July 29, 2014

Bout of Books Read-a-Thon 11

I cannot believe it's already time for another Bout of Books Read-a-Thon! I think this is my third time participating and I can't stress enough how it keeps me on track with my reading! What is the Bout of Books Read-a-thon, you ask?

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 18th and runs through Sunday, August 24th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure, and the only reading competition is between you and your usual number of books read in a week. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 11 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. 

 - From the Bout of Books team

Bout of Books

For this round, with a wedding to plan and a new house we're still chipping away at setting up, I'm going to go easy on myself. But I'm going to focus on holding myself accountable for my TBR Pile Challenge List. My goal is to read three books, two of which come from the challenge. Honestly, I think this might be the toughest read-a-thon yet because I'm such an emotional reader. I completely choose my books based on how I feel, so this TBR Pile List is completely unappealing to me. But I'm going to do it! I haven't failed a Bout of Books yet and I don't plan on it!! :)

If you're interested in participating, head on over to Boutofbooks.org and get in on the fun! 

July 28, 2014

Monday's Reading Recap


On Saturday I helped throw a surprise 30th birthday party for my cousin, Jennifer (who is really more like a sister to me). The planning of the surprise on top of everything else going on was the biggest unlisted stress last week, but I'm happy to report that we were a success!! She was stunned! It helped that we went to Six Flags Magic Mountain on her actual birthday last Thursday to celebrate so she wasn't expecting anything else. I'm so happy we did it but I'll be honest: I didn't get much reading done as a result! Well worth it, though!
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Last Week I Finished Reading: Requiem by Lauren Oliver
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  This Week I Plan on Reading: , The Great Gatsby (re-read) by F. Scott Fitzgerald and Attachments by Rainbow Rowell

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This Week I'm Sharing a Review For: Priceless by Nicole Richie

What books did you recently discover? 

July 25, 2014

Memories of Babi by Aranka Siegal

I was born and raised in Hungary in a small city called Beregszasz, but some of the most vivid memories of my childhood are of my grandmother, Babi, on her farm. [...] Meaningful childhood memories can last a lifetime- here are stories inspired by some of my visits with Babi.
-from Memories of Babi by Aranka Siegal

One of my favorite children's novels is Upon the Head of the Goat: A Childhood in Hungary by Aranka Siegal; it chronicles Siegal's real life experience during the Holocaust, leading up to her captivity in a concentration camp. In the sequel, Grace in the Wilderness: After the Liberation, Siegal explains her life post-World War II, integrating back into everyday life after experiencing the horrors of the Holocaust. While it can easily be read as a stand alone, Memories of Babi, is best appreciated as a prequel to Siegal's two original novels as they bring life and history to the characters that is not afforded in the length of this book of stories.

Each chapter in Memories of Babi contains a story that reads like a fable with a lesson main character Piri (Siegal with a different name) learns from life with her grandmother, Babi, on Babi's farm. Piri learns lessons in hard work, compassion, honesty, and tradition which all help her maintain her sense of identity and compassion once faced with the atrocities of the Holocaust.

My favorite story was titled The Beggar Woman, in which Piri and Babi take care of Bracha, a beggar woman in town, when nobody else would help her. Babi grew up with Bracha and explains to Piri that she befriended Bracha as a child because others were cruel to her. When Piri asks whether or not the other children would play with Babi after she befriended Bracha, Babi replies, "Some did and some did not, but it didn't bother me. The ones that were so mean to her were not worth bothering about. Why would I want such mean friends?" I found this to be great foreshadowing for Piri's experience with the Holocaust.

Because I had already read Aranka Siegal's two autobiographical novels I knew what Piri would experience and how it would affect her; I knew the type of child she was and the adult she would become. The stories in Memories of Babi are part of the foundation for who Piri is which makes the stories more powerful having already read the novels. I highly recommend that if you are interested in reading this, you first read Siegal's novels. While they are marketed as children's novels, the content and writing are appropriate for any age. If you have children in junior high school or older, I highly recommend reading these books with them to give you a platform for discussing the Holocaust and human rights. Aranka Siegal's books are compelling reads for any age.

Bottom Line: A great compilation of fable-like stories which I highly recommend -- after reading Siegal's books Upon the Head of a Goat and Grace in the Wilderness. 4/5 stars (5/5 stars as a series)

July 23, 2014

Summer TBR List Checkpoint #1

Despite being super busy, I'm happy to report that I've made some serious progress with my summer TBR list. So far I've finished 4 out of 10 books, which isn't bad for one month in! I did start listening to Lauren Oliver's Panic via audio book and I just was not feeling it. Anyone have any feedback on that one? I might try to read the physical book since I picked it up at a signing, but I conveniently pushed it to the back of my list for now. Hopefully someone might change my mind! ;)

Here's what I have left to read:
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So far I've finished: Pandemonium and Requiem by Lauren Oliver, The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler, and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak -- along with seven other books/audio books! Woo hoo! I also really need to make some more headway on my TBR Pile Challege list, but maybe I'll focus on that stuff after the wedding! :X

July 21, 2014

Monday's Reading Recap

I  haven't posted a reading recap in so long because I'll be honest: I haven't been totally invested in this blog lately because of everything else going on. Not to brag about my stress, but I've been working on turning our new house into a home, planning a wedding (less than 3 months away!!), preparing for a new baby nephew (which means lots of crocheting), and not to mention that summer is a big season for big birthdays! Ay yay yay! All that said, I actually have been finding time to read, even if it's just via audio book while crocheting. But I am seriously about 9 book reviews behind and I'm not even sure if I'm going to get to reviewing some of the books I've read this summer. I'm just happy I have a lot of book reviews scheduled already so you won't be getting rid of me too easily.

