The Magnolia Story

There are certain kinds of books that I findthe magnolia story very comforting. Biographies, memoirs, books that detail the twists and turns of someone’s life and or career. One of the things I struggle with in my own life is trust. I have a hard time letting go of some of the fear and anxiety that we all experience and letting myself rest in the assurance that things will work out in their own time. For that reason, I find it very comforting to listen to someone else talking about their life, good times and bad, and reflecting on where they ended up. The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines (and Mark Dagostino) was the perfect book for me.

Now, there’s a couple reasons you might pick up this book. Maybe you enjoy watching Fixer Upper and want to learn more behind the scenes details. In which case, I would say “Great! You’ll love this book!” That was the reason I originally picked up The Magnolia Story, but it wasn’t the reason I fell in the love with this book. Personally, I was drawn to their reflections on their life, family, and their faith. There’s something really authentic and wholesome about the values they present, both on the show and in their book. I find it super refreshing. There is a strong emphasis on the fact that “people are what matter the most.” They both talk about their relationships with their parents, siblings, and how much their families mean to them. In turn, this shows in the way they are choosing to raise their own children. They also talk about all the people that mentored and supported them during their journey, and how they are trying to return the favor and give back. The book is written in a back and forth dialogue, almost like an interview, with Joanna writing first, and Chip adding a few paragraphs here and there. One of the things Joanna talks about repeatedly, is the way Chip treats other people. That is one of the things she admires the most about him. Even when they were first dating she noticed the way he went out of his way to talk to everyone, and treated everyone with kindness and respect. Again,  I think that is a really refreshing reflection. I know that’s the kind of person I want to be and I think it’s nice to have reminders of that. That was my take away from the Mr. Rogers documentary and it was one of the things I took away from this book.

I also really like their approach to design. They talk about creating spaces that are going to be the right fit for your individual family. They point out that the best design for your home is not always going to be the most expensive or flashy. And yes, now that they are really popular you can buy the “Magnolia” line at any Target and it’s going to be on the spendy side. But if you really listen to what they’re saying, their philosophy is based on finding new and creative ways to use what you have or purchasing a 10$ item at a garage sale and restoring it.

Finally, I think this book really emphasizes hard work and faith. Chip and Joanna discuss their belief that God had a plan for their life, in both the good times and the bad. Their reflection on the early days of their relationship is pretty humorous. They talk about their different personalities, coming to understand and appreciate the other person’s strengths and weaknesses, and finding out that they had the same values and priorities where it mattered. Life comes along with plenty of difficulties and mistakes, but it can be really comforting looking back and seeing how those challenges and mistakes changed you and helped you to become a better person. I know that I wouldn’t be the person I am today if I hadn’t gone through the difficult periods of my life. That doesn’t make them any easier when you’re going through it, but I think it can help us find comfort in those times. At least, that has been my personal experience. I don’t want to borrow worry, or spend my time lost to stress and anxiety, I want to reach a point where I can find peace and happiness even when my life is hard. Anyway, that’s the goal.

Rating: 5/5 stars

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A Man Called Ove (Book Review)

Guys, Fredrik Backman might be my new favorite author. If you remember, I recently finished reading Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer and I absolutely loved it. Around the same time my brother finished reading A Man Called Ove and he praised it almost as highly as I praised Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer. No small feat, I might add. Long story short, I decided to pick up A Man Called Ove as my next Backman novel.

There’s something about the characters that a man called oveBackman writes. In a few short sentences they come alive and they become as familiar to you as your best friend or your next door neighbor. That doesn’t mean that they are without their faults. In fact, you like them because they are flawed. These are real people, and it manifests in both hilarious and heartbreaking ways. I can’t think of another story that has made me laugh and then cry in the span of five minutes. A Man Called Ove is the story of an ordinary life. It captures all the joy and beauty of loving another person, but shows us how true love often comes with a certain amount of suffering. It sounds strange to put it in those terms, but that’s what love is, right? Love means giving of ourselves for the sake of another person. Love means sharing in the hardships and struggles of someone else. When someone we love is suffering, we suffer alongside them. Love makes us vulnerable. It’s beautiful and perfect and a little bit frightening.

