Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Book Log: March 2018

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them. This is my third year doing this (here is a list of my 2017 books, and here is the list of my 2016 books; these pages don't have commentary, but if there's a title that interests you, click on the appropriate month to learn more).

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

17) 3/1: Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee
This was a Young Adult title. The setting is San Francisco in 1906. Mercy Wong lives in Chinatown but longs for educational opportunities not afforded to her as a girl and as a minority, so she cleverly concocts a way to gain admission to an elite private girls school. Mercy struggles with the transition, as a majority of the other students, all white, don't accept her.

A major historical event took place in 1906 San Francisco, and while most summaries mention it, I'll try to keep to my spoiler-free reflections in case you're the sort to want to pick up a book with little context beforehand. The girls are forced to find a way to work together, in spite of initial impressions. I could see this book having a place in a middle-school classroom for some interdisciplinary English and History unit.

18) 3/3: Bury Your Dead (Chief Inspector Gamache series, #6) by Louise Penny
I'm making quick work of the Chief Inspector Gamache series. Other than the first title, which had a long library wait, I've been able to get a hold of most of the series with minimal waits, and the audiobooks are such a treat that when I have a choice between actual book or audio, I select the latter.

This title I read instead of listened to, and I found myself completely engaged. Reading these titles back to back could backfire if the stories were too formulaic, but just when you thought you had things figured out, this book changes all that.

Throughout this book, three different story arcs are happening. Immediately we get a brief glimpse of something monumental that happened "off stage," and as the characters wrestle with the consequences of that, we are granted more and more details of what that event was until we get the full picture at the close of the book. Gamache is taking some time for himself but happens into a case, which is a second storyline (and that case has fingerprints that delve deep into the past, to the founding of Quebec). The third storyline is happening in Three Pines, as Jean Guy is sent there to re-investigate a previous case.

As I was reading, I had to put my book down at one point to rave to my husband about how much I was enjoying the clever storylines and how this title was my new favorite, even though my husband has read zero of these books and my words were probably vague and confusing. I just needed someone to gush to, and he was in the room. And lest we think these characters are tropes and don't transform, we see several instances of people altering their behaviors due to circumstances around them.

19) 3/4: The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie
Here's the thing: I was first introduced to Sherman Alexie last year; some of his titles were familiar to me, but once I heard him speak I read his memoir when it was released and have been working through some of his other books.

As I was reading this short-story collection, though, I heard murmurings that he might be caught up in the #metoo movement for abusing his influence in the industry in an attempt to pressure women into uncomfortable encounters when they'd originally believed his interest in their work genuine and professional. NPR did a story when Alexie's accusers came forward.

I'm not yet ready to separate those accounts from Alexie's work, so I finished this book with little enjoyment just to move on. So there's my non-review review.

20) 3/8: I Thought It Was Just Me (but it wasn't): Telling the Truth About Perfectionism, Inadequacy, and Power by Brene Brown
I only have one other Brene Brown title under my belt, but I picked this one up when the Audible title was deeply discounted.

It's been awhile since I've taken a tangent before tying it into my impression of a book, so let's meander, shall we? When I was in middle school, perhaps, I remember a drive with my dad. He was working through audiotapes for Men Are From Mars, Women are From Venus. I believe the author was setting up the framework of men and women using the same words but their meaning behind them is nuanced and different and their motivations for sharing information is different as well (I think that's basically the premise of the whole book, but I suspect we were near the beginning). Dad paused it to get my impression. I remember it was something like, "Well of course men and women communicate differently, Dad!" He was flabbergasted that I'd already known something that he was just realizing.

Anyway, back to Brene Brown's I Thought It Was Just Me. I appreciate the truths she articulated, like the differences between shame and low self-esteem, the importance of cultivating compassion, and expressing empathy over sympathy (especially towards ourselves before we can practice it outward). She also puts forward some "case studies" and for later sections she offers questions to work through, using the earlier case studies as a guide to demonstrate the personal reflections that could result.

So how does this tie in to my earlier story? I really appreciate her insights, but for the most part it wasn't an a-ha book for me, since I feel like I've come to these same conclusions. I do recommend this book, though, especially if you could use a practical way to reflect on any shame you feel regarding any area of your life (she has examples from people who struggle with parenthood, family dynamics, marriage tension, body image, employment, and so on).

