Tuesday, April 25, 2017

What I'm reading this week (4/24/17)

Last week I finished:

I adore Amy Stewart's Kopp Sisters novels. There's a third one due out this September, and I can't wait. Both of the books aren't terribly heavy on plot (or maybe it's more accurate to say they don't have terribly exciting plots--which I don't mind at all), but the characters are very real-to-life, full of flaws and impatience and worries and dreams. In this novel, Constance Kopp (based on a real woman) is settling in as one of America's first female deputy sheriffs when she makes a professional blunder by letting an inmate escape. She'll only be able to keep her post if she recovers the man. I liked the tone of the novel. There isn't much in the way of violence but the story is still exciting. Stewart uses sparse language, nothing flowery, no extraneous information, but just enough non-essential plot (like Constance's relationship with her sisters at home) to keep you interested. And the characters are fleshy and easy to relate to. This was exactly the palate cleanser I needed. Note that you don't have to read the first book in the series (Girl Waits with Gun) to pick up Lady Cop Makes Trouble. I loved it. My rating: 4 stars.


I sometimes read a book that I just dread reviewing because it's so multidimensional, so layered, and about so much more than the simplistic-sounding plot betrays. I always fear I won't do the book justice with my fumbling around. Emma Donoghue's The Wonder is one of those books. This one would be a fabulous book club book because there is so much to discuss. The plot: In Ireland, eleven-year-old Anna O'Donnell has gone four months without eating, and she appears to be in perfect health. Still, a two-week watch is called with a Catholic nun and an English nurse trained by the famed Florence Nightingale, in which the girl is never left alone, vitals are recorded, and attempts are made to determine if she is being fed surreptitiously. I don't want to tell much more about the plot than that, for fear of ruining the reading experience for you. It's good to go into this one without a lot of information and just let it unfold. This is a quiet novel, not plot-heavy, nor particularly character-heavy either, but the book touches on so many big topics with a very light hand: the Catholic church, indoctrination, prejudice, faith, family dynamics, loyalty, health, miracles, and more. It was expertly done, and I could never quite predict what would happen next--or in the end. The only thing I felt fell short was the ending. It fit and it worked, but I could have been stronger. I highly recommend this one for anyone interested in a different kind of novel, who enjoys digging into discussions of faith and faithlessness, and who enjoys books that bring up more questions than they answer. Superb. My rating: 4.5 stars. 

A note about the audio: I listed to this on CD, and while I enjoyed the audio version very much, it fluctuated a lot in volume with the drama of the book. It's not a great choice if you listen to books in the shower like I do. Also, the narrator does a great Irish brogue, but it was often hard to understand on audio if you're unable to listen closely. I anticipate reading this again in print someday.


This week I finish:
 

I've been well-paced with my night reads. All are progressing nicely, but I'm ready to finish them off this week.

Good Poems is just chockfull of wonderful poems. I can't recommend this collection highly enough.

Eat This Poem and 50 Artists You Should Know, I have somewhat more difficult relationships with. More on those next week.



Next up:


Looks like I'll only be able to finish one more main book this month, and instead of reading one I'd initially put on my April reading list, I've decided to read something else entirely. I'm in the mood for nonfiction, so I've chosen Nabokov's Favorite Word Is Mauve. It's full of graphs and other word-nerdy delights, and I'm looking forward to digging in.




 

Monday, April 17, 2017

What I'm reading this week (4/17/17)

Last week I finished:

I wanted to love The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, but the best I could muster was a lukewarm "like". It's a fun story, but it reminded me of The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry in that it just wasn't real enough. I like to believe the book's characters and situations, and I just didn't believe Arthur Pepper and his crew. I constantly felt that I knew more about Arthur, and his late wife Miriam, than the author did. I felt like I understood their motivations better and knew better how they'd react to situations. I was bothered by the premise: Arthur, who finds a charm bracelet in his late wife's boot, goes in search of his wife's past and learns things about his wife of 40 years she'd never told him. Lots of things. I just didn't believe that these two were that disconnected, that a man (this man) would never ask about a woman's past once in 40 years. I was also bothered by the fact that it seemed to be wanting to rip off A Man Called Ove. And I was especially bothered by the less than stellar writing. It just wasn't my cup of tea, but it was an adventure (almost a mystery) that keeps your attention, and I'm sure others would enjoy it more than I. My rating: 2 stars.


