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April 2017 Reads

April was a tough month for reading. We had family in town for about a week, which puts a squeeze on reading time. Then Holy Week with lots of extra musical performances at various services. My reading for school (which I don’t talk about much here since the books are read over months, not days) suffered the most. But the last couple weekends of April were quiet which allowed some catch-up time on lighter reads.

Streets of Laredo by Larry McMurty is the first book I finished. Another epic saga and follow-up to Lonesome Dove (a favorite in January), it was great read for when I had family in town and couldn’t focus on more serious stuff or getting to know new characters in a new book. It wasn’t quite as good as Lonesome Dove, but I still intend to read the last two books in the series at some point.

So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Ron Jonson is a relatively short book (especially after Streets of Laredo) about the hazards of the internet and those who have lost their livelihood over seemingly inconsequential statements that went viral. Jonson compared it to the public shaming of the 19th century – public floggings or the wearing of the scarlet letter A. While I’ve had my bad moments in forums where people misinterpreted what I said and attacked me like hornets (I simply left those forums – I don’t need to spend time with people like that), I haven’t done anything on the scale of the instances Jonson recounted. That said, I had only heard of one of the stories he told. This book was definitely interesting – I wished at the end it had been a bit longer.

I read Miss Jane by Brad Watson in one sitting at the public library in Grand Island. The boys had an all day class at the Stuhr Museum so Caroline and I went to the library. It’s a great library, but we cannot check out any books (it is over 90 miles from our home) so what we read must be read there. Our lunch was a little late, but I finished Miss Jane before we left (I feared it might be checked out or disappear while we were at lunch). This book ran along similar veins to A Piece of the World where the main character has a physical deformity before there were means of fixing such things and how they dealt with their malady and the life they were able to lead on account of or in spite of it. A well-written, satisfying read.

The Wife, the Maid and the Mistress by Ariel Lawhon was the main selection for the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club in April. I started it (and loved it!) before company came, then it languished until after Easter. I loved the characters in this book and immensely enjoyed learning about their various situations and relationships to Judge Crater. I am not keen on how the author “solved” the mystery at the end, but that detracted only a little from the book as a whole.

I started reading Furiously Happy: A Funny Book About Horrible Things by Jenny Lawson a couple months ago on my phone as my when-distracted read. Then I saw someone online mention that the audiobook was really good so I checked it out on Overdrive. Let me put it this way – the audio greatly improved on a really good thing. It’s not a heavy read (think: great listen while at the grocery store or driving around town running errands). A couple years ago I read Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir (also by Jenny Lawson) and loved Victor’s reaction to things she’d do or say. This book was more of the same and once again, fun to read.

I found What It Is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes on Audible Prime Channels. It wasn’t what I was expecting. Yes, there were stories about what it is like to go to war (Marlantes served in Vietnam). However, the book is a very thoughtful reflection on the ethics of war and how we prepare our young people to serve as well as the challenges they face when they come home and how we can best support them. A great read for anyone who has gone to war or knows someone who has gone to war or has a child who may go to war or whose spouse may go to war. It was also a great way to process many of the things I’ve read in other books like Unbroken (Hillenbrand) or Everyone Brave is Forgiven (Cleave).

Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns was another find on Audible Prime Channels. I’d seen it recommended, and I’d read reviews where some loved it and some hated it. The audiobook was great. Sadly, Audible removed it from their Prime Channels before I had finished it. I had asked previously if that might happen if I had listened to books on their channels and been assured that they would give me the book so I could finish it. So when it disappeared, I contacted customer service. They gave me a $17 credit I could use to buy anything I wanted. Even though I was using a credit, I hated to buy a book I’d mostly listened to so I used the money to buy something else. I had the book on my Kindle so I read a couple chapters there. Let me just say that reading it on my Kindle helped me understand the people who didn’t like it. The charm was lost. I found the audio on Hoopla and finished it there. Great audiobook. Perfect summer read (if you’re looking for those…).

