Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Braving the Wilderness

Braving the Wilderness: The quest for true belonging and the courage to stand aloneBraving the Wilderness: The quest for true belonging and the courage to stand alone by Brené Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If you know me at all, you know I love Brene Brown. In fact, there's a good chance I've pressed one of her books into your hands and said "this book will change your life." That's how much I love her and her writing. Braving the Wilderness was just not my favorite of hers. Perhaps it's because the messages didn't resonate as much with my life or because I felt like her random political comments felt out of place and almost jarring with her normal eloquence. I'm not sure, but this is not her best. Rising Strong or The Gifts of Imperfection are both so much better.

All that said, Brene is the woman who kindly replied when I commented on one of her posts years ago and affirmed that I was not alone in one of my struggles. She lives what she preaches and makes the world a kinder place. I hope I can be more like her in the years to come, and if you still haven't read something by her or watched her TED talks, get on it. She's a game changer.

Happy reading--

Brave Enough

Brave EnoughBrave Enough by Cheryl Strayed
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I love Cheryl Strayed. I gladly wandered with her in "Wild" (though I thought she was a touch crazy most of the time) and appreciate how authentically she lives her life. But while the concept of "Brave Enough" is great, the actual product is less than fulfilling. Rather than actual commentary, Strayed mainly has a series of her own disjointed quotes with more than one too many f-words. Out of context, she seems more adolescent than wise. That said, some of her words are still poignantly beautiful, but there are much better ways to access her writing. Skip this one and choose another quote collection or series of essays. You'll be more fulfilled because honestly the best part of this book was the YouTube fire I had in the background (yes I'm one of those), and the captivating introduction.

Happy reading friends. Hope you're enjoying the gorgeous fall weather-

Wonder

Wonder (Wonder #1)Wonder by R.J. Palacio
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I can't remember the last time I read a book in a single day. That's how good Wonder is. It truly should be required reading for all middle school kids and their parents. Palacio does such a good job at capturing what it means to be human and why choosing kindness is always the right answer. The only thing I'm sorry about is that I did not read this book sooner. Read it. And then make your kids read it. And then when you're finished, talk about it. The messages are exactly what this world need right now.

Happy reading--

"Shall we make a new rule of life...always to try to be a little kinder than is necessary?" ~J.M. Barrie

Friday, November 3, 2017

Turtles All The Way Down

Turtles All the Way DownTurtles All the Way Down by John Green
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We have been waiting such a long time for John Green to write another book that I now have three signed copies sitting within fifteen feet of me. The first, I ordered on Amazon when I heard Green was signing an unreal amount of the original printing. The second and third came from going to a fantastic book tour event put on by Green and his brother in Pleasanton. I love John Green so much, and I would read his thoughts on just about anything.

So about "Turtles" - it's an interesting book filled with real issues and authentically loveable characters. It's the type of book that describing the plot doesn't actually make it more appealing, but it's clever and unique. I love that he took on a main character with OCD and the experience of losing a parent, while still making you laugh and fall in love right along with the main characters. And true to Green's style, there are beautiful references to other writers and poignant one liners which means there are at least a dozen tabs sticking out of my book. Can't help it-

As always, happy reading. I'm off to find my next book...and to probably rewatch The Fault in Our Stars...again. 
Ps. This is my 600th post. Seems fitting to write about a John Green book and a night listening to a favorite writer for that. 

