February Reads

IMG_3151

Lucky Boy, by Shanthi Sekaran. It’s hard to offer a plot summary without giving too much away. In the broadest terms, the story is about two mothers and less about the (lucky) boy they both fiercely love. Soli, an undocumented teenage girl from Mexico, gives birth after she is in the United States. Kavya wants desperately to be a mother but has been unable to get pregnant. When Soli is detained by immigration officials, her son, Ignacio, is placed in foster care with Kavya and her husband. The story is incredibly timely, and it is heartbreaking. The characters are so well-developed, and I would guess that whatever ideas you might have about the situation hypothetically, you would be hard-pressed to choose a “right” side. The story–all too real–was such a good one. Highly recommended.

Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi. This would easily make my (as-yet-still-hypothetical) top 5 books of all time list (I really will give it some thought and come up with an actual list). The story begins with half sisters in Ghana (who don’t know each other) in the eighteenth century. One sister is married to a white British general and lives in the “castle.” The other sister is brutally held in the dungeon of the same castle before being sold into slavery in America. The novel then proceeds to alternate between Ghana and the United States, with one chapter telling the story of each subsequent generation (seven generations, fourteen stories in all). Each chapter was as rich as a full novel. Some of the stories are devastating (I have never cried so hard reading a book as I did over one of the chapters), and all of them left me with a strange mix of wanting to know more but also eager to see what story the next generation would hold. Beautifully written, this debut (!) novel took my breath away.

The Seven Good Years, by Etgar Keret. I kept this one on my list though I couldn’t remember why. In the end I’m glad I did. It made me think, made me laugh out loud in a couple of places, and made me curious to seek out more of Keret’s writing. I don’t know that I would press this book into your hands as a must-read, but it is a solid and enjoyable memoir.

The Wangs vs. the World, by Jade Chang. Yeah, I should probably count this as DNF. If I do say I read it, I’m using the word “read” very generously–even “skimmed” might be pushing it. I could probably fake my way through a class discussion but not an essay test on the book. This wasn’t the book for me. Not my humor, didn’t like any of the characters, was bored by most of the storylines.

The Thirteenth Tale, by Diane Setterfield. I read this for book club and had such mixed feelings about it. On the one hand there were some parts where the subject matter probably would have been a deal breaker for me and another section where the far-fetched-ness of the story would have been another exit point. On the other hand, though, there were times I was so caught up in the story that I didn’t want to put it down and was glad that I pushed through after all. Overall, I would say I liked it, didn’t love it. I won’t rave about it, but I also won’t rant about it. How’s that? We haven’t met for book club yet, and I’ll be interested to hear what the others thought of it.

Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese (narrated by Sunil Malhotra). So good. So, so good. This novel has all the epic sweep and complicated family relationships that I love without being over the top. The medical descriptions were often vivid (and I’m guessing they will stick with me a long time). I listened to this as an audio book, and there were a couple times I was driving and almost had to pull over because I was squirming so much. I would recommend this one without reservation for the storyline, but if you’re squeamish, you might want to pick up the paper copy so you can skim. Ha.

This month I abandoned several books. I can think of three, but it seems like there were more. News of the World, by Paulette Jiles, I had to return to the library because I ran out of time, and there were holds on it. I might return to it. I read the first chapter of Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman, by Lindy West, and then texted a friend who had just finished it to see if the whole book was more of the same. I think I’ll pass–it’s one of those it’s-not-you-it’s-me situations. I could probably make it through, but with literally sixty books on my current to-read list, I just wasn’t that into it. And same with Mosquitoland, by David Arnold. I listened to the audiobook version for a chapter or so and then checked out some reviews to feel out if I wanted to continue. When several reviews said, “Good if you like John Green,” I decided to be done.


January Reads

January books

The One-in-a-Million Boy, by Monica Wood. This is a charming book, but I think for me it suffered from overhype. I mean I liked it (more than a little, less than a lot), but I didn’t looooooove it the way I thought I would based on multiple recommendations. The story is about a friendship between a quirky 11-year-old boy and a 104-year-old woman he does chores for; it has plenty of twists beyond that (not like suspenseful twists, but pieces that make the story more interesting than just that). I kind of felt like, “Yeah, ok, I get it” halfway through, and while I’m not sorry I finished it, there was nothing particularly driving me toward the end.

