Tuesday, May 31, 2016

The Bell Jar by Silivia Plath (DNF)

First off, I don't like classics.  I know, that's a sweeping statement and, perhaps, someday I'll be proven wrong.  I can tolerate a few, but there aren't any classics I've read that I've really loved.  Well, unless you count the Chronicles of Narnia, which I loved as a kid and are rather classics now, I suppose.  Modern classics, yes, but The Bell Jar and Catcher in the Rye are considered modern classics and they are younger than the Chronicles of Narnia.  I've read Catcher in the Rye, but never The Bell Jar, thought by some to be Catcher in the Rye for women.  I did not like Catcher in the Rye.  I was able to read it and make it through, even though it wasn't a school assignment, but like it?  No, not really.

(Wait!  I also really like To Kill a Mockingbird.  Still, the list is short.)

Lately, I've come across The Bell Jar in a few locations physically and mentally, so I thought I'd give it a go.  It won't surprise you, I think to hear that I didn't get into it.  I could have really read it.  It wasn't horrible, but I just didn't want to.  I ended up skimming it, so I've got the gist of it.  Like the publishers that first rejected it, I found it overwrought.  It was just too depressing from the get go.  I couldn't see slogging through all the angst.

It's not that I automatically don't like books about depression or mental illness, on the contrary, many of them are very good.  I just don't think this is one.  Clearly, considering it's a classic and all, I'm in the minority on this one, but there it is.  I gave it a go and am moving on.

Monday, May 30, 2016

Rapture Practice by Aaron Hartzler

I really, really enjoyed Rapture Practice, the full title of which is actually Rapture Practice: A True Story About Growing Up Gay in an Evangelical Family.  I liked Aaron a lot and found his story funny, touching, heartbreaking - all those buzz words.  I worried about him.  It's, at the title says, a true story, so I knew that Aaron at least made it to an okay enough place to write the book, but I was very concerned about what might happen to him at a few points.  Several times I said to Anthony, "You won't believe how his parents are handling this situation!"

Aaron grows up in a Jesus loving household where they are just waiting for the rapture and, meanwhile, try to do everything in a way that will be pleasing to the Lord.  There is no TV in the house (until the kids are all teens) expect for during holidays and only then for some of the holiday specials.  There is no music outside of the Christian music station broadcast from the local Bible college.  They never go to the movies.  While some may please the Lord, many more don't and you never know what the previews might show.  Aaron's rebellions start small; listening to the adult easy listening pop radio station turned way down low at night while his siblings sleep, going to a movie while being a camp councilor at age 15.  Some things his parents discover, others he keeps secret.  Eventually, the indiscretions grow to include drinking, reading Penthouse and plenty of bodily explorations.

His parents, trying hard to save his soul, react in sometimes alarming ways.  When he buys the soundtrack to Pretty Woman (he grew up mostly in the 80s) for a girlfriend then lies about it, his dad pulls him out of the school play, in which he is the lead, with two weeks to go until show time as punishment.  Aaron is devastated and the play ends up being much less than it could have been, punishing everyone.

When his stash of contraband music tapes is found, his dad wrestles him to the ground, yelling.  He's grown up with spankings as punishment, from his usually very in control dad, but occasionally his dad punishes in anger.

While I think his parents were misguided in their attempts to keep Aaron on the very narrow straight that they think is right, I also felt sorry for them.  They were worried that the outside world would provide too much temptation and, really, they were right.  Aaron chooses to listen to music, go to movies and try drinking.  I don't think Aaron is wrong to do so, really, and I do think his parents didn't handle these rebellions well, but I do appreciate that his parents were trying to do what they thought was best for him.  And I think Aaron does, too.

The book is saturated with Aaron's questions of his religion.  I'll let you read it yourself for exactly what form that takes, but I will say it's worth reading.  I highly recommend this book.

Saturday, May 28, 2016

The Life Changing Magic of Cleaning Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondo

When I decided to check this book out, it wasn't because I was particularly concerned with getting decluttering advice.  I feel like I do a pretty decent job of keeping the clutter in our home down.  We live in a small 700-ish square foot condo and when we moved in 5 years ago, we moved from a 1400-ish square foot house with a garage.  If I didn't know how to get rid of stuff, that would never have happened.  But, I am fond of decluttering as a topic.  Back when I used to follow blogs (I actually don't follow any anymore, even though I'm a blogger - shameful), many of them were about simple living.  The 100 item challenge, where you tried to get all your possessions down to only 100 individual items, was popular in my circles.  Anthony would tell you, I was/am too ruthless in my decluttering endeavors. 

So, I picked this book up not to help me figure out how to finally declutter, but just out of curiosity about the buzz.  There is a fair amount of buzz surrounding this book.  People are devotees.  However, when I popped in on a blog I used to follow (yes, even though I don't do so regularly, I occasionally get the itch to check in and do), there was a why I'm not a KonMari Method devotee post.  That made me want to see what it was all about.  I got The Life Changing Magic of Cleaning Up in audio book form.