Murder on the Orient Express

Murder on the Orient Express (Hercule Poirot, #10)Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was my first Agatha Christie, and while it was an entertaining read, it wasn't as magical as I was hoping. That said, Christie was ahead of her time and Dan Stevens is an incredible reader. He made the book. Can't wait to see the movie--

Happy reading and happy movie going.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Britt-Marie Was Here

Britt-Marie Was HereBritt-Marie Was Here by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

My feelings about this book could not be put down in ink, something that Britt-Marie would very much understand. They are too mixed to lean towards being in love with this book. There were whole chunks where I wondered what was happening and others where I was just hoping they'd move on and stop telling us about her bicarbonate of soda. That said, Backman's characters end up being so loveable. There are some amazing plot twists as the story progresses (something I would have doubted based on the slow beginning) and a fully satisfying, yet still surprising ending. If you do read it, you'll appreciate how much I adore Sven and Sammy. Backman has a way of tugging on your heart with the unlikeliest of characters, and so despite the pacing issues, I'll be back for more of his writing very soon.

Happy reading--

*For at least the tenth time this year, this one would be a solid 3.5. Goodreads - you are fully capable of letting us do half star reviews. I promise that your algorithms and averages will not be that hard to adjust.

The War that Saved My Life

The War that Saved My LifeThe War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was just wonderful. I love the characters, the message, and the way that it introduced characters that were not just another version of a character I've read about before. I'd love to introduce the tenacious Ada to a daughter someday. She has something in her of a Laura Ingalls Wilder or Jo March, and we know how I feel about those two.

Honestly, telling you more of the plot won't help hook you. The writing  and title alone will do that. The only thing you might care to know is that this is on the younger end of young adult fiction, sometimes referred to as middle grade. For some, I know that's a deal breaker, but I thoroughly enjoyed it regardless of the younger characters.

Anywho - happy reading and happy fall. We are on the edge of perfect reading weather. Cannot wait--

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

The Storied Life of A.J. FikryThe Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was perfectly delightful - the details were clever and the writing also whimsical without ever losing hold of the story that was being told. I've enjoyed Zevin's young adult fiction, but this may actually be my favorite of her works so far. Her twists were unexpected and yet not jarring. I loved getting lost in Island Books and imagining A.J. and Maya's simple life. Subtle similarities to "Me Before You" without the same devastation - just similar quirky, honest, and loveable characters. Hope you love it too-

Happy reading--

ps. Probably a 4.5 stars but not quite the wonderment of a 5.

The Year of Living Danishly

The Year of Living Danishly: My Twelve Months Unearthing the Secrets of the World's Happiest CountryThe Year of Living Danishly: My Twelve Months Unearthing the Secrets of the World's Happiest Country by Helen Russell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My bags are packed, and now I just need to convince my husband it's time to move to Denmark. Okay, maybe that's a tad dramatic, but I can't tell you how many times I considered an out-of-country move during this book. I love the idea of pausing the chaos and just focusing on a few essentials. Russell's snark and topical research are well blended throughout her narrative. The fertility details also hit close to home. Without question, a great read especially if you've fantasized about moving to Europe at any point in your life.

Happy reading and happy Danish living--

ps. The Audible version of this is delightful. Any way you read it, you can't lose.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Rewind and Redo

The idea that we've been living in fear since 9/11 felt acutely true today when the news of the Las Vegas shooting appeared in my daily news summation email from the New York Times. I'm just sick about it. I don't know anyone who was there, though a past Dougherty student was shot and is in serious condition. My friend's friend broke her ankle trying to get away. None of those experiences are directly mine, but I am still so sad.

We also got district press release today that there have been threats made on two of the neighboring high schools. Besides the death of my loved ones, a school shooting is my greatest fear. Columbine and ten years in the classroom were a sure way to cement that. Though the threats are most likely the poor choices of bored teenagers, they will haunt my dreams and make me anxious all day tomorrow.

Seth and I are working tirelessly to bring children into this world, and I want so desperately to give them a hopeful existence. It's hard to imagine that today. Praying extra for light and love to win the day.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Reviewless Week

Since starting this school year, I have managed to finish at least one book a week. This week, I didn't. Lots of reasons why, but I surprised by how disappointed I was in myself for not finishing anything. Obviously, this is not a real problem, but it was a good example to me of putting unnecessary expectations on myself. Yes, I have the goal to read more. Yes, I am happier when I make reading a priority, but finishing the book cannot be the only satisfaction I get out of the process. And measuring myself against other people's reading pace cannot be a marker for success, either in support of what I'm doing or against.

