again Rae Carson weaves a fantastic adventure tale. Each time I read one of her books I think to myself, "Now THIS is writing! And plot! And structure!" So much YA stuff is fluffy to the extreme. This is not. Girl power abounds though at one point she admits that sometimes she DOES need saving and she allows someone to come to her rescue. I think that's a powerful message to the YA should do your own saving as much as possible but sometimes it's ok to admit defeat and accept help.

I've loved this trilogy so much I'm a little sad it's over. BUT! The end was perfect. Elisa finally comes to the conclusion that her power has always come from within. That she is beautiful to herself and that is all that matters. The guy does get the girl in the end (yay!) but it's her own realizations about herself and her ability to lead 3 nations that makes the ending so satisfying.

Also, I know I make this sound like a crazy feminist series but it's not. That's just the stuff I pick up on after reading novels like Twilight and the Lux series. It's just nice to have a book I know I can recommend to my young women without worried their takeaway will be that they need to find a boyfriend.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

From Goodreads:

Strong-willed and independent, Rachel Held Evans couldn't sew a button on a blouse before she embarked on a radical life experiment--a year of biblical womanhood. Intrigued by the traditionalist resurgence that led many of her friends to abandon their careers to assume traditional gender roles in the home, Evans decides to try it for herself, vowing to take all of the Bible's instructions for women as literally as possible for a year.

Someone mentioned on Facebook that the Kindle edition of this book was $2.99. I was in the middle of waiting for any one of my many holds to become available so I went and snapped it up.

Rachel (we're on a first name basis) alternates between silly and serious with ease. She talks about doing penance on her rooftop with a bit of a smirk then a few pages later talks seriously about the darker tales of women in the bible and now we must not forget them. She strikes a fine balance between reverence for the Bible and all that it represents for millions of people while also poking fun at some of it's outdated culturally based proclamations. This project could have gone very wrong (too religious, not religious enough) but she handled it so well. 

I particularly loved the story of her visit to Bolivia. I just finished Half the Sky myself so I knew exactly what she was feeling as she talked about wanting to DO something for our sisters around the world who are hurting, oppressed, and struggling. 

It also made me realize how crappy my knowledge of the Bible is. She referenced women and stories I am only vaguely familiar with, if at all. I should really make an effort this year to read the Bible, especially now that Rachel has given the stories such an interesting perspective!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

From Goodreads:

Jessica thinks her life is over when she loses a leg in a car accident. She's not comforted by the news that she'll be able to walk with the help of a prosthetic leg. Who cares about walking when you live to run?

As she struggles to cope with crutches and a first cyborg-like prosthetic, Jessica feels oddly both in the spotlight and invisible. People who don't know what to say, act like she's not there. Which she could handle better if she weren't now keenly aware that she'd done the same thing herself to a girl with CP named Rosa. A girl who is going to tutor her through all the math she's missed. A girl who sees right into the heart of her.

With the support of family, friends, a coach, and her track teammates, Jessica may actually be able to run again. But that's not enough for her now. She doesn't just want to cross finish lines herself—she wants to take Rosa with her.

I read Wendelin Van Draanen's Flipped last year at the recommendation of one of my young women. It was cute, fluffy and fairly quick so when Janssen recommended The Running Dream I added it to my list as well. It's another quick, snappy kind of read but it's not nearly as fluffy. This one deals with some hard things. One of Jessica's teammates dies in the accident that takes her leg. Jessica is angry and depressed at first and adjusting to life without a leg isn't easy. She pulls herself together though and quickly learns to walk and then run again. There were times when I thought that her character arc from angry amputee to inspirational story was a little too easy but then I remembered that this is a YA book and I just rolled with it. I cried more times than I care to admit. One I'd absolutely recommend.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

The Crown of Embers by Rae Carson

From Goodreads:

In the sequel to the acclaimed The Girl of Fire and Thorns, a seventeen-year-old princess turned war queen faces sorcery, adventure, untold power, and romance as she fulfills her epic destiny.

Elisa is the hero of her country. She led her people to victory against a terrifying enemy, and now she is their queen. But she is only seventeen years old. Her rivals may have simply retreated, choosing stealth over battle. And no one within her court trusts her-except Hector, the commander of the royal guard, and her companions. As the country begins to crumble beneath her and her enemies emerge from the shadows, Elisa will take another journey. With a one-eyed warrior, a loyal friend, an enemy defector, and the man she is falling in love with, Elisa crosses the ocean in search of the perilous, uncharted, and mythical source of the Godstone's power. That is not all she finds. A breathtaking, romantic, and dangerous second volume in the Fire and Thorns trilogy.

So often the second book in a trilogy is the weakest link, a filler book that barely advances the story. Crown of Embers escaped that fate and, if possible, I enjoyed it even more than I did The Girl of Fire and Thorns. Elisa continues to grow, to find her own power, to take charge of her own life in the midst of her crumbling kingdom. 

While reading both books I find myself thinking, "This author is so good." The characters and conflicts are complex, with no obvious or easy out. There are sacrifices and betrayals and people who think what they are doing is for the best but is really not helping at all. This is the kind of fiction that sucks you in, beats you up and spits you out wanting more. 

I'm #5 on the list for book 3. BRING IT ON.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

From Goodreads:

The most successful may not be the smartest or hardest working. Shift rather to where they are from. What is their culture, family, generation, and the idiosyncratic experiences of their upbringing? Where and when were they born? From Asian maths students to the British Beatles, stereotypes can be addressed through different eyes.

