Tag Archives: reading

A Year of Reading: Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo

“We need to give each other the space to grow, to be ourselves, to exercise our diversity. We need to give each other space so that we may both give and receive such beautiful things as ideas, openness, dignity, joy, healing, and inclusion.”

— Max de Pree

I’ve been selecting a book to read each month from A Year of Reading, a nifty little guide that provides five options every month based on a theme. The books included are diverse in author and in genre, so I’m challenging myself to read more out of the box. Now, I’m a fairly eclectic reader anyway, but this challenge helps me to read more books by authors of color, and in different formats than I would normally pick up. January’s The Principles of Uncertainty for example, is mostly artwork, such as paintings and photography, with written musings along the way.

February featured comedian, Aziz Ansari, and his take on Modern Romance

March was a particular favorite read of mine on the topic of justice with Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy

Playing catch up, this month’s review features the theme from April: Creative Spirit.

Crazy Brave by Joy Harjo

I am at my core, a lover of memoir. I am in awe of fiction writers as I personally find it difficult to write fiction. I often think the truth is stranger than fiction and many of the craziest scenes or details in fiction books come from truth. For example, in Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants, there’s a bit about a dead hippo the ringmaster keeps parading about during the circus, pretending the hippo is swimming in its tank. The hippo was in formaldehyde, and Gruen learned about the trick from a past employee of a real, traveling circus.

What Harjo has done with her memoir, Crazy Brave, is phenomenal, and as A Year of Reading suggests, it should be read aloud.

A well recognized poet, Harjo’s memoir encompasses story, lyric, and poem.

Overview from Goodreads:

In this transcendent memoir, grounded in tribal myth and ancestry, music and poetry, Joy Harjo, one of our leading Native American voices, details her journey to becoming a poet. Born in Oklahoma, the end place of the Trail of Tears, Harjo grew up learning to dodge an abusive stepfather by finding shelter in her imagination, a deep spiritual life, and connection with the natural world. She attended an Indian arts boarding school, where she nourished an appreciation for painting, music, and poetry; gave birth while still a teenager; and struggled on her own as a single mother, eventually finding her poetic voice. Narrating the complexities of betrayal and love, Crazy Brave is a memoir about family and the breaking apart necessary in finding a voice. Harjo’s tale of a hardscrabble youth, young adulthood, and transformation into an award-winning poet and musician is haunting, unique, and visionary. 

***

IMG_2217I’m discovering more and more lyric novels lately. Books that tell a story, but do so partially, or completely, in poetry format. Rising authors like Jason Reynolds are doing so, using spoken word to communicate his tale. And in my own neck of the woods, artist and author Mai Chao shared the story of her Hmoob parents fleeing the Secret War, living in a refugee camp, and immigrating to America, in her beautiful lyric novel, Gathering Fireflies. 

Harjo’s work is partially written in verse, and part traditional storytelling. It is beautifully oriented around directions (north, south, east, west), and place (her home of Oklahoma).

This book was a decadent treat for the wordsmith in me. Harjo’s writing comes from a place of loss, misdirection, and unknowing followed by the grace of time, perspective, and truth. In her own words:

A story matrix connects all of us.
There are rules, processes, and circles of responsibility in this world. And the story begins exactly where it is supposed to begin. We cannot skip any part.
― Joy HarjoCrazy Brave

I recommend Crazy Brave for any artists out there. Harjo’s story, and her work, is utmost about resilience, and it inspired me. And for bookworms, if you haven’t yet checked out a lyric novel or memoir, consider this a jewel of an introduction to the craft.

It really should be read aloud.

Have you ever checked out a lyric piece of work?
What did you think of the genre? 

What other books for artists, or on creativity, do you recommend? 

 

 

 

 

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A Year of Reading: Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

51j4xd2ntcl-_sx355_bo1204203200_I’m behind on blogging about my reading challenge.

Ok, let’s be honest, I’m behind on blogging in general. Transitions, yo. I’m taking it easy. 

Something I’ve enjoyed so far this year has been picking a title each month from the book A Year of Reading, a nifty little guide that provides five options every month based on a theme. The books included are diverse in author and in genre, so I’m challenging myself to read more out of the box. Now, I’m a fairly eclectic reader anyway, but this challenge helps me to read more books by authors of color, and in different formats than I would normally pick up. January’s The Principles of Uncertainty for example, is mostly artwork, such as paintings and photography, with written musings along the way.

Playing catch up, this month’s review features the theme from March: Justice.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

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Here’s the blurb from Goodreads:

Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Bryan into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Just Mercy is at once an unforgettable account of an idealistic, gifted young lawyer’s coming of age, a moving window into the lives of those he has defended, and an inspiring argument for compassion in the pursuit of true justice.

***

I listened to this while traveling to the Writers Institute.