I read recently in one of my Brene Brown books that expectations are resentments in the making. That's a tricky thing to say since expectations (which often lead to the goals I set for myself) can sometimes give us something to strive for, but I have been on a quest in recent years to not be defined by external markers. In living authentically, I don't want to use comparison to find my standard of living.

I'm not sure this is making any sense, but I wanted to write and had no book review to write. So, here it is.

Happy October. I'm so glad the fall is really is here.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Rising Strong

Rising StrongRising Strong by Brené Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Can a person be a spirit animal? I love Brene Brown, and if she can't be my spirit animal, I want her to be my next door neighbor. I adore her candid feedback on life and well-researched ideas. She makes me want to be better, and her commentary is thought provoking and leads to endless hours of conversation with Seth and my friends. I can't help it.

If you haven't read anything Brown has written, start with "Gifts of Imperfection" or her TED talks. She really is a rock star.

Happy reading-

ps. Probably a solid 4.5, but like I said, Brene = spirit animal, so we round up.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Present Over Perfect

Present Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of LivingPresent Over Perfect: Leaving Behind Frantic for a Simpler, More Soulful Way of Living by Shauna Niequist
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was my "summer book" - the one whose premise spoke to what I wanted more of in my life. My book two months later is covered in post-it tabs showing a couple dozen quotes or ideas that I want to return to. Shauna's candor and collection of are insights are beautiful, and her commentary about the story of Christ saving Peter after walking on the water is potentially life changing.

So why the three stars then? Because the commentary was repetitive in parts and aimless in others. There are portions that I profoundly loved and then portions where I was left waiting for the point. I admire Shauna Niequist as a person and a writer. I appreciate how she helps others, myself included, cultivate our truth and the goal of living a life that is focused on only the essential. I just wonder if the book needed a bit more editing or more content.

Either way, I think you will find great takeaways in "Present Over Perfect". Happy reading and happy living-

Favorite Sections: You Put Up The Chairs, The Man in the Tuxedo, The Spring of the Basketball Hoop, Walking on Water, Baptism, And the Soul Felt Its Worth

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Brown Girl Dreaming

Brown Girl DreamingBrown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Woodson's writing is lovely. The childhood images she invokes are profound and still so simple. Stories written as a series of poems are great because they pare down the extraneous details, so that you don't get lost in side stories.

I loved seeing a glimpse into Woodson's memories. I could taste the arroz con pollo and see the fireflies on a summer night. I loved how she captured her desire to write and how she came to find her voice in a changing world. Plus, how can I not love another Jacqueline who didn't want to be called Jackie.

It may be out of your usual genres for reading, but give it a whirl. Happy reading-

ps. I am really torn between a 4 and a 5. The first half, I was enjoying it, but the second half was so, so good. So Goodreads, please help out your readers, so I can give half stars.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

The Power of Vulnerability

The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connections and CourageThe Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connections and Courage by Brené Brown
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I cannot say enough good things about Brene Brown's work. Just listening to her speak makes me feel both more capable and more complete. I love these audio recordings because they link the concepts of her various texts together. While this was not described on Audible as lives sessions, her commentary is just as well organized as a traditional text. I cannot recommend this enough, whether this is your first Brene Brown experience or your sixth.

Happy listening--

ps. Brene's next book "Braving the Wilderness" comes out on September 12th (just in case you didn't know). :)

Monday, September 4, 2017

Reading People: How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything

Reading People: How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes EverythingReading People: How Seeing the World Through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything by Anne Bogel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In graduate school, one of my professors said, "You share what you love." For me, two of my most commonly shared loves are baked goods and books. In the two days that I was reading Bogel's debut book "Reading People", I texted six different friends about various pieces of the book, and I talked incessantly about it to my husband. If that wasn't enough, I tabbed the heck out of my book for things I wanted to go back to. I emailed myself (a more common practice than I care to admit) at work with notes about extroversion and introversion that seemed imperative to share in regards to class discussions. I ordered a follow-up book, and then I made my husband take Kiersey's personality assessment after I'd already taken it twice. All this to say, that I was more profoundly entranced by Bogel's "Reading People" than I could have anticipated.

