Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Book Review: The Last Romantics by Tara Conklin

The Last Romantics

When the renowned poet Fiona Skinner is asked about the inspiration behind her iconic work, The Love Poem, she tells her audience a story about her family and a betrayal that reverberates through time. 
It begins in a big yellow house with a funeral, an iron poker, and a brief variation forever known as the Pause: a free and feral summer in a middle-class Connecticut town. Caught between the predictable life they once led and an uncertain future that stretches before them, the Skinner siblings—fierce Renee, sensitive Caroline, golden boy Joe and watchful Fiona—emerge from the Pause staunchly loyal and deeply connected.  Two decades later, the siblings find themselves once again confronted with a family crisis that tests the strength of these bonds and forces them to question the life choices they’ve made and ask what, exactly, they will do for love. 
I discovered this one through Modern Mrs. Darcy's Summer Reading Guide, which I highly recommend you check out if you're looking for a good summer read. I spent the first half of the year in a pretty serious book slump, and reading through the Summer Reading Guide list has gotten me back on track with some really enjoyable fiction reads.

Beautifully done. I'm typically a plot-driven reader, but after reading one like this with amazing characterization, I'm wondering if I had just been choosing the wrong books. Between this one and Pillars of the Earth, I am becoming more and more convinced that character-driven could also be for me. These characters are stunningly drawn and I cared deeply about each of them, despite their flaws.

Entertainment Value
There is a plot to follow here, despite the character-driven nature of the story, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Anything about siblings appeals to me, probably because I adore my own siblings so much. These siblings are so relatable in their messiness, fights, and ultimate love for each other.

This one is definitely a must read for the summer. The significance of The Pause for the characters and the summertime setting of The Pause serve to make the books truly atmospheric, particularly on a hot summer day.

Thanks to my local library for providing me with a copy of this one.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Book Review: Text Me When You Get Home by Kayleen Schaefer

Text Me When You Get Home: The Evolution and Triumph of Modern Female Friendship

A personal and sociological examination--and ultimately a celebration--of the evolution of female friendship in pop culture and modern society
For too long, women have been told that we are terrible at being friends, that we can't help being cruel or competitive, or that we inevitably abandon each other for romantic partners. But we are rejecting those stereotypes and reclaiming the power of female friendship.
In Text Me When You Get Home, journalist Kayleen Schaefer interviews more than one hundred women about their BFFs, soulmates, girl gangs, and queens while tracing this cultural shift through the lens of pop culture. Our love for each other is reflected in Abbi and Ilana, Issa and Molly, #squadgoals, the acclaim of Girls Trip and Big Little Lies, and Galentine's Day.
Schaefer also includes her own history of grappling with a world that told her to rely on men before she realized that her true source of support came from a strong tribe of women. Her personal narrative and celebration of her own relationships weaves throughout the evolution of female friendship on-screen, a serious look at how women have come to value one another and our relationships.
Text Me When You Get Home is a validation that has never existed before. A thoughtful, heart-soaring, deeply reported look at how women are taking a stand for their friendships and not letting go. 
I had no issues with the writing, but I also wasn't highly impressed by it. For the most part it was an engaging and easy read, but I didn't always enjoy the author's voice or identify with her perspective. A lot of this book focuses on pop culture, which was less interesting to me than the less elaborated personal stories and sociological information presented on the value of female friendships.

Entertainment Value
I had very high hopes for this book and to be honest it did let me down a bit. I wanted this to be an examination of women's friendships in real life and this focused more on pop culture and the author's own experiences, which were very different than my own. I grew up in a home where my mother had many female friends and where I was taught the value of female friendships. A lot of what the author had to say about prioritizing relationships with men over women was just not what I've experienced in life. It made it hard for me to connect with the author and her point of view.

While this is a good book on female friendship, particularly as it's displayed in movies and on television, it wasn't the book I was hoping for. It took me quite a while to read it, as I didn't find it particularly compelling. It was, however, an easy read, and one I'd be likely to recommend to someone looking for an examination of female friendships in relation to pop culture.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Book Review: Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

The Pillars of the Earth (Kingsbridge, #1)

Ken Follett is known worldwide as the master of split-second suspense, but his most beloved and bestselling book tells the magnificent tale of a twelfth-century monk driven to do the seemingly impossible: build the greatest Gothic cathedral the world has ever known.

Ok so there's a much more detailed description of the book that you can get if you click on the Goodreads link, but I'm just putting what I knew about the book going into it here, because I think that's the best way to do it. Middle Ages people building a cathedral plus political and religious intrigue and suspense. That's really all you need to know.

This is my first Ken Follett, but it definitely won't be my last. I was very pleased with the writing, particularly the depth that went into creating the characters and their stories. There's a lot of architectural detail and, I'm not going to lie, at a certain point I started skimming that. I knew I wouldn't be able to visualize it without in depth research and architecture is just not my thing. That said, the real treasure of the book is found in its characters and their interactions with each other. While the plot is certainly important (and not slowly paced), the characters just shine so bright it's hard to focus on anything else.

Entertainment Value
This goes on the "couldn't put it down" list for me. I read it for hours on end - and it'll take hours on end because it's approximately 1000 pages long. As long as it is, I never once felt like it needed to be cut short in any way. Even the lengthy descriptions of architecture (that I somewhat skimmed) felt like they belonged in the story. The only time I felt compelled to put it down was when I was too physically tense to keep reading or when I was crying too hard to see the pages.

Yes, yes, yes. Read this book. I'd give it a comparison to Game of Thrones in setting, characterization, and intrigue, but sans dragons and magic. You'll be seeing this on my best of the year list for absolute sure. I've got the next one already lined up on my Kindle waiting to be read!

