Tuesday, March 3, 2015

What I Read in February

February was absolutely amazing, in terms of reading and pleasure.  We had some amazingly gorgeous days that we spent outside in t-shirts and flip flops and we had several snow days that kept us inside where it's nice and warm.

I did a lot of this:

And even got to take a weekend trip to Cottontown, Tennessee to see my very best friends and to do absolutely nothing but play tons of board games and read books and talk.

In terms of books, here's what I read:

Decompression by Julie Zeh
Pointe by Brandy Colbert
Texts from Jane Eyre by Mallory Ortberg
Skim by Mariko Tamaki
Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness by Susannah Calahan
The Most Dangerous Animal of All by Gary L. Stewart
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

Total books read in February: 15
Pages read in February: 4225

What did you read?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

TBR List Survey

I swiped this TBR (to be read) List Survey from What Red Read and thought it would make a fun diversionary snow day post.

1. How do you keep track of your TBR pile?
I've got a few methods.  The main method is Goodreads, where I add every book that looks interesting to either a library, books I own, or wish list TBR shelf.  At home, I've got my already reads mixed up with to be reads on my shelves, since they're arranged by color.  I do have a separate spot for books that need to be reviewed for the blog and I usually have a small stack of library books on a stool in my bedroom.  And, finally, the immediate TBRs and current reads are usually piled on Luke's side of the bed.

2. Is your TBR mostly print or ebooks?
Mostly print, although the temptations of NetGalley cn get me backlogged on ebooks at times

3. How do you determine which book to read next?
Unless I have something that has to be read for book club (I'm in two) or for a review commitment, I base what I read next on my current mood.  Library due dates also influence my reading at times. 

4. A book that's been on your TBR list the longest:
According to Goodreads, my first unread book added to my TBR in 2008 was Fast Food Nation.  I know I've bought books before that that are still on my TBR, but I couldn't name the oldest one, so I'll just go with what I've got marked on Goodreads.

5. A book you recently added to your TBR:
The last book added to Goodreads was Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill.

6. A book on your TBR strictly because of its beautiful cover:
The Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus

7. A book on your TBR that you never plan on reading:
Ummmmm, I don't really have one.  If I plan on never actually reading it, it wouldn't be on my TBR.

8. An unpublished book on your TBR that you're excited for:
The Doll Collection, edited by Ellen Datlow - a collection of short stories about creepy dolls!  Yes, please!

9. A book on your TBR that basically everyone has read but you:
Smoke Gets In Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty

10. A book on your TBR that everyone recommends to you:
Jackaby by William Ritter

11. A book on your TBR that you're dying to read:
Act of God by Jill Ciment

12. How many books are on your Goodreads TBR shelf?
This is almost embarassing.  On my Library TBR shelf: 1431, on my wish list TBR: 188, and on my books I own TBR: 540.

Feel free to snag this if you want to play along and leave a link if you decide to post it!  I'd love to see your answers!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Lenten Reading: The Ancient Path by John Michael Talbot

From Goodreads:
People often imagine that the Church Fathers looked like their icons and smelled of incense, heroic figures wrapped in fine liturgical vestments of silk and lace, engulfed in billows of smoke from their golden censers. Yet, truth be told, even in their writings they resemble more the tattered cloak of Jesus or the dusty sweat-soaked habits of the early Desert Fathers and Mothers. Theirs is an utterly incarnational spirituality. It is heaven-sent, but it moves forward with both feet on the ground of the earth.
In this powerful work, John Michael Talbot tells the story of how these men deeply influenced his spiritual, professional and personal life. Coming to the Christian faith as a young man during the turbulent 1960s, he soon grew a fond of the Church Fathers, including St. Ambrose, St. Jerome, St. Augustine and Gregory the Great and found guidance, reassurance and wisdom on his path to Jesus.
“The First Epistle of Saint Peter,” writes Talbot, “tells us that we are ‘a spiritual temple built of living stones.’ The early Church Fathers represent the first rows built upon the foundation of the Apostles. And that sacred building project continues throughout history to our time today. But it rests on the Fathers. It depends on them.”
This is so well done.  I think Talbot perfectly blends his personal experiences with church history and his thoughts on its significance for believers today.  Everything flowed really well and I didn't feel like there were huge divisions between the thoughts on history, modern application, and Talbot's own story.  And he didn't just tell a good story - he made church history come alive in a way that was intriguing and meaningful, and his applications for modern life were easy to understand.  I feel like I came away from this book with a great appreciation for the church fathers, for orthodoxy, and for how some of the ancient practices can be applied to my life today.

Entertainment Value
As above, I thoroughly enjoyed my read of this book.  I particularly appreciated the chapter on prayer and meditation and the use of the Jesus Prayer ("Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.") and its use in ancient times.  Growing up in a very Protestant denomination, I was always taught to pray spontaneously, rather than by rote.  Talbot lays out a great reasoning behind the use of prayers that many would consider rote and how they can be used as a form of continual communion with God.  His description of how Eastern Orthodoxies use these prayers goes along so well with what I am learning about yoga and the importance of breath.  I've actually put a few of his ideas into practice during my yoga over the past few days and feel like it's really changed my practice.

