Monday, July 28, 2014

Review: Violins of Hope by James A. Grymes

Title: Violins of Hope: Violins of the Holocaust -- Instruments of Hope and Liberation in Mankind's Darkest Hour
Author: James A. Grymes
Publisher: Harper Perennial

Expected Release:
August 12, 2014

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

Find it on:
For the past twenty years, Israeli luthier Amnon Weinstein has devoted his time to the restoration of violins played by Jewish musicians during the Holocaust. Each violin has its own remarkable story as a liberator, comforter, savior, or an avenger, or perhaps as the only remaining memento of a dear relative. In Violins of Hope, musicologist James A. Grymes uses the violins in Weinstein's collection to tell the stories of the musicians who played and heard them.

Grymes is careful not to overly romanticize the powerful role of music in the lives of Jewish prisoners. He offers an honest and balanced view, being sure to point out that there were some who resented the musicians or were troubled by their music. I was also struck by how vast and far-reaching the Holocaust was. It affected locations so much farther away than I'd realized, in ways I'd never considered. I discovered the continuing impact of the Holocaust, and why remembering its horrors has relevance today.

History and music history buffs will have a special interest in Violins of Hope, but Grymes's writing style is accessible and engaging to all readers. His sentences are short and snappy, giving the book a fluidity and quick pace I didn't expect with such a heavy topic. Yet Grymes manages to retain all of the emotions that come along with each violin's story. He pulls you in to every single word and brings the topic to life. This book breathes. I actually had to set it aside and take a break for a few hours after reading about 12-year-old Motele Schlein. And when I reached the end and learned how things had come full circle for Amnon Weinstein, I was moved to tears.

I will never forget the stories in this book.

Check out James A. Grymes's blog to learn more, and watch the trailer below:

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Sunday Salon

Recently Finished:
Violins of Hope by James A. Grymes (look for a review tomorrow)
The Virtues of Oxygen by Susan Schoenberger

Currently Reading:
I'm about halfway through Jennifer Finney Boylan's novella I'll Give You Something to Cry About. I also just started reading Haruki Murakami's Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage (if you know me at all, you know I'm excited about this one!).

What I'm Reading Next:
Foodie memoir Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good by Kathleen Flinn

That's all I've got. Last week I had a pretty heavy teaching, rehearsal, and performance schedule. I'm ready for this week to get back to a more relaxed pace!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Review: Blind by Rachel DeWoskin

Title: Blind
Author: Rachel DeWoskin
Publisher: Viking Juvenile

Expected Release:
August 7, 2014

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via First to Read to be considered for an honest review.

Find it on:

Just before starting high school, Emma Sasha Silver loses her eyesight in a fireworks accident at a 4th of July party. She must relearn everything, come to terms with what has happened, and find a way to move forward.

Blind got off to a great start, with a solid storyline and content. Emma's character is nicely developed. I was taken along on her journey to figure out, suddenly and dramatically, how to live without her sight. Emma helped me understand all of the emotions that come along with such a shock, especially with feeling completely dependent again right at the time in a teenager's life when one typically begins to gain more independence.

However, the novel is just over 400 pages, and yes, it's Young Adult. That didn't bother me going in; I've been delighted by so many YA authors who write in a manner appealing to all ages. Sadly, Blind didn't transcend the YA label in that way. That's okay. The premise and story and character development are strengths of this book. The writing itself, if you're wanting beautiful sentences or interesting word choice, not so much. The dialogue and characters felt realistic; teenagers are likely to relate very well and enjoy the novel. As an adult looking for a substantial, thought-provoking YA read? I felt the beginning and the end of the story delivered, but at 400 pages, the bulk of the novel wasn't as richly layered as I'd hoped.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Top Ten Characters I'd Want With Me On A Deserted Island

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.
Photograph by Ronald Saunders, modified under CC BY-SA 2.0.

1. Mark Watney from
The Martian by Andy Weir
Watney survived solitude on MARS, MacGyver-style. I'd feel much better having someone like him along on a deserted island, ready to handle anything that came our way, even with limited supplies.

2. Allan Karlsson from
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
I love vodka. Allan loves vodka even more, and no matter where in the world he is, he always seems to find some. Plus, he's full of great stories.

3. The alien who took the form of Professor Andrew Martin from
The Humans by Matt Haig
Once in a while, I imagine, I'd be in the mood for lengthy, deep conversations. This alien always makes me think, and I definitely want to keep my mind sharp.

4. Humboldt from
Humboldt by Scott Navicky
I've heard things can get kind of mundane on a deserted island. With Humboldt around, there'd be no need to figure out ways to entertain ourselves: adventure would find us!

5. Ladydi from Prayers for the Stolen by Jennifer Clement
She has a bright and optimistic spirit in the face of difficult times. Plus, I just want to get her far, far away from Guerrero.

6. Robot from
Sad Robot Stories by Mason Johnson
He's so sweet. He loves humans. He's clever. He can handle the beach just fine, and if needed, he can walk underwater and look around without mechanical issues or rusting.

7. Lettie Hempstock from
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Lettie is fearless. If any horrifying, nightmarish creatures tried to come after us, I know she'd have my back.

8. Katniss Everdeen from
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Not only does Katniss have fierce survival skills, we're going to have to eat... and she's not a shabby hunter.

9. Jonah Bay from
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
Someone has to play music around the fire, and guitars travel well. Unfortunately, they are useless in my hands. Jonah can play and sing. Perfect!