I’m a big nonfiction reading fan. I love memoirs and biographies, so I was gripped right away by Stevenson’s writing. Threaded throughout the book is Stevenson’s involvement with the Walter McMillian case, meetings they had, court appearances and processes, interviews with family and witnesses, and police involvement. Intertwined amongst this case are stories of many cases Stevenson worked on that portray how he got his start into the battle of death row cases, and how his work would shape his path from then on. The writing kept my attention because you learn more about Stevenson and his work in chunks of casework, but there’s also this ongoing saga of what’s happening with Walter.

Stevenson began his own nonprofit practice that focuses on helping minorities and underage victims of the criminal justice system, specifically those placed on death row. His book is an intimate look at capital punishment law and how many people, guilty or not, end up on death row. He uncovers all kinds of issues within the system, such as tampering with evidence, tampering with jury selection, and larger social issues of racism and economic status.

I was first made aware of racism in the justice system after attending a local talk led by my city’s League of Women Voters chapter. In the talk, we looked at racial disparities in our court system in my own city of La Crosse, Wisconsin, as well as nationally and internationally. Once you see those numbers, it’s kind of hard to ‘unsee’ them. You’ve got to know there’s a problem.

I witnessed it myself during my months working as a public health educator and teaching at the juvenile detention center. For the percentage of minority populations in my city, there’s a disproportionate amount of teens of color (mainly black and biracial teens) being sent to juvie.

As a country, we are largely punishing people of color in more violent manners than we are their white counterparts. Since that eye opening talk several years ago, I’ve been active in starting up a local chapter of SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice), where white folks put in the time and work and energy of educating themselves on the issues, partnering and learning from people of color led organizations, and working to create change.

It’s upsetting to me that so many people are still (color) blind to the issue, or simply unwilling to discuss it. Today, for example, a (white) friend of mine is in court contesting a fine she and her daughter each received for writing messages of inclusivity and peace in SIDEWALK CHALK outside a public space. The city fined her almost $1000 between the original fine and restitution saying they spent seven hours washing off SIDEWALK CHALK that took her less than an hour to write. ???

You can read about her case here, but it’s clear from the way the city alderman addressed the issue, that the problem wasn’t really with the chalk (though that is what they fined her for, however there are chalk messages all around the city now that have not been washed away). The problem was with her messages.

Messages that were written were, “Black Lives Matter,” “You Are Standing On Ho-Chunk Land,” “I Stand For Love,” “Peace Be Unto You: As-Salaam-Alaikum,” “You Are Welcome Here,” “The Time For Racial Justice is Now” and “There is Enough For Everyone.”

I stand with my friend and her messages of inclusivity and diversity as strength. I highly encourage everyone to read more about systemic racism, as we all play a role in it when we don’t actively unlearn and fight against it.

Just Mercy is a phenomenal book that tackles racism in the judicial system. And the most powerful part of the whole read are Stevenson’s thoughts on mercy. Given the many examples of hate we can see every day on the news, or right in our own hometowns, it’s more important than ever to question our own biases. I hope you’ll grab a copy of Stevenson’s work as I found it incredibly thought provoking, emotional, and timely.

A few of my favorite quotes: 

“Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”

“I’ve come to believe that the true measure of our commitment to justice, the character of our society, our commitment to the rule of law, fairness, and equality cannot be measured by how we treat the rich, the powerful, the privileged, and the respected among us. The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.”

“We are all implicated when we allow other people to be mistreated. An absence of compassion can corrupt the decency of a community, a state, a nation. Fear and anger can make us vindictive and abusive, unjust and unfair, until we all suffer from the absence of mercy and we condemn ourselves as much as we victimize others. The closer we get to mass incarceration and extreme levels of punishment, the more I believe it’s necessary to recognize that we all need mercy, we all need justice, and-perhaps-we all need some measure of unmerited grace.”

Have you read Just Mercy yet? Or perhaps another title about racial justice?
What are your thoughts?

A Year of Reading: Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari

It seems love is in the air, as the theme of February’s A Year of Reading book challenge was romance. I am not normally a reader of romance books, so I went with the nonfiction recommendation, Modern Romance, by comedian Aziz Ansari and sociologist Eric Klinenberg.

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Ansari was curious about the dynamics of falling in love and relationships in the modern age. Were things easier before so much technology? How have dating websites changed the name of the game?

Whether you’re single, dating, or married, this book has plenty of interesting viewpoints on love. The authors (Ansari and Klinenberg) conducted focus groups around the world and spoke to leading sociologists, anthropologists, and economists.

Even with all that research, it’s a fast read. It’s not as in depth as you might want it to be or think it would be from its premise, but it does touch on multiple reasons why we date the way we do.

One thing I found interesting was the impact geography had on love. I’m a bridge Gen X/Gen Y baby, so for my peers, we’re on the cuff of cyber-dating’s rise. I have lots of friends who married someone they met online. For our grandparents, that didn’t exist. Most couples met and married someone that grew up in their neighborhood, many times in the same apartment building! The notion of e-meeting someone across the country and long distance dating, or the willingness to relocate based on a connection with someone they met online, is pretty new.