Sometimes if you hold off on reading a book that you're dying to read, you make that book up in your mind to be something more than it can be. I think that happened with Candice Millard's latest, Hero of the Empire. I'd absolutely loved her earlier books Destiny of the Republic about president Garfield's assassination, and The River of Doubt about Theodore Roosevelt's journey in the until then unexplored Amazon. I would recommend these to anyone who loves history books or books about presidents. But Hero of the Empire, about Winston Churchill's time as P.O.W. in Africa during the Boer War, and his escape from his imprisonment, wasn't nearly as interesting to me. I normally love a book about a single event in history, but maybe there just wasn't enough to this story, or maybe my take-it-or-leave-it feeling about war stories and stories set in Africa kept me back. I liked the story, and it is quite a surreptitious adventure filled with almost unbelievable turns, and the characterization of Churchill was fascinating (Millard really does her research), and the writing was superb, but something about the book just didn't grab me like her others. (Although I will say the second half of the book--post-escape--was much more enthralling.) Worth a read if you're interested in Churchill or learning about the Boer War (I knew next to nothing about it). Perhaps this would have been better on audio. My rating: 4 stars. 


I continue reading:
 

This last week I've been mainlining poems. I just can't get enough of them. In addition to Good Poems and Eat this Poem, I've been reading through some of my copious files of poems, and I've been finding wonderful treasures.

I'm not as enchanted in 50 Artists You Should Know as I was with 50 Paintings You Should Know.  Something feels uneven about this book that didn't in the previous one. Or perhaps I'm more interested in the art than the artist?
 
 
My audiobook:


I dithered over whether to read The Wonder since it came out in September, but I'm so glad I took the plunge. I'm enjoying this one so much! I didn't know going in that it was set in the mid-1800s, but you know me and historical fiction--it's like bread a butter to me. I'm about halfway through the book, and I'm loving the writing, the mood, the tiny glimmers at the evolution of the main character, and the inevitable questions raised when thinking of a child who apparently is subsisting on manna from heaven. And true to form, I'm getting worried about how it will end.


Up next:

I'm unsure what I'll pick up next. There are four more books on my April reading list, but due to the number of headaches and evenings where I just don't feel well enough to read that I've been dealing with lately, I think I'll have to drop two from the list. I'll start one of these novels, though:

 
 



Monday, April 10, 2017

What I'm reading this week (4/10/17)

Last week I finished:


Juana & Lucas is a cute young middle-grade book about a little girl named Juana who lives with her mom and dog, Lucas, in Bogotá, Columbia. She likes to play fútbol (soccer) and she detests learning "the English," but she must, her abuelo (grandpa) says, if she's going to go to Florida and meet her hero, Astroman. I found the drawings adorable, but I had some issues with the book. First, I was irritated by reading "the English" over and over. Little thing, but there it is. I think the audience for this is limited to young bilingual children. The book is peppered with Spanish words (nouns mostly, but some verbs) with no English translation and no glossary in the back. That was my biggest beef. While the Spanish words are mostly elementary (I remembered most of them from high school Spanish), having no translation means you must rely on context alone to decipher a word you don't know yet. I have to imagine that to a non-bilingual second grader, this would be terribly confusing. This won the 2017 Pura Belpré Author Award given to a Latino/a author for outstanding work celebrating the Latino cultural experience. While the plot was quite general, I still enjoyed reading it. Little Juana, based on the author as a child, I assumed, was spirited and felt real. My rating: 3 stars.

I won't be rating We Knew Mary Baker Eddy since it was read for personal/spiritual purposes and not for recreational or literary merit. Suffice it to say that I found it enormously uplifting and beneficial to my journey in the Cause of Christian Science.


Last week I began:


Loving this one. I keep it on top of my reading pile so I can look at that gorgeous cover all the time.


This week I'll continue with:


I'm enjoying 50 Artists You Should Know. I'm up to the mid-1500s. I studied Mona Lisa and the Sistine Chapel last week.

And Garrison Keillor's Good Poems is really hitting the spot. I reach for it first in the evenings and keep reading one more, one more, one more...


This week I'll finish:


While I have my issues with The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, I have enjoyed the main character each morning as I get ready. I'll post a review next week.


Next up:


I'll be reading Hero of the Empire (finally!) this week. Ridiculously excited.

And my new audiobook will be Emma Donoghue's (author of Room) The Wonder about a girl in Ireland who apparently has survived for months without food. Is it a hoax or a miracle?
 
 
 
 

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

April 2017 reading list

Welcome to April! I've planned a great reading month chockfull of books I've been wanting to read for months. I figured why not put them together and have one great party of it!

Here is what I plan to read in April:


Nonfiction


We Knew Mary Baker Eddy, vol. 2 is a collection of reminiscences by Mary Baker Eddy's students, from the late 1880s to the early 1900s. Mary Baker Eddy is the founder of Christian Science, a religion which restores Christianity's lost element of healing.