21) 3/12: A Trick of the Light (Chief Inspector Gamache series, #7) by Louise Penny
Another Louise Penny mystery, big surprise, right? Here we find Clara has achieved success in the art community, but the death of someone from her past puts a damper on the celebrations.

This was, as always, a pleasure to listen to, but on the heels of Bury Your Dead, it was hard to compete. We continue to see characters evolve and deepen, though.






22) 3/12: Adam: God's Beloved by Henri Nouwen
Adam: God's Beloved was a beautiful read. I've been longing to read some Henri Nouwen after repeatedly encountering excerpts of his and I found this title at the college library.

This is the final book he wrote before passing away and it describes his experiences at L'Arche Daybreak Community. He served as their chaplain and was paired with Adam, one of the residents there; Henri was expected to wake up Adam and get him ready for the day. Adam was severely handicapped and couldn't speak, and Henri was intimidated with the responsibility in the beginning, but he credits Adam with transforming his faith. He sees Adam as a parallel to the biblical Adam.

Nouwen's insights were thoughtful and heartfelt:
"Could Adam pray? Did he know who God is and what the Name of Jesus means? Did he understand the mystery of God among us? For a long time I thought about these questions. For a long time I was curious about how much of what I knew, Adam could know, and how much of what I understood, Adam could understand. But now I see that these were for me questions from 'below,' questions that reflected more my anxiety and uncertainty than God's love. God's questions, the questions from 'above' were, 'Can you let Adam lead you into prayer? Can you believe that I am in deep communion with Adam and that his life is a prayer? Can you let Adam be a living prayer at your table? Can you see my face in the face of Adam?'" (page 55)
I found myself wanting to mark down passage after passage, no small feat for a short book. Adam transformed Nouwen's life and the lives of several people he encountered, even if only for a meal, that it's easy to see why Nouwen held him in such esteem.

At one point Nouwen mentions being disappointed in a peer who accused him of throwing his life away and doing such demeaning work that he wasn't trained for when he should be preaching and writing in ways that would have more impact. That would be an easy reaction to have, but Nouwen allowed himself to get past any self-importance and see Adam for who he was and what he could reveal about our true vocations. In their exchanges, even as Adam wasn't verbal, Nouwen humbled himself and opened himself up to learn from Adam, to the point that when Adam died, Nouwen has this to say:
"I couldn't stop gazing at his face. I thought, 'Here is the man who more than anyone connected me with my inner self, my community, and my God. Here is the man I was asked to care for, but who took me into his life and into his heart in such an incredibly deep way. Yes, I had cared for him during my first year at Daybreak and had come to love him so much, but he has been such an invaluable gift to me. Here is my counselor, my teacher, and my guide, who could never say a word to me but taught me more than any book, professor, or spiritual director.'" (page 101)

23) 3/20: Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood
Priestdaddy was our March book club selection. Time was tight for me, so I opted to listen to the audiobook during a long drive to and from Iowa.

This was mixed for me. Lockwood's father had been a married Lutheran minister before converting to Catholicism. He received a special dispensation from the Pope to become a priest. That in itself is interesting, but while the title is Priestdaddy, the book is really about her and her parents are peripheral. Early on she and her husband move back in with her parents, which brings old memories to light. Unfortunately, I felt like she was always trying to make us laugh and the characters seemed like caricatures instead of fully formed individuals.

Lockwood is a poet, so towards the end as she wasn't trying as hard to be funny and delved into more serious, introspective areas, I found my enjoyment increase.  As often happens when I have a middling opinion of a book club selection, though, hearing others' enjoyment and insight does challenge me to revisit certain passages and realize I do appreciate them, even if the overall impression isn't very positive.

24) 3/27: The Beautiful Mystery (Chief Inspector Gamache series, #8) by Louise Penny
I continue my progress in this mystery series. I believe this book is the first that hasn't had a Three Pines component. There is a death at a remote monastery that is being investigated.

One aspect I haven't mentioned yet that I appreciate is that, while these cases often have Inspector Gamache away from his wife for long stretches during investigations, they are dedicated to each other and there's no question of his loyalty. He will process cases with her because he appreciates her perspective, and they have a deep love and affection for each other that isn't dimmed when they're apart. We see how other relationships are similar and different to theirs, and what that suggests about their ultimate success or failure.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Book Log: February 2018

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them. This is my third year doing this (here is a list of my 2017 books, and here is the list of my 2016 books; these pages don't have commentary, but if there's a title that interests you, click on the appropriate month to learn more).