The KonMari Method is a bit different from other advise I've seen regarding decluttering.  She suggests you work in a very specific order, for example, starting with clothes.  You spread everything in your category out on the floor, then hold the item to see if it sparks joy.  If not, it goes.  Once you're done with all the clothes, you move on.  I'm not going to go into a ton of detail about the categories or details of how to do the method, as you can A) Find it lots of places online or B) Read the book if you actually want to do it.

I will say that if you are just starting out that this method will probably work just fine for you.  I think that doing it myself would be kind of overkill, but, perhaps, I'll grant you, fruitful.  I did get the decluttering bug out of listening to this book and got rid of a couple of bags of things today, some trash, some Goodwill.  And this is after I'd just last week gone through my books and gotten rid of a bunch of them.  So, it was useful to me to listen, even if I didn't totally deploy her methods.

Here's what irked me:  I didn't care for all the treating objects like they have feelings stuff that permeates her method and book.  But, that's just me.  It might well appeal to Davan, for example, and, possibly(?) make it easier for her to be tidy to think of what the object in question would want.  Additionally, the conviction that this is The Way was a bit annoying.

The take away is that your mileage may vary.  Marie claims that none of the clients who've actually completed her course have backslid into clutter/messiness, but I find that a bit hard to swallow.  I do think that it's as good a method as any and likely better than some that are just about storing your stuff, but I don't think it's really all that. 

Becoming Sister Wives: The Story of an Unconventional Marriage by Kody, Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn Brown

Anthony and I have been watching Big Love.  Of course, I've heard of the show before and I had even watched two episodes.  One with my friend, Chris, who watched Big Love as HBO originally released them.  She was such a fan that we watched an episode in the middle of a visit so she wouldn't miss anything.  That was fine, but watching one episode in the middle of season three or so also didn't do much to get me hooked in.  Her enthusiasm about it, though was enough that I got the first season from the library and Anthony and I gave it a go.  This was a while ago...I don't really remember exactly how long ago.  For whatever reason, it didn't stick.  Recently, though it came to my attention again and we gave it another go.  We got hooked around episode three.  We're currently on the second season and I'm starting to get a little jaded by the constant crisis situation, so I don't know if we'll keep on or not.  Anyway.  All this is to say that when I was at the library and walked by a shelf with Becoming Sister Wives on display, I picked it up on a whim.

This is the non-fictional story of four sister wives and their husband.  In the book, we hear from each of the five of the adults in the relationship.  We hear about each of the courtships, some ups and downs of the marriages, living arraignments, parenting and generalities of how the family works.  I also discovered that they have a reality TV show called Sister Wives that was on TLC.

I found the book to be a rather engaging read, but I also really like reading about how different families work, so it appeals to my interests.  I did think a lot of it was rather superficial, which is to be expected in a short book where five different (but intertwined) people are telling their stories.  It seems, also, that while they're trying to be open, they're also protecting the privacy of their family to some extent, which is understandable, but also doesn't make for true depth.  I liked it enough that I've put Sister Wives on hold at the library.  I'm curious to see these people in action and see more about who's who.  I don't know that I'll watch the whole of the two seasons, though.  From the book, I also get the impression that there is a fair amount of drama on the show.

If you're curious from a sociological point of view about how families work or in polygamy specifically, you'll probably find this book interesting.  If those topics don't have any particular appeal, you won't be sucked in by this book in my opinion.  I found it a short, interesting, kind of fluff read.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Passenger by Alexandra Bracken (DNF)

I've been seeing this book everywhere - as a lucky day at the library, at Powell's, on bookshelves of book vloggers.  So, I gave it a go.  I did not get very far.  This book just didn't suck me in.  I felt shuffled between characters without feeling like I cared about any of them.  The style of writing also felt a little disjointed to me.  I know this book is buzzed about, so you may have a different experience, as, clearly, some people do, but Passenger is not for me.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

I know it's not a popular opinion, but I have to tell you that I did not like Throne of Glass.  I tried to read it a couple of summers ago and, as I told Davan at the time, I felt very much like I should like it, but I just didn't.  Honestly, I don't remember if I finished it or not.  I might have because I was reading it while we were on a road trip and didn't have a lot of alternatives with me.  For those reading here but not in the know (probably most of you because it's young adult fantasy), Throne of Glass was Sarah Maas's first novel and was very popular amongst young adult readers.  It was likened to Graceling.  So, my hopes were maybe extraordinarily high.  Graceling, for me, is one of those books with which, yes, there are faults, but when reading it?  I just didn't care.  I loved, loved, loved it.  I've read it twice and listened to the audiobook twice.  If you get nothing else from this review of a book I've yet to actually talk about at all, take this away:  If you've never read Graceling by Kristin Cashore, you should.  If you don't love it the way I do, well, I'll try not to hold it against you.

One more aside before I get to the actual point of this entry.  The only reason I believe this book is classified as young adult is because Throne of Glass was and, thus, that's the publisher Maas works with.  This seems like straight up fantasy to me.  The main character is 19 and it's fairly long...I guess I don't really know why some books are classified one way or the other, but I'd have put this one in fantasy, not young adult fantasy due to length, steamy sex and violence. 