A Man Called Ove shows us love in many different forms. The love of a spouse, a good friend, a neighbor. We see the difference one person’s life can make on the world around them. Ultimately, I feel like this is a story about community. There’s something really beautiful about watching a community grow together, help and support each other. This kind of behavior grounds us, and gives us a reason to keep getting up in the morning.  I thought it was delightful to watch as Ove gradually warmed to his neighbors and the people around him. As each new character is introduced, we see them through Ove’s eyes. He even has a catchy little description for each person. For example, his neighbors “the lanky one,” and “the pregnant one.” However, as he learns more about them and they develop a relationship, he begins to learn and use their names. This is a small detail, but I think it is a very telling one. Backman is able to latch onto the little details that shape our interactions with each other and either help us to grow closer or divide us.

In this book we also end up examining what it means to be a good person and member of society. How do we respond to adversity? How do we treat the people around us? I think it is especially important to look at how we treat the youngest and oldest members of our society. I felt like this book did an excellent job of examining the dignity of the human person in all stages and walks of life. I don’t know, guys. I was just really touched by this story. I think this is going to be one of those books that I keep coming back to. It’s such a meaningful story, with an extremely important and valuable message.  It’s a book that gets at the heart of being human. I laughed, I cried, it moved me Bob.

Rating 5/5 stars. Trigger warning for suicide.

Is it just me or does this book remind you of the intro scenes in Up? I felt like there were a lot of similarities.

The Bear and the Nightingale (Book Review)

Isn’t it interesting to think of all the different ways you can describe a book? I’m not so much talking about positive or negative reviews as I am the bear and the nightingaletalking about the different ways there are of describing the “aboutness” of a book. After finishing The Bear and the Nightingale I was reading some reviews to help me sort out my thoughts and I realized there are about a dozen different ways you could describe this book. Merphy Napier talks about the setting and describes this book as being very atmospheric. Captured in Words recommends this book to readers looking for a book that captures the “intense atmospheric chill of a cold winter’s night.” Both of these reviews indicate that the setting is one of the most important aspects of this story. I totally agree with this sentiment. Katherine Arden fills her book with Russian folklore, religion, culture, and history. It’s one of the most appealing aspects of this story. Arden begins The Bear and the Nightingale with one of the characters telling the story of Frost or the “winter king.” This fairytale sets the stage for the rest of the book. In fact, the rest of the book feels rather like a fairytale itself. It has many of the tropes and plot devices used in this kind of fairytale and the writing style also felt very in line with the literary tradition of fairytales and folklore. Point being, a lot of people describe the setting when they describe this book.

On the other hand, a reviewer from The Washington Post described this book by saying, “Arden explores what happens when fear and ignorance whip people into a furor, and how society can be persuaded to act against its own interests so easily.” I suppose this is also true, I would never have thought of it in those terms though.

Personally I found myself fascinated by the tension between the folklore/fairytale elements and Christianity in this story. I don’t know a whole lot about Medieval Russia but I would imagine that this was a tension that existed historically and Arden was incorporating that into her story. I was a little concerned that Arden was going to use Christianity as the source of all conflict in this book as many of the antagonists are described as being fiercely devout. However, I think with all these characters Arden is suggesting that they are not being motivated by their faith, but rather, using outward demonstrations of devotion to mask their true motivations (i.e. power, lust, fear, etc.) Also, there are some characters that are actually portrayed as being devout (though many of these are minor characters) to contrast what we are seeing in the antagonists. All that being said, I think you can still see some of the tension that naturally arises in a culture that is now Christian but still remembers the cultural traditions of the past such as feeding the domovoi. The glossary at the back describes the domovoi as the guardian of the household or household spirit.

Overall I think there are some strong similarities in the way this book is written with Uprooted by Naomi Novik. I don’t think this book is going to be everyone’s cup of tea but if you liked the more atmospheric/fairytale elements of Uprooted you might also like The Bear and the Nightingale. Also, there’s definitely some more harsh or violent moments to this story, but they are described quickly and rather unemotionally as in many traditional fairytales.

