Tuesday, February 28, 2017

February Retrospective


1) Ember Falls by S.D. Smith


I read The Green Ember aloud to the kids this summer and they loved it. I got Elspeth the next in the series for Christmas and as soon as she finished reading it,  she couldn't wait for me to read it. I wish we had read it aloud together because these are fun to share. One of the endorsements on the back says that this book does for The Green Ember what The Empire Strikes Back did for Star Wars. I thought that was a great way to put it! I can't wait for the one that acts like Return of the Jedi!


2) If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo


This is a book about a transgender teen living in the Deep South. Fortunately, the author is a transgender Southerner and treated the South fairly- as a Southerner outside of the South, I get frustrated with the South being villainized. I chose this book because it was another on Amazon's list of the top young adult books from 2016. The author's point of view, and therefore the book's point of view, is that people deserve happiness. This is not my point of view, not my worldview so to speak, and that was helpful to identify as a fundamental difference between the way I think the world should work and the way our culture thinks the world should work. I wish we could remember this in our conversations with people who believe differently than us- we are not on the same wavelength and so no wonder things get mixed up and people get hurt.


3) After You by Julie Buxbaum


I chose this book because I had liked Buxbaum's YA book Tell Me Three Things. I liked this book for the most part. It is about a woman named Ellie whose best friend dies and leaves an eight-year-old daughter named Sophie behind. Ellie is Sophie's godmother and moves to London from Boston to be with Sophie but leaves her husband behind in Boston. As time passes, some things become easier and some things become harder.

4) The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett


I had never actually read this book before. Amabel loaned me her copy and actually teared up telling me what a good book it was when she brought it to me. I knew it was her favorite but I actually chose it because Ellie reads it to Sophie in After You to help her process her grief. It is a delightful book. There is a reason it is such popular children's classic. But reading it as an adult raises questions about the worldview presented that a child wouldn't likely ask. Once again, I found myself disagreeing with the perspective presented. Even if one replaces "God" for "Magic," it still doesn't work with the idea that it doesn't matter what you call "The Big Good Thing." If belief in Jesus' death and resurrection and a life committed to following him is necessary, then it certainly does matter. I am guessing that Amabel likely brought her own understanding into the book when she read it as a child, but Amabel's understanding of the Gospel is not represented in this book at all- which is totally fine, many many good books have no representation of the Gospel-- it's just that this book is extremely religious in nature and the religion represented is not Christianity.

5) The Sea Keeper's Daughters by Lisa Wingate




I was a little discouraged after reading so much that was not in line with my worldview, so I went to The Christy Awards website to find a good Christian fiction book. I chose the 2016 winner for contemporary fiction. But sadly, as is often the case with Christian music, the standard for excellence seemed to be a little off. From the beginning, it was clear the book was over written. There were way too many descriptions, way too many lists of things- the book just needed a good editor. I believe it was Faulkner who first said "kill your darlings." And Stephen King humorously added "...even when it breaks your egocentric little scribbler's heart , kill your darlings." I can only guess that neither Wingate nor her editor got the memo. Whew! Then there are the hackneyed plot devices. There are old letters that have been hidden for years. There are villainous property developers who care nothing for people or history. There is a lot of sudden bursts of emotion that induce running away and crying. And the use of dreams as messages is also a serious problem for me. I wasted a whole lot of time reading this so I don't really want to waste even more writing about it. It was really really bad. We'll leave it at that.

6) Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos


This is another gem by de los Santos and I think I am officially a fan. This was my favorite of hers yet. What a treat to in the last two days of a month of generally disappointing reading to find such a genuinely warm and hopeful story that actually has a moral compass. De Los Santos generally seems to have a measure of morality that is so refreshing in today's cultural climate. Today's cultural climate. Gag. On both the phrase but also the thing it represents. Our culture is bumming me out big time lately. But Marisa de los Santos makes me smile. Highly recommended.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

January Retrospective

I have a New Year's book list in my drafts, but I just kept editing it- adding to it, checking titles off the list- all last month. And I never finished last year's list anyway. So maybe I'll try just keeping my to be read long list to myself and only making posts about the books I have finished reading. I only finished four titles this month. I spent the first week or so continuing my slog through the 800 page Robert E. Lee book I had on last year's list. That'll slow you down for sure. And I still didn't finish it so I know it'll slow me down again.