Okay, so A Court of Thorns and Roses.  I picked it up with trepidation.  Often, though, authors grow and the idea of Throne of Glass was likeable, so maybe this would all work out.  And...it sort of did.  A Court of Thorns and Roses is a retelling of Beauty and the Beast.  I like the twists on the story.  I like the idea of the main character:  Feyre who has been surviving on the edge ever since her family took a fall from the upper class to not able to feed themselves until she, the youngest daughter of three, teaches herself to hunt to feed her sisters and father.  I even liked the idea of the beast, a fairy by the name of Tamlin.  Everything starts off pretty well and I was sucked in for quite a while.  About half way through, though, finishing started feeling a little more like a chore.  I was a little frustrated with some choices.  I felt less and less sympathetic toward characters I'd liked at the beginning...It wasn't really bad, just also not super engaging.  I opted to finish it because it wasn't, like I say, bad per say and because I've heard that the next book in the series is phenomenal.  I'm hoping that's so, because I'm having to push myself a little to want to start it. 

Meanwhile, I've still got those dozen books by my bedside because I actually read this one on my Kindle where I've got another 3 books waiting to be read.  You'd think with all these books queued up, waiting to be read, I'd lay off finding more to read.  Not so much.  Yesterday I watched a couple of You Tube vlogs about reading and put another four books on hold at the library.  I have a problem.  So, Court of Mist and Fury will probably have a wait a bit.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

I saw The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August while browsing the sci-fi section of Powell's and then put a hold on it from the library.  I'd gotten a lot of book ideas that day, though, and I've currently got a stack of a dozen or so books on my night stand, all just waiting to be read.  This book was kind of in the middle of the pile when I went to the library website to renew all the books I've got out and this one wouldn't renew due to another hold.  Okay, then, to the top of the pile it went.

I liked The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August which is the story of Harry August who, after living a rather normal life from 1919 until 1989, finds himself reborn in 1919 in the very same circumstances as the first time.  This causes him to go mad and commit suicide as a young child.  Then he's reborn in 1919.  This, as the title more than implies, is his telling of the first fifteen of his lives.  He finds others, in fact, there is a whole club.  They pass messages forward and back in time through having young children talk to those who are dying, thus, taking a message from, for example, 1988 to 1919.  Or, more specifically, really 1925 or so in Harry's case.  It takes a while for full recollection and self awareness.  Mostly, nothing done in life really effects much of the overall flow of time.  These folks live and die and the world goes on.  When someone does manage to change things, the repercussions tend to not be good.

I mostly liked Harry and I enjoyed the playing with time.  It is an interesting form of time travel and an interesting take on the questions of paradox.  Overall, I liked the book and would recommend it, but I didn't love it.  I did not consider setting it aside but I also didn't find myself sitting down to read at any chance, so it took me a while to get through it.

Gatefather by Orson Scott Card (DNF)

Orson Scott Card.  I have such conflicted feelings about him.  I don't love all his books.  I've considered boycotting them all together due to his stances on homosexuality.  However, then there is Ender's Game.  And the Shadow Series, starting with Ender's Shadow.  Whenever I'm asked to come up with a list of favorite books, Ender's Game and Ender's Shadow are on it.  I don't ever forget to include them.  I love these books.

Enter the picture The Lost Gate.  I felt a little mixed about it.  I liked much of it.  Overall, I think Orson Scott Card does story telling well for me.  I wanted to read it, to find out what was going to happen.  I had some issues with over explaining and some issues with attitudes toward sex, but, as happens with books I like, it didn't overpower the story for me.  I still like it.

So, I read the next book in the series, The Gate Thief.  This issues became more and more glaring to me, but I finished.  Next up, Gatefather, which recently was released.  I'm no longer sucked into the story.  All I see are the problems.  I'm sick of the over explaining.  I'm sick of the attitudes toward sex.  I think Card is trying to be realistic as to how teens feel about sex, but it's just wrong.  Either they want it, but are waiting or they want it and are promiscuous.  Everything feels like moralizing.  So, I'm done.  I didn't finish Gatefather.

Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes

I'm listening to Year of Yes by Shonda Rhimes.  Yes, that's present tense, I'm listening to it.  I'm only about half way through.  This is one of those books I found by browsing through available now in audio book form from my library.  I am a sucker for year of stories.  Year of eating locally.  Year of bible living.  Year of not buying anything new.  Year of not buying anything from China.  Year of doing something that scares me every day.  Whatever.  If someone is doing a year of something and writing pretty much articulately about it, I'm there.  So, I downloaded it and, yesterday, started listening.  Why am I writing a review before I'm done?  I've got things to process and this seems to be a good place to do it.

Shonda Rhimes is the creator, executive producer and head writer of Grey's Anatomy and Scandal, amongst others.  However you personally may feel about these shows, they are a big deal.  Me, I watched the first 3-4 seasons of Grey's Anatomy before deciding I was done and the first two seasons of Scandal before deciding the same.  Both are seriously compelling at first and both feel too much like soap opera rehashing of the same things after a while in my ever so humble opinion.  All of that is to say that I didn't pick this book up because it's Shonda Rhimes.  That's fine, but not a huge draw.  I picked it up because year of books are like crack to me.

The idea here is the Shonda is hugely successful in her field, but also really introverted and, thus, while she's invited to do all sorts of awesome things, she always says no.  For a year, she commits herself to yes. 

