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.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Top Ten Favorite TV Shows, With Book Recommendations

Today's Top Ten Tuesday prompt is "other types of stories" or, specifically, favorite movies or TV shows. I'm putting a bookish twist on it by recommending titles for fellow fans of some of my favorite shows (past and present, in no particular order).

1. I'm a huge Doctor Who fan (David Tennant, drooooool). My husband and I tried to watch the classic episodes in order, starting with William Hartnell, but didn't get very far. So I found Adventures with the Wife in SpaceNeil Perryman's chronicle of doing the same with his wife, who was not a fan of the show to begin with, pretty entertaining!

2. Something I appreciate about watching Orange is the New Black is connecting with each character through her background story. Wally Lamb (yes, the Wally Lamb) is the editor of Couldn't Keep It to Myself, a collection of personal stories written by inmates at York Correctional Institution in Connecticut, where Lamb has facilitated a writing program for the past fifteen years.

3. Oh, Red Dwarf. No matter how silly and campy, I adored this sci-fi series, and was sad when I finished watching it. I couldn't help but be reminded of this show when I read Starship Grifters by Robert Kroese, a wild adventure with humorous references to sci-fi pop culture.

4. I grew up with Star Trek: The Next Generation. I mean, it ended the same year I graduated high school. I never understood why people hated Wesley Crusher so much, because I loved seeing someone not much older than I was (and maybe just as dorky) on the show. Wil Wheaton's memoir Just a Geek: Unflinchingly honest tales of the search for life, love, and fulfillment beyond the Starship Enterprise is a fantastic read for fans of the show (but not you Wesley Crusher haters!  No recommendation for you!).

5. I'm not sure why I'm so compelled to devour (hehe) every episode of The Walking Dead as it is released, but, I do. It's definitely a favorite, but wow, it gets intenseThe Art of Zombie Warfare: How to Kick Ass Like the Walking Dead by Scott Kenemore offers some decompression through comic relief.

6. Dr. Gregory House, sarcastic, funny, complicated, talented... he plays the piano. Incredibly well. And you know, Hugh Laurie is actually playing the piano when House plays on the show. Laurie's talents reach from acting to music to books. His novel The Gun Seller is a comic thriller reminiscent of his days on Jeeves & Wooster. One Amazon reviewer says about The Gun Seller: "think Wodehouse writing James Bond."

7. I am woefully behind in watching Downton Abbey, so I have some binge-watching in my future. Even though I'm not normally into period dramas, this one fascinates me. If you want to know what life was really like for the help, check out Margaret Powell's memoir Below Stairs, which was one of the inspirations for Downton Abbey.

8. I didn't jump on the Desperate Housewives train until later in its run. At the time, I was married without children, and certainly wouldn't have labeled myself a "housewife." When I finally started watching the show, I was hooked in the same way as when I read Julia Fierro's Cutting Teeth. Both show how diverse families can be, and there is plenty of soap opera-worthy drama!

9. When Stargate came to mind as I was thinking about my favorite TV shows, I immediately thought of Mary Doria Russell's novel The Sparrow. Both address issues of first contact, society, and faith... and both without a "Prime Directive" as a guiding principle, as there was in Star Trek.

10. I love all the characters on How I Met Your Mother, but Barney Stinson is by far my favorite. He's exuberant, quick on the draw, and he demands attention. Although it isn't due out until October, I think Barney would be proud of the "choose your own adventure" format of his actor's upcoming memoir, Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography. Such a unique approach, and it already has people talking! (read an excerpt)

Are you a fellow fan of any of these TV shows? Do you have a book recommendation that relates to your favorite show?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Review & Giveaway: High as the Horses' Bridles by Scott Cheshire

Title: High as the Horses' Bridles
Author: Scott Cheshire
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co.

July 8, 2014

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

Find it on:
High as the Horses' Bridles follows the Laudermilks, a family obsessed with the end of days. At the age of twelve and already known as a talented boy preacher, their only son, Josiah, stands before his church and shares an apocalyptic vision in which he declares that the end of days will occur in the year 2000. Not long after, Josie begins to doubt the validity of his own prophecy.

This novel is an interesting look into the high hopes and enormous pressure that come along with being raised in a fundamentalist household. Cheshire uses all three family members to bring the reader right into the crushing, overwhelming feelings that accompany these expectations: Josie's coming of age and struggles with faith, his father's mental unraveling, and his mother's fight against cancer. I couldn't help but be struck by the characters' sincerity and at times, even their tenderness, which make the events in the novel all the more heartbreaking.

So much about this story exposes how false the teachings of their church are, how twisted their views. But High as the Horses' Bridles isn't as much a scathing commentary on fundamentalism as it is a look into how multifaceted people are, the reasons why they hold potentially damaging beliefs so close, why they keep coming back for more, and how difficult it is to break free from a legalistic culture. There is also a twist at the end of the book which not only ties in with the Laudermilk family, but gives readers a look into the early days of American apocalyptic movements.

There is so much more I could say about this novel! It would make a fantastic book club read; there are endless angles to explore. I also couldn't help but be reminded of the importance of books like Faith Unraveled by Sarah Held Evans, The Rapture Exposed by Barbara R. Rossing, and Salvation on the Small Screen and Pastrix by Nadia-Bolz Weber.

The wonderful people at Henry Holt and Co. are providing a copy of this book to one of my lucky readers (US only). Contests runs through Friday, July 18. Enter below for a chance to win!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Sunday Salon & Mini Bloggiesta To Do List

Musical Happenings:

I'm babysitting this concert grand pedal harp while its owner is out of the country. He dropped it off at my place on Thursday, and I've been having the best time playing it. The sound is phenomenal and enormous (the harp is enormous!), and learning to use the pedals is fun and challenging.

Today starts rehearsals for a production of The Sound of Music at our local community theatre. I'm excited to be playing this show, and even happier that my folder requires only flute and piccolo. Less equipment to carry back and forth, and no reeds to worry about!

Bookish Happenings:

Saturday and Sunday is Mini Bloggiesta, a virtual event where bloggers work feverishly to fix and freshen up their blogs!

My Mini Bloggiesta To Do List:
- catch up on cross-posting reviews
- get blog archive up to date
- write and schedule any reviews waiting to be posted
- separate the About/Policies into two tabs
- possibly add a Contact Me page

Recently Finished Reading
High as the Horses' Bridles by Scott Cheshire
   (review posts tomorrow and includes a giveaway)
God and the Gay Christian by Matthew Vines
   (review coming later this week)

Currently Reading:
Blind by Rachel DeWoskin
Violins of Hope by James A. Grymes

What I'm Reading Next:
The Virtues of Oxygen by Susan Schoenberger
I'll Give You Something to Cry About by Jennifer Finney Boylan

Are you planning to participate in Mini Bloggiesta this weekend? Don't forget to sign up!