I’m giving this book a 4/5 rating and I will probably be picking up the sequel at some point. I was definitely intrigued by this story and I’m interested to see where Arden takes this trilogy.

 

This Month in Summary (February 2019)

Do you remember the end of January when I talked about how much I was going to read in February? I ambitiously dreamed of reading a whole stack of books during our family vacation in Canada. I carefully selected titles from my TBR that I was most excited to read. I even purchased a few.  In the end I brought five rather large books along with me. How many of those did I actually read? Zero. During the course of our week long vacation I worked my way through the prologue of Mistborn and that’s about as far as it went. I’m not even mad. I totally disconnected from the outside world and fully immersed myself in being present to my family and friends. It was awesome. 

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During the school year I have a really hard time disconnecting from technology. There is always another email to respond to, another online discussion to participate in, and another assignment to accomplish. So turning my phone off for an entire week was an incredible relief. In the mornings I drank coffee and watched old episodes of Leave it to Beaver with my family. I spent every day skiing. I was on mountain as soon as the ski lifts opened and stayed there until they closed for the night. In the evenings I cuddled with my baby brother and visited with my best friend.

Here’s the thing, I’m not a super athletic person. I was never really into sports and I’m not super competitive when it comes to other people. However, I’m super competitive with myself and I love being outside. So skiing just works for me. I love pushing myself to try new things and see how far I can go. I firmly believe that every once in a while we should do something that scares us a little bit. This year I went on the T-bar. Which really wasn’t all that hard, but thinking about it scared me. Then I actually tried it. I made it to the very top of the mountain and it was incredible. That’s one of my favorite memories from this trip. It felt like we were flying as we made our way down that run.

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I also think there’s something really healthy about physically pushing yourself and being exhausted at the end of the night. My family always ends up going to bed around nine or ten during this vacation because we’re so tired at the end of the night. Then I end up waking up first thing in the morning (without even setting an alarm!) feeling totally refreshed and energetic. Something that doesn’t happen a lot during my day to day routine.

Anyway, I didn’t end up reading a lot during the middle of February but it still turned out to be a pretty good reading month. I read a total of four books but I gave all of them much higher ratings than anything I read in January.

I really enjoyed reading both Warbreaker by Brandon Sanderson and Pride by Ibi Zoboi at the beginning of the month. At the end of the month I read Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer (which is incredible and one of my favorite books now), and I just finished reading Mistborn. Even though Warbreaker and Mistborn are about the same size it took me much longer to read Mistborn. I think I finished Warbreaker in about two days and it took me around two weeks to finish Mistborn. Overall, I really enjoyed reading it though and will probably write a longer review at some point. So that was my month in reading (or more accurately, not reading). I hope you had a wonderful month, filled with new experiences and great books. Next up: March. Spring is just around the corner!

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer

After reading this book I immediately added everything else Fredrik Backman has written to my TBR.

So, fun fact about me: I don’t like sad books. Now, I have a very particular kind of book in mind when I say that. I’m talking about the kind of book where the whole point is that you are going to cry at some point. I don’t know, I just end up feeling emotionally manipulated when I read that kind of book. All this is to say that I’m usually pretty cautious when someone recommends a book and mentions how sad it was or how much it made them cry. I think some people like that experience, it just isn’t for me. So I picked up And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer on a bit of a whim. I had heard a lot of people praise this book and it was available as an audiobook so I decided to give it a try. I’m so glad I did because this book deeply touched me. I loved it.

I know it’s only February but this book is already and every morning the way home gets longer and longerone of my favorite books of 2019. Actually, this book might be one of my favorite books of all time. I’m planning on buying a copy to add to my personal collection as soon as I can. I don’t want to say too much about it since this is a novella (I finished the audiobook in an hour), so this is going to be a relatively short post, but I highly, highly recommend reading this book. All you really need to know going in is that this is a story about the relationship between a grandfather and his grandson, a father and his son. We watch as the grandfather begins to lose his memories, and his son and grandson cope with this loss.