One reoccurring thought I have while listening to this book is, "People really are just people."  This may seem like a lesson I should have learned long ago, but it's really fairly recently that I really rather believe that it is so.  There is no need to be intimidated by people, no mater if they are a movie star or a potential boss.  People are people with the same underlying concerns, foibles, and personality quirks. 

Recently, a couple friends of mine have been talking about opening a dessert bar/coffee shop.  They were talking about hiring people and I realized that I could easily be put in charge of hiring people for their shop.  And what would I be looking for in an employee?  A sense of humor, good team work, reliability.  If you present yourself in a stiff, formal way, I probably wouldn't hire you.  If you oversell, I probably wouldn't hire you.  Now, I'm not everybody and different people are certainly going to be looking for different things, but whoever they are, these people are still just people.  Be yourself and know you're also just a person.  If you get hired, you've been hired for the right reasons. 

Shonda is a person.  I like some things about her, others don't appeal all that much.  I like the "leave no mom behind," attitude toward ending the mommy wars, for example.  I am not wowed by her, though.  I'm not listening to this book and being awestruck because she's just a person, which is what she'd probably like you to take away from the book anyway, so I don't feel too bad about that.

The thing, though, that I really felt the need to actually stop cleaning the house, pause the book and write the review right now to write about is this:  My child wanted me to play with her all the time.  All the time.  I'm not exaggerating here.  As a baby, toddler, preschooler, child, this kid wanted me to play with her, interact with her, snuggle to her, read with her, talk to her, push her on the swing ALL THE TIME.  She was okay with it being her dad or her grandma or, as she got a bit older, one of her friends sometimes, but her preference through most of these years was me 24 hours a day.  (And, sure, we could sleep, at least some, but together was far preferable to her than not.)  I'm not saying this was because I was so wonderful.  I wasn't.  I mean, I'm a pretty good mom, don't get me wrong.  Did do all these things she wanted so very much of the time, but I also lost my patience, wanted me time, and sometimes yelled.  I got her involved in various activities mostly to give me a break.  Luckily, some of those activities she liked and, thus, they did give me a break.  Eventually some of those activities were the catalyst for her taking (self prescribed) steps toward becoming independent.  Which, by the way, happened way too soon for such a clingy (but awesome, don't get me wrong) young child.  She pretty much left home at 15.  Don't worry, this was all on good terms.  We're still very close.  She's 18 now and just finished her freshman year of college.  After a quick 6 week trip to China, I'll even get to spend a couple of months of the summer with her.  She will certainly not want me to play with her the whole time.  That would be seriously smothering at this stage.  Things change.

Why am I bringing all this up?  Because Shonda says anyone can say yes when their child asks them to play because you're not Taylor Swift.  Your child will only want to play for about 15 minutes before they want to go do something else.  Something that doesn't involve you.  Yeah, that may be true for a lot of kids, but it so was not for mine.  Now, though, at 18?  Yeah, anytime Davan asks to play in whatever form that takes, I say yes.  I don't hold her attention for more than an hour or so at a time anymore (on average) and she'll be gone again in a couple of months.

Anyway, I doubt I'll write another review when I'm done, so I'll wrap this up now.  I do like Year of Yes.  I'm certainly going to finish it.  I don't love it.  I feel nitpicky about some of the proclamations (more than just the one, although that one really stood out to me, clearly) and that niggles as me as I listen, but, overall, this is a decent enough story of Shonda's year and growth through saying Yes.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Aside About Books and Book Reviews in General

I've been thinking this issue through a few reviews now and want to hash some of it out by writing about it.

What makes a book good to a particular reader?  For me, there are a lot of factors, as I'm sure is true for many people.  A mix of likable characters, interesting story, good (in my opinion) story telling style, not too much contrivance that my eyes roll are all good starts.  I'm willing to overlook (or sometimes not even notice) a deficiency in one area if other areas are strong enough.  When I read other reviews, particularly of books I've liked that maybe some others have not, I can recognize what the reviewer is talking about, but it just didn't matter to me while I was reading the book. 

One reviewer on Goodreads (link to full review here), had this to say about Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel:

This paragraph...

...had me questioning why the MC calls Robert out for working "so hard", when a few sentences later we are told that Robert likes to get boozed up during school lessons. Damn, Robert, WHY YOU WORK YOURSELF SO HARD?

And, yes, I totally agree.  This should have completely turned me off of this book, but it didn't.  And, you know what else?  I barely noticed this until the reviewer brought it up.
John Green touches on this phenomena in his review of the Twilight series in which he goes on for a while about the wrongness of it and then says something like, "But none of that matters when you're reading it."  I couldn't agree more with almost everything he says.  I harbor deep embarrassment for having been totally sucked in by Twilight the first time I read it.  I liked it so much that I suggested the series for our next road trip.  Guess what?  It didn't really hold up.  I spent too much time analyzing what was wrong with it (spurred on by both Anthony and Davan) to think it was good anymore.  That doesn't mean that Stephanie Meyer isn't a good story teller.  And it doesn't mean that I wasn't gaga over it the first time I read it.  I was.  (I'll try to own that.)  There is a reason the books are so popular.  (By the way, if you can't lower yourself to read Twilight but you want to sample her story telling, read The Host.  There is some over the top romance, but it's a good and interesting science fiction story.  Ignore the movie.)

