Monday, February 17, 2020

Reading Should Make Me Happy

Photo Credit: Anna

I think I mentioned a couple weeks ago that January is a hard month. One reason it is hard is that I pick out a couple reading challenges, plan what I am going to read for them, and then stress myself out that I am not reading quickly enough.

Right around the turn of the year, I picked up a book that had been on my TBR list for awhile. I checked it out of the library with a couple other books. I read a few pages and renewed it with the idea of finishing it in those 2 weeks. Those 2 weeks were coming to an end and I had progressed from 10% done to about 40% done. I was beating myself up that I hadn't finished the book yet. It was a good book. I was enjoying it, but it was a bit emotional and I didn't want to overwhelm myself with emotion. So I kept choosing other books instead of that one. Mostly I was choosing cozy mysteries. Those are fun and mostly formulaic. It isn't really emotional. It is just a light, fun read.

But shouldn't I be a serious reader and read serious books? What does it say about me if all I do is read cozy mysteries? Shouldn't I finish books that I start?

No I don't have to finish what I start. I can also take a break on a book if it is the wrong time. I can come back to it later. I can read serious books and fun books. My reading speed and choice of reading don't say anything about me as a person. So I took a break on the serious book and read cozies. It made me happy and that's what reading is for.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Top 20 Reads of the Decade

This does not include books from 2019 because last week I published my top 10 list. Maybe next year I can look back and see if any of those top 10 make it to this top 20 list. Most of these are books that made me see the world or the people in the world differently. I feel like in last decade I gained a lot of compassion and mercy for the people in the world. Several of these books helped me get there. Some of the books on this list introduced me to a new genre that I didn't know about. I also broadened the type of books that I read this past decade as well. So I think these are a good summary of what I learned in 10 years. They also make me smile remembering the experience of reading them.

1. Death of the Modern Superhero by Chris Lautsbaugh. This one taught me compassion and mercy toward myself.
2. Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds. This one taught me compassion and mercy toward kids who live in under-served and dangerous neighborhoods, kids who make bad decisions and maybe they don't have to live with it forever.
3. Bread of Angels: A Memoir of Love and Faith by Stephanie Saldana. This one taught me compassion and awe for Syrian people.
4. In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil W. White III. This one taught me compassion for those suffering with horrible diseases.
5. Greenglass House by Kate Milford. I felt for adoptees and learned to love juvenile fantasy, especially Nagspeake. It might be my favorite fantasy location.
6. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain. This taught me compassion for myself and other introverts. It also gave me permission to fight for what works with my introversion.
7. The Dead House by Dawn Kurtagich. This one introduced me to books with non-traditional formatting as well as those with Disociative Identity Disorder.
8. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. This one reminded me that beauty is its own excuse for being. I can enjoy it without a bunch of plot action.
9. Sourdough by Robin Sloan. I didn't think I liked this one that much when I read it the first time, but I just keep thinking about it. I like quirky novels that play with how much of this is true stuff that has happened.
10. Finishing School Series by Gail Carriger. With these books, I learned that I love steampunk and alternate history.
11. A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay. This is another book with non-traditional formatting, but it also makes you ask what is contrived and what is paranormal. I like books that make you ask that.
12. Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeline L'Engle. This one taught me to keep writing and not worry so much.
13. One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. I learned that I like magical realism and sometimes I even like crazy families.
14. The Book Thief by Markus Zuzak. It gave me an idea of what World War II might look like from the "other" side.
15. The Hobbit, or There and Back Again by J. R. R. Tolkien. I learned that I do enjoy high fantasy sometimes.
16. The River Immortals Series by Erin Keyser Horn. It reinforced the idea that our waterways are important and sometimes YA romance isn't so bad. OH and independently published books are good.
17. The Miracles of Santo Fico by D. L. Smith. I like Italy as a setting and the story of a village.
18. A Little Salty to Cut the Sweet: Southern Stories of Faith, Family, and Fifteen Pounds of Bacon by Sophie Hudson. Funny books are good and other people have a sense of humor like I do.
19. Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good: A Memoir of Food and Love from an American Family by Kathleen Flinn. The Midwest is a pretty great place and I'm glad that I grew up there.
20. All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich María Remarque. This novel made me see the horrors of war and what it was like on the "other" side.