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer begins with an author’s note from Fredrik Backman. In this note, Backman talks about how he wasn’t originally planning on publishing this book and how it started out as a way for him to sort out his thoughts on life, growing old, and saying goodbye. I think the description he gives in this note is better than any description I could give you. He says, “This is a story about memories and about letting go. It’s a love letter and a slow farewell between a man and his grandson, and between a dad and his boy.” There were so many parts of this book that I just wanted to sit and savor. I want to get my hands on a physical copy because I want to write down some of my favorite quotes and it’s hard to do that with an audiobook. To bring this back to what I was saying in the beginning, And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer made me cry, but it made me cry because it meant something. It examines both the beautiful and the heartbreaking parts of being human. I didn’t feel emotionally manipulated while I was reading this book because it felt like the author and I were on a journey together, contemplating something meaningful and important.

Anyway, at this point I’m basically just gushing and there isn’t a whole lot that I can say without giving too much detail since this is such a short book. You should just read it and then get back to me so we can talk about it.

Rating: 5/5 stars

Pride by Ibi Zoboi (Book Review)

As you probably know, over the past couple weeks I’ve been working my way through a list of assigned Young Adult books for one of my classes. One of the last assignments on this list was to pick a YA retelling of a classic. So obviously, I chose a Pride and Prejudice retelling. Because Jane Austen. Pride by Ibi Zoboi came out in September of last year, and I’ll be real, I didn’t have super high expectations going in. I like reading YA and I like reading Pride and Prejudice retellings, but when I pictured the two together I was imagining a fairly fluffy book without a whole lot of actual substance. However, that is not what I found. In fact, I think this book is probably the best Pride and Prejudice retelling I’ve discovered since The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. 

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Here’s the thing, I think a really good retelling is when the author is able to take some of the most important themes and characters from the original, place them in a different setting, and give us something that both pays homage to the original but also holds up as its own story and something that’s worth reading or watching in and of itself. Of course, that’s my opinion and you could have a completely different standard for retellings, but those are the things that I’m looking for when I read a retelling of a classic. I actually think Ibi Zoboi did a fantastic job of taking some of the most significant themes in Pride and Prejudice and using them to give us a very different story. There’s a reason Jane Austen’s books have stood the test of time- the themes she deals with and the characters in her books are just as real and relevant today as they were during her time.  Zoboi’s book really proves this point.

In Pride we have Zuri Benitez (Elizabeth Bennet), an Afro-Latino girl growing up in Bushwick. Zuri is extremely protective of her neighborhood and her family. She has many of the character traits we know and love in Elizabeth Bennet: her quick wit, her intelligence, and of course, her pride. However, these characteristics manifest themselves in slightly different ways in Zuri according to her age, culture, and background in this story. When Ainsley and Darius Darcy (haha, did I mention Bingley and Darcy are brothers in this story?) move into the house next door, Zuri is immediately put off by their apparent wealth and lack of understanding regarding her neighborhood and culture. So themes of pride and prejudice are dealt with in relation to race, culture, and economic background. I thought it was handled well.

Another thing that you have to account for when writing a retelling is the fact that most people will already know what’s coming in the story before it happens. Zoboi did a great job of drawing from the original plot just enough that you knew what to expect but you were still kept guessing at the same time. For example, when you’re dealing with a Pride and Prejudice retelling you know that at some point in the story Elizabeth is going to run into Darcy in some unexpected way. I knew this was going to happen in Pride and I had an idea of when it was going to take place, but I was still left guessing about how the scene would unfold. I also felt like the Wickham character was handled very well. Zoboi provides a lot of obvious red-flags and hints that this character is not such a good guy, and yet, at least for part of the story, you still kind of like him. I think it’s really important to the story that as an audience we are able to see why Elizabeth is initially fooled by Wickham. He is charismatic, he is attractive, and he plays to her vanity. That’s one of the reasons I like LBD so much, and I thought this was also handled well in Pride. I also really liked the character of Mrs. Bennet. I think her character is a little difficult to capture in a modernized retelling of this story because she is so ridiculous in Austen’s original work. That’s part of the joy of Pride and Prejudice, but it doesn’t work in a modern setting. Anyway, Zoboi does a good job of showing that she is a wonderful mother to Zuri and her sisters, and yet she’s a little bit embarrassing from the perspective of the Darcys. Part of the strength of this story is that through the characters of Zuri and Darius, Zoboi is showing us the way we can be unfairly judgmental. We have all unfairly judged someone at one point or another, and through characters like Zuri’s mother Zoboi is asking us to consider what is more important: the fact that Zuri’s mother can be embarrassing and she doesn’t understand social cues, or the fact that ultimately, she is a good mother?