I finally go around to starting one of the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club flight selections the third weekend of the month – The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. I had a hard time getting into it. The writing style got under my skin. I felt like I was being told over and over that there was great suspense without actually feeling it through the story. I pressed on, though, because I trusted my source. Once I got about 40% through the book, the writing didn’t bother me anymore and I enjoyed all the different storylines as they intersected. Anne (of Modern Mrs. Darcy) had said that it was a mystery with a very surprising twist at the end. I was pretty sure I had it figured out. Even when there were 20 pages left, I was positive I had it figured out. Then the author really did turn the story completely upside down and all the pieces fit splendidly. Oh, what fun it was rethinking the story and fitting them all together! And talk about a major book hangover! This was a good one!

We actually went to Grand Island for classes at the Stuhr Museum three times during April. The first visit is when I read Miss Jane. When we got back from our late lunch, I perused the fiction section, reading a few pages of books I’d seen but hadn’t read. [Have I mentioned that the collection at the Grand Island Library is phenomenal? They have the really good classics (that Lincoln so often discards) mixed in with really good new stuff. Fabulous library.] One of the books I picked up was A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler. I’ve never read anything by her before but that book cover always catches my eye. I liked what I read so I checked it out electronically when I got home. Oh, it was a glorious read! There is nothing better than a good family drama. I loved how she developed the characters and brought everything together. I loved Commonwealth (Patchett) for similar reasons, but I would say this was much better. I will definitely be reading more Anne Tyler.

I’ve dabbled in Book of the Month selections before. This month I put a library hold on The Stranger in the Woods by Michael Finkel and was patiently waiting for my turn when I saw the book on the shelf with the new reads at the Grand Island Public Library. The class we were there for that day was a short one, but I managed to read half the book before we left. My turn in the library queue came on April 29th so I checked it out immediately and finished it. Being an introvert, I often long to get away and not talk to anyone for a while. This guy did that for 27 years. He lived as a hermit and stole various essentials from cabins and campgrounds in order to survive. The story begins with their capturing him and goes from there as they learn about his life of solitude and how he survived. Quite the tale.

The Art of War by Sun Tzu was mentioned in passing in The Stranger in the Woods (something about where he choose to have his campsite, if I remember correctly). It’s a short book, only 67 minutes of audio on Audible Prime Channels. Reviews talk about how it applies well to working in corporate America, but I read it mostly in terms of survival after reading The Stranger in the Woods. We study quite a bit of history in school – it also stimulated connections along those lines. Interesting little book. One I’m sure can be read again and again.

On the last day of the month, I finally got to the other book flight selection for the Modern Mrs. Darcy book club – The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. I’d read it previously but over the course of twelve weeks (as scheduled in year 7 of Ambleside Online, the curriculum we use for school). It was fun to revisit it in a single sitting and compare what I thought about it with each approach.

I also finished Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor which I read along with the Close Reads Podcast from Circe Institute. I wasn’t freaked out by O’Connor as some people were in the Facebook discussion group. I found her commentary pointing out the absurd on racism and religion in the South during the first half of the 20th century quite fascinating. Where it resounded with me the most, however, was in terms of how people treat each other today when discussing politics. You have people with holier-than-thou attitudes telling others how it should be and what is good for them. I’d love to see someone write some O’Connor-esque stories about that!

What I failed to read this month was Till We All Have Faces by C. S. Lewis. I mention it only because it was the Well Read Mom selection for April. I started out the month listening to a chapter a day and was bopping right along just fine until company came and all the things that go along with Easter. I tried listening to a couple chapters after Easter, but I just could not wrap my mind back around it. I’ve heard it is quite good. I may revisit it during the Tour de Fleece in July when I’m spending lots of time at the spinning wheel, a venue where I’ve successfully read several tough books I might not have read otherwise. [The Tour de Fleece is a challenge spinners do during the Tour de France – spinning on days the cyclers ride, doing challenges on the challenge days, and resting on days off.]