All this is to say that your mileage may vary with reviews.  Mine and others.  If you can find a reviewer who loves the same books you do and dislikes the same books you do (even if not everybody does), then you've got yourself a good source of recommendations.  Which is a thing of beauty.  Best sellers don't work for everybody.  I could not make it through even the first chapter of Gone Girl, for example.

Thus, my basic approach to books:  try a lot and be willing to just put aside anything that isn't working for you.  If you like a book, great!  Try not to let others' negative thoughts sway you.  If you don't like a book, no problem.  Even if it's what everyone is reading.  After all, while book reading can challenge your assumptions, expose you to new worlds and ideas and possibly further your knowledge, ultimately most of us read as a hobby.  And hobbies are supposed to be fun.

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg

I came across Did You Ever Have a Family when I was browsing for audiobooks available now at the library, having just finished one and not having any lined up to listen to.  I downloaded it along with two others and ended up choosing the others first.  I finally got around to it when I realized the loan was going to expire in a few days.  I'm glad I gave it a go.

Did You Ever Have a Family felt a little like several books in one.  At first, particularly in audio format, I found that to be confusing.  This might have gone a bit more smoothly if I were reading it and could flip back to remember, "who is this again?"  The story is told from the point of view of many different characters.  Some we return to, others are one shots.  The main event the story is built around is a tragedy.  In the wee hours of a wedding day, the house where the bride, groom and several family members are sleeping explodes.  Over the course of the book, we learn the back story, how the survivors are effected and the like.

A lot of bad things happen to the characters in this book.  So much so that I'm surprised I liked the book.  I don't have a lot of patience for bad turn of event upon bad turn of event usually.  Also, the point of view jumping doesn't always work for me.  However, it ultimately did all work for me this time.  The book hit on several themes that are often good ones for me, one of which was the back story of the groom's family who has the kind of familial relationship that gives me warm fuzzies.  Add onto that that each of the three kids in said family went to colleges that Davan either considered or ended up at the consortium of and that was a particularly winning mix for me.  (This leads me to an aside I'm addressing in another post.)

I just read a review that suggested that Bill Clegg's good writing is what makes people like this otherwise not deep or likable book.  That could be.  That combined with very identifiable parts of the story are probably enough to make this book work for me and for me to overlook things I might not otherwise.  Still, though, if this is his style of writing, I think that's enough of an endorsement of Bill Clegg that I'm going to take a look at Portrait of an Addict as a Young man and, depending on how that goes, Ninety Days, both memoirs of his struggles with addiction.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel by Sara Farizan

I really, really like this book.  This was actually a reread for me.  I read it the first time a couple years ago when it first came out and recommended it to Davan, who also really enjoyed it.  She recently reread it and referenced it in a conversation and I decided to give it a reread myself.  I'm glad I did, I enjoyed it very much this time through, as well.

Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel is the story of Leila, a high school junior who, over the summer, has come to grips with the fact she's a lesbian.  However, she is so not out.  She's worried about what her parents, Persian immigrants, will take the news.  Her private school is small and she's not sure she's ready for the repercussions of being out there.  When a new girl starts school two weeks into term, events unfold that lead to changes for Leila. 

The humor in this book really works for me.  I smiled much of the time I was reading it and, at times, laughed out loud.  I both like Leila and find her exasperating, but in a way that is familiar to me in a Davan-ish sort of way, which makes me like her even more, really.  I like the girl she ultimately crushes on.

I think Tell Me Again How a Crush Should Feel is a coming of age story ultimately.  Leila is discovering who she is, where she belongs and about the truths of some of the people around her. 

While this is not a universally loved book judging by the ratings I've seen out there (not bad, but not great), I beg to differ.  It's really good and well worth a feel-good read.  It's also a super fast read, so you're not going to be investing too much time if you disagree.  Heck, if you disagree, feel free to set it aside and move on, as I do with so many books.

Enchanted by Alethea Kontis (DNF)

I really wanted to like Enchanted.  I often like remade fairy tales (Ella Enchanted is an old friend).  Thus, I picked it up.

Enchanted is the first of The Woodcutter Sisters series and is told from the point of view of Sunday, the 7th daughter in her family of colorful characters, and Rumbold, a prince under a curse when we first meet him.

There is a lot going on in this book.  Many, many fairy tales are addressed.  Much is happening with each Sunday and Rumbold.  I think, ultimately, that was part of the issue for me.  Things felt sort of cluttered.  Still, I didn't want to give up.  I wanted to like it, so I worked on it for days.  However, I found myself doing everything and anything but read and I finally gave up 40% of the way through.

I partially kept going with it because I thought I should be liking this book and that maybe I was just in a reading slump.  Once I gave up, though, last night and moved on to another book, I realized that wasn't the case.  I was very into that book and pretty much did nothing but read and sleep until I finished it this morning.  That review next.

Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Ember in the Ashes was an audio book for me.  While I finished it yesterday morning, I've been not sure what to say about it, so I've put off writing my review.