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Book Review: I'm Judging You by Luvvie Ajayi

I'm Judging You: The Do-Better Manual

I'm Judging You is her (Luvvie Ajayi's) debut book of humorous essays that dissects our cultural obsessions and calls out bad behavior in our increasingly digital, connected lives—from the cultural importance of the newest Shonda Rhimes television drama to serious discussions of race and media representation to what to do about your fool cousin sharing casket pictures from Grandma's wake on Facebook. With a lighthearted, rapier wit and a unique perspective, I'm Judging You is the handbook the world needs, doling out the hard truths and a road map for bringing some "act right" into our lives, social media, and popular culture.
While I enjoyed Ajayi's writing, my chief observation is that it reads more like a selection of blog posts or lengthy Facebook posts than it does a cohesive essay collection. Knowing that Ajayi is an internet personality, I can certainly see that style reflected in her writing.  This isn't necessarily a negative thing - I quite enjoyed the book - but I wasn't particularly overwhelmed with her writing style. It felt very similar in style and tone to what other current events/pop culture bloggers offer.

Entertainment Value
This is where Ajayi's writing shines - she's quite funny and I particularly enjoyed her more light-hearted essays. While they were my favorite, I also feel like I learned something from her take on issues like the need for a more inclusive feminism and other issues of racism occurring in our nation. As always, some essays were better than others, but there are none that I found to be less than entertaining.

I think Ajayi's style is probably best suited for an internet audience. While I'm likely to follow her on Twitter (or would be if I used Twitter) I'm probably not likely to pick up another book authored by her. While I was entertained (and informed) by this one, it wasn't enough to motivate me to spend another 350 pages with the author. Not great, not bad, this one was pretty firmly middle of the road for me.

*I read my own personal copy of this one, in case anyone is curious about where I get my books from*

Monday, June 3, 2019

What I Read in May

While I didn't get just a ton read in the month, I did get to travel to Ohio for the Nowhere Else festival and see some of my favorite bands and favorite people. I was also quite busy moving the library where I work from one building to another, brand new building. I'm so pleased with my new space, but it took a lot of work to get it all set up and we still have some ways to go. So that's what kept me busy in May - now for the good stuff! I read:

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
Sea of Strangers by Lang Leav
An Elderly Lady Is Up to No Good by Helene Tursten
Tasting Grace by Melissa d'Arabian
You Can't Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson
The Handmaid's Tale: The Graphic Novel by Renee Nault
Loving My Actual Neighbor by Alexandra Kuykendall
The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth
Outer Order, Inner Calm by Gretchen Rubin

Highlights were The Handmaid's Tale and You Can't Touch My Hair, although Outer Order, Inner Calm has given me some motivation to get things clean and orderly around the house.

What did you read in May?

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Book Review: Women Talking by Miriam Toews

Women Talking
One evening, eight Mennonite women climb into a hay loft to conduct a secret meeting. For the past two years, each of these women, and more than a hundred other girls in their colony, has been repeatedly violated in the night by demons coming to punish them for their sins. Now that the women have learned they were in fact drugged and attacked by a group of men from their own community, they are determined to protect themselves and their daughters from future harm.

While the men of the colony are off in the city, attempting to raise enough money to bail out the rapists and bring them home, these women—all illiterate, without any knowledge of the world outside their community and unable even to speak the language of the country they live in—have very little time to make a choice: Should they stay in the only world they’ve ever known or should they dare to escape?
I really appreciate Toews style choices in this book.  It's told as meeting minutes taken by the only man left in the colony (and the only one who knows how to write), who is also somewhat of an outsider.  I really enjoy stories that are told in an unconventional manner, so the minutes format appealed to me from the beginning and I think Toews was very successful in its use.  I enjoyed all of the characters, although I feel like characterization was secondary to the philosophical side of the book. 

Entertainment Value
This isn't really a character-driven or plot-driven novel, so if you're looking for one of those things, you'll probably find it slow.  It is, as it says, made up only of women talking.  We're listening in on their discussion of how to proceed given their horrific circumstances, which leads them to discuss what I think is the best part of the book - a very philosophical look at the nature of forgiveness and the responsibility for protecting oneself and one's children.  Toews addresses these big ideas from a religious standpoint, which is something that I don't think we see often in any writing and which I really enjoyed. Being put in the place of the women who are struggling to decide how to proceed really highlighted the ethical and moral dilemma (not to mention the practical dilemma) of how to protect themselves in a patriarchal colony where women have very little voice.

I ate this book up.  I think I read it in two sittings. It's not that it's a page turner in terms of plot, but I was just fascinated by the author's take on a very conservative and patriarchal religious sect in an extreme situation and the ethical side of the women's dilemma. If you're interested in religion or the topic of forgiveness or philosophical novels, this is one you must read.

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

What I Read in February

I'm late posting this, but I'm trying to be more relaxed about the blogging thing right now, so I'm not going to stress over it too much.  Instead I'll just give you the rundown of what I read in February, which felt like it lasted about three whole minutes.

In February I read:

Art Matters by Neil Gaiman
Wundersmith by Jessica Townsend
The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein
Fiercehearted by Holley Gerth
The Cuckcoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith
A Woman's Battle for Grace by Cheryl Brodersen
The Unwanted by Don Brown
The Mental Load by Emma
Hey Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krasoczka
Why Art by Eleanor Davis

The two big standouts for me were Wundersmith and The Cuckcoo's Calling, which are both reviewed on here.  The others were generally pretty average across the board, nothing stood out as spectacular or particularly bad, which makes it hard to post reviews. I'm reading a couple right now that I'm really enjoying and plan to review in the near future though!