Wednesday, October 1, 2014

September 2014 Reading Wrap Up

Image Map

After August's intense reading flurry, September looks like a slump with only four books! It didn't feel too much like one, though. I didn't list my one DNF, and I've been savoring To Kill a Mockingbird for the last week (and still am). Tobia e l'Angelo was in Italian, so that took longer than usual. Plus, I actually put the techniques in Fluent Forever into practice, which took away from my reading time. Reviews of all of the above will be coming soon! I feel good about September, and I'm excited about what October will bring.


What are you looking forward to this month, bookish or otherwise?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Top Ten Books That Were Hard For Me To Read


Today's Top Ten Tuesday prompt can be interpreted in a variety of ways. I chose some books that were difficult for me to read for a few different reasons: subject matter, books that hit very close to home, and books with a high difficulty level (for me).


1. Still Alice by Lisa Genova. A brilliant Harvard professor is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's at the age of 50. Its first person perspective makes watching her decline all the more terrifying.

2. Violins of Hope by James A. Grymes. Stories behind the violins played by Jewish musicians during the Holocaust. I went through the whole gamut of emotions reading this one.

3. Room by Emma Donoghue. Five-year-old Jack and his mother live in a eleven-by-eleven-foot space. His mother was kidnapped seven years prior, so this tiny space is all Jack has ever known. The story goes beyond that but... yeah. Still.

4. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer. Nine-year-old Oskar lost his father in the September 11 attacks. He's searching for a lock that matches a key that belonged to his father. Oskar is the narrator, he's a bit hard to follow, and really it all just added to the heartbreak of the book's premise.


Sometimes you pick up difficult memoirs because you need the sense of camaraderie they offer:

5. She's Not There by Jennifer Finney Boylan. Transgender memoir; I needed to understand what a loved one was going through.

6. Hannah's Hope by Jennifer Saake. Infertility memoir.

7. Half Baked by Alexa Stevenson. Preemie mom memoir.



It probably goes without saying that my most challenging reads, difficulty-wise, have been when I've read in a language besides English.

8. The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri. I read part of this (I think it was just Paradiso) in Host Nation class in 8th grade when I lived in Italy. I'd only been there a year, so this was a huge stretch for me. So much so that I barely remember a thing.

9. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. Read this in Spanish III in high school.

10. Il Grande Albero by Susanna Tamaro. This was my first Italian read in over 20 years and the first time reading in another language without a teacher or classmates to help me wade through it.


Tell me: What book was the hardest for you to read (for whatever reason) and why?

Monday, September 29, 2014

Review: Never Pray Again by Aric Clark, Doug Hagler, and Nick Larson

  
Title: Never Pray Again
Author: Aric Clark, Doug Hagler, and Nick Larson
Publisher: Chalice Press

Released:
April 2014

Source:
I purchased a copy of this book.

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I heard about Never Pray Again from April at The Steadfast Reader and was completely intrigued. I visited the authors' website, Two Friars and a Fool, and read, listened, and watched for a couple weeks. I found I really connected with what they had to say.

Never Pray Again focuses on something that has unsettled me for a long time: Prayer. The premise of the book is that "prayer is often a substitute for action." It makes us feel good, and it's something we can do quickly and then forget about. Kind of like a narcissistic, religious form of slacktivism. The authors start out with a bang, explaining how this attitude is basically "Zombie Christianity." Yes!

I loved the parallel between the message of this book and the "God's Work. Our Hands." initiative that my denomination has been encouraging this year. Are we missing opportunities to actually do something? To be God's hands, stepping up and fulfilling an actual need? This book urges us to stop before offering verbal platitudes and thoughtfully consider whether or not we are actually helping its recipient in a concrete way.

A few minor issues:
  • There was one brief but completely unnecessary moment of political snark. I'm so tired of that kind of thing. It only serves to potentially alienate people, and to dilute one's overall message.
  • Considering I purchased this book (it wasn't a galley), there were too many typos. It could have used one more pass through an editor.
  • I wish it had ended on a more useful note as far as prayer is concerned. They don't seem to totally discount the act of praying. Instead, they say "it needed to be set free from the rock imprisoning it before it could be much use." I would have liked for them to elaborate on that just a little more.