Ember in the Ashes is told from two points of view:  Laia, a member of the downtrodden scholar class in a Romain-style world (but with mystical elements), who becomes a slave to spy for the scholar resistance after her world crashes down.  Elias, an elite soldier, who hates the empire and its tyranny and is a candidate for emperor at the school where Laia is spying.

It's a type of book I often like.  Trials and overcoming.  Romance, but not as the center of the story.  Main characters of a style I often like.  But, while I finished and don't regret it, it never really gelled for me.

The issues I can readily identify are that I wanted to yell at Laia and Elias for being stupid on several occasions.  I really thought they should have figured some things out way before they did.  That was annoying.

The other issue might be different if I hadn't listened to it.  I found Laia to be whinny.  I think that was mostly to do with how she was read by the narrator (there were two - a female for Laia and a male for Elias), but am not totally sure if I'd still think she was whinny if I read her myself.  Also?  Laia sounded like "Liar" to me when the narrators said it.  I found that off putting.

So, yes, I finished it.  It was okay.  I'm debating moving on with the series.  If I do, I'll definitely be trying it in print (or ebook) form. 

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Some Nerve by Patty Change Anker

I have ambivalent feelings about Some Nerve.  I picked it up blind from a display at the library, but many people would have come to it through Patty's blog titled Facing 40 Upside Down.  It's Patty's memoir of facing her fears as a 40-ish mom of two.  She wants to set a good example for her girls and, also, to join in more with them as they do their activities, rather than watching from the sidelines.  As she progresses, she is definitely also doing it for herself.  She learns a lot about herself, her friends and facing fears along the way.

Each chapter in the book addresses a particular fear:  water related fears, fear of decluttering, driving, death, and fear of heights are all addressed.  I found myself really engaged in some chapters and really not in others.  I'd like to think this isn't simply a reflection of my own fears and interests, although certainly that factors in.  What I think it is, though, is that the Patty's style didn't always work that well for me.  Sometimes I was able to overlook it, though.  I, for example, really loved the chapter on surfing in the winter in Lake Michigan.  Go Patty!

What didn't work so well for me was how many different people were introduced in each chapter.  There were often multiple experts in the field and multiple friends who either gave advice or needed help with the particular topic addressed.  I often found myself saying, "Who is this again?" and flipping back to try to find out only to find out they'd just appeared.  That was sometimes tedious.

What I did love, though, was finding myself laughing out loud at times.  Also, I found some inspiration, although not in the same way as many of the people who've endorsed the book.  Many people are motivated to face their own fear.  I didn't get that so much because, I think, I didn't so much identify with most of the fear addressed.  However, Patty does things like swimming in a pool to prepare for being the ocean.  While I do a decent job of staying active, I often don't do the exact things I should for the activities I want to prepare for.  For example, I've started wind surfing, but only do it during one month a year.  There are things I should do to prepare myself in between.  Spending time on my balance board, for example.  I hadn't gotten it out in a very long time (maybe a few times in the last year at most?), but I got it out after reading Some Nerve on two different occasions already.

All-in-all, I think Some Nerve is worth a read and I think highly of Patty and the journey she's on.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Far Far Away by Tom McNeal

I'm finding myself, for the second time this week, writing up a review at midnight.  This is not normal behavior for me.  I usually turn out the light around 10:30 give or take.  Tonight I was up until 11:00 finishing Far Far Away and then, even though I turned out the light, I did not fall asleep.  So, here I am, hoping like heck that, having written this, I'll be able to actually sleep.  Seeing as how I have to be up at 7:00am tomorrow morning for my weekly walk with a friend, this will be a short night no matter how I slice it.

Anyway, back to Far Far Away.  I liked this book!  I found it very engaging.  It's the story of a boy, a girl and a ghost who means well, as the first sentence will tell you.  Our narrator is the ghost, but we mostly follow Jeremy who is a bit of an outcast in his little town.  When he starts hanging out with Ginger, their adventures lead to...well, trouble, eventually.  And the trouble is dark.  Fairy tale dark.

I liked Jeremy and Ginger both very well and the ghost alright.  Ginger, in fact, rocks.  Who wants to start a posse with me for the purpose of night missions?  Anyone?  Also, I'm interested in an Indian leg wrestling championship.  Takers?  These are all things to do with Ginger.

Jeremy is a good kid and I like him, too.  However, I did have an issue with one aspect of his character.  The ghost, who, it is not a spoiler to tell you, as you'll know this quickly, is one of the brothers Grimm and, thus, a native German speaker.  He usually speaks English to Jeremy, but it's not infrequently that he speaks German.  Now, he's been around many years, speaking in Jeremy's ear, often with sprinklings of German.  However, Jeremy doesn't speak or understand German.  When Jacob tells him a phrase to say in German, he always needs it translated.  Jeremy is a smart lad and really should have picked up some German.  Things could still be translated for the reader without it being because Jeremy needs them to be translated.

Far Far Away, yet another YA novel, is another quick read.  It's good, engaging and, sometimes, harrowing.  I give it a thumbs up.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Mosquitoland by David Arnold

Mosquitoland is yet another YA novel in a long line of them I've been reading.  YA is a favorite of mine, but I do like other genres, as well.  It just so happens I'm working through a bunch of books that caught my eye on a recent trip to Powell's, so we'll all just have to live with that.