Texting is big in this book. The art of the text, and even the sext, is well examined by Ansari, who in his stand up, shared examples of text conversations he had with women he liked. They’re often nerdy and humorous. He would also call others up on stage to share confusing text messages they’d received from potential partners. If you’re fascinated by reading the meaning between the lines, dissecting the denotation between phonetic spelling and emojis, and just plain curious about some of the texts you’ve received, you will laugh your butt off in these chapters. But probably learn something too.

My most favorite A-Ha! moment from the book was this: The idea of the soulmate is a relatively newer trending ideal. For our grandparents, they selected individuals who would be good partners. And that partnership was most commonly about work duties. For example, if you were a farmer, you needed a partner who could weather long days, hard work, planning ahead for the seasons, money pinching, etc. Among all the elderly couples Ansari and Klinenberg interviewed, this was a reoccurring statement. Courtships were shorter, both people knew their roles, and love came later, over time. (Note* I’m simplifying this a bit, as the book does cover an example of discriminatory gender roles and an abusive marriage. I think that bears mentioning as it’s still an all too real issue today.)

Couples today are much more likely to say they’re looking for their “soulmate”. We want a partner that “completes us,” we want them to understand, know, and accept us like no one else on earth can, we want intimacy, AND we also want a partner to work with – they need to pay their share of the bills, keep the house clean, raise the kids, fix dinner, etc.

We’re asking a lot.

That hit me. Maybe because I’m a language nerd and the emotions and needs tied to the language we use for our partners is powerful. We want them to be EVERYTHING for us. Of course I think all unions should have partnership and love to be happy. But now, I understand why that feels so stressful to maintain.

We want our partner to be the person we tell our secrets to and we want them to take the damn trash out already! It is really, truly, and undeniably hard for one person to fill every single role all the time. They are bound to fail. We fail. We’re all only human.

That’s one idea why relationships today appear to struggle more than the “good old days” when “things were simpler.” And it did make me more appreciative of my partner and all that we do provide for each other.

Don’t take my word for it! Listen to Ansari himself, in this fabulous mockumentary dating vid about the book!

Aside – I need to watch the movie Singles like right now thanks to this clip. Seriously, remember that movie? When Sheila Kelley makes her singles dating video that looks like she’s flying over the city and invites guys to “Come to Debbie Country.” 

Anyway…

What are your thoughts?
What do you think of modern romance?

Ever watched Singles? It’s so good. 

 

 

What I’m Reading for #BlackHistoryMonth

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Here’s the deal, folks. It’s hard to be excited about being an American right now. Our country is in turmoil. Step into the world of Facebook for a minute and you’ll feel it. Our people are torn. We’re hungry for change, but it’s clear that these changes aren’t in the best interest of us all. Instead of breaking barriers, we’re building walls, literally and figuratively.

It’s heartbreaking.

But you know what does make me feel good about being an American? (Besides our freedom of speech, right to protest, freedom of press, local and national chapters of SURJ, the ACLU, and feminists everywhere…)

Reading.

I’m serious. It is a gift to live in a country where access to books from places like libraries, schools, independent book stores, chain bookstores with coffeeshops inside them, second hand stores, little free libraries, and websites with 2 day shipping are all willing to put BOOKS in your HANDS!

Have I mentioned I love reading? Because I DO.

It is a gift to have a book in your hand. Books make us think. Books make us learn. Books teach us empathy. Books allow us to walk in the shoes of a character who is different than us. Stories – whether told in person, on paper, with numbers, on TV, over the radio, by a child, or by an adult – help us make sense of our world. It is how we learn to care about one another. How we relate to the people around us.

Here is something I learned and can’t remember where. I probably read it somewhere. 😉

It takes several generations of a family to unlearn a prejudice.

Think about that. That’s multiple LIFETIMES to actively unlearn bias.

So if we don’t have a lot of interaction with folks who are different than us, we maintain the same biased views about them – their race, their culture, their religion, their way of dress, their sexual orientation, their gender identity, etc.

If we want to, we can change that. And one easy way is to pick up a book.

READ about characters who are different than you. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read a book and had it CHANGE MY MIND about a topic.

The Cider House Rules changed my mind about abortion.

Bamboo Among the Oaks made me cry learning about Hmoob history.

The Mayflower taught me about my own ancestors’ struggles and prejudices coming to a new world while trying to pave THEIR OWN WAY.

Perhaps I’m rambling. My point is, books have power. Books teach us. And February is Black History Month, so it’s a great time to read books about Black people and by Black people. And you know, learn a thing or two.

Here’s What I’ve Been Reading: 

51avppq060lCurrently, I’m working on this audiobook I picked up from my local library. It’s called The Firebrand and the First Lady by Patricia Bell-Scott. It’s a new in-depth look at the relationship between writer, activist, and priest, Pauli Murray, and First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt. The author, Bell-Scott, diligently researched archives of Murray’s and Roosevelt’s, including letters they sent back and forth for years. She studies how this unique friendship shaped many of the political projects the First Lady advocated for.

