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 An unpublished book on your TBR that you're excited for: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!

Monday, February 16, 2015

Book Review: I Want to Show You More by Jamie Quatro

From Goodreads:
The hypnotically intimate, urgent stories in I Want to Show You More are about lives stretched between spirituality and sexuality in the New American South. In narrative modes ranging from the traditional to the fabulist, these stories are interconnected explorations of God, illicit sex, raising children—and running. Jamie Quatro’s stories confront us with dark theological complexities, fractured marriages, and mercurial temptations: a wife comes home with her husband to find her lover’s corpse in their bed; a teenager attends a Bible Camp where he seduces a young cancer survivor with hopes of curing his own rare condition; marathon runners on a Civil War battlefield must carry phallic statues and are punished if they choose to unload their burdens; a girl’s embarrassment over attending a pool party with her quadriplegic mother turns to fierce devotion under the pitying gaze of other guests; and a husband asks his wife to show him how she would make love to another man.

I Want to Show You More unleashes Quatro’s exhilarating talent for exposing the quiet terrors of modern life with stunning and subversive energy.
It's complete serendipity that I stumbled across this work.  I actually purchased it for my brother as a Christmas gift just because I had seen it mentioned on Book Riot and it was the only book I recognized from his list (IE: the only non-poetry book).  When it came I was thrilled to find that not only was it signed (thanks Amazon!) but also set where I live.  It ranges from my tiny Southern town to my parents' tiny Southern town to the big city of Chattanooga, but almost every single story is set in a locale I not only recognize but frequent on a regular basis.  So in the few days before I gave him the gift, I frantically read it myself and I'm so glad that I did.

The writing is just gorgeous.  If I had to compare it to another author, I'd say a very feminine George Saunders.  And by feminine, I don't mean that it's intended for women, I just mean that it's focused on relationships and the home, as opposed to the cultural commentary of Saunders.  I particularly thought the connected stories chronicling the end of a marriage were beautifully done.  My favorite by far was the story of a woman who is forced to share her bed with her husband - and the decomposing body of her lover.  It's just gorgeous writing, and the setting has been captured so perfectly it's obvious that Quatro is a local.

Entertainment Value
Again, a huge part of my love for this collection is the fact that the author has captured the setting and the gorgeous Lookout Valley area so perfectly.  In addition to having the setting down pat, Quatro also captures what I think is the essence of the South and Southern literature with her allusions to religious and sexual complexities and complicated family relationships.  I absolutely devoured it, but it left me wanting and needing a second read to really grasp all the complexities of the book.  I can't wait to get a copy on my own shelf and to reread it slowly and closely.

I can't recommend this collection more highly, particularly to fans of Southern literature, family dynamics, or short stories.  And if you live in or are familiar with the area, even more reason to grab a copy.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentine's Day Comics Bonus: Alone Forever by Liz Prince

From Goodreads:
Liz Prince, author of the world's cutest relationship comic, "Will You Still Love Me If I Wet the Bed?," returns with a new comic about being - gasp! - SINGLE. Finally bringing her popular webcomic to printed form, Alone Forever explores the joys of flying solo, free to focus on what really matters: comics, punk rock, and cute boys with beards. Drawn in Liz Prince's ultra-charming style, filled with self-deprecation and cats, there's something for everyone to relate to in this celebration of self-reliance in the age of OkCupid.
I review web comic collections on here as often as I'm able, and was thrilled to see this Liz Prince collection show up on NetGalley.  I haven't had the chance to read her most well known work, Tomboy yet (still bitter about the holds policy at GA Pines libraries that requires me to wait six months before putting a new release on hold), but it looks right up my alley.  I considered this a chance for a little preview and it certainly made me anxious to read more.

If you've ever felt unlucky in love, you'll identify with this collection of cartoons about single life, breakups, and rejection.  It sounds a bit depressing, but honestly Prince's sense of humor makes this absolutely delightful to read.  It's one I'll be on the lookout for to add to my print collection and one that I'd recommend to everyone.  The experiences Prince writes about are universal enough that anyone can identify with her romantic struggles.

And just in case you're looking for something a little bit more romantic for Valentine's Day, don't forget the web comic collection Soppy that I recommended back in November.  It's less funny and more adorable and focuses on the nicer side of romantic relationships.    

Thanks to NetGalley for providing me with a copy of Alone Forever to review.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Comics Friday: Strong Female Protagonist by Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag

From Goodreads:
With superstrength and invulnerability, Alison Green used to be one of the most powerful superheroes around. 