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

10) 2/6: A Rule Against Murder (Chief Inspector Gamache series, #4) by Louise Penny
You better just get used to me mentioning these mysteries on a regular basis as I work through them this year. The mysteries are such a treat to read, filled with descriptions of enticing food and led by a detective that reminds me peripherally of Hercule Poirot but more human and less self-absorbed as he assembles a team that individually aren't seen as spectacular but they tend to submit to his mentorship and they work together impressively.

In this fourth book in the series, we find Gamache and his wife celebrating their anniversary, as they do every year, at a secluded, posh resort. They happen to be present while the lodgings are taken over for a family reunion. Gamache notices how dysfunctional all the family members seem to be. We shouldn't be surprised that someone Gamache knows from nearby Three Pines is related to this family and shows up shortly before a murder happens.

As Gamache investigates, it comes to light that many of the family members perceived events growing up in a false light, reading things into them that weren't there. It's a bittersweet story, with some hints of redemption but not all comes to rights.

11) 2/10: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
I'm continuing to revisit this series, steadily working through the delightful Jim Dale audiobooks. They continue to be excellent (and I'm still behind my daughter and my husband, so I'm in this perpetual state of forgetting which event happens in which book because I will overhear a chapter being read aloud or will take over reading duties once or twice a week and it can get all jumbled in my mind).







12) 2/13: The Brutal Telling (Chief Inspector Gamache series, #5) by Louise Penny
Here we go again -- another Louise Penny mystery! In this one, a hermit is found murdered in Three Pines, seemingly unknown by everyone.

This story doesn't wrap up as cleanly as other books in the series -- there's evidence that appears to pinpoint a character as the murderer, but it's not as definitive as previous books, as if they're saving room for a return to the story.






13) 2/19: I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
This has been on my radar for awhile, and while I've been steadily plugging along on it, reading chapters in stolen moments, I made quicker progress when I switched to listening to the book.

I thought I knew the general storyline: Malala gets shot by the Taliban because of her desire to continue to be educated, even as they are discouraging girls from attending schools. I thought this book would start with that event and continue with her healing and activism afterwards. However, I was surprised and suitably impressed by how outspoken and involved Malala was at a young age. This book sets out how life changed for her family as the Taliban gained power, and how her family was resisting and Malala was getting the word out on her daily experiences. She was targeted because of these actions, but the shooting event happens towards the end of the book.

14) 2/20: The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy
When I was in junior high, my English teacher, the quirky Mr Pierce, introduced this book to our class. He read most of it aloud to us as we followed along, pausing to define new vocabulary or confirming we were following the plot. Then he set us lose to read the last third or so on our own. I DEVOURED it -- it's such a fun read. It's a classic but it doesn't read like some other books in the canon that, while interesting, discourage some people because of the length and the frequent, detailed asides.

In The Scarlet Pimpernel, we find ourselves in France and England during the Reign of Terror. We learn there is a master of disguise who is smuggling royalty destined to guillotine out of the country. There's a parallel love story alongside the Pimpernel action, where Lady Marguerite is reflecting on how she has lost the love and respect of her new husband, the simpering but previously devoted man.

I picked up an audiobook copy from Audible when it was recently on sale, and it was a delightful listen. In fact, the narrator was Ralph Cosham, the same narrator of the Chief Inspector Gamache books I've been working through. It became further amusing to notice there is a character named Armand in both this title and the Louise Penny series.

15) 2/20: Love Big, Be Well: Letters to a Small-Town Church by Winn Collier
This is a newly released book, not all that long but packed full of thoughtful reflections. The structure is a series of letters, primarily from a pastor to his church. The way he was hired was a deviation from traditional practices, primarily because the search committee was getting disillusioned with the process.

I found myself enjoying the structure. First, the letters aren't all that long, and while they do refer to earlier letters, they can be stand-alones, making it easy to read a letter or two at a time, then set it down. I wanted to copy down so much of the insights (but, for now, I snapped photos of multiple pages so I could return the book and come back later to copy down my favorite passages). It's a beautiful book.

16) 2/23: Seize the Day by Saul Bellow
Here was the February book club selection; we'd originally earmarked a longer work of his, but it was quickly replaced with this novella until the book club got a taste for Saul Bellow's writing style to see if we wanted to tackle one of his longer classic works.