March 2017 Reads

I kicked off March with the main Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club selection A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline. The book is inspired by Christina’s World, a picture by Andrew Whyeth and attempts to tell what might be the story of the woman in the painting. It was well researched historical fiction, though the conversation between Christina and her school teacher about the poetry of Emily Dickinson was a bit…shall I say, contemporary. I honestly wasn’t sure whether I liked the book or not until I got to the ending which wrapped everything up splendidly so much that I decided I did like it.

The three book flights for the same book club were all good but not exactly compelling.

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes starts off as a World War II story which I enjoyed. Then it completely changes gears and skips to the current century where there is a fight over a painting that played a pivotal role in the first part of the book. I just couldn’t buy into Liv’s attachment to the painting, much less her attachment to the guy trying to take it from her. And though the ending was a valiant effort, it didn’t redeem it as with A Piece of the World. Oh well.

Steal Like and Artist by Austin Kleon is something I would have devoured when I was in my 20’s but now, not so much. It’s a very short book and very inspirational if living like an artist is your thing.

Finally, The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley is a YA novel about children evacuated from London during World War II. Ada and her brother have a horrid English mother and have to lie in order to be evacuated with everyone else. The woman who becomes their guardian is as changed by them as they are by her. Ada and Christina (of A Piece of the World) both have disabilities but their responses to their lot in life are very different, making these two books play off each other well. Of the three book flight selections, this was my favorite.

Gretchen Rubin selects three books every month in her book club, one of which I read in January and loved. This month, her selection Ten Years in the Tub by Nick Hornby caught my eye. It was a perfect “phone read” – something light and funny that doesn’t require focus and can easily be read on the go. Every month he lists the books he bought and the books he read and then casually chats about his reading life for the month. Even if he was talking about a book I hadn’t heard of or a subject I wasn’t familiar with, the way he talked about things made this read thoroughly pleasurable with many a laugh-out-loud comment.

On whim one weekend, I went and checked out a couple books from the library that Hornby had mentioned. On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan is about the wedding night of a couple in the age where such things were not discussed and the difficulties that ensued. Very literal – very well done. Fun Home: A Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel is a graphic memoir about her relationship with her father, which sounds innocent enough, except that it revolves around her coming out as a lesbian in college and learning in retrospect that her father was a gay pedophile, even though he was married and never “came out” as gay himself. I think I would have enjoyed this more as a traditional memoir – as a graphic novel it was too choppy and concise for my tastes. I read both books in a single afternoon and returned them to the library the next day as they were things I didn’t want lying around the house for my children to stumble upon and peruse.

Along sort of the same lines, All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg was a March Book of the Month selection. It started out interesting as it was about a single woman surrounded by married people, which was the story of my life when I lived in Maryland for four years before moving to Nebraska where I met my husband and lived happily ever after. Other than having too much adult content for my tastes (certainly not the life I lived when I was single), the book was good. It’s an easy read, which I needed at the end of the month as I was trying [unsuccessfully] to adjust to my progressive lenses (my main difficulty with them being reading, sadly).

Back to more serious stuff.

A Mother’s Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of Tragedy by Sue Klebod is a powerful book written by one of the mother’s of the Columbine killers. Tragedies like that are painful enough without thinking about what the families of the perpetrator’s go through. Sue does an excellent job of telling her story and grappling with what happened. She focuses a lot on the suicide aspect of it (Eric wanted to kill and didn’t mind dying if that’s what it came down to whereas Dylan, Sue’s son, wanted to die and didn’t mind killing if that’s what he had to do in order to die). Columbine by David Cullen (read last month) was good, but if I were to choose one of the two to read, I’d pick this one hands down. All mothers should read this book – Sue lends so much insight into mental health, especially during the teen years. Her tale is gripping and she examines the issues from all sides. Very well done. Don’t shy away from this one.

H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald as an audiobook read by the author is available for free on Audible for those with Amazon Prime. It’s a quiet book, one good for relaxing when things are calm (aka not good for distraction when things are crazy as it tends to meander and you can easily get lost). She talks a lot about training her hawk and T. H. White, author of The Once and Future King and The Goshawk. The latter book was the guide map for MacDonald’s obsession with hawks, which served as her lifeline as she dealt with her father’s death. That said, hawks play a role in The Once and Future King of which I’ve read parts (and did not like) – this book made me more forgiving toward that book and perhaps willing to give it another chance.