Fighting crime with other teenagers under the alter ego Mega Girl was fun - until an encounter with Menace, her mind-reading arch enemy, showed her evidence of a sinister conspiracy, and suddenly battling giant robots didn't seem so important. 

Now Alison is going to college and trying to find ways to help the world while still getting to class on time. It's impossible to escape the past, however, and everyone has their own idea of what it means to be a hero.... 

After a phenomenal success on Kickstarter, Brennan Lee Mulligan and Molly Ostertag bring their popular webcomic into print, collecting the first four issues, as well as some all-new, full-color pages!
This started as a web comic and had a successful Kickstarter campaign to become a printed comic.  I'm thrilled that it worked out because I doubt I would have discovered it on my own without it being in print.  I love web comics but I don't spend much time perusing them, so I hadn't heart of this one until the Kickstarter campaign.

First of all, I love the idea of a female super hero who is just trying to be a normal girl.  I love all of the thought that goes into her meditations on what super heroes do for culture as a whole, their effect on the world, and the ethics of being lionized by the public for something that you can't control.

I also particularly enjoyed the notes on each page from the artist and author that give a bit of meta-commentary on what's happening on the page.  It reads fast and doesn't have so much philosophizing that the story is dragged down but not so little that there's no depth.  It's really just perfect and I think a great, fresh take on the whole super hero genre.

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

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Drop Caps Challenge: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

The original idea for the Drop Caps Challenge came from Jacki (We Still Read) after she finished the Presidential Challenge and needed something new.  When she discovered this gorgeous set of classics from Penguin, one book for each letter of the alphabet, I knew I had to join in.  Over the next 26 months, I'll be purchasing and reading one book each month, starting with A and going to Z.  And when I'm done, I'll have a better grip on the classics AND a gorgeous rainbow display of books to put on top of my bedroom bookcases.  That meant, for the month of January, I read Jane Austen's classic novel Pride and Prejudice.

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."

So begins Pride and Prejudice, Jane Austen's witty comedy of manners--one of the most popular novels of all time--that features splendidly civilized sparring between the proud Mr. Darcy and the prejudiced Elizabeth Bennet as they play out their spirited courtship in a series of eighteenth-century drawing-room intrigues.
So I feel like there are two aspects to the writing here.  The historical component and the actual quality of the writing itself.  I completely respect this book for what it is historically - the first work of women's fiction.  It's certainly significant for its depiction of women having agency and making choices about their own lives, both good and bad.  The fact that Elizabeth Bennet doesn't wait around for a man and is able to match Mr. Darcy in wit is a big deal for women in literary history.  So the book certainly deserves credit for portraying women in a new way and as a progenitor of the entire genre of chick lit.  

That said, I have to admit that I found the actual quality of the writing to be mediocre.  There's an extraordinary amount of telling instead of showing and huge lapses in sequencing.  The characters don't seem to have concrete motives and don't always act within character. For example, Elizabeth spends three quarters of the book hating Darcy with every fiber of her being, but upon hearing a housekeeper remark that he's a good employer and seeing a particularly handsome picture of him, her mind changes almost instantly.  Which leads me to the entertainment value...

Entertainment Value
I thought this book would never end.  I had to assign myself a certain number of pages each night in order to get through it.  I hated every single character but Mr. Bennett, including Lizzie and Darcy.  It's just so shallow.  And I think we're supposed to see how Darcy and Lizzie are above the social schemings, but they aren't really.  Elizabeth bases most of her trust in various men on how attractive they are and Darcy is just a jerk through the entirety.  I was thoroughly unimpressed with any of them and didn't find it romantic in the least.

I've read a lot of chick lit in the past and, while this deserves credit for being the first and inspiring the genre, it doesn't rise above any other chick lit I've read on any merit other than being the first.  The characters are shallow, their romance wasn't believable, and I ultimately didn't care if they wound up together or not.  I have wondered if having read so much chick lit in my college days influenced my reading of this classic - if having an already established idea of the genre made this work less impressive since it's a story I feel like I've read a thousand times in a thousand different ways.  The edition is gorgeous and will look beautiful on my shelf, but I doubt I'll be getting it down for a reread at any point. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Happy Book Birthday to Reveille by George David Clark