What are books that make you smile when you think of reading them?

Monday, February 3, 2020

January, behave yourself!

Photo Credit: Joe Lanman

January was unseasonably hot. That sounds like a good thing, but I'm not so convinced. The middle of January was especially warm and then we had a cold weekend. I was so happy to feel the cold outside and put my hoodie on when I got home from work. I liked wrapping up in the blanket and watching life go by our front window. Until it got cold, I hadn't realized how much I missed the cold in January.

I wondered why I had missed the cold. Maybe because January is hard month. I make a new year's resolution and pick out a couple reading challenges. I have a whole year to work on these, but I start feeling like I need to finish it in a month. That is unrealistic and I have talk myself out of that multiple times in a month. We have a low key Christmas, so we don't have credit card bills coming in. However with Christmas break, we do have to make the check go a couple weeks farther. That stresses me out too. There might be more reasons, but those are the ones I can pinpoint right now. January is a hard month.

So when January is hard and then it isn't going like I expected. I didn't like it. I wanted to cuddle up with blankets and hoodies. I wanted to drink hot chocolate. When it is too hot, I can't do any of that. So when January started behaving appropriately, I felt a whole lot better. Then we hit February and it is hot all over again!

Monday, January 27, 2020

Top 10 Reads of 2019

1. The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle
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This is a murder mystery, but so much more!! The narrator switches to a different body everyday and has to solve the mystery after 7 days. So by the end of the book all the crazy things that happen make sense. The narrator solves the mystery and even that has a twist to it. This is one of the best mysteries I have ever read. Amazing!

2. The Left-Handed Fate by Kate Milford
The Left-Handed Fate
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This is another book in the universe of Nagspeake. So of course I am in love with it. There is loss and pain and friendship and love. Lucy is on a mission to help find a thing that will save the world from Napoleon, but the Americans get in the way. So then Lucy has to serve a 12 year old commander on her ship! Not to mention the mysterious men in black that are following them. The set up is crazy and I expected to be skeptical of it, but I am so in love with these characters and Nagspeake that I will enjoy anything in this world. The emotion that this book evoked in me moved this book up to #2.

3. Light from Distant Stars by Shawn Smucker
Light from Distant Stars
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Magical realism is something that I am picky about. I often enjoy it when I read it, but I don't seek it out. Unless that magical realism is written by Shawn Smucker. I enjoyed his 2 YA novels, but this adult fiction book is a new love. The first line might make you think it is a mystery novel, but it isn't. It is a novel about family and who we are. We switch back and forth in time to discover who Cohen is and who he was and how he feels about that. That may not sound amazing, but it is. We get way down deep in Cohen's heart and that is a good place to be.

4. An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris
An Easy Death (Gunnie Rose, #1)
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I have never read a Charlaine Harris book, but I heard her interview on The Professional Book Nerds podcast. This series is about a gunslinger in an alternate version of the United States that also includes a section that was bought by a fleeing Tsar Nicholas. How can I not want to read that! Then I read it and fell in love with the character of Gunny Rose. She is everything you want in a gunslinger and that makes her a powerful woman. I am on the holds list at the library to get book 2. I can't wait to see what happens next.

5. The Bear & The Nightingale by Katherine Arden
The Bear and the Nightingale (Winternight Trilogy, #1)
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I started this book in 2018. I got it from the library and then fell in love with it, so I got myself a copy that I could read as slowly as I wanted. I didn't want to sit and read hundreds of pages at once. I wanted to read 5 or 10 pages at a time and sit in that universe for a while. So I read it slowly and it was wonderful. Arden does a great job of making us feel like a part of this world that is changing. It is scary and hopeful. And just when you think the worst thing has happened, it turns out good. Now I have read books 2 and 3 to see how Vasilisa ends up.

