Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Hillbilly Elegy

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in CrisisHillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let's be honest, I read this book for three reasons:
1) I really like the cover and the title. The juxtaposition of the two title words is startling and intriguing.
2) A few of the readers I trust most recommended it.
3) Last but not least, I, like so many, was completely caught off-guard by November's election. All the media I consumed had positively assured me that he who must not be named could never win. Clearly, we all missed something. I knew that reading Vance's book wouldn't be able to fully explain that, but I needed to make an attempt to understand other voices in this country.

Vance's book left me shaking my head in disbelief. It is unthinkable that we live in the richest country in the world, and yet, so many of our people suffer and struggle unnecessarily. Even harder to grasp is how those problems are made worse by personal choices, and then, of course, it's the children that suffer most. Vance offers some theories about why it happens and what can be done, but mostly, this is just his story. He survived a hard childhood and rose above his struggles to attend Yale law among many other successes. And yet, I don't feel a tremendous sense of resolution. His success pales against the vast majority that still struggle with no end in sight.

I am not sure that I am glad that I read this, but it's a good dialogue to join. It seems essential that we all become more aware of what is happening around us. The more informed we are, perhaps the more likely we are to find ways to support those who need it most.

Happy reading--

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Orphan Keeper

The Orphan KeeperThe Orphan Keeper by Camron Wright
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It's no surprise that I love to get lost in a good book. The story of a young Indian boy taken from his home and then illegally put up for adoption in the United States is a fascinating one. This novel is based on the life of a real person from Utah who eventually really did return to India to find his family. The real story is so compelling that I wanted to disappear into the contrasting tastes and sounds of an Indian village alongside the stoic grandeur of the Rocky Mountains. But I couldn't.

The writing is distracting and uneven. The story telling is unevenly paced and important details glossed over while others brought to the forefront when they don't really matter. I wonder if part of the issue is that the author made the stylistic choice to skip over much of the religious life of the real person. This meant that the two year mission the real Taj Rowland went on became a study abroad. The details don't entirely make sense, and I think that a non-fiction version of this written in Laura Hillenbrand's style might have been better.

Long story a bit longer: I 100% get why so many people love this story. The story really is amazing. But the writing leaves much to be desired. Truth be told, I would probably give this book two stars, but because so many people I love loved this book, I am giving it three so as to not start any drama...and I have just joined a new book club and this is their second book choice. I'm not connected with any of them on Goodreads, but in case they do join, I don't want to be ousted so early on. ;)

Happy reading and happy almost summer--

Monday, May 8, 2017

The Little Prince

The Little PrinceThe Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I know what you're thinking-- that only a person without a soul could not like "The Little Prince"...that I probably hate bunnies and sunshine and the sound of children's laughter too. That is definitely not the case, but I did not love The Little Prince. Perhaps my expectations were too high. People rave about this book and how it profoundly affected their outlook on life. And don't get me wrong, the message is beautiful, but I forced myself through every page. It just did not speak to me as it has spoken to others. Anne Bogel who writes the Modern Mrs. Darcy blog and runs the "What Should I Read Next" podcast, recently referenced W. H. Auden and his belief that there are some books that we as readers, can acknowledge are good, but they are not good for us. This is one of those books. I can see why people love it, but it will not make my list of must-reads.

With that less-than-popular opinion said, as always, happy reading--

Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told YouEverything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Life is a series of goals, dreams, and expectations - some of which are met, and some of which are left woefully behind us as we grow out of the dream or face a harsh reality. Some are simply forgotten because new dreams and aspirations take their place. "Everything I Never Told You" tells the story of a family whose individual dreams and experiences are a messy knot of failure, disappointed expectation, or false contentment. While some of the story is a little too coincidental, I really liked how Ng captured the uncommunicated barriers that people face or put up. Sometimes, I think, it's the lack of communication and not the failed dream that really trips up the characters (us too in real life).

Quality read with subtle details that required my full attention. I was happy to give it.

Happy reading--

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

It Happens All the Time

It Happens All the TimeIt Happens All the Time by Amy Hatvany
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I am all sorts of conflicted about what to say about this book. I need to preface my comments with the fact that Amy Hatvany is not a bad writer. In fact, she sets up a compelling narrative, but this book was not what I expected: an entire novel based on sexual assault. I didn't need a play-by-play of what happened and then I didn't need to re-live it over and over with the character. The tone was preachy during the last few chapters, and while I think this is a really important topic, I do not (and did not) want to read an entire novel about it.

That said, sexuality and sexual assault is something that we need to start talking about more candidly. It's the very taboo nature of the topics that lead to so many women not reporting what happens to them. Open dialogue is the answer to so many of our society's current problems. I wish instead I had read a book about that. Glennon Doyle Melton, for example, would have been a much better read for me.

Totally your call on this one, but as always, happy reading--

ps. Should't I have known better from the title?!

Monday, April 24, 2017

Everything, Everything

Everything, EverythingEverything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was a perfect light read after finishing such a gut-wrenching book earlier in the week. It was the last thing I read before bed and first thing I picked up all weekend.

The premise of Yoon's book is fascinating, albeit a bit far-fetched, but I loved the creativity of her writing style. The illustrations, the "book spoilers", charts, descriptions of color, and email/IM correspondence were so fun. The book lost me with the big twist, but I enjoyed the overall narrative, and I would recommend this book to YA lovers and, most definitely, my students.

Gotta run because I need to get to my next book.

Happy reading--

Ps. It is rare to have diverse main characters, so I was thrilled to have a part Asian, part African-American main character. Teenagers need to see themselves in their books, and I love finding them quality characters that look more like them than what is found in a lot of mainstream fiction. Just a shout out for my other educator friends who are looking for books for their students.

Pps. Thanks to Ness for sending her book all the way from Utah, so I could read it. Sharing books with my favorite people makes me excessively happy.

Friday, April 21, 2017

The Underground Railroad

The Underground RailroadThe Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have spent the week debating what the purpose of a ratings system is. Do we say a book is worth five stars because it's an amazing read? One that carries us away to somewhere we all wish we could go with lyrical words and fascinating characters. Or do we say that a book is worth five stars because the story is powerful and allegorical and one that must be told? This is the debate of books that I love to actually get lost in versus ones that have the power to change the way a society sees an entire era.

The Underground Railroad is one of the latter. Whitehead's narrative is deeply scarring and unconventionally told, and yet it captures the life of a runaway slave in a way that I will never forget. Like Holocaust stories and other tales of struggle, it is not one that I will readily return to, but I can see why Whitehead's book received so much notice and why it will continue to be talked about for decades to come. It is a haunting reminder of slavery's impact on our nation, and why the race issue isn't one that we can just "move on from" as so many are apt to say when racial tensions boil over. This book is a reminder that our assumptions must always be challenged and that when we help others rise, it helps everyone rise.

Happy reading--