The book, itself, is not an ideal book for reading cover to cover (how I read it) but is meant, instead, to be used as a tool and lens with which to view our personalities and the personalities of those around us. Better understanding aspects of our personalities simplifies the guessing game of "why did I just respond that way?" and allows us to prepare practical courses of action when strange situations arise. This book does not have all the answers. Most books of this nature do not. Instead, it invites you like Carol Dweck's "Mindset" or Gretchen Rubin's "Happiness Project" to become the best version of yourself through more focused self-observation and self-actualization. That process is made all the more enjoyable with Bogel's insights and anecdotal candor. Bogel, who is best known for her "Modern Mrs. Darcy" blog and "What Should I Read Next" podcast, is on her way to being known for giving readers a better way to find their place in the world than their results from "Which Harry Potter House do I belong in?".

Happy reading friends, and when you're reading to talk all things personality, I'll have fresh cookies ready.
ps. On a personal note, this is the first time I've ever been invited to be a part of a book launch team and given an ARC or advanced reader copy of a text. Small reader dream come true.

The Women in the Castle

The Women in the CastleThe Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

While so much of the film portrayals of World War II focus on the men's side of the war, I love how much of the recent fiction features the women who were left at home. I am amazed by both the diversity in their experiences and yet also how much unites these strong women who battled incredible vulnerabilities. Readers who loved "The Nightingale" will like "The Women in the Castle". While the two stories are not the same, the complicated desires and instinct for survival resonate in both.

I am so impressed by Shattuck's ability to capture distinct voices and tell a new story about an era that has been written about so many times. Really well done-

Happy reading--

ps. There was a castle I visited in Germany years ago that played in my mind the whole time through this book. It was a tour that happened to be in German, so I only had my imagination to carry me through what the potential history might have been. As I went through this book, I loved picturing that ancient building and the three main characters holed up together inside.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of LessEssentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

My rating: 5 of 5 stars


Powerful and simple - great ideas for how to focus on what is most important. Many of the ideas McKeown discusses are similar to those that I have been working on since grad school, but the reminder is well timed. This is an easy book to apply to all aspects of life, though McKeown is more focused on the work place.

Happy reading and happy essential living--

New personal goals: "Don't major in the minor things." "Less but better."

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Emma

EmmaEmma by Jane Austen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Reading Austen is not for everyone. In fact, at the risk of BYU coming back and taking away my BA in English, this is the first time I've finished "Emma". I've tried a dozen times before, and it just never clicked. The key for me with Austen is to get past the extra words to the core of her stories and the core of her characters. They're so cleverly constructed, and in the rare experience of having watched multiple film adaptations before reading the book, I still found so much that I have never considered about the infamous Miss Woodhouse. I loved getting lost in Highbury and falling in love with Mr. Knightley again.

Happy reading~


Tuesday, August 8, 2017

One True Loves...Again

One True LovesOne True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This summer I've given myself permission to reread books that I've loved and read before. I know that making that choice means I forego another book, but I love this story so much that I'm so happy to have spent more time hanging out with Emma Blair. This is still a favorite of mine. Can't help it. Great last book of summer.