The protagonist is a gentleman entering middle age but still floundering in the world. He spent several years attempting (and failing) to become famous in Hollywood, and now he's nursing his wounds after leaving his wife and children and struggling to find meaning. He finds it easy to lay blame on others, but in more vulnerable, introspective moments, he recognizes ways in which he habitually chooses the wrong course. He is desperate to gain approval from his father, longing for the slightest signs of love and caring. The discussion was delightful and already makes me want to revisit the book after the insights shared.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Book Log: January 2018

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them. This is my third year doing this (here is a list of my 2017 books, and here is the list of my 2016 books; these pages don't have commentary, but if there's a title that interests you, click on the appropriate month to learn more).

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

1) 1/1: Christmas Bells by Jennifer Chiaverini
This was our December book club selection, but as we couldn't find a time that worked for everyone to meet until the new year, I took my time reading it so the details would be fresh.

This book has an interesting structure. The chapters alternate points-of-view, with half of them being in the past, focused on Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and the other half set in present-day Cambridge with various individuals whose lives and stories intersect. The centerpiece is Longfellow's poem "Christmas Bells," which many of us know because it became the song, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day."

In the Longfellow chapters, we learn about his life before, during, and after the Civil War; in the present-day sections, a church choir is the focus, with us getting to learn more about the director, the accompanist, the priest, members of the choir, patrons of the church, and so on. Most of the present-day is focused on a single day, although each character does end up revealing experiences from their past.

The author did her research on Longfellow and I found I knew little of his life before picking up this book. It was an easy, sweet read if you're looking for something light.

2) 1/1: Tell Me Three Things by Julie Buxbaum
This was a light YA read. Take a girl who is still processing her mother's death and her loving father who remarries and moves her away from everything familiar. Have her start at a new (private, fancy) high school.

Jessie receives an email from a fellow student wanting to answer any questions and help her adjust, but preferring to stay anonymous in the process. We fluctuate between seeing their online conversations and her daily life. It's a pleasant, easy read with some predictable outcomes -- I think anyone could guess from the early pages who her correspondent is, but much like movies like You've Got Mail or books like Dear Mr Knightley, some of the fun is knowing something that the protagonist doesn't.

There's a sense of real, believable grief in some of the exchanges, so I wasn't at all surprised to learn the author also lost her mother as a child and used some of that experience to shape Jessie's processing of the grief. It's not a heavy, deep read, though, and there's a frankness with drugs, drinking, even sex that could turn off those that don't want that in a book or want to be aware so they can delay offering this to a younger teen.

3) 1/6: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
As you may remember, I encountered Sherman Alexie at UntitledTown last year, and after hearing him speak, I first read his memoir You Don't Have to Say You Love Me (it was one of my favorite reads last year).

Then I picked up this book and was struck at how much true-to-life it seemed, given what I knew of Alexie's experiences growing up. I was not at all surprised to learn in the afterword that he was going to include this in a memoir but it didn't seem to fit. When he was approached to write a Young Adult book, he (slightly) adapted this. One addition was working with a graphic artist to create little doodles, drawings, and comics throughout, which fit well.

Sherman Alexie has earned a special place with me -- I connected with his memoir and I find myself wanting to work through his titles (I have one or two of his poetry books I've acquired at thrift stores, so we'll see when those rise to the top of the reading pile).

4) 1/6: A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny
I do love a good mystery - they're nostalgic for me, harkening back to the many Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie titles I devoured growing up, as well as the car trips when Grandpa Claire would play audiobooks of their mysteries and I would be riveted. I appreciate Louise Penny's books, giving me new material to work through.

This is the second in the Inspector Gamache series. In it, we revisit Three Pines, the idyllic village, when during an annual curling match an unlovable woman is killed.

I can see myself revisiting this series again, after working my way through (there are thirteen published so far). Penny does a believable job in casting suspicion on any number of people that you don't know until the big reveal who is the guilty one. It would be fun to pay more attention to the plot once you know who the perpetrator is and see better what bread crumbs we received.

5) 1/14: The Austen Escape by Katherine Reay
A couple years ago I'd read and enjoyed Dear Mr Knightley by Katherine Reay, and as people enjoy her books, I pick them up now and again. I didn't really appreciate A Portrait of Emily Price from last year, but this was a new release I spotted at the library and spontaneously checked out.

Take two friends from childhood who have grown a little distant but decide to take a retreat to an Austen experience. The protagonist ends up living through her own Austen novel (love triangle, misunderstandings), even if she doesn't realize it.