I picked up Mosquitoland because it's the book of the month for the Powell's YA book group.  I listened to it in audiobook form.  I liked it.  I did not love it, but I liked it.

Mosquitoland is the story of Mim who travels from her new place of residence in Mississippi where she's living with her father and new step mother to Cleveland to see her mom.  There are mysteries about what exactly is going on in Mim's life which are reveled as she takes her journey.  Of course, things happen along the way.  She meets new friends and strange characters with both good and bad results.

I liked Mim well enough, even though some things she did made me roll my eyes (Attempting to flush letters down a bus toilet?  Seriously?) and in many ways she was a stereotypical (for these days in the YA-verse) smart but messed up teen girl.  I'm kind of a sucker for clever, though, so I liked her anyway.  Mostly.

I don't want to say much more about the plot, as I think it's better to have things just unfold in this book.  So, I'll finish with:  quick read, clever main character, and a plot that I cared about.  Mostly.

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Operation Zulu Redemption Collateral Damage by Ronie Kendig

This will be short because I did not get past page 20 or so of this book.  It's a story about a group of female special forces troops that have a mission that goes wrong and they scatter to new lives.  This book starts with them in their new lives when something goes wrong and suddenly they are under attack.

I knew that there was a short novella that happened sequentially prior to this story, but it wasn't at my library and I figured I'd be able to pick it up.  If I'd stuck with it, I might have.  However, the beginning of the book was all about throwing a ton of people at me with no idea who was who.  There is a cast of characters given, but if I've got to refer to it to follow the story, then something isn't working for me.  That's how I felt about this.

Also, the characters weren't very appealing to me at first introduction, so I didn't feel motivated to push through until I knew everyone.

If you're looking for an action book and don't care much about the characters except to think it's cool that it's females who are the badass heroes, then this book may work for you.  For me, though, it's a pass.

Dodger by Terry Pratchett

I find Terry Pratchett to be a little hit or miss.  I really liked Good Omens and Nation.  Some others not so much.  In general, I don't pick up books just because he's written them and I've never gotten into Diskworld.  However, I decided to give Dodger a read because it's one of the 9th-12th grade Oregon Battle of the Books books this year.  If you don't know, Oregon Battle of the Books is a reading and comprehension program for elementary through high school students.  Teams of kids read books and then answer questions about them in a competitive quiz.  There are champions and everything.  Anyway, they often pick good, engaging books and, if I haven't already, I'll often read what's on the list.  Thus, Dodger.

I listened to Dodger as an audiobook.  I'm not really sure if that was a good idea or not to be honest.  I enjoy audiobooks generally, but the narrator can make or break a book and I have mixed feelings about this narrator.  His voice was fine (not grating as I find some), but maybe the accents were a little strong/forced?  Also, I'm not totally sure if I'd have found it a better read if I'd been choosing what was accented myself.  Anyway, for better or worse, I listened to it.

I considered several times not finishing.  It wasn't bad per say, but I wasn't super engaged.  It probably took me longer than usual to get through that length of an audiobook because I found myself listening to music at times I might normally have listened to a book because it just didn't call to me.  That said, it was decent enough that I did finish it.

The story is about Dodger, a street kid (well, young adult) in London during early Victorian times.  He saves a girl from a beating and starts down a path that changes his life in significant ways.  Along the way, we met Charlie Dickens, Sweeney Todd and a cast of colorful characters.

Really, I don't have much more to say about it.  It's fine.  It's not great.  I didn't get really into it.  I didn't feel too attached to any of the characters.  There were a few clever things that happened.  I was interested in some aspects of the story, like what life was like for a tosher (read it to find out!), but I could take or leave this book overall.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The Kiss of Deception by Mary Pearson

The Kiss of Deception is the first book in The Remnant Chronicles.  I believe it caught my eye while browsing at Powell's, but I don't really remember.  I did put a hold on it, so it came up somewhere.  Overall, I enjoyed the book.

The story is primarily Lia's who is a runaway princess and bride.  She is angry that she's been given away without her consent in a political marriage and, thus, on her wedding day, runs away before the dead is done.  She's accompanied by her faithful maid, Pauline, who's adoptive aunt is a pub and inn keeper in a smaller town of the realm.  Lia and Pauline take up life at the pub.  While Lia misses her 3 older brothers with whom she grew up in a tomboy-ish sort of way, she's happy to be away from the life of a princess.  She's followed, though, by both an assassin and the prince she was to marry.  Their stories are told in such a way that it's possible not to know which is which until about 2/3 of the way through the book.  I didn't find that to be much of a mystery, though, myself.

I enjoyed the pacing of the book.  I liked Lia quite a lot.  Lia is a linguist, which made me think of my daughter who should definitely read this book.  There were rough parts which made sense as part of the story and, while I didn't love them, I also appreciate when some reality about war makes its way into books. 

On the not-so-great side of the coin, I think I was supposed to be more upset about one of the rough parts toward the end than I was.  I just wasn't invested enough in the character to which it happened that it mattered that much to me.  Which leads me to realize that I wasn't super invested in really any of the secondary characters.  Also, I didn't love the end.  While the author made a point of creating an end, it's really just the middle of the story.  I prefer it when each book in a series has its own conclusion and that didn't really happen here.