All that being said, there were still a couple things I disliked about Pride. First of all, it’s written in present tense and as a general rule I hate present tense. Zoboi is a good writer, she has a unique voice and the characters are well-written. I still don’t like present tense. Additionally, I sometimes felt like there were ideas that were being pushed a little hard.

Overall Pride was so much better than I was expecting and I really enjoyed it.

I can’t decide whether to rate this book 3/5 or 4/5 stars. So I guess I’m going to go with 3.5? I don’t know, might change that.

Warbreaker (Book Review)

So I just finished reading my first Brandon Sanderson novel: Warbreaker. I’ve been wanting to try out some more modern/adult fantasy for a while. I’ve read a lot of the classics like Lord of the Rings, and I’ve read a ton of Young Adult and Children’s fantasy books, but I haven’t read a whole lot of modern or adult fantasy. Now, I don’t know a whole lot about Brandon Sanderson or any of his other books, but I’ve heard a lot of Booktubers recommend Mistborn and Warbreaker. I’ve also heard a lot of people say that Warbreaker is a good place to start with Sanderson or get into the fantasy genre in general. This might just be because Warbreaker is a standalone novel and I think most of Sanderson’s books tend to be part of a longer series. Also, his books are huge so a lot of people find that intimidating.

Anyway, I was looking for something that was going to be imaginative and fairly easy to get into. Warbreaker was the perfect fit.  warbreakerUsually I would say that escapism isn’t the reason I am motivated to read or pick up a book. I mean, it is but it isn’t. I’ve heard a lot of fantasy readers say that the reading is a form of escapism for them and that’s why they love to read books with intensive world-building and magic systems. I like books with intensive magic systems and world-building, it just usually isn’t the primary reason I would pick up a book. Anyway, I just happened to be in a mood where I wanted something that felt like an escape from reality, and Warbreaker felt like just the right kind of book.

The plot revolves around several main characters. There is Vivenna who has grown up her entire life knowing that she will someday marry the god king. She has been intensely trained for this responsibility and she is willing to sacrifice her personal happiness for the good of her kingdom. On the other hand we have her sister Siri, who has grown up with very few responsibilities and worries. She has been allowed to do pretty much whatever she wants and has never felt the need to hide her personal emotions or feelings from the world. At the last minute their father, the king of Idris, decides to send Siri to marry the god king instead of Vivenna. This decision means that Siri is confronted with a life of responsibility and purpose when she has always felt largely unimportant. Vivenna faces the opposite problem as her purpose in life is suddenly taken away from her and she doesn’t know how define herself without it. In Halladren Siri learns to navigate a new world full of gods and goddesses. She also meets Lightsong, a god who doesn’t believe in his own religion. Warbreaker is full of magic and political intrigue. Along with Siri, we are often left wondering who we can trust in this kingdom where not all is as it seems.

My favorite part of this book is the way almost all of the characters contemplate the meaning and purpose of their lives. The lives of Vivenna and Siri take a dramatic turn at the beginning of this story. They must reevaluate everything they thought they knew about themselves. Moreover, the lives of the gods and goddesses of Halladren are very self absorbed and indolent. Lightsong is the most charismatic and likable of the gods, and yet, even his lifestyle is ultimately selfish. The various characters search for a greater meaning in their lives and we see themes of self-sacrifice and other-centered love develop over the course of the story.

Fair warning, there are quite a few references to sex in the first half of the story. However, it is built into the plot and there are no explicit sex scenes. I just always like when people provide that kind of information in advance. Also, the philosophy behind the magic system felt a little funky to me. Basically, power is gained through an essence known as “breath.” Breath is sometimes described as being similar to a person’s soul and that’s where I felt like it got a little weird, especially when it comes to the taking or trading of another person’s breath. Idk, maybe that’s just me.

