Reading

February Reads

Well it took one whole month for my new years resolution to completely derail–one whole month and four seasons of Game of Thrones. Husband and I had never seen it before and we had just finished watching Battlestar Gallactica when our friends brought us seasons one and two of Game of Thrones. They had been telling us for a while that we needed to watch it and we finally listened. One episode and we were completely hooked. One episode and we spent the next three weeks powering through the four seasons. Husband and I had both become drooling, slobbering messes, watching at least two episodes a night. Now that there is no more to see, we frankly do not know what to do with ourselves.

Our evenings seem empty without Game of Thrones. I have even gotten around to picking up those things I think are called books and pawing through them as a cave man might. Needless to say I came no where close to reaching my February reading goal, but that was alright. I knew my new years resolution was a pipe dream anyway. The point is that I am back on the horse and have moved three bookmarks further into three different books. Progress–once again.

Here is the sadly short list of books I read in February:

This is the second book I have read by Anita Shreve and to be honest I just need to take her off of¬†reading list. Everything about this book, and The Pilot’s Wife, was just alright: the writing was alright, the plot was alright, but nothing grabbed me. I found nothing compelling and I didn’t get anything out of reading her books. It wasn’t a page turner to make up for its lack of depth. It was lackluster at best. You all know that I have strong ideas when it comes to what books I should be reading. You only get to read so many books in this life. The number is finite, so why waste your time on anything other than amazing? This was not it.

If you have seen the movie, you have read the book. For the most part. I can’t say that it swept me off my feet, but I feel like it was an important read. Charles Webb does an amazing job of instilling a crushing sense of apathy in his characters. No one seems to really care about anything, as long as no one is embarrassed. As long as the fa√ßade looks flawless, who really cares about what is underneath.

I loved Moby Dick, but I found Billy Budd harder to track, harder to get into. It was still beautifully written, but I am afraid some of its deeper significance was lost on me. I don’t thing I really gave the book the attention it needs in order to really get it. Melville’s writing is complex, which anyone who has tried to ply their way through any of his books can attest to. I honestly believe his books are complex in a good way, but in this modern age where we expect literature (dare I call it that?) to be spoon fed to us it can sometimes feel like a chore to sit down and read something that has the meat still on the bone, so to speak.

I will always have a soft spot for Maeve Binchy after The Glass Lake and Circle of Friends. While the Scarlet Feather is no Circle of Friends, I still had a hard time putting it down. This book is just about ordinary people, going about their ordinary lives, and Binchy writes with such simplicity and warmth her books are always a pleasure to read. If you want something light and enjoyable, something that doesn’t make your soul feel dirty, or like you have wasted your time I cannot recommend her enough.

I love getting lost in Mccaffrey’s world of dragons. This one was a lot of fun because there is a lot of exploring of a hot, tropical island and since it is winter here, it was nice to think about swimming in pristine, warm waters and eating perfectly sweet, ripe fruit. These books are not great feats of literature, but they are very well written, fun, and worth the time. I should say worth your time if you like Sci-fi/Fantasy. I know some people do not go in for that sort of thing. I don’t really understand why you wouldn’t, but then again I have good taste when it comes to books ūüėČ

Much of what I wrote about the last book can be applied here, which is really no surprise considering they are in the same series. I didn’t realize that I was reading this one so far out-of-order. This is the 14th book in the series, while the White Dragon is only third. I can say that it stands alone well enough that if you haven’t read 1-13 you won’t be lost. At least I don’t think you will. This book was not as satisfying as books 1-3, which are the only other ones I have read in the Pern series. This moves further away from Sci-Fi.Fantasy in my opinion and would be better described as a political drama. While it was interesting¬†and entertaining, it lacked a page turning quality that I feel McCaffrey’s books generally have.

That’s all folks! Hard to believe isn’t it. I have read something like 22 books since the start of the year and only six of them were in February. I don’t have a calculator on me, but what else did I get done in January? I do not know. Hopefully March will be a little better, but I will be having a baby here in March and I hear that tends to derail the best laid plans. First Game of Thrones and now a Baby.

Life just keeps getting in the way of my literary addiction.

Standard
Reading

Best Books of 2014

I didn’t read as much as I would have liked last year, but in what I read there were some real gems. I tend to gravitate towards books that are written by women. Out of all the books on this list, only one was written by a man. Go figure. I didn’t intend to only like books written by women, but Husband tells me there is nothing surprising in this. I am sure he is right. Below is the list of the best books I read last year. To see a every book I read last year you can visit me at my Goodreads¬†profile.