How is everyone else's summer going? What's the best book you've read so far (newly published or not)?

Last Week I Finished Reading: Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup and Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
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  This Week I Plan on Reading: Requiem by Lauren Oliver, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and (hopefully I'll get to) Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
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This Week I'm Sharing a Review For: Memories of Babi by Aranka Siegal

What books did you recently discover? 

July 18, 2014

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

 I have come to believe that virtue isn't a condition of character. It's an elected action. It's a choice we keep making, over and over, hoping that someday we create a habit so strong it will carry us through our bouts of pettiness and meanness.
-from Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

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 {buy here}

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress chronicles Rhoda Janzen's life after her bipolar husband of fifteen years leaves her for a man. Rhoda weaves stories of growing up in a Mennonite home with stories of returning home after her divorce and the differences between the Mennonite lifestyle and the secular life she has chosen for herself. With a poignantly witty voice that uses humor to color in some seriously difficult chapters in her life, Janzen ultimately presents a story of loving yourself and appreciating your roots, no matter how different and somewhat ridiculous.

So here's what I expected: a story about a girl who chose a secular life of technology, R-rated movies and store bought butter. My ignorance of Mennonite life (despite my education in Comparative Religion) kind of affected my rating because I expected a much greater disconnect between Janzen's Mennonite family an her secular lifestyle, but aside from her parents being hyper-religious and, in effect, hyper-conservative, there were no horse-and-buggy or butter churning stories found here. As you can learn in the appendix, that would be the Amish, who are an even more conservative off-shoot of Mennonite. Overall I felt like Janzen's childhood wasn't too terribly different from any other extremely religious or conservative upbringing, especially considering she has two parents who love her dearly.

Similarly, I wasn't expecting this memoir to be such a mixture of stories from Janzen's past as much as stories about her transition after her divorce. Obviously there should be stories of her childhood to give the reader a gauge of where she comes from, but sometimes it seemed less about her journey going home and more about her life in general. The title in general completely gave me different expectations and ultimately felt like a marketing ploy, which I didn't like.

At the end of the day, Rhoda Janzen has a strong and funny sense of style as a writer. Her vocabulary is more than just impressive, not just by her knowledge but her usage of words. Some parts of this book are laugh out loud funny, some of them are just plain sad. I think most every female reader can identify with Janzen in some way or another, especially if you have come from a religious family (in any faith or denomination). I listened to this book via audio book and it entertained me throughout my commute. I just think it's important to know that you're not going to read a book about a huge culture-shock so much as you're going to hear another story of a woman learning to love herself with the help of her colorful family.

Bottom Line: This is a good read, but not as outrageous as the title implies. Full of colorful stories about Janzen's life growing up in a hyper-religious family, this story contains no horse-and-buggies, so don't confuse Mennonite with Amish. 3/5 stars, but it might have been better with different expectations.

July 11, 2014

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Real life was something happening in her peripheral vision.

-from Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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Amazon | Goodreads

Fangirl is one of those YA books that you've either read or you've put off reading because you're afraid you won't love it as much as the rest of the YA population. For a long time I was in the latter group and I'm not sure why I didn't trust Rainbow Rowell after reading Eleanor and Park, but I'm glad I finally checked this book off my TBR list. If you are or were a teenage fangirl in anyway, this is definitely a book you shouldn't put aside any longer.

Rainbow Rowell's third novel essentially follows the evolution of Cath Avery as she goes through her first year of college. On the outside, Cath is a fan of the Simon Snow book series and writes fan fiction, sometimes even with her twin sister, Wren. On the inside, Cath is a pro at setting boundaries and not letting people in because her mother left Cath, Wren and their dad when they were little. When Cath enters college and Wren wants to separate themselves as individuals from their twin habits, Cath finds herself alone and vulnerable to all the change. While she wants to stay locked away inside herself and her fan fiction where nobody can hurt her emotionally, with a little help from new friends, Cath might just be able to learn how to trust and grow without losing herself. 

I am always in awe of the way Rainbow Rowell is able to capture a character and make them so realistic. I really, really loved Cath despite her flaws because of the way Rowell constructs her (and believe me, I was annoyed with her plenty of times!). I can relate to her for a variety of personal reasons: the way she makes boundaries because of her absent parent, the way she guards her emotions and shelters herself, her co-dependence because of her manic father, and most of all her fan fiction (I had a fairly popular fan fic myself when I was Cath's age). Even Rowell's supporting characters are impeccably real, from Levi and Reagan to Cath's twin sister, Wren. I especially appreciated that Cath's dad wasn't a stock parental character but had his own depth and complications that added to the story. 