As a whole the magic system was really cool. A huge emphasis is placed on colors, especially the colors of every day objects. There is a lot more I could say about this book (especially because it is almost 600 pages), but I really enjoyed the different twists and turns of the story and I would recommend going into it without knowing a whole lot of spoilers. Personally, I don’t mind knowing spoilers in advance (weird things about me), but I really enjoyed not knowing anything more about this book than what I have described. I’m really interested in reading Mistborn now because I have heard a lot of great things about that series and I really enjoyed Sanderson’s writing style. Overall I really enjoyed this book and thought it was a fun read.

Rating: 4/5 stars

 

This Month in Summary (January 2019)

I don’t know why, but January always feels like such a long month to me. I was talking to a friend the other day, and we both compared January to Narnia in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. However, she was so much more positive in her description than I was. I was basically grumbling to myself that January is like Narnia where it is always winter and never Christmas, but my friend went on to describe all the other lovely winter-y aspects of Narnia and January. As much as I love Narnia, I maintain January is my least favorite month. All of December I have Christmas to look forward to and my family takes our vacation in February, but January is just kind of bleh.

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That actually also describes my month in reading. I read a lot of books that were “just okay” but nothing special. That is partially because I was trying to get ahead on all my assigned reading for class, and I know I’ve said this before, but I end up burning out when I read too many books in one genre. Reading too many books in one genre is the quickest way to send me into a reading slump. Anyway, I’m not going to write full reviews for all the books I read this month because I’m having a hard time feeling really enthusiastic about most of them. That is not to say that they were all bad. In fact, I enjoyed quite a few of them. I just think I can say all that I have to say in a few sentences. So I’m going to go ahead and do that.

So this month I read a total of twelve books. Well, actually I read fourteen books, but I’m only going to talk about twelve of them here because I hated two of them. (I’m not counting them on Goodreads either, because they were just bad and I ended up skimming quite a bit.)

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing: This was a good one-time read. A little too political for my taste, but it was an enjoyable way to spend the afternoon. I liked the discussion of social media and internet-fame, I disliked the references to U.S. politics.

The Taming of the Shrew: was my Shakespeare play for the month. I liked it so much better than I thought I was going to, maybe because I went in with such low expectations. I feel like The Taming of the Shrew gets a bad wrap and it’s actually a fairly fun lighthearted play. Not my favorite Shakespeare play by any means, but it was enjoyable.

The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle: This book takes me back to middle-school Emily. I appreciated some good old fashioned drama and this book fulfilled all of my cravings. Maybe I’m just nostalgic, but I still really like this book.

Eliza and Her Monsters: I got exactly what I was expecting from this book. It was a perfectly fine YA contemporary, with a nice discussion regarding internet friendships and balancing your time spent online with your real life and relationships. I probably won’t read it again, but I enjoyed myself while I was reading it.

Speak: I didn’t like this book. I thought it was well-written, but I came away feeling tired and sad. It actually felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders when I finished reading it.

Dear Martin: This book has such a great premise. It led me to a lot of self reflection and I felt like I grew as a person after reading it. It’s honestly not super well-written and I think some of the material suffered from the execution, but I’m glad I read it.

Renegades: This was the perfect example of a book that felt “just okay” to me. I was kind of disappointed because I loved The Lunar Chronicles and I had high hopes going into this story. Most of it just felt kind of flat to me. I didn’t care about most of the characters (apart from Adrian) and I wasn’t super invested in the plot. Maybe I’ll give the next book in the series a try but it’s probably going to be a while before I pick it up.

The Smell of Other People’s Houses: I actually really liked this book. I have a soft spot for books set in Alaska and I was really intrigued by the different characters and their storylines. This book deals with some hard topics in kind of a unique way, and the overall tone of the book was different from anything else I have read.