This is by far, one of the most beautiful books I have ever read. It is poetry in prose. Nayomi transported me to Sri Lanka, making me feel like I knew the sights and smells intimately. More than any other book before, I felt physically moved by her writing. Even thinking about this book now, a couple of months after reading it, I remember sunny beaches, rocking waves, the taste of curry and fish, the smell of cooking fires and smoke from bombs. I knew nothing of the history of Sri Lanka and I had no idea how recent all the upheaval was. I tend to gravitate towards what my mother would call “disturbing” material in books, and this book does deal with darker themes: suicide bombers, child soldiers, racism, war. But I walked away from the book with a sense of hope and a very strong memory of how incredibly beautiful the book is.

Swamplandia was wholly unique. While I wouldn’t call it fun, I would call it a little whimsical–whimsically gritty. The book chronicles the lives of the Bigtree clan, a family of alligator wrestlers out of the swamps of Florida. This is a coming of age novel, complete with awkward, sticky, body odor moments. Ava, with the death of her mother, is thrust into adulthood. She becomes the families matriarch with an older sister who is lost to the world of ghosts and magic, an older brother with daddy issues and no interest in the family business, and a father struck by grief and stubbornly set in his ways–not to mention a rare, red, baby alligator she is determined to see survive infancy. Swamplandia is a fascinating portrayal of a very different world, one I had a very hard time setting down.

Husband introduced me to the blog a while ago, and I fell in love with it right away. The book is just as good. It is a very quick, easy read. Though I should admit that this book’s appeal may be generational. My mother and father both liked it well enough, and chuckled out loud a time or two, but they didn’t LOVE it, or rather they didn’t understand why you would love it.

I love Rebecca Wells. I loved the¬†The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sister Hood. I think I loved this one even more. If I didn’t absolutely loathe humidity, I would pick up and move to southern Louisiana. I want to name my kids with southern names like Bayla, Siddallee Ann, or Calla Lily Ponder. This is a simple, easy book about love and loss and life. Some of the best books are about nothing, because nothing is what all of us are living day-to-day. I am not saying our lives are inconsequential, but rather that it is all the inconsequential things in our lives that add up to a well-lived life. This books is an excellent example of that.

This is another incredibly poetic novel, beautifully written. When this book was passed to¬†me, I prejudged it by the cover. I guess the heft of it just felt cheesy, but I was very wrong and I am so thankful I read it. Julia’s father disappears without a trace, so she sets out from her comfortable New York life, looking for him. She finds her way to a remote corner of Burma, her father’s homeland, where she is forced into drinking tea and told the life story of her father–a life before her and her mother, a life she knew nothing of.

I love books about strong women, and Gertrude Bell was all sorts of strong. She was just as influential as Lawrence of Arabia. She didn’t give a damn¬†about what her role as a woman should be. She climbed mountains, braved blizzards, smoked like chimney, cursed like a sailor, traveled alone, rode horses and camels, shot guns…I could go on. This was a fascinating historical biography of someone I did not know anything about and about a time and place in history I don’t know nearly enough about. The middle east is such a sticky wicket, and seeing the politics of the region laid out made me realize that the consequences of the political decisions made decades ago are still rippling out today.

There is some debate as to whether this is a novel or a collection of short stories–I see it somewhere in the middle. With a very large cast of characters, it can be a little hard to keep everything straight, but this is a very lyrical book. I loved every minute of it, just as I have loved every minute of all of her other books (well all but one–Shadow Tag). Forgive me, it has been a while since I read this book, so I am having a hard time remembering the details, but I remember clearly how beautifully tangled the book was. Erdrich weaves her characters in and out of a tapestry incredibly thick and murky. It was complicated. The relationships were complicated. Nothing was sparkly or perfect, and that was the best part of the book.

Standard
Reading

My New Year’s Resolution

I am not big resolution maker. I have dieted, tried to be a nicer person, made lists of yearly goals. But I haven’t made any serious resolutions in the past couple of years, or rather I haven’t been very serious about any of the resolutions I have made. This year is different–completely different, because not only did I make a resolution I am interested in keeping, but one I am preternaturally disposed to keeping.

My resolution is to read more. To be specific my resolution is to read this bookshelf:

KIMG0034

I know all about making goals–you know they should be reasonable, quantifiable…SMART. I don’t remember every letter of that anagram, but you know goals should be SMART. This goal is definitely SMART. Minus the fact that this resolution is completely unattainable, because that bookshelf holds 290 books. I once heard an author talk about how he spend a year reading one book a day, everyday. He must have done nothing else, or he was reading children’s books. The author was either Joe Queenan or Pat Conroy; I cannot remember.