You might recall the name Pauli Murray on this blog before when I featured her in 9 Women Who Made History You Probably Didn’t Know About.

>>>

a_lesson_before_dying_novelI recently finished reading A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines as part of a Big City Read initiative my town hosted (and still is) after a City Hall presentation regarding La Crosse, WI’s history as a “Sundown Town.”

A Lesson Before Dying is the fictional story of a 1940s court case where a Black man is convicted of a crime he did not commit and sentenced to death by an all white jury. While on death row, he is visited by a Black school teacher who has been asked by the man’s family to educate him so he can “die like a man.”

There are still several community book discussions on this title for my local friends, as well as several guest speakers talking about racism, the justice system, and inequality. View all the events at La Crosse Reads.

<<<

luvvie-ajayi-book-1-copy-768x975A book I read in 2 days time last year was I’m Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi. A “Do Better Manual” for the masses, phenomenal blogger, Awesomely Luvvie, shared stories on everything from feminism, racism, social media etiquette, dating, and more. It’s your all in one, be a better person guide, as told to you by a sassy, pop culture loving, side-eye queen.

This book is a compilation of essays, making it easy for anyone to pick it up and read a few pages at a time. You don’t have to read it chronologically if you don’t want to. Every chapter has a healthy dose of love and petty judgment.

If you want a teaser, I shared an excerpt from a hilarious chapter called When Baehood Goes Bad in a challenge Luvvie gave to bloggers to share their favorite parts.

just_mercy_stevenson_bryan_002What’s next on my to read list? Part of my 2017 Reading Challenge is one book per month from A Year of Reading and March’s pick (the theme is justice) is Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson. “Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system.”

I’m a fan of nonfiction books, so my recommendations tend to lean that way. But there are plenty of other great book lists for Black History Month. Just google suggestions. Or see what’s shelved on Goodreads.

I hope you pick up one of these titles. Or find another interesting book about Black America that catches your eye. Maybe you already have a few you love. Tell me what they are in the comments! I’m always looking for new books to read.

Happy reading everyone!

 

 

Final Book Reviews for the To Be Read Pile Challenge

2015tbrbuttonThe end of another year means that reading challenges are wrapping up all over. For the last three years I’ve participated in the TBR (To Be Read) Pile Challenge hosted by Adam at Roof Beam Reader. The goal is to read 12 books off your bookshelf that have been sitting there for more than a year.

Not a bad way to save money too! 

I’m proud to report I completed the challenge by finishing my book list.

My 2015 TBR Pile Challenge List:

  1. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)
  2. Persuasion by Jane Austen (1818)
  3. The Jungle by Upton Sinclair (1905)
  4. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1965)
  5. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin (1969)
  6. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J. K. Rowling (1999)
  7. Insurgent by Veronica Roth (2012)
  8. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell (2013)
  9. The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry (2011)
  10. The Secret History by Donna Tartt (2004)
  11. Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James (2013)
  12. Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher (2012)

My favorite read was probably In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. I hadn’t read it before and his attention to detail really makes you feel like you’re in the room with the characters. Plus, it’s based on a true crime, a despicable crime, and yet the way he writes it, the reader is drawn to the story of the killers and what happens to them.

The final two books I have to report on are: 

ketchup_clouds_pitcher_novelKetchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher

I loved this book. It’s the story of a teen girl who starts writing letters to a death row inmate. And in her letters, she confesses to a crime that she got away with.

I listened to this one on audiobook and highly recommend the audio version if you’re into them. While being a YA book, it deals with a lot of serious themes such as family dynamics, first love, finding oneself, and guilt.

What’s interesting about this book is we never actually meet the death row inmate. He’s a key character as Zoe, the teen girl, tells her story to him, revealing aspects of his own crime as she reads about it. We learn about him, but we never actually meet the inmate. I thought this book was exceptionally well written and very interesting.

29044The Secret History by Donna Tartt

On the literary end of things, Donna Tartt’s Secret History also deals with a murder.

The book opens with a group of college freshman narrator. We know a body was found beneath the snow, and that the narrator was somehow involved, but we don’t know how.

Then the book zooms back to his first days at college, making friends, scraping money together for bills, and how Richard, the narrator, gets involved with a select group of students in a greek language class.

The students in the greek class are nothing like Richard. They come from wealthy families with summer homes in Europe and wear expensive suits to class and dine at fancy restaurants multiple nights a week. But Richard does his best to fit in.

Everything has a cost. And that’s all I’ll tell you about this one.

*****

For those of you that are looking to join up with a reading challenge in 2016, I must sadly report that Adam is not continuing the TBR Pile Challenge, but will have other reading challenges available you can check out on his blog.

So I partnered with Adam and some of my favorite book bloggers to find another reading challenge that focused on the stacks that no longer fit on my bookshelf. Here’s what they recommended.

2016 Reading Challenges

In 2016, I’m joining forces with Andi from Estella’s Revenge for the #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks challenge and Maren from The Worn Bookmark for her #2016ReadMyBooks challenge.