Moonglow, by Michael Chabon. One thing about me as a reader is that I retain all the feeling of a book and so few of the details. What I can say about this book is that I really enjoyed reading it beginning to end. The thing is, though, I read a plot summary to refresh my memory about this book, and I found it almost unrecognizable. Is that really the book I read? Ha. I do now want to pick up more books by Chabon (especially The Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which is the one book that both Jason and I owned a copy of when we married and combined our book collections and which neither of us has actually read). Chabon can write, and I was taken with his characters (it’s a fictionalized memoir, and from an interview, it seems that there is very little actual memoir and almost entirely fiction), even if I can’t so much remember the plot. 

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, by Shirley Jackson. This book was creepy and fascinating as you quickly realize the narrator is not quite right. Someone has poisoned the family (it only takes a few pages to figure out who), and two sisters and their elderly uncle live in the aftermath. It’s not so much a whodunit mystery unfolding as it is an exploration of mental illness.

Pax, by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Jon Klaassen. I picked this book up to read with Simon, and he hasn’t quite finished yet. The story is about a boy, Peter, and his fox, Pax, separated by war and making their way back to each other. The chapters alternate between the boy’s perspective and the fox’s; both are equally engaging. There are some situations in each story that seem unbelievable, but all is forgiven because it’s such a compelling (if predictable) story altogether. The illustrations are simply beautiful.

Circling the Sun, by Paula McClain (narrated by Katharine McEwan). I have such mixed feelings about this book, which is set in colonial Kenya and is the story of Beryl Markham, who was abandoned by her mother as a child and who as an adult ran with the crowd featured in Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa. I listened to this as an audio book, and the narrator was particularly good. My mixed feelings are because at times I was frankly bored, but then other times I was completely caught up in the story and characters. Markham has written a memoir that in the opinion of some is better than Out of Africa. I may pick up that memoir someday, but I fear I’ll have a weird sense of believing McClain’s portrayal so entirely that I may not believe Markham herself.

The Beautiful Mystery and How the Light Gets In, by Louise Penny. These were actually two of my favorites in a series that I have adored so far (and I’ve not really been much of a series reader since Janette Oke in my middle school years; and just to clarify, these are nothing like those, but I do have a nostalgic fondness for Oke). The Beautiful Mystery (#8) is set in a secluded monastery; one of the monks is found murdered, and the culprit can only be one of their own. As for the mystery itself, this was probably my favorite of the series. The surrounding stories (the continued arch of the main characters) was not my favorite in this one, but after reading the next book in the series as well, I can appreciate why the characters acted as they did. Then How the Light Gets In (#9) is my favorite of the series so far. So many of the storylines came together and in fact resolved in such a way that this could easily have been the last book in the series and I would have sighed a contented sigh (don’t get me wrong, I’m glad there are three more and another coming out this fall). I don’t remember much about the particular plot of this one (remember that thing I said about the feeling of a book), but it hit all the right notes I have come to expect from Penny.

Everything You Ever Wanted, by Jillian Lauren. This is a memoir that I almost tossed in the great Goodreads purge of 2016. A friend, though, left a review that said she has asked her friends and family to read it for a glimpse of her own life with foster care and adoption. It was indeed an enjoyable (if that’s possible) read about a hard topic–the author has insightful things to say about her experiences with infertility and adoption of a child who had experienced early trauma.

Another Brooklyn, by Jacqueline Woodson (narrated by Robin Miles). I read this book in one sitting in December, and because it was our book club pick for January, I listened to the audio version to refresh my memory (I was on hold for both the hard copy and the audio, and the audio was available first). I have to say I enjoyed reading the physical book more than listening. The narrator was better than okay but somehow not my very favorite. I did pick up so much more from listening than I did reading the first time, and I’m not sure if that was format or familiarity–probably a bit of both. A plot description doesn’t do this novel justice. I read one review that said, “This gorgeous novel is a poem. It is a love letter to black girlhood.” This is one that has stayed with me since my first reading and continues to play at the corners of my mind.

Swing Time, by Zadie Smith. I loved the first third or so of this book so much. And I liked the rest of it a whole lot too. It’s a novel that alternates times and storylines, and I think when it came down to it, I just found one of the storylines more interesting than the other (not always the same one). I happened to catch a snippet of the author being interviewed on NPR’s Fresh Air (I didn’t even know it was her at first, but I guessed by the conversation that it might be, then let out a little squeal when Terry Gross confirmed with “in case you’re just joining us…”). That interview made a fan of me, and now I’m a little starry-eyed; in fact, if I talked to you in person in the last couple of weeks, it’s likely that I mentioned the interview–so many ideas that I wanted to talk about. I even made Jason listen to the podcast. I read White Teeth in grad school and remember zero about it, but this book made me want to read more from Smith.