6) 1/15: Half-Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls
My boss in Indiana recommended The Glass Castle to me about a decade ago; it's a riveting book that sometimes hit too close to home (although Walls' family was far more dysfunctional than mine ever was or will be). The Glass Castle is the story of the author's childhood with a father who was always dreaming up the next get-rich-quick scheme (then having to run out of town when they backfired) and a dreamy, artistic mother who wasn't prepared to handle the responsibility of parenthood. I found myself gasping at some of her experiences (the moving-truck scene was heart-palpitating, for starters).

Anyway, that story was memorable enough and Half-Broke Horses was released later as the story of the author's maternal grandmother. By the end, you can see how certain personality traits of Walls' mother were already firmly entrenched in childhood. And there is no doubt that Walls' grandmother had grit.

7) 1/20: The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny
This was the third book in the Inspector Gamache series, and my first audiobook listen in the series (a new favorite way to encounter them). In this series, a death happens during a seance.

Another dynamic of this book is that Inspector Gamache's a past case of Gamache's is coming back to light -- we hear more specifics of the Arnot case (previously mentioned in brief, vague snippets) and how Gamache's just actions didn't sit well with everyone involved. So in addition to investigating the Three Pines murder, Gamache also must navigate leading his team when he understands not all are loyal to him.



8) 1/27: The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
Here was the January book club selection (look at us, meeting twice in one month!). As we were going to have short turnaround from our last meeting, we picked this book from our list given how quick it can be to read.

Harold Fry is retired, driving his wife a little batty with his constant, uninspired presence. There's a distance between them; although we get snippets that reveal they used to be very close and loving, we recognize something more than time has come between them.

Harold learns a former co-worker of his is in hospice and writes a letter. When he goes to post it, though, he just keeps walking. Although he lives in the south of England and she is in the north, he decides he's going to hand-deliver it to her. He is ill-prepared in shoes, clothing, and provisions, but he feels he can't stop. He crosses paths with varied personalities and learns he should stop making assumptions about others based on their age, how they dress, and so on. Some of my favorite passages were him reflecting on the universal experiences we all face, how we all have stories to share and burdens to carry.

Harold spends a lot of the time walking thinking back over his life, reflecting on moments he hasn't thought about in decades. I think all of us can recall times we had similar experiences - time alone outside, perhaps, with no distractions, allowing your mind to wander and pull up old memories and experiences.

His wife, while confused and resentful, fearing she has lost her husband to this ill woman, goes through her own transformation.

I couldn't help but remember the title Absent in the Spring (written by Agatha Christie under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott). In that book, we also have a protagonist with unexpected time on her hands, and with her forced isolation, she ends up spending a lot of time thinking about her past and gaining new insight about herself and those around her and is faced with a choice to make when she returns home.

9) 1/30: The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
This was a short-story collection, with each chapter focusing on the Vietnamese refugee experience. I first learned of this author after his book The Sympathizer won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2016. While I haven't yet read it, when this came across my radar I grabbed it.

It was okay. I generally am drawn to both books of short stories and stories of the immigrant/refugee experience, but this fell a little flat. I'm not sure if it's because I encountered it as an audiobook (those tend to have to work harder to earn my love), but I wasn't invested enough in the characters. I still plan on picking up The Sympathizer sometime, though.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Books Read in 2017

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I'm sharing mine for 2017 here (and here's my list for 2016).

2017 was filled with some exceptional reads. I've noted which ones were especially powerful by bolding the entry below, and I've tried to select them from a variety of genres (young adult, memoir, non-fiction, fiction, poetry).

I wrote about my completed books each month throughout the year, so if you want to read my thoughts about a specific title, visit the links for the appropriate month.

January Book Log
1) 1/5: Chicken With Plums by Maryjane Satrapi
2) 1/5: Same Kind of Different As Me: A modern-day slave, an international art dealer, and the unlikely woman who bound them together by Ron Hall and Denver Moore with Lynn Vincent
3) 1/7: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by JK Rowling
4) 1/11: This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
5) 1/13: My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
6) 1/13: Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace
7) 1/14: Elmer and the Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett
8) 1/23: Staggerford by Jon Hassler
9) 1/26: The Dragons of Blueland by Ruth Stiles Gannett

February Book Log
10) 2/27: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by JD Vance