I highly recommend this book to readers who are interested in learning more about church history, orthodoxy and liturgy, and how the Church Fathers can play a role in our faith today.  It's written to a Catholic audience, but I found it largely applicable to my Protestant beliefs as well.  I'm so glad I read it and I'm definitely going to be looking into more information on church history and the stories of our Church Fathers.

Thank you to Blogging for Books for providing me with a copy to review.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Book Review: The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison

From Goodreads:
Linda Wallheim is a devout Mormon, the mother of five boys and the wife of a bishop. But Linda is increasingly troubled by her church’s structure and secrecy, especially as a disturbing situation takes shape in her ward. One cold winter night, a young wife and mother named Carrie Helm disappears, leaving behind everything she owns. Carrie’s husband, Jared, claims his wife has always been unstable and that she has abandoned the family, but Linda doesn’t trust him. As Linda snoops in the Helm family’s circumstances, she becomes convinced that Jared has murdered his wife and painted himself as a wronged husband.

Linda’s husband asks her not to get involved in the unfolding family saga. But Linda has become obsessed with Carrie’s fate, and with the well-being of her vulnerable young daughter. She cannot let the matter rest until she finds out the truth. Is she wrong to go against her husband, the bishop, when her inner convictions are so strong?
The writing here is decent.  I wasn't super impressed with anything, but there also wasn't anything that jumped out as particularly bad writing either.  I'd say standard women's fiction writing.  My only issue with the quality was that I felt like the author was a bit undecided on her audience.  Is she writing for those who are familiar with Mormonism or to a more general audience?  She explains some of the less well-known facets of the faith, but leaves others unexplained.  There were times when she'd throw out a title like Relief Society or Primary Presidency with no explanation at all, which was confusing to me as a non-Mormon.  I could figure out much of it from context, but there were times when I was left wondering.

Entertainment Value
The plot moves quickly and kept my attention.  I cared about the outcomes for the characters and I wanted to get to the end and reveal the who-dunnit.  In that arena, the novel was completely successful.  I like women's fiction that deals with an of-the-moment issue and this certainly had plenty of those.  Basically every charge against the Mormon church is addressed here: racism, domestic violence, polygamy, women's roles in the church.  It's all there and I appreciated reading about it from a perspective that shows a fair amount of respect for the religion's traditions.

However, I was somewhat annoyed by the way men are depicted in the book.  We only meet one male character who isn't involved in incest, domestic abuse, emotional abuse, spiritual abuse, or a history of lies.  Every other man in the book is portrayed as a misogynist or liar, which I found to be less than believable.  While I didn't feel like the Mormon religion was mocked, I felt like the depiction of Mormon men as misogynists was a bit overdone.   It was nice that some of the more peculiar aspects of the faith weren't derided, but I felt like the implication was that Mormon men don't respect women, and I'm not sure that's entirely fair.

My other issue was our main character, Linda.  Linda is a busybody who cannot seem to mind her own business.  And while there are situations in which intervention is necessary, Linda's constant snooping really grated on my nerves.  And she makes some really horrible choices that are somewhat glorified in the book, but which would have serious consequences in reality that are vastly ignored.

It was good diversionary reading and it kept my interest.  I found the plot to be intriguing and, for the most part, enjoyed my read.  But I was annoyed by the main character and by the portrayal of men throughout the book and there were times when I wanted to step in and shake Linda.  This is solidly middle of the road for me - a decent diversion, but I doubt that I'll remember the plot or characters for more than a few weeks.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Book Review: I Am Not A Slut by Leora Tanenbaum

From Goodreads:
The author of the groundbreaking work Slut! explores the phenomenon of slut-shaming in the age of sexting, tweeting, and “liking.” She shows that the sexual double standard is more dangerous than ever before and offers advice to—and offers wisdom and strategies for alleviating its destructive effects on young women’s lives

Young women are encouraged to express themselves sexually. Yet when they do, they are derided as “sluts.” Caught in a double bind of mixed sexual messages, young women are confused. To fulfill the contradictory roles of being sexy but not slutty, they create an “experienced” identity on social media-even if they are not sexually active—while ironically referring to themselves and their friends as “sluts.”

But this strategy can become a weapon used against young women in the hands of peers who circulate rumors and innuendo—elevating age-old slut-shaming to deadly levels, with suicide among bullied teenage girls becoming increasingly common. Now, Leora Tanenbaum revisits her influential work on sexual stereotyping to offer fresh insight into the digital and face-to-face worlds contemporary young women inhabit. She shares her new research, involving interviews with a wide range of teenage girls and young women from a variety of backgrounds as well as parents, educators, and academics. Tanenbaum analyzes the coping mechanisms young women currently use and points them in a new direction to eradicate slut-shaming for good.
I haven't read the author's previous work, so I started this feeling like I was at a bit of a disadvantage.  Fortunately, I don't think the first work is required reading for this one, although they'd probably read well together.  I found the author's arguments to be well-founded and largely unbiased as far as politics are concerned.  She makes a great case for refusing to "take back" the word "slut" and for how it can be particularly harmful for girls to slut shame each other in the age of the internet, where everything is permanent and may haunt the affected party for life.  It's obviously very "of the moment" and is something that may need to be changed and amended again as trends and technology change, but I think has real value for the present.

