Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Educated

Educated: A MemoirEducated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In high school, a boy at church told me my place was in the kitchen. During my undergrad, a professor jokingly bragged that he had come home to find his wife “barefoot, pregnant, and in the kitchen” and what a success that was. In graduate school, I was told I was taking the place of a “bread winner” by being there as a female student. I was also told by a guy in my program that I wasn’t marriage material because clearly my focus wasn’t on having a family if I had chosen continue higher education.

Enter Tara Westover’s “Educated”. My life experiences look nothing like hers. Her story of growing up in rural Idaho with a father who feared the government and didn’t allow his children to get birth certificates or attend school is the kind of reality you struggle to believe is true. Add in the abuse and distorted religious views, and it’s a wonder she made it out, let alone earned a PhD from one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

Here’s the thing though – while I was astounded by her story and her telling of it, I couldn’t get out of my own head as she made her way to BYU and on to Cambridge. I was trying to understand her experience while trying to process my own personal details in a new light. And so, I think I wanted more resolution from Tara. Perhaps I wanted more “so what” – what she’s learned, how she’s living now that she’s had time to process where she came from and what she’s accomplished. Maybe I’m already anticipating “Educated: Volume 2”.

Empirically, I know I don’t need an author or anyone to define their experiences, so that I can define mine. But I really enjoyed the chance to hear such an authentic and candid thoughts that give voice to issues like education and the role of women in society. I’m hoping Tara becomes more present as a speaker and a writer, and I’m really hoping people I know read this book soon because I’m dying to talk about it.

Happy reading--

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely FineEleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is really hard for me to put into words. I almost abandoned this book...twice. I just didn't understand Eleanor and her quirkiness. But person after person said they loved this book and loved Eleanor. And well, I love books that take place in the UK, and after Alan Cumming's "Not My Father's Son", I was in a better head space for a book about dysfunctional families (not to mention, another book set in Scotland). So I came back and decided to power through more of it, and it was Raymond, rather than Eleanor that was my gateway in. Eleanor works with Raymond in the story, and as one of her only regular contacts, he quickly became my access point to seeing Eleanor in a more relatable way.

All of this to say that this book is really good. Its characters are more than caricatures, and its plotlines powerful, but not in a self-important way. In fact, the deft hand with which Honeyman weaves humor and tragedy is so profoundly human. This book was a better version of Fredrik Backman's "Britt-Marie was Here" and a modern and more comical version of the gothic "Thirteenth Tale" by Diane Setterfield. Read it. It's worth the journey.

Happy reading--

Monday, April 9, 2018

Not My Father's Son

Not My Father's SonNot My Father's Son by Alan Cumming
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cumming is not an actor whose life or career I've followed closely, but the audiobook came so highly recommended that I picked it up during one of Audible's sales. Cumming is a great storyteller, and his book has an actual narrative arc (something that can't be said for most celebrity memoirs). His reading is excellent (the Scottish accent doesn't hurt at all), and his message profound. I would highly recommend it with the caveat that Cumming details some very intense physical abuse that he experienced at the hand of his father (hence the title). It was disturbing to me, and I have no memories that would remotely relate. That said, nothing shared is superfluous or over-dramatic. It's candid and honest and a strong reminder of why I loved him Eli Gold in "The Good Wife".

Happy reading!

I Have Lost My Way

I Have Lost My WayI Have Lost My Way by Gayle Forman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Since first encountering Gayle Forman's "If I Stay" when I was in grad school, I have picked up everything Forman writes without questioning the content of the book. That's how engaging her stories are for me. Engaging was exactly what I needed on Friday when I was stranded in the airport with three hours to kill before my delayed plane took off.

"I Have Lost My Way" again held my attention from start to finish, just like all her others. I didn't wonder what was on my phone or wish I had bought a different, over-priced book from the airport book store. Forman writes in such a way that you immediately connect with her characters and you are strangely invested in them despite the book's fast beginning. I don't always love the "books that happen in a single day" format because you know you'll only get part of the story. Still though, totally worth reading and perfect companion for an afternoon in the Salt Lake airport.