Happy reading--

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Exit West

Exit WestExit West by Mohsin Hamid
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Exit West is a completely fascinating read - one that will linger in my mind and feel so relevant as I read sad stories about immigration and countries that seem far away falling apart in bloody civil wars. What Hamid does though is help those far away places and the people who call those places home feel as though they could be you. What a gift--

So why 3 stars (I'd probably do 3.5 if Goodreads allowed half stars) then? I wanted more. Hamid uses language sparingly and reminded me almost of Hemingway in his directness. All through the book, I craved the more lush descriptions of writers like Khaled Hosseini or Tim O'Brien when setting up the conflicts or the characters. And while I was totally willing to suspend reality and travel through the doors, the character development left me a little unfulfilled.

That is not to say that I wouldn't recommend this book. Its conflicts mirror today's society in frightening accuracy and challenge assumptions that all of us make. This book explores what it means to be human, and I always like to be reminded of that.

Happy reading-

ps. Unique reading choice because it was entirely informed by Anne Bogel's "What Should I Read Next" podcast and critics praise. Not my usual way to choose books....

Anne of Windy Poplars

Anne of Windy Poplars (Anne of Green Gables, #4)Anne of Windy Poplars by L.M. Montgomery
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Anyone who knows me knows that Anne is one of my all-time favorite fictional characters and the idea of creating a story built around letters is so fun...but this Anne book just was missing some of the wonder that the others hold for me. I think Gilbert should have gotten to include letters back as he is toiling away in medical school. It would have been fun too to have Marilla write Anne about the twins and goings-on at home. It was too one-sided and some of the side characters were borderline ridiculous.

I still love Anne, and I'm so glad to have finally found my way to this book, but overall not my favorite of the bunch.

Happy reading~

Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Hypnotist's Love Story

The Hypnotist's Love StoryThe Hypnotist's Love Story by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I picked this up because I just love Liane Moriarty, and I can't seem to help myself. This book really has the strangest premise, but I will apparently fall into a Moriarty rabbit hole whenever the opportunity presents itself. "What Alice Forgot" and "Big Little Lies" are much more compelling, but I still appreciated the way that Moriarty gives so much depth to her characters. I can't tell you to rush out and read it, but I am not sorry that I did. It was a perfectly acceptable summer read.

As always, happy reading--

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

What Alice Forgot...Again

What Alice ForgotWhat Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

July 19, 2017
I don't usually reread books so soon after reading them the first time, but I really loved this book and I just needed to fall into Moriarty's well told story again. I love these characters and both Alice and Libby's conflicts resonate with life right now. If you haven't picked one of her books yet, you really should. They are exactly what summer ordered.

Happy reading--

ps. I would definitely suggest the Audible audio version. The Australian reader is fantastic. I wish she narrated my own life.

Textbook Amy and Wandering Powell's

Textbook Amy Krouse RosenthalTextbook Amy Krouse Rosenthal by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dear Amy--

After revisiting your Encyclopedia over the fourth, I decided that I wanted to make your Textbook Amy my "Powell's purchase". That simply means that when my husband and I were going to Powell's City of Books in Portland, I was going to let myself buy one book. Sounds ridiculously arbitrary, but I have a book buying "problem", and I liked the idea of going with a book in mind. As I'm sure you know, Powell's is delightfully huge, and we wandered the store for ages....

Here's the best part though: in the kids section, Seth and I were studying all sorts of books. There are so many talented illustrators that you can't help but want to touch each cover. We stopped though and laughed at a book called "Duck! Rabbit!" because of one of our favorite "How I Met Your Mother" episodes about the very same debate. And then the book was by you, and it seemed too seredipitous to leave behind.

So I left Powell's that day with two books. One about you and one about a creature that I tend to think looks like a duck. I read "Textbook Amy" on the plane ride home from that trip while Seth slept beside me. And I cried knowing that you had died and felt more poignantly your wonder and appreciation of the simple and the grand. You make me want to be more appreciate of people and the little things that make up our days.

Anyway - thought you'd appreciate the random anecdote. We miss you and appreciate all the pieces of your infectious spirit that you left behind. Can't wait to read your thoughts on heaven.

Love,
Jaclyn
ps. A book store that takes up a city block really is a wonder. Counting down until we can go back. 