While one of my biggest complaints is that this story is just too long and somewhat aimless at times, that complaint is very forgivable given Rowell's craftsmanship of the characters. I don't know that I could have enjoyed such a long character-driven YA story without the strength of those characters. Similarly, I could have lived without all the fan fiction excerpts that end each chapter, although I'm sure if I examined them and deconstructed this novel better, I would find a real appreciation for them. But even the fan fiction characters were crafted well enough that I could overlook my indifference and find the parallels they draw to the novel's main characters. 

Overall, Fangirl is a warm and fulfilling novel that I found myself reading at any opportunity. While I know that my enjoyment of it stems mostly from being able to identify with Cath in a variety of ways, I think other readers will also like Rowell's strong writing style and tangible characters enough to make this a book for the favorites shelf. 

Bottom Line: If you were ever a fangirl of anything, definitely pick up Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. It's coming-of-age story colored with strong characters is one you won't soon forget. 4.5/5 stars.

July 9, 2014

Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith by Ann Lamott

When things break up and fences fall over, desperation and powerlessness slink in which turns out to be good. Humility and sweetness often arrive in your garden not long after.
-from Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith by Ann Lamott

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Anne Lamott's non-fiction Grace (Eventually): Thoughts on Faith is not a dogmatic or religious book that's going to tell you how you have to live your life. It's much more graceful than that. Using anecdotes from her own life, Lamott explains where to find grace in places where you least expect it and how to give grace when you didn't know you had it in you to give. And as always, in true Anne Lamott fashion, the prose is beautiful enough to enjoy this book no matter the content (I'm just happy the content was helpful!).

When I first begun listening to this audio book I really needed some of God's grace. I felt like my spiritual spring was running dry and I needed Anne Lamott to tell me what to do to tap into the well of grace. The biggest thing that I learned through this book is that we don't always recognize grace when we're receiving it. One of my favorite examples in this book was Lamott's atypical mother who Lamott did not always get along with ("She had a black belt in co-dependence" -- oh, how I adore that line!!). But through spiritual intervention, Lamott was able to find the ways God used her stressful relationship to provide grace to both women.

Another powerful message in this book is that we must give grace as much as we wish to receive it. While there's no equation that you must give so much grace in order to receive a certain amount, God's plan goes much deeper than such superficial notions. When we give grace we receive it simply by the act of giving. I have learned this countless times with my prayer ministry, Knit Together by Love.  I find myself getting just as much (if not more) out of helping people as they get receiving a gift. Lamott's notion that we "must clean up our side of the street" is such a clear metaphor for doing our part to keep a clear conscience and give back to others.

Bottom Line: If you like no-nonsense, faith-based Christianity without all the doctrine and debate, this is a great book. If you're super traditional, I'll warn you that Lamott is a Christian feminist with a strong hate for George W. Bush. But her spirit is in the right place, her love for God is evident and her writing is beautiful-- so what is there not to love? 4/5 Hearts.

July 4, 2014

The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

“I don't know exactly what it is, but it looks like interconnected websites where people show their photos and write about everything going on in their lives, like whether they found a parking spot or what they ate for breakfast."

"But why?" Josh asks.”

-from The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler

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The Future of Us is a compelling story by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler in which two teens from the 1990s obtain access to Facebook. When high school sophomore, Josh, gives his friend Emma an America Online CD for her new computer, they just think it's great that they can use her phone line to get onto the internet. But what is this web page called Facebook? And why is there a girl 15 years in the future named Emma who looks like an older version of Emma? When given the opportunity to peek into their futures through a series of status updates and photos, Josh and Emma begin to change the way they see themselves and the actions they take to ensure their futures.

The idea for this novel is absolutely wonderful. The execution... not so much. While I did enjoy listening to the audio book of The Future of Us, the general arc of the story fell flat before I reached the halfway point. The book essentially goes through a cycle where Emma does not like her future based on one vague status update, so she goes to great lengths to make a change that will affect her future outcome. At first it was interesting to see the butterfly effect, but she goes through this cycle so many times that I really didn't care for her and how superficial she was by the end of the book.

Josh, on the other hand, is a much more stable character. Granted, he likes the future he sees and doesn't want to do anything to change it. The way he explores and navigates his life knowing the outcome is more interesting than the way Emma tries to constantly change hers. Unfortunately despite both their efforts, I don't think either of them ever realize that Facebook is just a highlights reel of life and not necessarily the real thing. Sure, they would be able to see if they are married and if they have children, but I wish the authors would have taken better care to reinforce the negative ramifications of Facebook throughout any era.

The Story of Us is definitely entertaining, but I think the premise could have been so much more. At the very least, I wish there would have been more '90s references. It could have been a lot more fun in a lot of different ways, but it was just underwhelming to me. Maybe the aimlessness of the story is due to the fact that this book was co-authored, but either way I didn't love it or hate it.

Bottom Line: An exciting premise with an underwhelming execution. Not the worst book, but nothing as life-altering as it sounds. Meh. 3/5 Stars.