March Book Log
11) 3/3: Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
12) 3/3: Outlander by Diane Gabaldon
13) 3/21: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
14) 3/24: Locomotion by Jacqueline Woodson
15) 3/27: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

April Book Log
16) 4/12: Idols of the Heart: Learning to Long for God Alone by Elyse Fitzpatrick
17) 4/20: Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
18) 4/23: Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
19) 4/29: The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

May Book Log
20) 5/7: R My Name is Rachel by Patricia Reilly Giff
21) 5/9: Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
22) 5/12: Bossypants by Tina Fey
23) 5/12: The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera
24) 5/18: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
25) 5/19: Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
26) 5/24: Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming
27) 5/26: A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay
28) 5/30: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

June Book Log
29) 6/4: 10:04 by Ben Lerner
30) 6/7: 7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess by Jen Hatmaker
31) 6/8: The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo
32) 6/12: The Job by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
33) 6/27: Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter
34) 6/30: The Scam by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

July Book Log
35) 7/2: Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America by Linda Tirado
36) 7/8: You Don't Have to Say You Love Me by Sherman Alexie
37) 7/8: A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M. Miller, Jr
38) 7/21: From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs Basil E Frankweilor by EL Konigsburg
39) 7/27: Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
40) 7/29: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson
41) 7/30: Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone by JK Rowling

August Book Log
42) 8/5: Jesus Cow by Michael Perry
43) 8/7: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
44) 8/10: Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton
45) 8/15: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling
46) 8/20: 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
47) 8/21: Maus: A Survivor's Tale (I: My Father Bleeds History) by Art Spiegelman
48) 8/22: Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
49) 8/27: The Angel Knew Papa and the Dog by Douglas Kaine McKelvey

September Book Log
50) 9/4: Americanah by Chimamada Ngozi Adichie
51) 9/4: There Was No Path So I Trod One by Edwina Gateley
52) 9/7: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
53) 9/9: Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson
54) 9/11: My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
55) 9/14: Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson
56) 9/19: Peace Like a River by Leif Enger
57) 9/22: Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor
58) 9/28: A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park

October Book Log
59) 10/2: Beartown by Fredrik Backman
60) 10/7: Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger
61) 10/11: Dear Enemy by Jean Webster
62) 10/12: Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
63) 10/13: The Light Between Oceans by ML Stedman
64) 10/17: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
65) 10/21: Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary
66) 10/22: Henry and Beezus by Beverly Cleary
67) 10/24: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
68) 10/28: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
69) 10/30: The Giver by Lois Lowry

November Book Log
70) 11/1: Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
71) 11/5: Messenger by Lois Lowry
72) 11/8: Son by Lois Lowry
73) 11/19: My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman
74) 11/26: White Teeth by Zadie Smith

December Book Log
75) 12/16: Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry
76) 12/16: The Lord and His Prayer by NT Wright
77) 12/16: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
78) 12/22: Love Does by Bob Goff
79) 12/25: Still Life by Louise Penny
80) 12/25: The Greatest Gift by Ann Voskamp
81) 12/26: Dear Martin by Nic Stone
82) 12/27: The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde

Book Log: December 2017

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them. This is my second year doing this; here is a page containing the 2016 posts (or here is a list of all 2016 books, without the commentary on each one).

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.


75) 12/16: Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry
Wendell Berry first came to my attention when my youngest sister talked about reading The Art of the Commonplace, a selection of his essays. Since then, I've heard him crop up in conversation, both for his nonfiction and fiction works.

This book was one that was often recommended, and my library had an audiobook version of it.

As the book opens, Hannah Coulter is an elderly woman reflecting on her life: how she came to be married, what she learned from raising children, and what it was like to care for the land. The land itself feels like a character at times.

Something about it, maybe the pacing, made me think of Marilynne Robinson's writing -- measured and thoughtful and beautiful.

76) 12/16: The Lord and His Prayer by NT Wright
This was my first read of an NT Wright book, and my husband and I read and discussed it at regular intervals with some other couples. It's a relatively short read, breaking up the Lord's Prayer in small chunks and reflecting in depth about the meaning. I enjoyed the insights, and the Daily Bread chapter especially resonated with me.








77) 12/16: Dark Matter by Blake Crouch
I've heard this mentioned as a fun read, and it didn't disappoint. It plays with the concept of every time you make a decision, there's another world where you make a different choice, meaning there are thousands and thousands of branches playing out every possibility. I can see its appeal as we watch the protagonist end up in another world.