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Both challenges focus on reading books you already own, but that can be actual paper copies as well as ebooks.

There is no set number you have to read, it’s up to you to decide what is manageable and what you want to achieve.

Andi and Maren are both setting goals of 100 or more! I am shooting for 24. That’s 2 books/month. So truly, go as big or as small as you want!

Another bonus, you don’t have to pick the book titles ahead. (This is helpful to me since my reading varies on my mood. I like that these challenges allow for flexibility.) I’ll be adding a page soon with my full library to list all my reading options. Feel free to share your recommendations with me in the comments too!

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If you have a blog, the hosts encourage you to write reviews of the books you read and share them with the hashtags above. You can also catch them on Instagram!

The first thing you have to do is count up how many unread books are on your bookshelf…and floors and desk and bedside table. 

I have a grand total of 161 unread books. 

And I asked for more for Christmas!

I’ll be kicking off the challenge with my gluttonous consumption of the Outlander series. I’m working on Voyager now.

So who’s with me?
Are you participating in reading challenges in 2016?
If you did any this year, how did they go? What was your favorite read? 

*****

P.S. Need help writing a book report? Check this out! 😉

 

P.P.S. In case you missed it, I guest blogged at Coach Daddy last week, hanging out with my pal, Eli Pacheco! I shared 3 books, 3 songs, and 3 quotes to inspire the world! Eli is always writing honest and inspiring blog posts. He just did a great one this weekend about gratitude. Stop by and hang out with us, it’s a fun group!

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What I’ve Been Reading

The one good thing about colder weather is it’s the perfect excuse for curling up with a good book.

I’m an avid coffee shop attendee and I love seeing so many students bent over the tables with their books, and sure homework too. I love seeing people with their newspapers and novels and a big mocha next to them. November is also the start of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. Thousands of writers from all over attempt to write 50,000 words in a month’s time.

How’s everyone doing on their reading challenges this year? Anyone participating in Roof Beam Reader’s To Be Read Pile Challenge or make one up of their own?

I’m 2 books away from completing my list, but feeling wary whether I’ll finish. I hope to read The Secret History by Donna Tartt and Ketchup Clouds by Annabel Pitcher yet this year.

I’ve had some interference with my book list, you see.

His name is Jamie Fraser. And he lives in the Outlander series.

Oh hello there. When did you come in?
Please stay awhile. In fact, let’s plan a trip to Scotland together. 

Where was I?

Oh yah, my TBR pile.

It’s growing. Look what I just scored from the library’s fall book sale!

holding up a dozen books

Having fun isn’t hard when you have a library card! 

I have been diligently trying to space out my series reading and catch up my TBR pile. Here are a few recommendations I have for whatever mood you may be in.

TBR Pile Challenge Update

For lovers of family dynamics ~ The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry 

A little bit paranormal, a lotta heart, The Kitchen Daughter tells the story of Ginny, a twentysomething with Aspberger’s Syndrome, but she doesn’t know that. She was always raised to believe she had “a personality” and nothing more.

The book opens at the funeral of her parents, and now Ginny and her sister are forced to learn how to communicate together in an unknown future. What’s more troubling for Ginny is the fact that she’s seeing ghosts. By cooking handwritten recipes of loved ones who’ve passed, Ginny can talk with them.

Written from Ginny’s perspective, The Kitchen Daughter is a unique glimpse inside someone’s head – a woman who is just as independent and caring as the rest of us, but shows it differently.

I loved the paranormal element the most in this book. I love how Ginny was able to take an experience like a conjuring and see it as a way to learn more about her family. And I liked the relationship between Ginny and her sister, which felt very real as each struggled to navigate what they thought was best for the other. This would be a great book for book clubs to read.

For fans of YA ~ Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

This book was nothing like how I expected.

For starters, while published in 2013, it takes place in 1986. I wondered whether today’s teens would understand the magic of the mix tapes exchanged between these two. I loved it.

Eleanor and Park couldn’t be more different, or more the same. This book ended in a place I least expected, and I don’t want to give any spoilers, so you’ll just have to read it yourself.

At its core, this is a story of two misfits. Park gets by in school, but feels like the odd duck at home, unable to live up to his father’s strict requirements. Eleanor wears armor in her zany form of dress as a way to look tougher than she is. Behind her wild hair and colorful clothes, is someone hiding a painful secret.

Together, life feels a little bit easier. But it also gets more real.

These characters tugged at my heartstrings.

For fans of sci-fi ~ The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin

I picked this book out for my book club to read when we decided to each pick a different genre. As I read a lot I didn’t have a preference on what genre I was assigned. But I admittedly know little about science fiction beyond Kurt Vonnegut, who was a favorite in high school.

I struggled with this book, as did my entire book club. I recommend researching the author and the book first as the history and symbolism built into the book made it more interesting to read.

And warning, it doesn’t get really good til about 100 pages in. So you have to stick with it.