I’ve wanted to read Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee ever since I listened to the Close Reads podcast episode where they argued passionately over whether or not Atticus is a racist. This book has been highly controversial, but I loved it. Scout has moved away and comes home to visit where she is essentially an outsider who wants to set everyone straight. The question is, do they need to be set straight? Are they really what she makes them out to be? Serious questions that are very relevant to our time. Highly recommended. The audiobook read by Reese Witherspoon is fantastic.

I also finally got around to reading (make that, listening to) Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. This is another of the many works of historical fiction set in World War II floating around these days. Not my favorite but still pretty high on the list. It’s worth reading just for the clever lines sprinkled generously throughout the book. The plot is rather weak, and I struggled to like the characters – they all (save Alastair) seemed too flippant about the war. Or perhaps sincere but rather naive. They certainly weren’t practical the like main characters in other WWII books. But then Mary almost dies and I was shocked at how upset I was, so I guess I cared more about the characters than I thought. Word has it Cleave is working on a sequel – not sure whether or not I’ll read it when it comes out.

I finally finished Simply Tuesday by Emily P. Freeman. I like the idea of this book far more than I liked the actual book. It’s full of overgeneralization and meanderings, minus the overly flowery language of Ann Voskamp (One Thousand Gifts). At the end of each chapter, Freeman has a prayer and I would read it and think, “Really? That’s what that chapter was about? Really?” I’m also still (slowly) reading Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist from this same genre, but I think I like it a lot more. It may be a while before you hear my final opinion of it, though.

The Screwtape Letters was the selection for the Well Read Mom this month. I’ve read it previously and loved it. This time, not so much. I was trying to read it with those dreadful progressive lenses and my comprehension was dismal. Thankfully, I got quite proficient at discussing and writing papers on books I hadn’t read while I was in school so I shouldn’t be making a complete fool of myself when our group meets to discuss it.

I wrapped up the month with a serious winner – Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. I listened to the audio version (salvation when your vision is compromised). He speaks several languages and it’s much easier to listen to him rattle off those lines than try to try and weed through them myself. If you need something entertaining to keep you awake on a long drive or to get your mind off other things, this book is perfect.

I know it sounds like I read A LOT this month, but so many were short, easy reads that left me with a feeling reminiscent of a sugar high. In part it was because I needed light reads for my desperate attempt to adjust to progressive lenses since my comprehension was so dismal while trying to focus and find that ever illusive sweet spot. I’ve gone back to wearing my old glasses for now and hope to enjoy more serious reads during the month of April. Let’s just say I now have a whole new appreciation for why kids with poor vision struggle in school.

February 2017 Reads

And here are the books I read in February.

This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel is about parenting and how choices you make in raising your child have long-lasting effects. In this case, the fifth child of Rosie and Penn decides when in kindergarten that he wants to wear girls clothes. So they let him wear them to school where the school decides he must use the bathroom next to the nurses office since he “identifies as a girl.” And the story goes on from there. While I understand more about how parents might end up with a “transgender” child and the challenges they face, I still am not convinced that identifying children at such a young age as transgender is really the best way to handle this. When I was a kid and I played football and built forts with the boys during recess, no one made me start using a different bathroom and rename myself with a boy’s name. Girls are encouraged to do boys things like play with Legos, wrestle and join the military. Maybe we need to likewise let our boys “be anything they want to be.” The issue is by no means settled. This was the February main selection for the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club. More on this topic with the next selection…

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 2003 and a February book flight selection in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club. This book was the story of someone who was actually intersex – in this case, someone with XY chromosomes and sexual organs that appeared to be female as an infant but developed modified male aspects at puberty. Birth defects are real, and obviously the sexual organs are not exempt from that. I listened to the audiobook version of this read by Kristoffer Tabori which was excellent. The story covers three generations and is very well written and plausible. I enjoyed it both as a story as well as exploration of a very delicate issue in today’s society. It really brought out the humanity of the main character and his/her family as this issue came to a head. If you want to develop empathy by walking a mile in someone else’s shoes, this book is a great choice.