Entertainment Value
I enjoyed the book and I think it contains a lot of great information, particularly in the quotes and stories from young women who are currently in high school and college and are dealing with the issues the internet has created in regards to slut shaming.  I did think parts were a bit repetitive.  There's certainly enough information on the topic for a full book, but I felt like the author focused on certain aspects repeatedly rather than presenting the full spectrum (I would have loved to have seen some discussion of women who are doxxed, trolled, harassed, and threatened online).  Much talk was given over to youth culture and how women in college and girls in high school are slut shamed, but I think the same pressures also apply to adult women and would have been interested in more on that aspect.

This one is definitely worth your time.  I read it over the course of a week or two and found that a chapter a night made for good pacing.  It could also be read in one sitting as it avoids being overly academic in tone.  The frequent quotes from girls who have experienced slut shaming were moving and kept my interest.

Thank you to Harper Perennial for providing me with a copy to review.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Lenten Reading

This year for Lent, I've determined that rather than giving something up, I'm going to add something to my daily habits.  I spend quite a bit of time each day reading for pleasure, but for the course of Lent I plan to devote an hour of each day to reading Scripture and Christian literature.  I've come up with a stack of books that I hope to work my way through during that hour (at least) of each day that will be spent in study and reflection.  Here's what I'll be reading:

And a few via NetGalley:

Obviously, that's quite a bit of reading, so I'm not sure I'll get through all of it - and I'm still open to adding other options to the list.  Any great suggestions?

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Book Review: Welcome to Braggsville by T. Geronimo Johnson

From Goodreads:
Born and raised in the heart of old Dixie, D'aron Davenport finds himself in unfamiliar territory his freshman year at UC Berkeley. Two thousand miles and a world away from his childhood, he is a small-town fish floundering in the depths of a large, hyper-liberal pond. Caught between the prosaic values of his rural hometown and the intellectualized multicultural cosmopolitanism of Berzerkeley, the nineteen-year-old white kid is uncertain about his place until one disastrous party brings him three idiosyncratic best friends: Louis, a "kung-fu comedian" from California; Candice, an earnest do-gooder claiming Native roots from Iowa; and Charlie, an introspective inner-city black teen from Chicago. They dub themselves the "4 Little Indians."

But everything changes in the group's alternative history class, when D'aron lets slip that his hometown hosts an annual Civil War reenactment, recently rebranded "Patriot Days." His announcement is met with righteous indignation, and inspires Candice to suggest a "performative intervention" to protest the reenactment. Armed with youthful self-importance, makeshift slave costumes, righteous zeal, and their own misguided ideas about the South, the 4 Little Indians descend on Braggsville. Their journey through backwoods churches, backroom politics, Waffle Houses, and drunken family barbecues is uproarious to start, but will have devastating consequences.
First of all, I have to say that I loved this book and pretty much everything about it.  I think it's hilarious, dark, and as good a commentary on the present-day South as I've ever read.  Johnson perfectly captures what it means to be a member of my generation in the rural South.  More about that in a minute.  Here, I want to address the writing style, which I think may turn off some readers.  Johnson uses a very stream of consciousness style and deliberately omits punctuation, including dialogue markers.  I'll admit that it took me a while to get into the book because I had to accustom myself to the style and it certainly made reading it more difficult.  Once I was into the story, though, I found it easier to navigate and not as detrimental to holding my focus.  I'm torn between how much I loved the book and the literary value I think it held and my desire to call this kind of technique a literary device.  In this case, I'm giving it to the author as an homage to great works of Southern fiction by authors like Faulkner and saying that it works well for both the setting and the narrator.

Entertainment Value
I truly fell in love with the book when I realized how accurately it depicts life in the South - both the positives and negatives - and the ways in which my generation differs from the generations of our parents and grandparents.  I worried that Johnson would paint a stereotyped portrait of the ignorant, racist South, but that's a far cry from what is actually in the book.  It's true that the South's issues - racism, distrust of academia, clannishness - are all examined in the book.  But in a balanced way that also skewers the PC culture that looks down on the South.  My favorite aspect of the examination of Southern culture was the dichotomy that D'aron faces in knowing his parents and family to be good, loving people, but also being ashamed at times of their casual attitudes towards racism and culture.

This is an amazing piece of Southern fiction that skewers all cultural extremes and highlights the race and generation issues still facing the South, while maintaining a great amount of respect for its people.  I can't say enough good things about the author's amazingly dark sense of humor and the depth of his cultural analysis, without sacrificing the telling of a great story.  I highly recommend this to all fans of Southern literature as well as to those interested in the dynamics of the modern South or fans of dark humor.  My one word of caution is to those who are put off by writing that can at times come across as gimicky, with the lack of dialogue tags and steam of consciousness style.

Thanks to TLC for allowing me to participate in the book tour for this amazing work!