Monday, July 17, 2017

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander HamiltonAlexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First, I have to say that I feel so proud of myself for getting through this book. Am I allowed to say that? I never read straight historical non-fiction, and I never would have expected to enjoy this book as much as I did, despite the fact that I love history and Chernow is clearly a gifted historian. But this is a remarkable book that only makes me think more highly of Hamilton's vision and work ethic, not to mention my increased awe of Lin Manuel Miranda's Hamilton. To see how many lines and details of the musical were drawn from real letters and speeches was just awesome.

One of the big takeaways for me, besides being even more obsessed with the musical, is how astonishing it is that the American experiment was successful. With unbelieveable hamartias in each of the founding fathers, Hamilton included, and just so much ego, I am blown away by what it took for the United States to come into being. The complexities and nuances of how every bit of the constitution, the financial system, etc came to being seem miraculous. It was a stark reminder that no individual history - hero or villain - is just that one great or one horrendous moment that they are most remembered for. Just as I do not want to be judged for one day or one trait, the founding fathers and their often overlooked wives, were not perfect. Far from it from Chernow's descriptions, but they still did build this great nation that I am so proud to be a part of.

I was surprised to find myself tearing up in the conclusion of this epic book. I've known since that "Got Milk" commercial from the late 80s or early 90s, that Burr was going to kill Hamilton, but it felt so tragic and so unnecessary as I lived the final days and hours with the Hamiltons. More so, I felt weepy as the details of Eliza's fifty years as a widow unfolded. She was an amazing woman, and I'm glad for the chance to have gotten to "sit with her" as she told of her Hamilton.

Happy reading-- It's worth it!

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life - Round Two

Encyclopedia of an Ordinary LifeEncyclopedia of an Ordinary Life by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

July 17, 2017
I picked this book up again because it was sitting on my mom's nightstand in Tahoe. After finishing another book that I loved and that had a happy ending, I wasn't quite ready to get into my other books with much darker, more intense themes. And so, I revisited Amy and her encyclopedia. I loved her book just as much as I did the first time, though I found myself almost in tears a few times thinking about how she had recently passed away.

Amy's candor and ability to describe the often mundane details of life with humor and wonder are just delightful. Cliche as it may be to say, rereading Amy's book was like revisiting an old friend who is dearly missed by many. Not to mention that Amy's writing makes me want to be a better journaler and writer myself - her seemingly random selection of details shows that the simple elements of life really are some of the most beautiful aspects of life. After finishing I started my own alphabet of potential entries. So far it includes Fire Sign, Tahoe, baby dreams, IUI, and book critic. I haven't added to it again, but I like the goal of looking at my days and weeks with more simple wonder and awe. It really is a wonderful life--

Happy reading--

The Sun Is Also A Star

The Sun Is Also a StarThe Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Things that I love about this book in no particular order:
*the cover - its colors and textures specifically
*the shared narration
*the insights into passing characters
*the various formats Yoon uses to tell the story (aka not all straight narrative prose)
*the specific visual details that make the story all the more tangible
*the resolution
*the well-expressed raw desires of each of the characters
*the fact that I can recommend this book to adults and teenagers without questioning whether either group will like it
*the whole story takes place in a day

Things that I didn't love about this book:
*it ended

Happy reading and happy summer--

Ps. It is one of great joys of life to read in the summer...especially when I finished this book on the couch in Tahoe with Seth fast asleep beside me. Perfectly delightful.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Delirium

Delirium (Delirium, #1)Delirium by Lauren Oliver
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In seven sentences: Dystopian YA fiction is meant for summer reading. It's escapism at its best. This book was fast paced and intriguing. The book might have even been a four star read, but the ending was just not what I expected or wanted. And I can't tell if I 'm mad because I feel manipulated into the next book or because I somehow expected more positive outcomes despite this being clearly marked as a dystopian book. Either way, Oliver is clever and worth your time.