George by Alex Gino is a book written for a grade 4-6 audience about a kid who “comes out” as transgender. Someone mentioned it in the discussion of the two books above so I grabbed it from the library and listened to the audio in one day. “Coming out” with a different viewpoint from that of your parents or those around you is nothing new, really. Since we homeschool and I know what books my kids read and understand, I found the style and reading level of this book very interesting.

The Mothers by Brit Bennet was the other February book flight selection in the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club. This umbrella theme of this book is about the mothers of a black church and how they look out for everyone. The specific story tells how a girl gets pregnant, has an abortion and what happens from there. The father of the child is the pastor’s son and his parents gave him money for the abortion. Everything is kept quiet, yet it is a secret that does not refrain from influencing how things go from there. The first half doesn’t seem to be very plot-driven, but second half has with twists and turns I wasn’t expecting. I love the umbrella theme of the book. The specific discussion of abortion and it’s ramifications was also good. Lots of good fodder for thought here.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte was the Well Read Mom selection for February. I listened to the audio version narrated by Juliet Stevenson which is outstanding. I had read this on my own in college and enjoyed it, but I enjoyed it all over again with this reading. This time, it was a story about crazy neighbors and staying away (or not) and what you tell your children about why you are staying away (or not). Of course, it’s also a love story and a tragedy. Fascinating on so many levels.

Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers was the book featured in the Circe Institute Close Reads Podcast in January and February. I love this podcast because it has two English teachers who argue about good books. When I was in school, if your essay didn’t reflect your English teacher’s opinion, you were graded accordingly (or so it seemed); thus I find this podcast endlessly fascinating since they are always disagreeing with each other. I am not into mysteries per se and thus likely would not have read this save for the podcast. With this book, I would read the next portion and feel sort of lost. Then Angelina would say something on the podcast about how Sayers just throws you into the story and just like Lord Whimsy would be if he were starting a new job at a new company, you have all these facts thrown at you that you have to sort out. And then I didn’t feel so silly for feeling so lost. (Have I mentioned that I just love this podcast?) While there were times I had my doubts as I was reading the book, Murder Must Advertise turned out to be a very good read and well worth my time. Next up: Everything Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor (one story per week). I’m looking forward to it.

Columbine by David Cullen was my nonfiction read during January and February. This book has been touted as a very well-researched take on what happened, including setting right various false narratives spread by the media in the days after the event occurred. While I remember what happened, I didn’t really follow the media about it at the time so there was very little that was different from what I already knew. That said, it was a well-written account of two boys who did something horrible – what led up to it and how they carried it out. In my reading queue is Sue Klebold’s book as a follow-up to this (she is the mother of one of the boys who carried out the attack).

What I Saw and How I Lied by Judy Blundell is a winner of the National Book Award and my first venture into the YA (young adult) genre. It’s a coming-of-age story. Rather simple. Eye opening in terms of the reading level (grades 9+). The YA genre probably won’t become a favorite of mine. That said, the Modern Mrs. Darcy Book Club has a YA book as one of its book flight selections in March so I will be giving the genre another chance.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng is free audiobook for Amazon Prime members on Audible, a newly discovered feature with several more titles I want to read. Really, the title of this book says it all. The father is Asian, the mother American; women’s rights also drives the narrative. It all comes together with various family dynamics revolving around the unspoken. The narration is well-done but slow – by the end I was listening at 1.5 speed in order to finish it before the end of the month. Initially I only gave it three stars, but today I changed it to four. Good book.

In other news, I finished several books with the children this month. I read aloud every morning when we begin school. We also listen to audiobooks in the car.

Daniel Boone by James Daughtery is a John Newberry Award winner I checked out from the library. This book was an especially fun read since we go to Kentucky to visit family and are thus familiar with the setting. I now have a new list of places I want to visit next time we are in Kentucky.