Now my resolution would break down to 9 books a month–give or take. Now I know Husband supports all of my endeavors, but he might begin to feel a little neglected if all I did was read all the time. So instead of reading 290 books in 2015, I am going to try to read as many as I can. I have even made a couple of rules:

  1. No rereads. I love rereading books. Hence the two bookshelves in our house: one for all the books I own that I have not read and one for all the books that I love and continually reread. But I have a lot of books to get through and no time to dilly-dally.
  2. I cannot add to the bookshelf. UNLESS someone gives me a book, but I cannot buy any books or go to the library. Now there is one addendum to this and that is I still get to spend the two gift certificates for books that I got for Christmas and my birthday. The gift certificates are only good at bookstores after all.

As of today (1/28/2015) I have already read 12 books on the shelf, so as of today I am already behind, but considering I was completely ignoring that bookshelf before I made the resolution and now it is 12 books lighter I am going to call that a success.

Happy New Year (a month late)!

Standard
Reading

2013: Books In Review

I did a lot of reading last year, some of it was pretty wonderful, while some of it was pretty awful–but that is what I get as a book reviewer. It can be a very mixed bag. I have narrowed down the books that I read last year (70 in total) to my top ten favorites. For the most part I would recommend all of these books; some of them I would even be obnoxious about it. Sometimes I feel like I should at least strap my husband down until he reads some of these, but he is more of a technical reader: as in he loves to read about medical studies, new technologies, and boring things like economics and sociology. One can’t have it all, I suppose. I have divided the top ten into three categories: Throwbacks, Non-Fiction, and Fiction, so if you don’t see anything for you in the first couple of sections, feel free to scroll down.

Throw Back:

This is a set of four books called the Enchanted Forest Chronicles by Particia C. Wrede. I think I first read these  books in middle school. They are very fast reads РI burned through all four of them in a week back in  October/November. They are just pure silliness and fun. There are annoying princesses and good princesses,  Dragons who are allergic to Wizards, and Wizards who are annoyingly persistent and evil. There are cats who act  just like cats and magical swords that do not act like swords at all. These are a great way to indulge your inner child,  especially since they are well written with wry humor.

Non-Fiction:

¬†This book was incredible. Persico distilled unimaginable amounts of information in to a comprehensive look at ¬† Nuremberg trials. I was astounded as I read it trying to imagine how he brought all of this information together. I am drawn to this period in history–as many others are and this helped satiate my need for information. Persico gives us information on the war, on how the Trail came about, how the jail system worked, how the prisoners were treated. This is by far the best non-fiction book I have read in a long time. The writing is substantial. I don’t think I could ask for more.

 I am not sure I would recommend this book to everyone. It appealed to me because of the work that I do with  Adventist Hospice, though I do think I would have found it interesting even without working for Hospice. This  book walks us through the history of dying and how advances in medicine: hospitals, medicines, etc. changed  how we approach dying. I think this would be a relevant book for anyone with older relatives as well as those who work in nursing homes or hospitals. If you want more information here is the link to the review I did for the Portland Book Review.

Fiction!

Initially I thought I should put these next books in ascending order of awesomeness, but I couldn’t wrap my head around a hierarchy. Each of these books are incredible (at least to me). I would recommend them all, without reservation, to anyone. That is not to say that they won’t appeal to everyone, because I know everyone has different tastes, and I can be incredibly biased when it comes to what I read. Take the following 7 books for instance: all of them have female protagonists. I obviously have discriminating tastes. The first book is my favorite of all of them, but the rest are all equal in my estimation. Three of the books on this list are by Louise Erdrich, whose work I have been having a love affair with as these blog posts attest to: Damn Good Writing, Day 19.

¬†I couldn’t put this down. I felt like I was swimming deep under water, without needing to breath. The story ¬†intertwines the lives of the Master Butcher Fideles, his wife Eva, their four sons, and a young acrobat woman who ¬†has returned home with her lover who she passes off as her husband to gain respectability. Everything was so ¬†beautiful, poignant, and simple. It is a story of ordinary lives, in an ordinary world. That’s where the beauty lies and ¬†Erdrich knows this so well. Instead of writing towards large, world changing events, her writing conveys the power ¬†in the small things in life. I read the book months ago and I am still not over it.

This is a story about a drum, which begins when Faye discovers the painted drum abandoned in an attic of an estate she in appraising. The drum calls to her, and against all of her professional sensibilities she steals it. We then bounce back and forth through time as we catch glimpses of the lives the drum has touched, changed, and in some instances, ruined.