Two-Part Invention, by Madeline L’Engle. This is the fourth in L’Engle’s Crosswalk Journals series of memoirs, and it is the story of her courtship and forty-year marriage to Hugh Franklin. It is so lovely, and full of goodness. Reading this one felt like sitting down to coffee with a treasured mentor and friend. Spoiler warning (but it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise): When Hugh died of cancer in the penultimate chapter, I cried so hard Jason came from the other room to check on me. I may never recover.

This month I also abandoned two audio books–Lab  Girl, by Hope Jahren, and Columbine, by Dave Cullen–both because of the narration. I plan to pick them up in hard copy sometime because I really would like to finish them both.

 

 


Ice Day

2ice17

No school, blue skies, and melting ice. The kids and I ventured out into the magic. The soundtrack of dripping water and gently cracking ice, punctuated by exclamations of wonder,* was sublime. (*Soundtrack also featured fighting siblings, let’s be real.)


Ice

ice13

As far as I can tell, the whole town is blanketed in ice. I can only confirm this as far as my own yard, though, for that’s as far as I was willing to venture today. An ice storm, of course, is a photographer’s dream, but today I was more thankful for my senses than for my camera. (I was thankful for my camera too, but it’s what I couldn’t quite capture that made being outside for a bit this afternoon feel magical.) So much beauty, so quiet, so refreshing.


To Read List

books2017

A few months ago I decided I wanted to use my to read list on Goodreads differently. Instead of using it as a junk drawer for every book that ever remotely caught my interest or was liked and recommended by a friend, I wanted to try to get closer to limiting it to books I actually do intend to track down and read. At that time it had something like 277 books on it, and when I went through and deleted all of the ones that, let’s face it, I am probably not actually going to read, it was down to 75, give or take a few.  I thought it might be a fun challenge to take whatever books remained on January 1 and make that my reading list for the coming year. I have since remembered, though, that that is completely unrealistic for my spontaneous nature and ever-changing interests and attention span. Still, I do intend to make a serious effort to knock most, if not all, of them out (or remove them from the list). As of this morning, my list holds 57 books (and my currently reading list has 7 more titles today). I figure I will read about 60 books this year, but obviously many will be ones I come across throughout the year. I’m a sucker for a beautiful cover at the library, a recommend from a trusted reader friend or a podcast, a book club selection, a random find at the bookstore or garage sale, a nostalgic grab from my parents’ basement, the next book in a series, a book one of my kids wants to read together. You get the idea.

So, with all those disclaimers, here is my ridiculously long and deliberately unrealistic current to read list for 2017 in no particular order:

  • The remaining books in Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series (I’m ready to start number 8 10)
  • The remaining books in Madeline L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time Quintet (I’ve only read A Wrinkle in Time, the first one)
  • Till We Have Faces, by C.S. Lewis
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee

(the rest of this list is my Goodreads to-read list as of today)