From Goodreads:
In Reveille a man suffers fits of supernatural coughing, flytraps attack a child, a moray haunts a waterbed, and the prodigal son stalks his local brothel in a pair of lionhide pajamas. These poems survey their host of holy objects and exotic creatures the way one might the emblems in a dream: curious of their meanings but reluctant to interpret them and simplify their mystery. Theologically playful, rhetorically sophisticated, and formally ambitious, Reveille is rooted in awe and driven by the impulse to praise. At heart, these are love poems, though their loves are varied and complicated by terrible threats: that we will cry out and not be answered, fall asleep and never wake. Against such jeopardy Reveille fixes our attention on a lightening horizon.
You're all probably aware, particularly if you've followed this blog for a while, that poetry isn't one of my go-to genres.  It's something I read once or twice a year at most.  But I absolutely cannot let the opportunity pass for me to brag on my big brother whose Miller Prize winning book of poetry, Reveille, comes out today from University of Arkansas press. I haven't read the book in its entirety yet, but I expect to as soon as my copy shows up (Amazon promises I'll have it in my hot little hands by 8 PM tomorrow night).  That said, I did have the chance to look over a copy of the ARC when I visited and I'll link at the end to two of my favorite poems, both of which appear in the book.

I am SO proud to be related to such a creative genius and cannot wait to see what his career brings next (although everyone cross your fingers that it's something in the South).  For those of you who aren't part of the poetry world, the Miller Williams Prize is a pretty big deal and well-deserved in this case.  I'm going to link the two poems below, but also to his website and his readings.  If you're in an area where he'll be reading, I highly recommend you check it out - and if you do, tell him I sent you so I can get sister credit!

David's website

When and where he'll be appearing

And my personal favorite poems:


Reveille with Lullabies

Monday, February 9, 2015

Book Review: The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

From Goodreads:
It begins with Peter, a devoted man of faith, as he is called to the mission of a lifetime, one that takes him galaxies away from his wife, Bea. Peter becomes immersed in the mysteries of an astonishing new environment, overseen by an enigmatic corporation known only as USIC. His work introduces him to a seemingly friendly native population struggling with a dangerous illness and hungry for Peter’s teachings—his Bible is their “book of strange new things.” But Peter is rattled when Bea’s letters from home become increasingly desperate: typhoons and earthquakes are devastating whole countries, and governments are crumbling. Bea’s faith, once the guiding light of their lives, begins to falter. 

Suddenly, a separation measured by an otherworldly distance, and defined both by one newly discovered world and another in a state of collapse, is threatened by an ever-widening gulf that is much less quantifiable. While Peter is reconciling the needs of his congregation with the desires of his strange employer, Bea is struggling for survival. Their trials lay bare a profound meditation on faith, love tested beyond endurance, and our responsibility to those closest to us. 
It's only February, but I'm going to be hard pressed to find a book with better writing this year.  It has Julie's favorite book of 2015 written all over it.  Literary?  Very.  But also?  Science fiction.  And the end of planet Earth as we know it.  And Christianity.  Basically all of the things that I find most interesting.  I'm kind of astonished that it hasn't won all of the awards available to win because it is just stunning.  It's not fast-paced, despite the science fiction/apocalypse elements that are there.  It's much more about characters, emotions, and relationships than it is about plot.  But it's done so beautifully that you won't be bored for a moment - I couldn't stop reading once I got started.

Entertainment Value
Again, I found it hard to put down.  Between Bea's experiences on Earth, as they are related to Peter in emails, and Peter's own experiences with the Oasans, the book is packed full of characterization and an exploration of faith across multiple dimensions.  As a Christian, I found the author's depiction of Christianity refreshingly respectful, even as it tackles the hard realities of life that can cause a person to lose their faith.  The spiritual issues tackled in the book range from how a marriage is affected as one partner loses his or her faith to how Christianity would function on a planet that had never seen an incarnate Christ.

While I found the book to be astonishingly spiritually relevant to my own life and while I felt like I had a very spiritual experience while reading it, I don't think readers should limit themselves by avoiding it because of the religious aspect.  The author himself is an atheist and, although he portrays religion sympathetically, he also acknowledges the problems faced by those who don't belief or who lose their beliefs.  And Peter and Bea's relationship, as it evolves, is something that anyone who has ever deeply loved another person will identify with.

In short, you must read this book immediately.  And then call me to discuss it.  Or text me or send smoke signals or whatever.  It's absolutely amazing and worth the time and effort it takes to read something a bit more heavy on the literary and light on the action.  If nothing else, read it to appreciate beautiful writing.

A major thank you to NetGalley for providing me with a copy to review.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

What I Read in January 2015

New Year, new image for my What I Read posts!  January was a busy month, but lots of fun.  I marked some pretty big milestones last month: I turned 31 and reached the ten year mark for my relationship with Luke.  This year will be our seven year marriage anniversary, but we started dating ten years ago.  I'm having so much fun reminiscing about our first year together ten years ago and how we've changed since then.  Some other fun things: we had a brand new front door and storm door installed as a Christmas gift, thanks to my mother-in-law; I reorganized my book cases; and solidified plans for a weekend away with my BFFs.