I am having a hard time remembering the plot of this book, but I think that only adds to it oddly enough. This  book is so tangled; it is a jumble of lives, twisting together. It takes place up in North Dakota, on tribal lands. It  is about the struggle for a dying culture and disappearing land. It is a book of power and sadness. There is evil  and magic, as well as faith and painted drums. It is a book to be read late at night.

This so reminded me of Anne of Green Gables–it has a young girl as the protagonist and a very strong connection with nature for a start. I remember watching the Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe ¬†as a kid–the old one put out by WonderWorks with the human sized beavers. One of the previews on the VHS was ¬†for A Girl of the Limberlost. I finally got around to reading this book while I was on my honeymoon, and it was ¬†perfect. It is a simple, sweet book where you easily fall in love with the characters and everything turns out ¬†perfectly in the end. I recommend reading this book in the summer, on a warm summer afternoon. It won’t ¬†take much time, but the time it takes will be well spent. Unless, of course, Anne of Green Gables is way to girly for you and then I would suggest not reading this book.

Set mainly on a beautiful island in the Indian Ocean, this tells the story of Meterling who falls in love with an older English gentleman who falls down dead during their first dance at the wedding reception. Meterling is left, pregnant, to bear the disgrace. The writing is simple and beautiful, and we automatically love Meterling who must endure her broken heart and continue to live, surrounded by family in her families compound. As Sweet as Honey is the perfect title for this book. Here is the link to the review I did for the Portland Book Review.

Set in North Wales during the last couple of months during World War II, this book tells the tale of a small town barmaid. How whole life is wrapped up in her little village, yet she longs for a larger world. I wasn’t so sure about this book when I first started reading it, but then before I knew it I was hooked. Esther comes of age in a time where soldiers regularly tramped through her town and vied for her affections, where local eyes pry into every aspect of life, and the POW camp just over the hill proves too interesting to resist.

There is so much to this book, I don’t know where to begin. It takes place in two worlds: Germany during World War II with a young woman named Anna, and years later in Minnesota with Anna’s daughter Trudy. It is a story of love and loss, and what lengths we can be driven to for that love. Anna sacrifices everything for her infant daughter in Germany, and at the end of the war when she meets a young American soldier she escapes the horror of her past to marry him and move to America. From that point on she refuses to talk about her past, but it continues to color the relationships that she has with her husband and her daughter. Trudy is left to puzzle out her own murky beginnings, searching fruitlessly against the wall of her mother’s silence. This book was dark and twisty in the exact way I like books to be dark and twisty.¬†

I hope everyone had a great reading year last year. Remember: the books we get to read in this lifetime are finite, so choose them wisely. I have started a new page for the books that I read in 2014, you can check that out here. If you had any books that knocked you off your feet, and made you wobbly at the knees last year, please feel free to share them. I am always on the prowl for my next great read. Good reading everyone!

Standard
Life

A Little Update

So it has been a while…again. I refuse to apologize. Well alright I’m sorry–a tiny bit sorry. It has been two-week since my last blog post, and even longer since I have actually written anything for the blog. WordPress has this great feature where you can schedule posts. Unfortunately this totally encourages procrastination because I will sit down and write three or four posts at a time and then forget about the whole blog thing for a month.

Woops.

Nanowrimo begins today. I didn’t sleep all that well last night, most likely due to the anticipation. I am hoping it goes better this year than last. As a reminder it is a national event where writers everywhere sit down and try to write 50,000 words in 30 days, during the month of November. Last year I went crazy. Here are three posts to prove it: Getting Started with Nanowrimo, Nanowrimo, I hate you, and The Tortured Writer. My goal this time is to just hit my word count goal everyday. Falling behind is literary suicide, so this time I plan to write EVERYDAY.

We will see how it goes.

Other than Nano looming over my head like a dead turkey, life has been good. I am currently in Northern California, staying with my brother and sister-in-law to help with their new baby. My ovaries are thrilled, but I think that scared my husband. My days have been beautifully slow. I have been reading, playing with the baby, writing a little, and sleeping. Marvelous. There is sun here, which is a HUGE bonus. Last year around this time, I was already experiencing the winter doldrums that only the Pacific Northwest can provide. Thankfully I get to forestall all of that for a little while this year.

Gita (my sis) has promised to withhold baby time until I hit my word count for the day. I feel like this will be a very effective motivational tool. My ovaries won’t like it if I take too long to get the lead out. They might take over even.

What a scary thought.

What else is new?