Eyes of the World: Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and the Invention of Modern Photojournalism: This was such a fantastic nonfiction book for Young Adults. It deals with two photographers during the Spanish Civil War (which is such a fascinating and confusing period of history) and discusses the evolution of photojournalism. I actually got pretty emotional as I was looking through some of the pictures taken by Capa and Taro. It is pretty incredible that we are able to look at the moments in time that they captured. Photos like the ones included in this book provide us with such an intimate and close up introduction to what it was like to live through this period.

Looking for Alaska: Okay, so strangely enough I liked this book so much better reading it as an adult than when I read it as a teen. It still isn’t my favorite John Green but I was expecting to hate it and I didn’t. I think John Green books are fascinating because they bring up all the right questions and tend to be different than a lot of the books in the YA genre. I won’t be rereading this book again any time soon, but it was much better than I remembered.

Blood Water Paint: This is a super interesting book, I just wish it wasn’t so heavy handed. I honestly don’t know how to rate it. On the one hand it brings up super interesting themes related to motherhood and being a woman. I loved how it incorporates stories of women from the Old Testament into the plot, relating them as a mother might tell her daughter. However, it just felt a little bit much. Like, I get that this book is using historical fiction to address current issues, but it could have been done with so much more subtlety.  The main character didn’t feel like a 17 year old girl in 1610, she felt like a mouthpiece for the author to discuss rape culture. Idk.

Six of Crows: is another book that just felt kind of meh to me. I was honestly bored throughout most of the story. I liked a couple of the characters but I didn’t really care about the rest. Also, I’m kind of squeamish when it comes to graphic violence and there were a couple scenes that grossed me out. I don’t mind it if it feels like there’s a greater purpose, but every time it just felt like the author was trying to demonstrate that “yeah, our main characters are really TOUGH and will do WHATEVER IT TAKES even if THEY DON’T REALLY NEED TO and THEY DON’T JUST KILL PEOPLE, THEY MAKE THEM SUFFER FIRST.” Like, okay?

So that was my month in reading. Mostly books that I was reading for school, some I liked, some I didn’t. Most of them were just okay.

I’m really excited for February though, because my family will be going on our ski trip and I will be bringing a whole stack of books for pleasure reading. There’s nothing like curling up by the fire with a good book and looking outside the window at all the snow. I love it. Also, I purchased a ton of books with my Barnes and Noble giftcard from Christmas and I’m so excited to get started on them!

 

 

 

The Smell of Other People’s Houses (Book Review)

Sometimes you come across a book that is utterly surprising and nothing like you expected. I picked up The Smell of Other People’s Houses almost by accident. One of my classes this quarter required us to read a Morris Award finalist and The Smell of Other People’s Houses just happened to be available at my library as an audiobook.  The only thing I knew about this book was what the synopsis told me so I had fairly low expectations going in. I ended up being very pleasantly surprised by this book.

There is something about the imagery that the smell of other peoples houses Bonnie-Sue Hitchcock uses that makes this book really unique and different from other books I have read. I almost don’t know how to describe it. The imagery really engages all of your senses and you picture how things smell, sound, look, and feel. It also seemed like an almost strange blend of images to me. Things were described in a way that was either soft and beautiful or harsh and severe.  Topics that are typically dealt with in a very dramatic manner were softened, so when Hitchcock uses a harsher image or tone it sticks with you. The overall tone of this book was different than I was expecting, but in a good way.

The Smell of Other People’s Houses is told from four different perspectives: Ruth, Dora, Alyce, and Hank. They all live in Alaska soon after it became a state (which is a fascinating topic by the way. I never realized how recent a part of our history that was.) These characters come from very different backgrounds and they all have their own struggles and difficulties in life. There’s definitely a wide range of problems in this book, everything from wanting to take part in a dance tryout to a teen pregnancy.  However, that’s one of the real strengths of this book. We see all of these different lives and struggles through the perspective of the person who is experiencing them and then through the perspective of someone else. I actually didn’t realize that Hitchcock was going to bring all of these different storylines together in the end (I guess I should have expected it, but they all seemed so different to me at the beginning of the book). One of the weaknesses of the story is that it all comes together a little too neatly in the end, and some of the conflicts seem too easily resolved. As a side note, I was a little concerned about how the book was going to deal with the topic of religion. The grandmother is depicted as very harsh and strict (bordering on abusive) and it is made very clear that a lot of that stems from her perhaps overly scrupulous religious beliefs. So I was kind of cautious. I hate when religion or characters who are religious are stereotyped as being awful and puritanical. There’s a difference between showing flawed characters who happen to be religious and setting out to show all religion and religious characters as being bad. I actually didn’t mind how Hitchcock ended up resolving this issue. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised. It was nice to have some positive depictions of religious characters as well.