I'm very much a fiction fan and it's rare that I find a nonfiction book riveting but I couldn't put Outliers down. I ended up telling Aaron about it almost every chance I got because it was so darn fascinating and I was sure he would think so too. It was interesting to find applications to people I know as well. I know more than one person who, by all accounts, SHOULD be doing ridiculously well. They've got the education and work ethic and everything else that should add up to serious success story but, due to factors outside their control, they can't seem to catch a break. Whereas there are others in my life who are incredibly successful due to a lot of the factors that Gladwell talks about. So so interesting.

Friday, January 10, 2014

End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy by James Swanson

From Goodreads:

In End of Days, James L. Swanson, the New York Times bestselling author of Manhunt: The 12-Day Chase for Lincoln's Killer, brings to life the minute-by-minute details of the JFK assassination—from the Kennedys' arrival in Texas through the shooting in Dealey Plaza and the shocking aftermath that continues to reverberate in our national consciousness fifty years later.

The assassination of John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963, has been the subject of enduring debate, speculation, and numerous conspiracy theories, but Swanson's absorbing and complete account follows the event hour-by-hour, from the moment Lee Harvey Oswald conceived of the crime three days before its execution, to his own murder two days later at a Dallas Police precinct at the hands of Jack Ruby, a two-bit nightclub owner.

Based on sweeping research never before collected so powerfully in a single volume, and illustrated with photographs, End of Days distills Kennedy's assassination into a pulse-pounding thriller that is sure to become the definitive popular account of this historic crime for years to come.

I have been a fan of James Swanson since seeing him speak a few years ago at the National Book Festival in Washington DC. I devoured his book about the assassination of Lincoln and was really stoked to read this one about JFK, a story I don't know all that much about.

However, I found most of this book rather disappointing. It was overly long, needlessly dramatic for the first half (the story itself has plenty of drama on its own without practically adding an implied "dun dun DUN!" after every paragraph). Things got much better about halfway through, though. His coverage of the actual shooting and immediate aftermath was heartrending (I bawled as he described Jackie's refusal to let go of her husband's body). His writing of the scene where Lyndon Johnson took the oath of the president aboard Air Force One was poignant and befitting the solemn occasion. 

The thing I came away with at the end was that Jackie is the real hero of this story. Her strength and poise through an extremely difficult time was incredibly inspiring. 

This book definitely had its difficulties (he devoted an entire page to "what ifs." Really?) but it redeemed itself in the end and I'm glad I persevered.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan

From Goodreads:

Percy is confused. When he awoke from his long sleep, he didn't know much more than his name. His brain fuzz is lingering, even after the wolf Lupa told him he is a demigod and trained him to fight with the pen/sword in his pocket. Somehow Percy manages to make it to a camp for half-bloods, despite the fact that he has to keep killing monsters along the way. But the camp doesn't ring any bells with him. The only thing he can recall from his past is another name: Annabeth

Hazel is supposed to be dead. When she lived before, she didn't do a very good job of it. Sure, she was an obedient daughter, even when her mother was possessed by greed. But that was the problem — when the Voice took over her mother and commanded Hazel to use her "gift" for an evil purpose, Hazel couldn't say no. Now because of her mistake, the future of the world is at risk. Hazel wished she could ride away from it all on the stallion that appears in her dreams.

Frank is a klutz. His grandmother says he is descended from heroes and can be anything he wants to be, but he doesn't see it. He doesn't even know who his father is. He keeps hoping Apollo will claim him, because the only thing he is good at is archery — although not good enough to win camp war games. His bulky physique makes him feel like an ox, especially infront of Hazel, his closest friend at camp. He trusts her completely — enough to share the secret he holds close to his heart.

Beginning at the "other" camp for half-bloods and extending as far as the land beyond the gods, this breathtaking second installment of the Heroes of Olympus series introduces new demigods, revives fearsome monsters, and features other remarkable creatures, all destined to play a part in the Prophesy of Seven.

We found Percy! Something about having Percy at the center of the story brings out Riordan's sense of humor because I found myself cackling quite frequently, much more than I did in the previous book. Such a great mix of humor, history, action and adventure. The new characters that have been introduced in this series are all fantastic. They have a lot on the line and they're often the underdogs but they always come through, willing to sacrifice in order to defeat evil.

Also, I mentioned this in my last post, but the narrator is SO fantastic. He does great voices and he's so gleeful about everything that you can't help getting swept along.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Onyx (Lux #2) by Jennifer L. Armentrout

From Goodreads:

Being connected to Daemon Black sucks…

Thanks to his alien mojo, Daemon’s determined to prove what he feels for me is more than a product of our bizarro connection. So I’ve sworn him off, even though he’s running more hot than cold these days. But we’ve got bigger problems.

Something worse than the Arum has come to town…

The Department of Defense are here. If they ever find out what Daemon can do and that we're linked, I’m a goner. So is he. And there's this new boy in school who’s got a secret of his own. He knows what’s happened to me and he can help, but to do so, I have to lie to Daemon and stay away from him. Like that's possible. Against all common sense, I'm falling for Daemon. Hard.

But then everything changes…

I’ve seen someone who shouldn’t be alive. And I have to tell Daemon, even though I know he’s never going to stop searching until he gets the truth. What happened to his brother? Who betrayed him? And what does the DOD want from them—from me?

No one is who they seem. And not everyone will survive the lies…

This is the second book in the Lux series, after Obsidian, which I read last week. It still wouldn't stand a snowball's chance in hell of passing the Bechdel test BUT I found the government conspiracy angle markedly more interesting and enjoyed this book more than the first. It helps that it pulled a Twilight move by making the girl LESS of a helpless wimp via power transference. I'll take what I can get. Also, I will admit that I love that Katy is a book blogger. Bless her heart.

I think that I will like the 3rd book even more. I suspect they'll be breaking into government buildings trying to bust people out next and that sounds like something I can get behind. I'm sticking with it.