I am now a member of the newest recruits the Multnomah Country Search and Rescue (SAR). It is eight months of trainings and outings until I am completely certified. I am following in my brothers footsteps, as Corey was a part of SAR  all throughout high school. A lot of the members of SAR still know Corey and apparently they tell me I have big shoes to fill. But then I was confused because they seemed to be talking about my baby brother.

I read 16 books this month. I honestly have no idea how that happened. It has to be some sort of record for me. At least it is a record since I left middle school–I was a crazy reader back then, but I also functioned on much less sleep. 16 books! Granted a lot of them were silly, fun reads. They didn’t take as much time as a more serious novel. Some of them were rereads, so I could just breeze right through them. Despite all of that 16 books is still pretty cool.

I know this has been all over the place, but I just wanted to give some sort of update. Now I need to go work on my novel for Nanowrimo. I am going to attempt to keep blogging during the month of November, but I make no promises. I was even thinking of doing NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month), which is where you post something everyday for thirty days. But again I make no promises. We will just have to wait and see how it all turns out.

Ciao!!

Standard
Uncategorized

It’s an odd kind of healing, he thinks, that makes both wound and man vanish.

This is a quote I pulled from Peter Ho Davies’¬†The Welsh Girl,¬†which I am close to finishing. I have been on a holocaust kick recently. This is my third book in a row on the subject, and while I know the subject is depressing, I kind of need depressing books every now and then. Anyway, this line stuck with me.¬†

I had to read it over and over again, each time finishing the sentence and feeling like it wasn’t enough and starting over. I think the quote is a perfect example of what is missing from my own novel – internal commentary from my main character that is introspective; something more than her simply moving from on task to another, one event to the next. I have the line scrawled across my white board now. I am hoping it will remind me to dig deeper while I am writing.¬†

I think I wrote my novel, at least the first draft, too fast to really delve into my character. All I really have now is a plot line without any substance. Unfortunately, there is a mounting list of elements that are missing that I have to keep in mind while I go back through, but I have created a tool to help me.

I have started keeping a running list on my white board of everything I need to keep in mind while writing. The list is titled K.I.M (Keep In Mind). This way I can whine about how bitchy Kim is, how demanding she is, and the pressure is suddenly off of me. Kim is like a strict schoolmarm, standing over me with a steady glare and a ready hand with the ruler. I find her motivating, without having to get frustrated with myself.

Thank God for imagination. 

Good writing everybody…

It’s an odd kin…

Quote
Reading

Pat Conroy

I am returning to the subject of books, specifically good vs. bad and of which what we should read–or at least what I should read. I was beginning to think that maybe–just maybe–there might be a place for trash reading. Things like Twilight might just be useful.

But then I was listening to Pat Conroy’s My Reading life (on tape) and when I heard him say, “The books I was born to read.” I snapped back to reality.

It’s not that Twilight doesn’t have a place–in someone else’s life. Someone who approaches reading without¬†distinguishing¬†between the classics and the drivel. It is fair game for preteens or business¬†professionals who need all of their mental faculties to be engaged elsewhere and can afford to stare at nothing for two hours–because that is all it really takes to read something like Twilight.

But if Twilight is something that I was born to read, well maybe I shouldn’t have been born at all. If Twilight was my literary legacy, the reason for which I was created, well all I can ask is: what’s the point in living? I have talked about a book diet before, and besides having a little bit of writer’s block and a very strong and¬†embarrassing¬†urge to read The Host–another abominable book by Stephenie Meyer, I have stuck to the diet. And thanks to Pat Conroy’s words, I feel better about being seemingly elitist.

But this is not about being¬†elitist, or snobby–though I have been known to be both. It is about trying to educate myself in a responsible way, and Twilight offers no educational value for me. While I believe we should all try to better ourselves in a holistic way, there is really a limit to how many areas you can focus on: mental health, education, physical health, physical conditioning, music, reading, writing, work, relationships, languages, etc. You can add a thousand more areas of personal growth, depending on a persons interests and skills.

There is not enough time in the day, so I need to be choosy. As I am working on becoming a professional writer, I need to be¬†conscious of what I am reading and what I am writing on a daily basis. That being said, I have decided to give myself a break when it comes to TV. I know I had said I was going on a TV Diet, but I have suspended it. It didn’t last long anyway.

Before I knew it I was back to watching shows like 16 and Pregnant and Catfish, neither of which are wholesome. But I have decided that it is alright. We all need a little trash in our lives. Something that our minds can skate over, becoming blank zombies, allowing the recesses of our minds to do their thing–sort through everything and categorize. Instead of limiting what kind of TV I watch, I am going to try to limit the amount. Screw quality, and limit quantity.

Isn’t that what we are supposed to do with junk food?

Standard