6. Valley of Terror by Zhou Haohui, Bonnie Huie (translator)

Valley of Terror
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I ended up with an Amazon gift card. I had gotten a book for me, a book for Ben and a book for Lily. I had a little bit of money left and wanted to use it on a book that I could enjoy and read slowly. I googled something about horror novels and translations. I ended up at this one and it was the right price, so I picked it up. I did read it slowly over 3 months or so. I had to do some work to figure out how to pronounce the Chinese names correctly. So I learned something and enjoyed the book. This isn't really a horror novel. It is more like archaeological mystery with a little bit of police procedural. I loved reading and getting to know a little bit of history and a little bit of mythology. I loved how the mystery was resolved. Don't expect to be scared, but expect to wonder and to learn.

7. Mycoft Holmes by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Anna Waterhouse
Mycroft Holmes
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This is a book I have thought about picking up several times at the library, but never did until 2019. I like the characterization of Mycroft. I liked seeing how he thought. I liked his interactions with Sherlock. My favorite part was the heart of the book. As I read, I genuinely wanted this problem to be solved because I wanted Mycroft and Cyrus to make the world a better place, a place a little more safe. Kareem Abdul-Jabber does a great job writing an issue of color in a way that feels genuine and complex and important. I will probably pick up book 2 in this series sometime this year.

8. With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo
With the Fire on High
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I read Poet X and enjoyed it, then I heard her interview on the Latino USA podcast. So I looked at it and then saw the cover! It is one of the most beautiful covers that I have ever seen. And the character of Emoni is beautiful as well. There is a little bit of magical realism, but it isn't really a focus of the story. The story is about Emoni believing in herself and her talents. I was rooting for Emoni and my emotional investment wasn't wasted.

9. I am the Lion by Rachelle Lauro (Re-published as The Hunted by Rachel Blackledge)
I Am The Lion
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The Hunted
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I have read a couple other books by this author, as Rachel Ledge, and really enjoyed them. I think I am on an email list of hers and found out about her new book. It was originally published under her real name and then republished under a pseudonym. This thriller is everything you would want in a thriller. There is a slow creeping build where you know bad things are coming. Then the bad things come and Genie has to fight her way out of it. It is very good as expected from this author.

10. The Talented Ribkins by Ladee Hubbard
The Talented Ribkins
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This book was a little outside my comfort zone in part because of the emotional weight of dealing with the past of a family. I am cautious about emotional books. If I think I might feel too much, I generally avoid it. So I had avoided this book. Then I threw caution to the wind and read it. I'm glad I did. This author did not waste my emotion. I felt things for Johnny Ribkins and his brother and his niece. It was good. Sometimes I still find myself thinking about Johnny and his family. I hope they are doing well and then I remember that they aren't real, so then I say prayer for anyone in a situation like this.

Honorable Mention:
1. Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant
Into the Drowning Deep (Rolling in the Deep, #1)
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I think I heard about this one on The Professional Book Nerd Podcast. I found it and the prequel on Hoopla, so I checked them out. I loved listening to them. I love the concept of dangerous mermaids. I love the incorporation of ASL. This author does not use a deaf person as a token character. These are highly qualified people who is a part of deaf culture. There are lots of characters and lots of stress between scientists themselves and between the crew and the scientists. Then at the end there is one more twist. I don't think there is going to be another in this universe, but there could be.

2. The Vanished Bride by Bella Ellis
The Vanished Bride (Brontë Sisters Mystery #1)
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I read a lot of cozy mysteries and this one is probably a historical cozy mystery. I generally don't include them on my top 10 lists because they are fairly formulaic fun fiction. (Maybe I should make list of my top 10 cozies of the year.) This book however has a lot of other things going for it. I love that the detectives are the Brontë sisters. This author did a fantastic job of including various pieces of the Brontë sisters' novels in this mystery. I like seeing inside their home and how they might have interacted. And the mystery itself is very well done also.