This story takes place on the planet, Winter, where the people have no gender. Once a month, they enter a transition period called kemmer where they can take on male or female form and partner with another person. They have no choice in which gender they take, and could fluctuate from each one each time they enter a kemmer period.

The book has a lot of feminism between the lines. In a world where there is no gender, and all the people are on equal ground, there is no war. Two ideas which LeGuin played with in many of her works.

And what’s fascinating is that it’s written from an outsider’s perspective, Ai Genly, who is sent to Winter as an ambassador, in hopes of convincing their people to join the Ekumen – AKA what we know as the United Nations. The story follows Genly’s mishaps in communication and tactics because he doesn’t understand the people he is speaking with. Isn’t that very fitting for where we are in the world today? We all rush to identify and place people in social constructs we know and understand, without really understanding them at all.

If you can stick with it through the unusual names and long backstory, this is an interesting read. Certainly a thought provoking one.

*****

What books have you recently read and enjoyed?
What books do you hope to finish before year’s end? 

Happy National Book Lovers Day!

Book LoversAugust 9th is National Book Lovers Day! So grab a friend off your bookshelf and spend some time reading today!

I plan on grabbing one of my books and cozying up in a chair to spend some time with my favorite characters. And I’ll be hopping around the blogosphere hanging out with my fave book bloggers.

I’ve got a few more titles on my To Be Read Pile Challenge completed, but need to do my reviews. So here’s what I’ve recently been reading!

The Picture of Dorian Gray
By Oscar Wilde

Read this one for my book club and we had a great discussion with it. It’s about a young man with the world before him who befriends a rather poor influence. By making just a few despicable choices, he alters the path of his life forever.

If you’re familiar with the paranormal aspect of the book, you know that Dorian never ages. He remains a beautiful and suave gentleman, while a portrait of him takes on every crooked and cruel act he does, displaying his true nature.

I thought this was a great eerie read and a classic I would recommend. When Wilde describes the portrait, hidden away in the attic, it left me cold!

I would also recommend the 1940’s film version of this story. The special effects of the times for the final view of his portrait are seriously terrifying! It’s one of the American Film Institutes Top 100 Thrillers.

Fans of Wilde’s work will be surprised by the artsy, dramatic voice in Dorian Gray as its very different from his other works like The Importance of Being Earnest. And I would recommend it for book clubs as we did have a rich discussion about Wilde and his book.

Persuasion
By Jane Austen

The last book I had to read in order to complete Austen’s six main novels. I hope to start in on her novellas this year and read Sanditon.

Persuasion is the story of Anne Elliot, a woman who abides by duty and what others desire of her before her own heart. As such, she refused the hand of the only man she has ever loved. But when chance propels them into each other’s lives again, will she have the gumption to share her true feelings? And will he have the heart to forgive her all these years later?

I am always delighted by the works of Jane Austen. Each one is a treat to read bringing lovable and not-so-lovable *cough* (Anne’s sister, Mary Musgrove) *cough* to life! Persuasion is one of her best. It has overbearing family members, silly schoolgirl crushes, a family feud, a mysterious cousin, hidden affairs and agreements, and oh yes – a romantic sea captain, Frederick Wentworth!

Persuasion is a tale about second chances and trusting one’s own mind. True to many of Austen’s works, the reader must know that not everyone can be trusted based on their first impression. Cold and stoic personages can be caring and charming, gentlemanly characters may be downright scoundrels. But that’s why you have to keep reading!

Death Comes to Pemberley
By P.D. James

Even if you watched the BBC miniseries, you really ought to read the book. There’s much more to the story and you learn a lot of details about what became of each of the Bennett sisters. For example, it is Kitty who remains at Longbourn taking care of their mother, not Mary!

The book picks up a few years after Darcy and Elizabeth are married. The household is preparing for a ball when suddenly Lydia, Elizabeth’s ill-mannered, flirtatious sister shows up announced and screaming that her husband is dead!

Fans of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice know that Lydia marries the scoundrel, George Wickham, and he is no less changed in this fan mystery. It is not Wickham who is found dead in the woods behind Pemberley, but his best friend Captain Denny. Wickham is however, the prime murder suspect!

The author, P.D. James is one of Britain’s foremost mystery writers and she captures Austen’s voice meticulously. The last thing Darcy wants to do is save Wickham yet again, but save him he must if he wants to keep scandal away from his home and family.

I listened to this book on audio and it was a delightful mystery to get swept up in. And of course be reunited with all the best characters in Pride and Prejudice. Even Mr. Collins!

*****

That leaves just five more titles to complete for the TBR Pile Challenge. How are the rest of you doing? 

What are you currently reading right now? 

Any fun plans to celebrate Book Lovers Day?

Summertime Madness Book Lovers Tag

Scooch in close you guys. I’ve got a secret widely known fact to share.

I love books. 

Book Swag LovinSome have gone so far as to call me a bibliomaniac! And to that I say, “Thanks for putting ‘biblio’ in front of that!”