Still, I did like the book and I will likely read the next installment.  It's not super short at 486 pages, but it goes by quickly.  It's a good book and worth a read.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway

I loved this book!  Okay, now that that's out of the way, let's talk about it some.

I picked up Emmy & Oliver because of a staff pick at my local bookstore, Powell's.  I have to admit to being a blatant user of Powell's.  I love them.  I love the local branch on Hawthorne.  I love the huge downtown store.  I rarely buy anything from them, though.  I would if I were a book buyer.  It's not like a browse there and then buy elsewhere.  No, I browse there and then get it from the library.  This is for two primary reasons.  1)  I'm cheap.  2)  I try not to collect things, even books.    Still, I love Powell's.  Go there and buy from them.  You can do it online, even.

Anyway, back to Emmy & Oliver.  The staffer who picked this book said in their blurb that it was a read-alike for Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. Fangirl is one of my favorite books.  I've read it three times.  I don't do a lot of rereading, so this is saying something.  So, when I read "read-alike for Fangirl," I had to give it a go and I'm very glad I did.

Emmy & Oliver is the story of Emmy who's best friend and next door neighbor, Oliver, is kidnapped by his dad when they are 7 years old.  When they're 17, Oliver comes home.  The story focuses mostly on what's happening at 17, but is also a lot about what happened to both of them during the intervening 10 years.

Like Fangirl, there is a romance, but, also like Fangirl, it's not the whole of the story and doesn't follow the traditional "meet and hate, get together, misunderstanding, big reconciliation" meme.  Whew.  Also like Fangirl, there is some great wit and laugh out loud moments.  I did think the wit was more blatant in Emmy & Oliver whereas in Fangirl, it was often more subdued (which I like), but it was really fun and I greatly appreciated Emmy's brand of humor.

All that said, it wasn't a perfect read for me.  I didn't love the bit at the end.  Throughout the book, we have occasional flashbacks to young childhood memories.  Those were mostly fine, but the book ends with one that I didn't like.  I think it would have been a stronger book if it had just ended with the chapter previous to this short flashback.

Perfection aside, I really did love this book.  It's a quick read at 340 pages and feels faster because it's so good.  Go read it!

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Sick by Tom Leveen

Sick was also a book I picked up during a library browsing session, not knowing anything about it previously nor the author, Tom Leveen.  I enjoy a good surviving the apocalypse story, though, and thought I'd give it a go.  It's a slim novel at 271 pages and I did finish this one - in one day.  It's a fast read.

This is the story of a zombie type event from the point of view of high school senior Brian.  He's in the right place (not the pep rally) when the tide turns and survives the initial onslaught.  He, a friend, and a group of acquaintances, some of whom are helpful, some not, have to decide what to do next.  Stay holed up?  Try to get out of the fenced in high school?  What about his sister and ex-girlfriend who were at the pep rally?

There is a fair amount of gore, as to be expected in a zombie novel.  Brian is definitely a teenage boy with a teenage boy point of view.  That was okay, but isn't the sort of character I identify with.  Still, the action was interesting, I cared about who was going to make it and wanted to know how it would turn out.  So, overall, it was worth reading.

(I'm currently reading Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway, which I am completely loving.  I'm about half way through and will do a more though review when I'm done, but I am enjoying it so much I had to give it a shout out already.)

Second Chance Summer by Morgan Matson

I finished Second Chance Summer Friday evening.  I'd picked it up at the library during a browsing session.  I did finish this book.  It's the story of Taylor Edwards who is the middle child in a family where both older and younger sibling stands out for their own reasons.  She doesn't unless she stands out for her habit of running away when things get hard.  That becomes difficult when her father is diagnosed with cancer and 4 months to live.  The family all returns to the lake community where she'd spent every summer through her 12th year when something happened to make her run from there, too.

It was...an easy read.  I found it rather predicable and with a familiar trope of present and past story telling.

A few thing happened that seemed incongruous for the characters.  During the earlier summer we read about, Taylor's best friend, Lucy, has to go away for the summer.  Taylor and Lucy campaign for Lucy to be able to stay, but Taylor's parents, who've let Taylor and Lucy spend all their previous summers spending the night at each others' houses say no.  It was that sort of little thing combined with the predictability that make me think this book was okay, but not anything great.

That said, I did enjoy the book enough to finish it, which is saying something!  While there was the heavy theme of Taylor's father's illness, it still felt like a light read.  It might look a little daunting at over 450 pages, but it's fast and easy to read.  It won't be a re-read for me, but I'd recommend it for a some light entertainment.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Our Lady of the Ice by Cassandra Rose Clarke (DNF)

I did not finish this book.  I picked it up on a whim, but ended up seeing it recommended in various places after I did.  Because of that, I pushed through about a third of it before deciding to set it aside.  It was fine.  There was nothing wrong with this book, but there was also nothing that sucked me in and made me want to read it.  That said, it seems to work for a lot of people and it's not so bad that I'd say to avoid it at all costs.  It's simply not for me.