This is a 3.5 for me, but Goodreads still has ignored my request for half-stars. Someday, right? On to the next, and happy reading.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Little Fires Everywhere

Little Fires EverywhereLittle Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ng has a gift for capturing character motivations in a way that is neither cliché or expected. She breathes life into stories in a way that you can see the way the characters enter a room or throw their bag down on their bed. I love that nothing is as simple at it seems on the surface and how she takes on the dynamics of a large family. The intricacies of a family with four kids set against a single mom with an only child created a unique dance of family dynamics. I like too that even though I was captivated by Mia and Pearl, I didn't support all of their decisions. I think it takes a deft writer to make sympathetic characters that are lovable despite their flaws. Not to mention, clever writing to make the hard working mother of four be almost villainous.

I will say that I went into this book with low expectations, not because I didn't like Ng's debut novel, but because other friends didn't love this story. I will say that I think it's worth reading the actual book. The preview of the audio version does not seem promising, and the book is so popular and on enough lists that your local library should have a copy. Reese Witherspoon's book club chose it as one of their monthly choices earlier this year, so I wouldn't be surprised if Reese's production company has already optioned this book for a movie. I'd love to know already who they'd cast to play the mysterious Mia Warren or the controversial Izzy.

A final note is that Mia's question of "What are you going to do about it?" is going to stick with me for a long time. And Izzy's reaction to that question might stay with me even longer. Happy reading--

Monday, March 26, 2018

Countdowns

There are 3 days and 6 hours until Spring Break begins.
There are 10 days and 22 hours (ish) until Jenessa's twins (and Little Mann's newest cousins) are here.
There are 67 days and 6 hours until Summer begins.
There are 156 days and 15 hours until Little Mann's due date.

Lots of amazing things in the next five months. Can't pinch myself enough.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows...Again

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Harry Potter, #7)Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My review from nearly two years ago still seems like my exact sentiments, though I'll add that now I am debating when I can introduce my soon-to-be son to Harry and the gang. When is too soon? It's probably never to early. It's also never too late if you haven't read Harry Potter yet. Happy reading-
March 22, 2018

I want to write something that does justice to how much I love the conclusion of this series and to the series overall, but it all comes out in "fangirl" and I just don't want to do that. So, today the short version is that I love the detail in this book. I love that Rowling pays attention to little characters and nuanced detail as much as she does the title characters. I love that there are stories within stories and that I notice new things every time I read. Few reading experiences leave me feeling as satisfied as the Harry Potters. Rereading the series over the past six months is no exception. There is always a perfect blend of nostalgia and magic - I can't get enough of it.

Happy reading to all the muggles who are also still waiting for their letter to Hogwarts--
April 27, 2016

I am one of the millions who loves Harry Potter. As odd as it sounds, I think of Harry, Hermione, or one of the many aspects of the world J.K. Rowling created enters my consciousness every day. Naturally, in preparation for the final movie, I had to reread this book. I loved just as much as I did the first few times. As always, it’s sad to see the series wind down, and yet amazing to look back at what Rowling and her magnificent characters have done.
If you are one of the few hold outs who has refused to read one of the books, get over yourself and pick them up. They are too fantastic not to.

Ps. On a theatrical note, I cannot wait for the Bellatrix – Mrs. Weasley fight scene. “Not my daughter you b****!” LOVE it. Thursday night kids—it’s almost here!!
July 2011

Books on tape are magical - I love being carried away into another world while I'm driving in traffic (of course, still focused on the road). I "reread" the seventh Harry Potter and thoroughly enjoyed being more keenly aware of what was coming - being able to watch Rowling's craft in action as she built her story detail by detail. I confess my interest in the Harry Potter series clouds my judgment (I love them more than I probably should), but I do not get tired of reading them.... The magic, the fight between good and evil, the romance, the fact they are British - love it! I'm looking forward to Rowling's new book - Beedle the Bard - coming out in December.
Feb. 13, 2008

(Had to leave all ten years worth of reviews in one entry. Ten years of loving this book and multiple readings seems worth documenting. There are four reviews here, though I feel like I've read it one or two other times. Can't seem to help myself.)