I also had a great reading month in January:

Compassion Without Compromise by Adam T. Barr, Ron Citlau, and Kevin DeYoung
Humans of New York by Brandon Stanton
The Art of Comforting by Val Walker
Is God A Moral Monster? by Paul Copan
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Three Story House by Courtney Miller Santo

Books read in January: 17
Pages read in January: 5144

What did you read in January?


Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Book Review: A Pleasure and a Calling by Phil Hogan

From Goodreads:
You won't remember Mr Heming. He showed you round your comfortable home, suggested a sustainable financial package, negotiated a price with the owner and called you with the good news. The less good news is that, all these years later, he still has the key. 
That's absurd, you laugh. Of all the many hundreds of houses he has sold, why would he still have the key to mine? 
The answer to that is, he has the keys to them all. 
William Heming's every pleasure is in his leafy community. He loves and knows every inch of it, feels nurtured by it, and would defend it - perhaps not with his life but if it came to it, with yours...
For me, this book was all about the character of Mr. Heming and the slow unraveling and reveal of who and what he really is.  The plot is also excellent and certainly entertaining, but I fell in love with the Mr. Heming and his persona.  Mr, Heming is the narrator of his own story and he is every bit the British gentleman.  He is incredibly intelligent, quite witty, very sophisticated, and charming.  Also he's a total psychopath.  The tone reminded me a lot of Dexter if Dexter were a British gentleman.  Heming is funny and fun to listen to and you find yourself feeling very sympathetic to his character, despite the very creepy things he's not at all shy about sharing with the reader.  I was both utterly charmed and thoroughly creeped out, which turned out to be a winning combination in terms of my enjoyment.

Entertainment Value
I compared Mr. Heming to Dexter in terms of his personality and voice, but the book itself doesn't have the same pace or gore of the Dexter series.  Because Mr. Heming is so proper and such a gentleman, he doesn't go too deeply into the description of the horrible things he's done, which perfectly fits his character.  It also tends to move a bit slower, although that doesn't mean it was boring by any stretch.  I brought it home from work to finish because I couldn't face the prospect of waiting all weekend to find out what would happen.

I'm really impressed with how Hogan managed to be completely disturbing and unsettling without using any of the typical thriller cliches for pacing.  There's no sex, no gore, and few instances of profanity.  Instead, we're given the perfectly calm and logical musings of a crazy person who just so happens to be particularly charming and winsome.  And, occasionally, violent.  I found the overall effect to be both delightful and deliciously creepy and disturbing.  In the end, it made me glad we recently changed our locks.

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

Monday, February 2, 2015

Book Review: Wise Craft by Blair Stocker

Since this one is a craft book, I'm not giving it my usual review format, I'm just going to cover the basics of the book and why, in my opinion, it does not succeed on any level.  Have I given away my thoughts too soon?  Maybe so, but as you will see in the next paragraph or two, I did not like this book.

I'll start by mentioning another book that this, unfortunately, reminded me of.  Are any of you familiar with Amy Sedaris?  She's a humorist/comic who wrote two satirical books about housekeeping and crafting.
I've read both and they're pretty clever books based around the mockery of Pintrest culture, where everything is homemade and we're all expected to turn pinecones into crafts and prepare eleven course meals on a regular basis.  

Why am I bringing up this book?  Because I checked several times to see if Wise Craft was also supposed to be funny.  It's not.  Unfortunately the ideas in it are kind of horrible, but in a non-ironic way.  One idea for a homemade gift, I kid you not, is to take a rock and use hot glue to cover it with a leather scrap.  Then give it to a friend to use as a paperweight.  If I ever really, really don't like you, maybe I'll give you a scrap covered rock as a gift.  Otherwise, I'm going to go ahead and not.

My point is, the crafts in this book are ridiculous.  They're either over the top difficult with little direction (I can't make a quilt with only a caption describing how it's made) or they're dumb and tacky.  I've said it a billion times regarding Pintrest and I'll say it again about this book: you can make anything look nice with the right lighting and expensive camera.  But in real life, without filters and photoshop and professional lighting, your leather covered rock isn't going to look fancy and rustic and expensive.  It's going to look like you hot-glued scraps to a rock.  

I do have to say that I think the book is nicely formatted and the quality of the photographs is definitely a plus.  That said, the book is of little practical value because no one is going to want to make half of the projects in it or be able to make the other half.  It's disappointing since I checked out the author's blog and saw several great, creative, interesting projects.  It's unfortunate that those didn't make it into the book.