As always, happy reading and happy summer!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Born a Crime

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African ChildhoodBorn a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Short and simple: I was blown away by this book. Noah's life experiences are extraordinary and his candor remarkable. I think the audio is essential because of how many languages and accents that Noah can share and how true and natural his voice is. This is one of those stories that summing up any of the details does not do justice. Truly his life story is stranger and more powerful than fiction.

One more thing- I only knew vaguely of Noah as the new Daily Show host. I have maybe watched two or three clips of him speaking ever. You don't have to know his work to appreciate this book.

Happy reading and happy risk taking- Noah wouldn't have it any other way.

People love to say, “Give a man a fish, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he’ll eat for a lifetime.” What they don’t say is, “And it would be nice if you gave him a fishing rod.” That’s the part of the analogy that’s missing.”

Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Hate U Give

The Hate U GiveThe Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

George Eliot said, “The only effect I ardently long to produce by my writings, is that those who read them should be better able to imagine and to feel the pains and the joys of those who differ from them in everything but the broad fact of being struggling, erring human creatures.” It's interesting to note that George Eliot was only Mary Anne Evan's pen name, and that she perhaps understood better than many why empathy and appreciating others' differences were essential to the human experience.

Angie Thomas' "The Hate U Give" is one of the most powerful stories I have ever read. Every step of the way, it challenged my assumptions and my life experiences and gave voice to issues that demand our attention. I'm not sure I would have read it had I fully known what the subject matter was, but I am so glad that I did. Thomas' main character Starr comes to life in a way that I felt like I was with her as she walked through Garden Heights and listened to her incredible mom navigate an impossible parenting situation.

Raw, poignant, and brilliantly alive, "The Hate U Give" will stay with me for a long time. Describing it in more detail would not do justice to the impactful narrative, Thomas has created. It is almost better to go in with no expectations. That said, the language and the violence are jarring and may not be to everyone's tastes, so I add that caution as you're making your own reading selections.

It's perhaps corny to say, but I am exceedingly grateful that we get to hear other people's voices through reading. C.S. Lewis said, "We read to know we're not alone." While I 100% agree with Lewis, I also would add, we read so we can help others not feel alone. This is our blessing and our responsibility.

As always, happy reading and happy living--

Monday, June 5, 2017

What Learning Leaves

What Learning LeavesWhat Learning Leaves by Taylor Mali
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Taylor Mali puts into words how teaching and education feels - something that I often try and fail to do. I love him for that. His word play is exceptionally clever, and I'm glad to have finally started working through my "to be read' shelf at home. There are really good books I've had tucked away for ages.

Happy summer and happy reading--

*"To Be Read" Shelf Book No. 3

Monday, May 29, 2017

Bird in Hand

Bird in HandBird in Hand by Christina Baker Kline
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Really good writer. Really sad subject matter. Really need to read up on what my books are about before I dive into them.

The plot is probably a two star rating because I seriously don't want to read about selfish people having affairs, but the writing is a four. If you haven't read Kline before, read Orphan Train instead.

Either way, I'm thrilled to have had a three day weekend to read this book and start another couple.

Happy reading-

*"To Be Read" Shelf Book No. 2

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--

*"To Be Read" Shelf Book No. 1

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--

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Lilac Girls

Lilac GirlsLilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I pick up and put down books all the time, so to say that it took me nearly six months to complete Lilac Girls doesn't have to be some dramatic commentary on the novel itself...except that it was. I wanted to love this book. It came highly recommended by people whose opinions I trust, but the book's structure and style were too predictable. The story itself was powerful and the characters compelling. It was fascinating seeing into the lives of women in World War II, whose experiences were far from the traditional war epic that we so often read. That said, without knowing anything about the story ahead of time (two of the three book perspectives are real people), I could see the twists coming and the forced chapter cliff hangers were frustrating.