I just really like to read. All genres. All authors. I love memoirs, historical fiction, humor books, creepy thrillers, erotica novels, creative nonfiction, and YA books too.

I am, however, none too crazy about dinosaur erotica. But I researched it once.

I’ve made it through four books on my Top 10 Books to Read This Summer. I would likely be further along except for…Outlander. ‘Nuff said.

My pal, Maren, from The Worn Bookmark just posted her Summertime Madness Tag with lots of great titles you should definitely read! And she invited others to play along. So, I’m joining in! And so can you! Share your summertime madness picks in the comments or in a post of your own! Link back so I can see what’s on your must-read list!

summertime madness

1. Show a book with a summery cover. 

I just finished reading this book about Bill Bryson’s road trip across America and it’s made me antsy to begin our own soon.

2. Pick one fictional place that would be the perfect destination for your summer vacation. 

It said fictional, so of course, I choose Pemberley!

3. You’re about to go on a flight to your Summer Vacation. But you want to read a book that lasts for the whole flight, so what novella do you choose?

It’s not really a novella, but it is a collection of essays which are easily read. Laurie Notaro is one of my favorite humor authors and this is one of her best books. I would gladly chuckle through the plane ride reading this book.

4. You have a case of Summertime Sadness. What happy book do you pick up to shine a smile on your face?

Samantha Bee’s book is hilarious! I loved her no holds barred, honest writing and her description of her family. This book would definitely put a smile on my face. I mean, just look at the cover.

5. You’re sitting at the beach all alone…which fictional character would be your beach babe?

So Maren and I have the same answer here. Jamie Fraser! This Highland hottie can double as my beach blanket babe anytime!

6. To match your ice cream you want an icy cool sidekick! Which fictional sidekick do you pick?

What better sidekick than the costar of all costars? I think Judy Greer and I could be great friends and get into all kinds of shenanigans over the summer.

*****

Your turn! What books on your summer madness list?

Can’t Talk, I’m Reading: TBR Pile Challenge Update

We’re three months in on the To Be Read Pile Challenge. How’s everybody doing?

The TBR Pile Challenge is hosted by Adam at Roof Beam Reader as a way to join all bibliophiles together! You select 12 books that have been gathering dust on your bookshelf for one year or longer and vow to read those books in 12 months time!

I love this challenge and how it focuses me on reading some of the books I already own. (We won’t discuss the rate at which I buy and/or borrow new ones, especially when returning from a writers conference where there’s a book fair.)

I’ve actually been ahead of the game with this year’s challenge, finishing book #5! However, I’ve been very poor in writing reviews. So to catch up for the third check-in of the year, here’s what I’ve been reading and what I thought of the books.

TBR Pile Challenge Book Reviews

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

Truman Capote’s creative nonfiction book about a mass murder in Kansas has long been on my ‘to read’ list. The book has a very eerie nature, and is exceptionally well written, bouncing back and forth between the investigation of the Clutter family murders and what the killers who doing leading up to the crime night.

Truman Capote spent much time with the killers while they were imprisoned and in limbo with court appeal processes. It’s very likely they thought he was a friend considering how much trust he gained and how he helped with their case. That makes the title of this book all the creepier to me.

For fans of suspense novels, true crime, and creative nonfiction, I highly recommend this book. I was on edge as the gory details unfolded and we learned more and more about the killers’ early lives, odd jobs, and how they befriended one another. The writing is so good, you almost root for them. And that’s what I found so interesting. When all we know in a murder case is who did it, it’s easy to write off the killer as a menace. But when you know more about their life and the troubles they overcame, does it make you understand more, even if you still accuse?

****

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

After In Cold Blood, I needed something a bit lighter, so I dove into book 3 of the Harry Potter series.

Don’t shun me, I haven’t read the series yet. I’ve been slowly savoring it, reading one a year or so. But this title may make me speed up a bit. It has by far been my favorite and I enjoyed the first two.

In Harry’s third year at Hogwarts School, his life is in danger not just from “He Who Shall Not Be Named” but also from the most notorious prisoner in Azkaban, Sirius Black. And when you’re a teenager, it’s equally annoying that the biggest snob in school, Draco Malfoy, is picking on you and your friends.

Exceptional colorful characters and an action packed plot, I really enjoyed this one. There were so many characters coming into play throughout the book, but I loved every minute. Plus they’re distinct enough that it’s easy to distinguish who’s who. Made me really want to read book 4 right away.

****

The Jungle by Upton Sinclair

The Jungle was always a title on the classics list we could choose from in school, so I was well familiar with the nature of its subject – the horrendous working conditions of early factories. It’s known for launching the creation and reform of many labor laws and unions. It rivals Uncle Tom’s Cabin for how much political influence it had!

I wanted to enjoy this book. And I did, parts of it. The book follows an immigrant family as they adapt to American ways and try to find work in the worst of conditions. The first half of the book I liked, and learned a lot about the life expectancy and injuries that happened in our workplace before labor rights acts. So many men and women died of blood disease from infections that began at work.