That aside, I love that the authors whittled away at the idea of God as a wish-granting genie in a bottle. It was so nice not to read a bunch of overused, feel-good platitudes and Christianese sound bytes. These guys actually acknowledge and address the real crap people face. The real needs they have. Problems that make an empty "I'll be praying for you" feel like a slap in the face. They offer fresh perspectives and ideas that will help readers meet others where they are, more fully empathize with them, and then do something to help.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday Salon: Daphnis, DNF, and DNS

Music

This weekend was my first free weekend in I don't know how long, and the temperatures have been pure bliss all week. Finally, fall has arrived! Annie Get Your Gun finished up last weekend. Now my musical focus is all on the alto flute (which is a bit bigger, and lower, than a concert flute): I'm playing Daphnis et Chlo√© with the symphony next weekend.

Blogging

During Bloggiesta I cleaned up my Feedly subscriptions. I had gotten to the point where I would open Feedly, mark all as read because there were an overwhelming number of unread posts, and then go to my favorite blogs manually. That means I would inevitably forget to visit blogs I really did want to read. I'm so glad I put this task on my to do list, because I actually enjoy opening Feedly again, and reading and commenting doesn't feel like a chore.

Books

Earlier this week I received a review copy of Kid Presidents in the mail from Quirk Books. I opened the package, and the first moment I set the book down C grabbed it and flipped through its pages for a good 30 minutes. She can't read the text, but she was cackling with laughter over the illustrations! She's been flipping through it all week, showing so much interest (and not wanting to give the book up) that I've started reading it aloud to her and incorporating it into our homeschool days.



I had two library books that didn't quite work out for me this past week or so. I started The Facades by Eric Lundgren, but after about 70 pages in I still wasn't into it. So I set it aside as a DNF for now. My other library book was The Bear by Claire Cameron. I'm calling this one a DNS: Did Not Start. When I picked it up to start reading, I glanced over the synopsis again and "five-year-old Anna" jumped out at me. All of a sudden, I felt sick to my stomach. C is 5 years old. Was I feeling especially brave when I borrowed the book, or had I skimmed the synopsis and missed that? Anyhow, I completely chickened out. Maybe I'll try again when C's a little older.

Instead, I picked up To Kill a Mockingbird. This is my first time reading it, and wow. It's wonderful. I am completely absorbed in this story. I don't think I've ever read at such a leisurely pace; I'm savoring each page.


Have you ever started to read a book, then chickened out at the last minute?

Friday, September 26, 2014

Mini Review: A Deadly Wandering by Matt Richtel

  
Title: A Deadly Wandering
Author: Matt Richtel
Publisher: HarperCollins

Released:
September 23, 2014

Source:
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss to be considered for an honest review.

Find it on:
    

Summary:
Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Matt Richtel examines the impact of technology on our lives through the story of Utah college student Reggie Shaw, who killed two scientists while texting and driving. Richtel follows Reggie through the tragedy, the police investigation, his prosecution, and ultimately, his redemption. Reggie’s story is interwoven with cutting-edge scientific findings regarding human attention and the impact of technology on our brains, proposing solid, practical, and actionable solutions to help manage this crisis individually and as a society.

My Thoughts:
I was expecting research-driven narrative non-fiction but most of A Deadly Wandering read like a true crime book, which isn't a genre I enjoy. There was so much dramatic filler; so much background information on figures that had more to do with Reggie's prosecution than with "the impact of technology." I started to resent feeling like I was wading through fluff to find pertinent points. However, I found the science fascinating and appreciated the author's multifaceted approach: the way technology affects our brain, our attention span and our ability to multitask, how and why it can be so addictive. Unfortunately, the science was the only thing compelling me to keep reading. I couldn't get past the book's "true crime" tone, which made me feel as if I was being manipulated into a conclusion, instead of trusted to understand the science presented.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Review: A Brief Moment of Weightlessness by Victoria Fish

I'm excited to be a part of the blog tour for A Brief Moment of Weightlessness by Victoria Fish. Thanks to TLC Book Tours for supplying me with a review copy. This tour began September 15 and finishes up October 15; be sure to check out the complete tour schedule and read the reviews posted on other stops for other perspectives!