I would absolutely recommend this book to people who read a lot and love historical fiction, but if you're short on time, there are other stories I'd choose first - All the Light We Cannot See, Nightingale, The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, Unbroken, etc, etc just to name a few.

Whatever you choose, happy reading~

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Truly Madly Guilty

Truly Madly GuiltyTruly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Liane Moriarty's books have been like Tostitos for me the past couple months. Once I start, I cannot seem to stop. "Truly Madly Guilty" was my fourth Moriarty book in that short window of time, and if there were another dozen of her books, I would move on to my next right away.

That said, I wanted to love "Truly Madly Guilty", but I just didn't. Maybe it's the same when you've realized you've eaten half the bag of chips...I still loved the different perspectives and the way Moriarty wove the lives and plot lines together, but I didn't love the characters. That took away a level of the avid interest that the other books have had for me. I did love the thematic discussion of marriage and the little girls of two of the main families. Moriarty's ending was satisfying, but it took until the last quarter of the book to identify well with the main characters.

In a sentence, underwhelming, but Moriarty is a great writer and Caroline Lee is a great narrator. Audible for the win (again).

Happy reading~

ps. This is book ten for the year so far. Really hope I can keep this up for the year. Life's too short to not read a lot.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

What's Saving My Life Right Now

Recently, my friend Meg said I had to start listening to the Modern Mrs. Darcy aka the wonderful Anne Bogel. In Anne's Groundhog's Day post, she wrote about a borrowed sentiment of "what is saving my life right now". I like the drama of it over the previous trend of gratitude journals. With the highs and lows of life lately, I love this idea.

So, what is saving my life right now?

1. Liane Moriarty books: Seriously on my fourth book of hers in a few weeks. I've needed the distraction, and the Australian narrators are fantastic. If you've never read her books, start with "What Alice Forgot". It's excellent.

2. Audible subscription: Best $22 I spend each month.

3. Minimalism game: The Minimalists have a game where you get rid of the amount of items that match the date for a month. You can donate, sell, or trash the items. I have already finished all the March dates both at home and at school(let's be honest - it was mostly paper items for school). It helps that we're moving. I pick up almost everything and say, "do I want to pack this and carry this into a new home?" Works wonders. I'm hoping to do a major purge when I'm moving in too.

4. Candles: They really do make any space feel more cozy. I can't get enough.

5. Caffeinated beverages: So, so many of these.

6. Random check-ins: Friends and family randomly texting, calling, or stopping me to ask how things are going. Talking through some of the madness is helpful.

7. Green hills and warm sunshine: I love being on the edge of spring, even if rain is in the forecast for the next few days.

8. My parents: They really do go out of their way to still make sure I am being taken care of.

9. No grading: As in, I actually am 100% caught up. That won't be true tomorrow, but it's so rarely true ever that it's a miracle.

10. Videos of Jewels' kids and group texts/snaps with my sisters: They really do make every day better.

11. Seth: He's been working like a crazy person the past five plus weeks, but when I wake up next to him, I know that everything will be okay. We really are so blessed.

After pondering my list, I can't wait to ask people what they would put on theirs. Happy living and happy almost spring!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

The Husband's Secret

The Husband's SecretThe Husband's Secret by Liane Moriarty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Seriously though - I start Moriarty's books, and I cannot stop. I was so into this one, I almost forgot what I was doing while listening. "What Alice Forgot" is still my favorite, but this is my third of Moriarty's books in the last couple months, and I already have started my fourth.

This one was different than "What Alice Forgot" and "Big Little Lies" in that Moriarty doesn't wait until the last 10% to reveal the main twist, but still a really powerful story. Just like her others, she really makes you wonder what you would do and challenges the roles and patterns we so naturally fall into without question. This story is saucier than her others, so not for everyone, but I can't help myself.

Happy reading--

ps. I really want to hang out in Sydney after all these stories. Field trip anyone?