1) The Innkeeper of Ivy Hill by Julie Klassen


As always, I loved Miss Julie's newest title. (I feel like I'm taking a liberty here to call her Miss Julie, but simply referring to her as "Klassen" seems so formal and cold. I feel like I have such genuine affection for her that she deserves a warmer designation.) There was a bit less romance in this one, which I thought was well done and less predictable. The absence of an explicitly romantic storyline was also a relief to me this time as I was able to recommend this title to my sister who loves Miss Julie as well but who has recently found herself in a hard situation not unlike the main character's and has been in no mood for romance. 

Jane Bell has had her world rocked and now she must decide how to move forward. A difficult road is placed before her, and she must decide whether to accept the difficulty with the potential to reward herself and others in her life or to leave and start over. As she chooses her path, Jane begins to grow and change, to form new relationships and see other relationships grow and change. I found myself going through every feeling with her and was excited to see her story unfold. 

The most exciting part is that it's the beginning of a series! 👍

2) The Geek's Guide to Unrequited Love by Sarvenaz Tash 


I chose this book from Amazon's list of the best young adult books of 2016. I am trying to read more YA because I have a friend whose daughter has a YA book coming out this summer! This book was adorable. There was reference to several John Hughes films in the book and Hughes' influence on Tash was certainly not lost. However, the characters here were entirely her own, but as with any good Hughes film, we find them quirky and endearing and cheer for them all the way. Set at New York City Comic Con, of all places, Tash's novel tells the story of Graham and his attempt to share his changing feelings with his best friend Roxy. Super cute, super clean. 👍

3) The Opposite of Love by Julie Buxbaum 


I first encountered Buxbaum in December when I read her young adult novel called Tell Me Three Things which was another of Amazon's top young adult selections for 2016. I really enjoyed Tell Me Three Things, but I didn't want my teenaged daughter to read it because of the discussions about sex. I know plenty of people would think I am a prude because of that, but so be it. This book was not a young adult book and so there were was a lot more of that kind of thing in it. And really, even just for 39 year old me, just yuck. That's a hugely intimate thing and I don't understand why it's splashed out there in books and on television like it's not. If we could just skip the explicit references in this book- only the reader really can't because there's no way to know when they'll suddenly appear- I could recommend it to people. And I think I could to some people anyway. But the yuck aside, I liked Emily. I liked her journey. I couldn't much relate to her, an attorney who lives in New York City who breaks up with the love of her life because she is afraid he is going to propose (is there anything about this that is remotely familiar to my life? No, in no way whatsoever.) but I felt like Buxbaum helped me understand her and to like her. And I think that's kind of an amazing feat for a writer. I know writers do that all the time so it's easy to take for granted, but plenty of writers also don't do that all the time. Anyway, recommended with reservations (because of the cringe factor) 👍

4) Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos 


Oh wow. I loved this book. A couple of years ago, Modern Mrs. Darcy recommended another of de los Santos' books, a title called Love Walked In, which I read and enjoyed, but somehow I missed that there was a sequel. (Incidentally, did I just do her last name right? Is the whole part her last name? It feels weird that it isn't capitalized.) This is the sequel and it is even better than the first one (and can stand alone without the one before it). It was so good. Maybe it just met me where I am- there is a lot about grief and trying to reconcile the sense that it is lesser grief than other things happening to other people at the same time, but grief nonetheless. And it has such beautiful, powerful, wonderful women friendships! Some of the friendships were unlikely, but also made sense because of other shared things that couldn't be helped. It was such a great catalyst for thinking about friendships and how they happen- such a rare thing these days, friends who care and walk through everything alongside one another.  I think I will read this one again sometime. It was so rich and lovely. It also had a host of well drawn characters and several engaging storylines, both of which were interwoven with the other characters and storylines in a seamless way. This is one I'll be recommending often. 👍

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