Gone Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright is a good book on the backlist of a favorite author. The kids loved it and we are now reading its sequel – Return to Gone Away Lake.

Shaking the Nickel Bush by Ralph Moody is book number six in the Little Britches series which we started listening to last fall. We listened to this series a couple years ago but Caroline was too young to remember much of it. I could read this series over and over again as I did the Little House books when I was a kid. Great series, especially for boys.

On the docket for March:

The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis – Well Read Mom

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline – Modern Mrs. Darcy (MMD) book club main selection

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes – MMD book flight selection

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon – MMD book flight selection

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley – MMD book flight selection

Everything That Rises Must Converge by Flannery O’Connor – new Close Reads selection

And several others, I hope.

January 2017 Reads

Wendel Berry speaking at the Circe Institute Regional Conference in Louisville, KY, January 20, 2017

Yes, I got to see Wendell Berry do a reading. [Swoon!] I’ve read Hannah Coulter and Jayber Crow by him, the latter which was discussed on Close Reads. It was a great evening!

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith — I read this soon after I graduated from college and absolutely loved it. One of those books where you wish all books were like this. So when I saw it as the January selection for the Well Read Mom, I wondered if I could possibly love it as much again as I did the first time. I started out pacing myself to read it over the course of the month, but it was so wonderful I could stop reading and finished it in the middle of the month. I loved it just as much the second time as I did the first. Highly recommended.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles — This was the main selection for January in the Modern Mrs. Darcy (MMD) book club. I would give it two stars. It is historical fiction, which I struggle with. I would much rather read about another time and place by someone who lived it or knew those who lived it. This book had several inaccuracies that made me question much of the plausibility of the book. For instance,  someone was singing “It Is Well With My Soul” in backwoods Texas a couple years before the song was written on the Atlantic Ocean. Ugh. However, at the back of the book, the author said it was based on another book which I read and very much enjoyed, namely…

The Captured: A True Story of Abduction by Indians on the Texas Frontier by Scott Zesch — This is a very well researched book about kids who were abducted by Indians on the Texas frontier. Their stories are known because they returned, in varying degrees, to white society. The book gives a history of relations with the Indians of that region going back to the 1820’s including the debate surrounding whether or not to negotiate with the Indians for captives. It describes life in Indian society for the white captives and helps explain why they resisted returning to white society. If you enjoy history, this is a great read.

Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger — This was a flight pairing along with News of the World as part of the MMD book club. One of the chapters explored heavily the issue of Indian captives not wanting to return to white society. This article is a thoughtful response to the book and sums up my reservations about it well.  I think The Captured lent far more light on the subject than this book. That said, this book was very thought provoking and great fodder for discussion.

Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurty — This was the other flight pairing for January in the MMD book club. I listened to this as an audiobook – all 36 hours of it. Great book. One that will stick with me for a long time. After reading this, I feel like I know what it was like to live in the late mid-1800s in Texas and beyond. It will likely be one of my favorite books for the year.

Absent in the Spring by Mary Westmacott (Agatha Christie) — I found this book through Gretchen Rubin’s book club and listened to the audio version on Overdrive. It was written by Agatha Christie who took a pen name when she wrote books outside her usual genre. Joan, the main character, gets stranded on her return journey and has nothing to do for a few days and ends up re-thinking much of her life, seeing it in a very different light. Ironically, it reminded me of reading a book everyone else “gets” while missing what is obvious to everyone else (aka how I feel when I read a mystery). Great read. Highly recommended.

The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson — This was one of the January selections for Book of the Month Club. I haven’t joined but was thinking about it so I decided to read one of the selections to see what I thought. This was the story of several teenagers going through school. Bad things happen to them, but there was never any exploration of the consequences or what came of it — there were all sorts of things that could have been explored but were just left on the table unopened. I did not like it at all and probably won’t be reading any more Book of the Month Club selections unless they are recommended to me otherwise. When one is accustomed to reading the classics – books that are so good they’ve remained in print, it is difficult to find contemporary fiction that measures up.