  • Humble Roots: How Humility Grounds and Nourishes Your Soul, by Hannah Anderson
  • Columbine, by Dave Cullen
  • You Are What You Love, The Spiritual Power of Habit, by James K. A. Smith
  • Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism, by Drew G. I. Hart
  • The System: The Glory and Scandal of Big-Time College Football, by Jeff Benedict
  • Brave Companions, by David McCullough
  • Lab Girl, by Hope Jahren
  • The Spirit of Food: Thirty-four Writers on Feasting and Fasting Toward God, by Leslie Leyland Fields
  • The War That Saved My Life, by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
  • You Must Change Your Life: The Story of Rainer Maria Rilke and Auguste Rodin, by Rachel Corbett (lost interest, at least for now)
  • The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead
  • Prophetic Lament, A Challenge to the Western Church, by Soong-Chan-Rah
  • Swing Time, by Zadie Smith
  • Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi
  • The Night Circus, by Erin Morgenstern
  • When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi
  • The Lies of Locke Lamora, by Scott Lynch
  • Assimilate or Go Home: Notes from  Failed Missionary on Rediscovering Faith, by D. L. Mayfield
  • Anne of Green Gables, by L. M. Montgomery
  • Shtum, by Jem Lester
  • This Is Only a Test, by B. J. Hollars
  • Cry, the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton
  • A Kim Jong-Il Production: The Extraordinary True Story of a Kidnapped Filmmaker, His Star Actress, and a Young Dictator’s Rise to Power, by Paul Fischer (started audio book but realized I’m just not as interested as when I first heard about it)
  • The Journalist and the Murderer, by Janet Malcolm
  • The Wednesday Wars, by Gary D. Schmidt
  • Morningside Heights, by Cheryl Mendelson
  • Ballad of the Whiskey Robber: A True Story of Bank Heists, Ice Hockey, Transylvanian Pelt Smuggling, Moonlighting Detectives, and Broken Hearts, by Julian Rubinstein
  • Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life, by Amy Krouse Rosenthal
  • My Life in France, by Julia Child
  • On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, by Andrew Peterson
  • A Girl from Yamhill, by Beverly Cleary
  • Big Little Lies, by Liane Moriarty
  • The Company She Keeps, by Mary McCarthy
  • Time and Again, by Jack Finney
  • The Power of One, by Bruce Courtenay
  • Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More–Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist, by Karen Swallow Prior
  • The Cranes Dance, by Meg Howrey
  • The Pearl That Broke Its Shell, by Nadia Hashimi
  • Kitchen, by Banana Yoshimoto (read Moshi Moshi by same author)
  • Mosquitoland, by David Arnold (abandoned after first chapter)
  • Found: A Story of Questions, Grace, and Everyday Prayer, by Micha Boyett
  • My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer, by Christian Wiman
  • Jayber Crow, by Wendell Berry
  • A Lantern in Her Hand, by Bess Streeter Aldrich
  • Everything You Ever Wanted: A Memoir, by Jillian Lauren
  • Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl: Wide-Eyed Wonder in God’s Spoken World, by N. D. Wilson
  • Cutting for Stone, by Abraham Verghese
  • Miz Lil and the Chronicles of Grace, by Walter Wangerin Jr.
  • Night, by Elie Wiesel
  • Ranger Confidential: Living, Working, and Dying in the National Parks, by Andrea Lankford
  • Spiritual Friendship: Finding Love in the Church as a Celibate Gay Christian, by Wesley Hill
  • Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech
  • The Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection, by Robert Farrar Capon
  • The Magicians, by Lev Grossman
  • The Seven Good Years, by Etgar Keret

Favorite Books of 2016

books2

I was a reader as a kid and through college. After grad school, I worked in publishing for something like fifteen years, and during those years I did surprisingly little reading for fun. And then when my kiddos were really little, I think there were a couple of years in there that I finished zero books (not counting board books). For the last couple of years, though, I have been finding time to read, and I now think of myself as a reader again. In fact, I can think of at least twice in the last month (this busy month of holidays and family birthdays) that friends have asked me how I am or what’s going on and what has first come to mind is how my reading life is going (very well, thank you!). I finished sixty-two books this year, and though I am in the middle of several more, with only about five hours left in the year, I think sixty-two is going to be the final count. (January 2017 will probably start off pretty well as I’m set to finish three or four this next week.)

I read a lot of good books this year and only a couple of real clankers. These are my top 10 (in chronological order) and some honorable mentions:

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption, by Bryan Stevenson ** One of the reasons I don’t write book reviews more often is because I really do find it so hard to summarize books. Stevenson is the executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama, and here he tells (part of) his story of fighting against racial bias and inhumanity in the criminal justice system. The book is heartbreaking and infuriating, and I don’t think you could be unchanged after reading it. (I own this in paperback, but I think I loaned it out and I can’t remember to whom. No worries. I’m glad it’s out there.)

11/22/63, by Stephen King ** This was my first Stephen King, and it was so enjoyable. It is the story of a man who travels back in time to try to undo the assassination of JFK. It was thought-provoking and such a good story. Also, it was over 800 pages, and I wasn’t the least tempted to skim any of the storylines. If I ever went on the What Should I Read Next? podcast, this would make the “3 books I love” list (actually, that podcast is where I learned of it in the first place). I checked this baby out from the library.