  
Title: A Brief Moment of Weightlessness
Author: Victoria Fish
Publisher: Mayapple Press

Released:
June 2014

Source:
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

Find it on:
  

Imagine you've just started reading a book by a new-to-you author, and you find you are absolutely captivated, even before you finish the first page. It's a remarkable feeling. That was my experience while reading A Brief Moment of Weightlessness, yet I couldn't help but think, "The rest of the book can't possibly live up to this amazing start." I thought for sure there'd be at least one story that wasn't as brilliant as the others.

Somehow, Fish managed to create a collection that dazzles from start to finish. I loved every single story. There's a level of depth present that is difficult to achieve in such a short format, but Fish shows finesse, mastery, and sensitivity.

"Where Do You Find a Turtle with no Legs?" is about the anxiety a sensitive, caring child experiences when visiting her dad in jail. Every emotion, every fear, every hope is impeccably conveyed.

In "The Sari," an American exchange student experiences culture shock in India after her mother's death. Fish intertwines equal amounts of fragility and strength in her main character, making this a profound vignette of the grieving process.

"Green Line" features an Iraqi war vet who is back home in the States, but struggling. His family has fallen apart. He is trying his best to function in normal, everyday life even though he shows signs of PTSD. It's a heart-wrenching, candid story, and that character stayed with me. Then, later in the book I was excited to find that he was back in "The Last and Kindest Thing."

There are eleven stories in all. What a stunning debut collection. Victoria Fish's stories are beautiful, honest, and perfectly human. I'm looking forward to reading more of her work in the future.



I'm so excited that, thanks to the kind people at Mayapple Press and TLC Book Tours, I am able to offer one paperback copy of A Brief Moment of Weightlessness to one of my lucky readers. Enter below for your chance to win. This contest is open to any reader in the U.S. and Canada, and will run until 11:59 p.m. (Central Time) on September 30.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Monday, September 22, 2014

Review: The Fault in Our Stars by John Green

  
Title: The Fault in Our Stars
Author: John Green
Publisher: Dutton Books

Released:
January 2012

Source:
One of my flute students loaned me this book. "You haven't read it yet? You HAVE to! Here." *hands me her copy*

Find it on:
    

Can I admit that I went into The Fault in Our Stars with a bad attitude?

  • It's YA. I expected to have a flashback to those Lurlene McDaniel novels that were so popular in the '80s.
  • It centers on a love story, gag! (I sound heartless, don't I?)
  • It's about cancer. Kids with cancer. My sister was diagnosed with an aggressive, very rare cancer (leiomyosarcoma) when she was a kid. She's an adult now and thankfully cancer-free, but I remember those times.
So yeah, I could not imagine enjoying this book. But I was curious about it, because there has been so much hype. When one of my flute students loaned me her copy, I had no excuse and the pressure was on.

Thankfully, I really enjoyed John Green's writing. It read quickly like I expect whenever I pick up a YA novel, but the writing was so refined. I was surprised to find that the teenager tone didn't annoy me at all. I even found the love story to be sweet. There was a little adventure - a bookish one at that! And the characters' cynicism and honesty, even when that honesty had the potential to make people uncomfortable, was absolutely refreshing. No sap. Just reality.

And oh my word, reading this as a parent?! I thought I would be okay as far as crying went, and mostly I was. Then came some particularly moving glimpses into the parents' perspective, and I lost it.

Obviously this topic makes the book a tough read, but surprisingly, I didn't find it to be a downer. It was insightful and focused on living life to its fullest even when facing death, without being overly sentimental or manipulating the reader's emotions.

Thanks to FangirlingFlautist for making me read this! I'm sure I'll be reading more by John Green.