War by Sebastian Junger — I picked this up after reading Tribe. It is a first-hand account through the eyes of a journalist on the front lines in Afghanistan. I read a comment about this book somewhere that being on the front lines and observing isn’t the same as being on the front lines and fighting, to which I wholeheartedly agree. This book definitely gives a piece of the picture of what it’s like serving in the US military in Afghanistan, but I don’t automatically assume that everyone who served over there (and I know several who served there and in Iraq) had experiences similar to this. The writing style is rather scatterbrained – jumping from this to that and only sticking loosely to the storyline. Three stars, if that.

Honorable mention: Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy Sayers — This is the current selection for the Close Reads podcast from the Circe Institute. I’m only four chapters into it, and it is not something I would ever pick up and read on my own. However, I love and adore this podcast – listening English teachers discuss, argue and debate good books. The third episode covering chapters 5-8 is already up, but I became obsessed with listening to Lonesome Dove so haven’t listened to the second episode yet. So far I’m about as lost as poor Joan in Absent in the Spring, but that’s just another reason why I love Close Reads.

On the docket for February:

  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte [Well Read Mom] – this is actually a re-read but I plan to listen to the audio version narrated by Juliet Stevenson which should be excellent
  • This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel [MMD February main selection]
  • Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides [MMD February flight pairing]
  • The Mothers by Brit Bennet [MMD February flight pairing]
  • and several others, hopefully

November Reads {2016}

Recently I tallied up the number of books I’ve read so far this year. Currently the total is 46, not including the 14 books I’ve read aloud or listened to with my kids as free-reads. I have a friend who posts her reads each month, a post I eagerly anticipate and always enjoy (see her November reads here). I’ve decided to revive my blog and begin doing the same.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – This was the summer selection for the Well Read Mom. I belong to a local group – we discussed this the first week of September. I had a crazy summer and had only listened to 6 of the 37 hours of the audio version of this book at the beginning of August when we were originally supposed to discuss it, but then we postponed it a month so I felt I ought to at least try to finish it (I am the leader of the group so I sort of have an obligation, you know). I finished all but the last 4 hours before we met in September. Last summer we read Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy which I thoroughly enjoyed, but this one, not so much. I don’t like reading under pressure, which happened with this book and may well have colored my opinion of it. This month I got it back out and finally listened to those last 4 hours so I could say I finished it. My reading nightmare experience aside, The Brothers Karamazov is a family drama complete with a who-done-it and a lengthy trial. I think Tolstoy got tired of writing it at the end – it just seemed to drop without much resolution. Anna Karenina was far more satisfying throughout. Bottom line: If you want to read a challenging Russian novel, I’d go with Anna Karenina.

All Joy and No Fun by Jennifer Senior – This book is about modern parenting. As in, the intense version. I have friends who parent like this and the mere thought of it makes me tired. In fact, reading this book about how intensely people parent their children was exhausting, which is probably why it got set aside when I started it earlier this year. I tend to be more like the dads in this book, who are fairly pragmatic about what they will and will not do for their kids. That said, I really enjoyed the chapter on adolescence, especially the point about how parents who have their own hobbies find these years far smoother than those who have invested all their time and effort in their kids. When you have a life outside parenting, the occasional “failure” when your kid does something dumb is far less daunting when you have other things that make you happy. All the more reason to read good books…

Working Stiff by Judy Melinek MD – This was a fascinating memoir about a doctor doing autopsies in New York City, including the casualties of 9/11. I didn’t realize that autopsies aren’t limited to what the doctor sees of the body lying on the table – sometimes that information must be paired with evidence collected at the scene to make the final determination of the cause of death. Having worked in quality assurance in some form or other since graduating from college, I found it intriguing how the final answer – murder, suicide, natural causes or unknown – can be pivotal, either to an investigation or to the families looking for answers.