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson ** This was another book I learned of from the WSIRN podcast. It’s a prose-poetry memoir of a childhood in South Carolina and New York. I listened to it on audiobook (checked out from the library) read by the author. It is mesmerizing, and I would put in my top 10 favorites of all time. I keep meaning to read the print version too.

East of Eden, by John Steinbeck ** And this is another book that earns a spot in my top 10 all-time faves, probably even top 5. Beautiful writing. I probably couldn’t recount the plot exactly, but I can’t get the overall story out of my head. I listened to this on Audible, and I plan to get a print copy to re-read as well.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest, by J. Ryan Stradal ** This book was just fun. Something about it reminded me of Where’d You Go, Bernadette, by Maria Semple, a favorite from last year (but oh I hated this year’s Today Will Be Different, by Maria Semple). I don’t know that this would be a great book club selection, as I don’t know what you would discuss, but it was fun and foodie and quirky and totally enjoyable. I checked this one out from the library and have recommended it often throughout the year.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith ** I have started this several times and for unknown reasons have never finished until now. I loved the characters, loved the story, loved the book. I did listen to it on Audible, and I think that made the difference in getting me over the hump.

A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle ** Why have I never read this?!? I adored this and wish I had found it when I was eight or so. I will be introducing my kids to the series sooner rather than later. We found the third book in the series in a Little Free Library, so we went to the library to check out the first book and start at the beginning.

The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown ** Another Audible listen, another all-time top 5 (and my number 1 audiobook). I can’t stop raving about this book. I loved every single bit of it, from the story of Joe Rantz’s life to the descriptions of George Yeoman’s workshop and the wood used in the boats to the call of the races. I listened to much of this while driving, and during the description of the races, I was white-knuckling it just as if it were live. I have to think this book was enhanced by having it read by Edward Herrmann.

Another Brooklyn, by Jacqueline Woodson ** Yes, another by Jacqueline Woodson. I said to a friend that this was my favorite novel I read this year, and that still holds close to true/true-ish. I don’t think it will make my favorite books of all time, but it I really did love this one. It’s short, and I finished it in less than a day. I read the print version from the library and plan to listen to the audio version again before my book club discusses it next month.

Born a Crime, by Trevor Noah ** This is one of my favorite memoirs I’ve ever read (er, listened to). Read by the author, it tells of his childhood in South Africa. I had heard and read all kinds of good things, and it did not disappoint. I can’t say that it will have the lasting power of, say, East of Eden or The Boys in the Boat or even A Wrinkle in Time, and maybe it’s because it’s the last one I finished, but if you asked me right now, today, what my favorite read of 2016 was, I’d give the nod to Born a Crime.

Honorable Mention

The Bone Clocks, by David Mitchell ** This was the most challenging book I read this year, and it’s not for everyone. I keep thinking, though, that it’s just good literature.
The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain ** I had thought that I was going to have to admit that I like the idea of historical fiction more than I like the actual thing of historical fiction, but this book gave me hope that I can hold onto the claim of loving historical fiction. It sent me briefly into an Ernest Hemingway phase, but I think I remain not a big fan of Hemingway.
Coming Clean, by Seth Haines ** This is the story of Haines’s first thirty days sober after becoming addicted to alcohol while his youngest child was seriously ill. The subtitle is “A Story of Faith” and I loved it for its perspective.
Modern Romance, by Aziz Ansari ** Eye-opening and fascinating. I really enjoyed the audio version read by the author (with some funny asides just for the audiobook).
Lonesome Dove, by Larry McMurtry ** Yet another audiobook. I don’t know that I would have gotten through 945 pages of print, but I was completely caught up in the story and was sad to have it end “so soon.”


December 25

christmasfog

I thought the DPP ended on Christmas Eve. Silly me. So here’s one more, along with Jason’s description (I also like his pic better).


December Photo Project 2016

And just like that another December Photo Project is in the books. I enjoyed my return to posting after such a long, long hiatus. Over the next few weeks, I’ll post some of the shots I loved that just didn’t make the cut for photo of the day. For now, here’s my DPP 2016 all in one place. *ETA a pic from December 25 too.


December 24

dane

Sweet little buddy watching his older brother and cousins play football on this unseasonably warm Christmas Eve. Maybe next year, Dane.


December 23

Ianread

We did our family Christmas Eve traditions on Christmas Eve Eve this year. Tempura (and to make it all the more special, Auntie Brook joined us this year), new jammies for all, and sleeping under the Christmas tree.