Overall, I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it. Like I said, the ending comes together a little too neatly, but overall it was a really interesting and engaging read.

Rating: 4/5 stars

 

Mini Book Reviews

So here’s the deal. I’m currently taking a class on library resources for teens so I’ve been reading a lot of YA books. And I mean A LOT of YA books. Too many YA books if I’m being quite honest. It’s not that I don’t like reading YA, it’s just that I don’t like reading too many of the same kind of book at one time. I get bored. So anyway, I’m going to quickly go through some of the books I’ve been reading for class. (Haha, laughing at myself for complaining about reading YA books for a class. It’s just a lot of them at once, okay? Also, I just don’t have time for personal reading when I’m in a class like this so it takes some of the joy out of reading).

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson speak

First of all, you should know that this book deals with some very weighty topics: depression and mental illness, bullying, sexual abuse and rape. I will say that it’s a very well written book. Anderson really captures the mind of a teen recovering from childhood trauma. Because yeah, Melinda is thirteen at the beginning of this book (in my mind that is still a child). I still just don’t get the purpose of this book. So Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance and The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls both address childhood trauma but they are both framed in a way that gives you hope for the future. I don’t mean in a “everything is butterflies and rainbows” kind of a way, but in a way that addresses the terrible things that have happened and yet looks to the future. Vance and Walls are both looking back on their lives and reflecting on how they got through the tough periods and made it to adulthood. Speak gives us the fictional story of a teenager who has experienced what far, far to many teens in our world have also experienced (and that is heartbreaking and makes me sick. I cried so many times while I was reading this book). I just don’t know what the message of the book is? What is this book trying to tell the teens who have had a similar experience to Melinda? Maybe there is no greater meaning and Anderson is just trying to give teens a character who makes them feel less alone. I just don’t really understand what the author was trying to do with this book. I think I need to find someone who really loved it and ask them to tell me all the reasons why I should too. I don’t really know how to rate this one. Does an accurate portrayal of a horrible experience make a good book? Idk.

Dear Martin by Nic Stone dear martin

So I thought the content of this book was amazing, I just didn’t think it was super well written. Not terrible, it just wasn’t great either. However, I was really moved by the story and the characters. Also, I will say that the dialogue was great. There are large portions of the book that are written in back and forth dialogue between the characters and those parts were fantastic. It was just whenever the book transitioned back into third person that it felt weird and jarring. I feel like it would have been fairly easy to turn this book into a play and then I would have loved it. This book begins with a racial profiling incident involving a 17 year old named Justyce. After he is released from jail, Justyce begins writing letters to Martin Luther King Jr. as a way of processing what happened to him and reflecting on current issues related to race in the U.S. As the novel goes on Justyce considers the kind of person he wants to be and how he wants to respond to unjust situations. I was really humbled by this reflection because I immediately understood the anger and desire to fight back, and then to turn that around and look at current issues in light of the teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. was really humbling. I wish this book had included even more quotes from MLK because when it did they were super powerful. Anyway, I’m actually super glad I read this book because it really affected my perspective regarding unjust situations and the way I respond to them. I wish I could give this book an even higher rating, I just didn’t feel like it was super well written. (Oh, also, all of the summaries I’ve seen for this book give spoilers for something that happens like half way through the book. I’m super confused?)

Rating: 3/5 stars.

I also just finished reading Renegades by Marissa Meyer but I think I’m going to write a longer review of that one at some other point. I am currently reading The Smell of Other People’s Homes, Eyes of the World: Robert Capa, Gerda Taro, and the Invention of Modern Photojournalism, and Looking for Alaska.