No Sweat: How the Simple Science of Motivation Can Bring You a Lifetime of Fitness by Michelle Segar – As the title says, this book is more about motivation than specific fitness routines. One one hand, the author argues that physical activity can be beneficial even if it is just taking a short walk when you have a few minutes. No formal workout required. That takes a lot of the pressure off. At the same time, the ideas discussed in this book don’t just apply to physical fitness. If your job or lifestyle requires a lot of self-motivation as mine does, this book is a goldmine of strategies to keep you going. That said, I have a completely different attitude toward exercise after reading this book. I’ve been going for more walks, too.

Rising Strong by Brene Brown – I’ve read this book sporadically a chapter at a time over the past year. For some reason, every time I pick it up, it has major eye-openers for whatever I’m facing at the moment. They say each of her books builds on the ideas of the last. Since this is her most recent book, I don’t know if I will go back and read others. This book was very powerful. It completely reframed how I see things, helping me to let them go and move on. If you want to be completely unsettled by having to seriously rethink how you perceive something, this book is for you. I may re-read it just for the exercise of gaining fresh perspective.

The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah – This novel is about the resistance movement in France during World War II. This fall I read All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr which was okay. I wasn’t sure I wanted to read another novel set in France during World War II with all the horrors that go along with it. This book was completely different – very engaging. I checked it out from the library so I had a deadline, but that was no issue as I finished reading it long before it was due. After this ravishing success, I’m seriously considering Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave. That is, when I’m up for another war novel.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman – Last April we moved to a new neighborhood after living in the same house for 14 years. This book was described as a feel-good book about grumpy neighbors which I thought my help smooth the bumps of adjusting to a new neighborhood. No grandiose insights, but I did enjoy the story.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates (audio version read by the author) – I’ve read several books to get a better understanding of the black experience and history of racism over the last couple of years. Some that stand out include The Color Purple by Alice Walker, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Mudbound by Hillary Jordan. But alas! I was told when I cited them during an online discussion about race that if I really wanted to be informed, I needed to read non-fiction – specifically, this book. It was in my library, and the issue was especially hot in our recent election, so I got it out and began reading. There were so many ironies in this book between his description of his life and what he believes it is like to be a white person and what I’ve seen and experienced as a white person. For instance, Cub Scouts. My boys have both been in Cub Scouts since they were old enough to join and I will say two things: 1) boys are full of energy and the pictures you see of Cub Scouts don’t reflect the chaos that happens in real life, and 2) working with other adults to plan activities and agreeing on how things should be run can sometimes be, well, to borrow a certain phrase, all joy and no fun. As a kid, I always thought “Thou shalt not covet” to be an easy commandment to follow. As an adult, I’ve learned it can sometimes be one of the hardest, one that causes intense pain. Looking at what you think other people have and experience and comparing it to your own is a sure recipe for misery. This book is full of misery. Three and a half hours of it. I think this book is an important read because it expresses what so many feel. That said, I do not think it is the last word on the subject or that it provides any real answers for the racism today. Brene Brown’s Rising Strong is a fitting counterpoint.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – I had previously purchased this when it was featured on Modern Mrs. Darcy‘s daily Kindle Deals. Then I saw she had selected it for her Book Club. A gothic novel sounded like something I should have read in October but I decided November wasn’t too late. The first half of this book is rather slow, and many people give up. At the halfway point, there is a pivotal moment and the rest of the novel is absolutely gripping. I reached that turning point the day before Thanksgiving and had to put it down in order to get all the holiday preparations done. I finished it that evening, and I ever so enjoyed it! I watched the movie version by Alfred Hitchcock that weekend, which is also excellent (and sticks very closely to the book, unlike most movies based on a book).

Let me count the ways attempts…

On a doorknob…

Rising Dawn

Over the back of the couch…

Rising Dawn

On the bed…

Rising Dawn

Another doorknob shot…

Rising Dawn

Close-up on the doorknob…

Rising Dawn

Looking down on the doorknob…

Rising Dawn

On the headboard…

Rising Dawn

Nice pose but bad lighting.

Finally, over the mirror.

Rising Dawn

Rising Dawn by Stephen West. Knit with Malabrigo Sock, color Abril.

To. Die. For.

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