10. Octavius from
Sea Change by S.M. Wheeler
Octavius is an incredibly kind, intelligent and well-spoken kraken. If I'm going to be on a deserted island, I'd feel a whole lot better knowing that this creature was out in the ocean keeping an eye on me.

I covered survival, companionship, and even a bit of the arts. I think I ended up with a pretty all-star crew! Who would you bring along? Let me know your top pick!

Monday, July 21, 2014

Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Title: The Ocean at the End of the Lane
Author: Neil Gaiman
Publisher: William Morrow and Company

June 18, 2013

This book was a gift from a friend. Thanks, Shannon!

Find it on:

An Englishman returns to his childhood home for a funeral, and is reminded of the farm at the end of the street. He was seven years old when he first visited that farm and met a girl named Lettie Hempstock, who protected him from the terrifying, mystical events he recounts now, forty years later.

Wait...did I just read a fantasy novel? And love it?! Fantasy is the one genre I've always wanted to enjoy, but 99.9% of the time, I find I just can't stomach it. I would say this felt more like literary fiction and magical realism, but the elements of fantasy are absolutely there. No denying it.

This novella is my first Neil Gaiman read. I now understand why so many people are enthusiastic about his writing! It is ravishing. His sentences swept me away, and I was completely lost in the story from beginning to end. Impeccable pacing: Gaiman knows just when to crank up the tension, just when to give the reader a reprieve. Master storyteller, indeed.

Phenomenal read. I especially recommend The Ocean at the End of the Lane to anyone else who enjoys magical realism, but is on the fence about fantasy.

I want to read more fantasy novels like this. Give me your suggestions! Is there another Gaiman title I shouldn't miss?

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sunday Salon: The Hills are Alive

Musical Happenings:

Friday evening, some of my teenage flute and piano students played a casual recital downtown at the local piano store. This recital was specifically for contemporary music: Broadway/movie tunes, popular music, etc.
If you have any flute players in your life who love popular music, let them know about my student Erin Clare's YouTube channel, FangirlingFlautist. Her videos are so fun! She covers songs by 5 Seconds of Summer, One Direction, Demi Lovato, Fall Out Boy, and more. She takes requests, and she plays all of these covers by ear. Erin Clare just started lessons with me last month after her former teacher moved away, and she's a pretty great classical player, too. I love working with her and seeing how enthusiastic she is about music.

Today I'm working from 7:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. or so. I'm subbing for two church services at a local United Methodist church, then I have double orchestra rehearsals for The Sound of Music. So obviously, I'm writing this post Saturday night!

Bookish Happenings:

I didn't have a ton of reading time this week, but I did finish Blind by Rachel DeWoskin. I'm still reading Violins of Hope by James A. Grymes, which is amazing so far.

I've been in a review-writing slump lately. It's not that I don't have anything to say about the books I read, it's just that I'm taking forever to write the reviews in a thoughtful, coherent way. Hours, you guys. I don't know what's up with that.

There's a Bout of Books Google+ chat tomorrow evening, 8:30 p.m. central time.

Mini Bloggiesta finishes up today. I finished everything on my to do list, though I decided against a separate contact page. I do wish I had more time to work on some of the challenges, but I'm bookmarking them for later. I'm going to try to check in on the Twitter chat via my phone (12:00 p.m. central time). I hope the rest of you who are participating are getting a lot done!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Review: God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines

Title: God and the Gay Christian: The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships
Author: Matthew Vines
Publisher: Convergent Books

April 22, 2014

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Blogging for Books to be considered for an honest review.

Find it on:
When I hear the words "gay Christian," I think "theologically liberal." I'm not sure I personally know any conservative evangelicals who are supportive of same-sex relationships. So I was completely surprised when I started reading God and the Gay Christian and discovered it is written from a theologically conservative point of view!

Matthew Vines takes a much more literal view of the Bible than, say, a progressive Christian would. This becomes the book's greatest strength, because Vines had to be especially meticulous in his research, which is demonstrated throughout the book, complete with plenty of notes. He believes "our understanding of Scripture can be wrong," that "our fallibility as human interpreters is precisely why" we need "to study the issue more closely" (page 14). His reasoning is solid; his approach is thoughtful and kind. He chooses to use the terms "affirming" and "non-affirming" rather than pro-gay or anti-gay, in order to respect those who believe differently. Not once does he resort to snark or petty jabs, which is so refreshing when reading a book on such a hot-button issue as this.

It's worth mentioning a reminder that transgender people are the "T" in the LGBT umbrella, even if they are straight, so some transfolk may find God and the Gay Christian a bit lacking. They are mentioned in only a few brief paragraphs toward the end of the book (through Kathy Baldock's story). However, Vines does point out that "few groups are more misunderstood, mistreated, or unwelcome in the church today" (page 167).

Regardless, God and the Gay Christian is inspiring and fosters healthy discussion among all Christians. Affirming Christians will find confidence in Vines's optimism and arguments. He encourages people to question the whole "the Bible is very clear" attitude that tends to perpetuate non-affirming stances. Even though the topic of this particular book is same-sex relationships, I got the feeling that Vines would encourage us never to be afraid to take our own thorough, researched, closer look into any faith-related issue.

Let's face it, plenty of people are going to hate this book because of its title alone, without ever opening it. Hopefully, non-affirming Christians won't read this with the intent to tear apart each and every argument, but instead, with the intent to understand and respect a different interpretation among fellow Christians.