Monday, January 20, 2020

Just Can't Stop

Photo Caption: Damian Gadal
I realize that my posting has been really scattered and I thought that meant I had run of out of things to say. So I decided to stop blogging. Then at the end of 2019 everyone was talking about their best books of the year. Some were even talking about their best books of the decade. I wrote those down in my journal and figured that would be enough. Then I had this weekend I had a couple more thoughts I wanted to share. So I guess I am not done blogging.

But why?

Blogging isn't as cool as it once was. I am not organized or determined enough to do this regularly. I don't have a group that is counting on my posts. The things I have to say are not life changing. So this isn't to be cool, to be popular, to be connected, or to be wise.

Every so often I have to write out my thoughts and this is a good place to write them out. I hope someone else reads my thoughts and gets something out of it. If not, that's fine too. I want to say things, so here I am preparing to say things.

I hope you enjoy my tiny corner of the internet. Come back next week for my top 10 reads of 2019. 

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Some Chaos and Some Thoughts

I have so many thoughts racing around my head.

Photo Credit: Flo's shots 4 me

School is starting soon and I'm going to have some big changes in store. It is good, but takes a lot of prep work. And honestly, it is a little scary. What if I can't get it done like I have planned in my head?

Also why am I blogging again? I have thoughts and writing them out on here is fun and good for me. But some of the things I want to say are personal and some are controversial. So maybe I shouldn't say them here out loud for everyone. But maybe it should be said because maybe other people need to hear it.

Lily is starting kindergarten and the school times are new. So the whole family will have a new morning routine and Drew will drop the kids off at school. What if that doesn't go right? Because no one else can do it as good as me? (Yes, I know that is ridiculous as Drew has been taking care of the kids for a decade.)

I need to eat better. I need to move more. I want to find more time to read. I need to do more yard work. I need to make sure medicines are taken and teeth are brushed and the house is clean and the kids have clothes that fit and on and on and on.

So today I'm going to write all these crazy thoughts and hope that next week I will have some thoughts put together.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Book Review: Light From Distant Stars by Shawn Smucker

Last week, I talked about the best books of the year so far. I mentioned the new book from Shawn Smucker. The following is my review from Goodreads and other review websites, but I wanted to add some more thoughts here.

Light from Distant StarsLight from Distant Stars by Shawn Smucker

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow! Where to start? These characters and this story is one that I will come back to over and over. It’s the kind of story that will pop back into my head when I’m washing dishes or commuting to work or other random times. I can see pieces of myself in Cohen and Kaye. I want to be a friend like Ava.

The prose is beautiful. The characters are realistic. The story is compelling. And the relationships are the heart of the book.

If you don’t read much, take the time to read this one. If you like a plot that takes you along, you will like this one. If you like memorable characters, read this one. If you like relationship stories, you want to read this one. This has something for everyone.

I received an ARC from the publisher and this is my honest review.

View all my reviews

Recently I have found myself in a rut of reading the same couple genres. I wanted to break out of that and read things that I don't normally read. Family drama type books are something I normally avoid. Some of them seem to me to be unnecessarily painful. Some move too fast so that I don't get to know the characters. Others move too slow and I don't want to know the characters. There are some tropes of the genre I don't like. So I avoid them. And if I'm going to be really honest, some of them make me feel things and sometimes I don't want to feel things.

Side note: I am a big fan of cozies and I know they have SO many tropes. So it seems a little hypocritical to say I don't like tropes of some genre. But there are some tropes I like and some I don't. To each his own right?

All of that is a preface to my thought process going into this book. I have read several of Shawn's books before. I love his prose and he does a great job making you friends with the characters. But when I get to be friends with them, then I start feeling things. But I can trust Shawn with my feelings because his books don't become gory with tragedy. His books have a bit of God in them without attempting to be evangelical. There is just enough God to challenge the characters into becoming better and enough God to catch them when they fall.

This was a great book to get me out of my typical genre and into a genre that I normally avoid. I have a several other family drama type books coming up because Shawn's book has inspired to me to trust the genre a little bit. This book has a lot of family issues on display, but it also has a whole lot of heart. There are people that have issues and those same people care about each other. And that caring and love are the feelings that I am left with.

I encourage you all to pick up this book, make some new friends, and feel some things.