Hero of the Empire is Candice Millard's look at Winston Churchill, which I've been anxious to read for months, but it hasn't quite fit into my plans until this month. Millard is one of my hands-down favorites when it comes to historical nonfiction.


Fiction


With another Kopps Sister book coming out this fall, I wanted to catch up by reading the second in the series, Lady Cop Makes Trouble.

Amor Towles took my head off with A Gentleman in Moscow last fall, so I've been wanting to read his earlier work, Rules of Civility, too.

And with my recent love affair with Alexander McCall Smith's The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, I've decided to try his new stand-alone novel, My Italian Bulldozer (out April 4).


Re-read


Fans of Amy Krouse Rosenthal will know why Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life is on my list. One of my favorite books by one of my favorite writers.


Poetry
 

Good Poems, selected by Garrison Keillor, is another re-read for me. I love his poetry collections.

But I'm also sneaking in Eat This Poem which pairs poetry and recipes. Two of my favorite things.


"Other"
 

My husband and I are planning a trip to Chicago next month, and I wanted to get another art book in before we go to the Art Institute. I chose 50 Artists You Should Know because I loved 50 Paintings You Should Know so much last summer.


Children's


Juana & Lucas won the 2017 Pura Belpré Author Award. It looks adorable. Put a dog on the cover, and I'll read it.


Audiobooks


For audiobooks this month, I've chosen The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper and The Wonder.


What have you been reading lately?


 
 

Monday, April 3, 2017

What I'm reading this week (4/3/17)

 
Last week I finished:

I wrote a little last week about how Samuel Rodriguez's Be Light is different from so many books about Christianity. It's nondenominational, though I'd say it's still best fits mainstream Christians. It doesn't spend time on "thou shalt nots" and focuses on one "thou shalt": Be Light. His premise is twofold: God is light and light always wins. But what makes this book so different is that in each chapter he examines all kinds of human and corporeal light (eg. the light bulb, fire, stars, lasers, etc.), explains the physics behind them, and then explains how we can use this information in our spiritual lives. It's a very smart book. It's inspiring, challenging, and insightful. No negativity. No heavy-handed talk of sin and repentance and damnation. I didn't realize until I was several chapters in that it's really designed as a 30-day devotional. It might be best read this way to get the most of the book. And although I'm not of the same religion as Rodriguez, and we differ in theology, I was able to apply many things he said to the spiritual lens of my own beliefs. And I'm still thinking of the question he asked near the beginning of the book, what is it that's keeping you from being light? I recommend this to anyone looking for a different kind of book on Christian living, something to challenge them this time of year or any time. My rating: 4 stars.


I adored Short. And I truly adore Holly Goldberg Sloan. Although I haven't read her most famous book, Counting by 7s, and I'm unsure of its tone, I know her from Appleblossom the Possum, which I couldn't shut up about last year. The tone in Short is the same as Appleblossom: friendly, warm, and hilarious. Julia is short (although she won't utter that word), and she doesn't really think about it until she overhears her parents talking about it. But she learns to love being short when she's cast as a munchkin and winged monkey in the community theatre's summer production of The Wizard of Oz. The people she meets and the role she plays change her outlook on being short. It's a heartwarming, funny book. Goldberg Sloan really nails the voice of young Julia; I couldn't not love her. I highly recommend this one. My rating: 4 stars.
 

Last week I read:


I hadn't really planned to follow Be Light with another Christian book, but the fluke was a nice surprise. My April chunkster is We Knew Mary Baker Eddy, vol. 2, about the life of Mary Baker Eddy, written by her students in the late 1880s through the early 1900s. Mary Baker Eddy is the discoverer and founder of Christian Science.


I also began:


I also started Garrison Keillor's Good Poems, a re-read. It's truly wonderful.

And 50 Artists You Should Know, which is good, too, although the font is so small it's maddening.

And Juana & Lucas, the winner of the 2017 Pura Belpre Award.


My audiobook:



I'm annoyed by The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, but not enough to stop listening. I hate that feeling.


Friday, March 31, 2017

March 2017 wrap-up

Wow, a third of the way through the year already. It was a great reading month for me. I finished 12 books, covering everything from science fiction to children's fantasy to poetry. One-word reviews and my ratings below (full reviews can be found in the Monday posts on the sidebar.)

comprehensive
****
 
pleasurable
****

boring
***

worthwhile
****
 
satisfying
****1/2
 
wonderful
****1/2
 
good
****

average
***
 
fantastical
***

remarkable
****


inspiring
****

heartwarming
****