And this book will really make you want to be a vegetarian. It’s pretty disturbing. Sure, you’d expect that from a slaughterhouse, but it’s really the rats crawling over the meat that did me in. *shudder*

I would recommend this book for historical purposes or for those who like to read a classic now and again. But be forewarned, it gets very long, and I wouldn’t say the book has a happy ending. After awhile, it was difficult to read about so much trauma in one family, though I’m absolutely sure it was common for immigrant workers and even in families today.

****

Have you read any of these?
Are you doing the TBR Pile Challenge? If so, how’s it going?
It can never hurt to add more titles. What are you reading right now?

 

 

 

 

 

Top Ten Books On My Spring To Be Read List

What books are on your to read list right now?

The recent signs of spring have me extra energized to tackle my To Be Read Pile. I’m a pretty avid reader, and I recently discovered the blog, The Broke and the Bookish, who hosts a Top Ten list every Tuesday focused on various book themes. Today we’re talking about the Top Ten Books On Our Spring To Be Read List. I don’t know about you, but I have the hardest time whittling down what book to read next because I want to read All. The. Books!!^$?!

worlds largest latteIf I drink All. The. Coffee. I will never have to sleep again!
I can just read and read and read and read…

Hmm, maybe not.

But here are the Top Ten Books on my Spring To Be Read List: 

1. Persuasion by Jane Austen

The last of Jane Austen’s six novels I have yet to read. Once I finish the story of Anne Eliot I will have completed her most well known works and can move on to some of her novellas like Sandition and Lady Susan. Judging from the film versions I’ve seen (many times), Captain Wentworth is indeed worth waiting for.

2. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

Claimed as the new Eleanor & Park meets The Fault in our Stars, I’ve been hungry to read this book for awhile but busy finishing up some other titles. I even bought this one in hardcover. I don’t even really like hardcover. I’m a paperback girl. I just wanted to read this one that badly. It’s the story of two teens – one a total loner who contemplates death and looks to the future with a strict eye, the other a free spirit who lives in the moment and sees life as an adventure. Their worlds are about to collide. I want to find out what happens!

3. Cress by Marissa Meyer

The third book in The Lunar Chronicles; I’m committed now. I absolutely loved the first book, Cinder. I thought the second book, Scarlet, was ok. But friends assure me that Cress is worth the read. A futuristic spinoff of classic fairytales, this is the continuing adventure of a cyborg named Cinder who is on the run after the evil Lunar Queen, Levana, has a call out for her head and plans to marry the good-intentioned Emperor Kai. With the help of some fellow misfits, will Cinder overtake Levana before the Queen takes over their world?

4. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

It’s been too long since I’ve read any Neil Gaiman and I must remedy that. What’s more intriguing than a pond that becomes an ocean? As a middle-aged man returns home for a funeral, he is reminded of the people he grew up with and the stories they each told.

5. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold

Bestseller in the early 2000’s, all my friends read this one, but I didn’t. I was afraid I couldn’t handle the subject matter. But this winter I happened upon the book in a Little Free Library near my house and decided it was time I checked it out. Despite its serious subject matter, I’m really looking forward to reading this one.

6. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Long before there was Christian Grey, the leading man with the wealth and power was Dorian Gray. A favorite old film of mine, the black and white version of course, I’m excited to read the novel for the first time. This title was selected by my book club as our classic this year and I’m really looking forward to our discussion.

7. The Wild Truth by Carine McCandless

Another book I had to get in hardcover because I couldn’t wait. I’m a huge fan of author Jon Krakauer, who wrote Into the Wild, the story of Chris McCandless. Now, Chris’s sister, Carine, has written her own telling of her family’s history and the days leading up to her brother’s nomadic life.

8. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell

A few years ago I had a year of comedy, where half of the books I read were humorous memoirs. I think this year may be my year of YA. I’ve got so many young adult books on my list. And one of them is Eleanor & Park. Even the colored pencil sketch cover looks like spring to me. How could I possibly say no to a love story between two misfit teens when the leading lady has red hair?

9. Wildalone by Krassi Zourkova

I’m not shy about admitting the fact that I disliked Jane Eyre. I know, I know, such sacrilege from an English major! What can I say? I’m more of a Heathcliffe/Wuthering Heights kinda girl. However, I really enjoyed This House is Haunted which is an adaptation of Jane Eyre, and Wildalone has some notes of Eyre as well. I do enjoy a good paranormal read and this one seems intriguing!

10. The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry 

I’m embarrassed to admit how long this beautiful book has sat on my TBR shelf. It’s been an alternate in the TBR Challenge for 2 years and since I never had to use my alternates I didn’t get to it. This year I made it part of my challenge, determined to finally read it. I love the idea that the lead character can see ghosts by cooking up recipes from them. And this is what sets her off on a journey of family secrets.

*****

That’s my Top 10 books to read this spring.
What titles are on your spring list? 

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