My one quibble is that when I've heard interviews with the author, it's made clear immediately what the premise is, although the book takes a while to play it out. It reminded me of the time I saw a preview for Mr & Mrs Smith, where we learn they are both assassins, although they have kept that information from their spouse. However, the movie doesn't expect you to know those details, so it takes forever for them to reveal that to the audience. This book felt similarly - if you knew any of the premise, you're just drumming your fingers, waiting for the character to make the same realization. It does pick up after that point, though, and there's some high-adrenaline moments.

78) 12/22: Love Does: Discover a Secretly Incredible Life in an Ordinary World by Bob Goff
A good friend brought this title to my attention as one of her favorites. I acquired a copy and while I was reading it, I also noticed Bob Goff and his wife were going to be in the area for an event. This friend and I ended up going to hear them speak, and while I'd intended to finish this before I saw him, that wasn't to be.

Bob Goff is a character. He is gregarious and quirky and amusing. This book is set up as a collection of short reflections about what love does. We learn a lot about his life, and some of it sounds so absurd. But as he expounds on how he feels we need to find the whimsy in life -- how God is whimsical and would wish us to follow suit -- you can't help but grin.

I realized that I wasn't unfamiliar with Bob Goff -- I quickly placed him as the individual Donald Miller meets in A Million Miles in a Thousand Years (which I read last year) and Don makes repeat appearances in this book.

It's an easy book to pick up and read in spurts since the sections are short and relatively self-contained. I can see the attraction of it and find myself thinking of some of the circumstances in the book (helping his children contact all the world leaders, then getting to visit a number of them; holding court at Disney; becoming Honorary Consul for Uganda; including his personal phone number in the book to be approachable for anyone who felt the need to call, and on and on).

79) 12/25: Still Life by Louise Penny
I've heard this author and series mentioned for years; I believe my first encounter was via the NPR: Books podcast when we lived in Indiana. I distinctly remember sitting at my sewing table working on some project while listening, thinking I should pick up the first in the series.

Still Life is the first in her Inspector Gamache series. I grew up on a steady diet of Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes, devouring all that I could of their works. As I read this, I understood the attraction. We get to know the individuals in Three Pines, a quaint Canadian town where a death happens. Inspector Gamache and his team come in to investigate, find the woman's death wasn't accidental, and work to find the culprit.

The characterization is strong - I remember thinking Penny was going to great lengths to convey all the characters convincingly, far more than expected when I thought we wouldn't see these individuals again (non-spoiler: I'm playing catch up with my book log, and at the time of writing this, I've actually read two more of her books, also based in Three Pines).

I'm not unbiased, given my early love of mysteries, but I really enjoyed this book. In fact, I was actually sick late Christmas Eve into Christmas Day. When I couldn't sleep (which was basically the whole night), I found myself reading this on my Kindle, and even having it connected with my miserable illness didn't dull my impression of it.

80) 12/25: The Greatest Gift: Unwrapping the Full Love Story of Christmas by Ann Voskamp
This was an advent devotional I followed more or less successfully (sometimes there was some catch-up to do, but these readings aren't that long so it was possible). It's framed with a short passage of the Bible (there's even a link to print off Jesse Tree ornaments to follow, her reflections on it as well as a short quotation from an another author, and several questions to encourage reflection, discussion, and action.

Ann Voskamp writes in a style that's a blend of narrative and poetry - I find myself having to concentrate more and not rush so I can take it in. I appreciated the quotations she gathered from others, and some of her reflections stuck with me. Is it one I will return to again? I don't know that I will, but I appreciated walking through Advent with these readings and I'm eyeing her newest children's Advent release of short daily readings, which includes a pop-up tree that holds ornaments, one for each day; I imagine my children will connect with that.

81) 12/26: Dear Martin by Nic Stone
This is a Young Adult lit book where we meet a high schooler who is wrestling with being a person of color in our current setting. He admires Martin Luther King, Jr., and begins writing letters to him in a way of trying to process what he's seeing in the world around him and figure out whether a life of non-violence is even feasible.

I really wanted to like this book, but the premise is stronger than the execution. It could be that it's because I couldn't help but compare it to The Hate U Give, a book I read earlier in the year; they try to do similar things, but I found The Hate U Give to be much more powerful and successful at it.



82) 12/27: The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
Let's start with a tangent. Way back in 2005 I had an Audible account, long before they were acquired by Amazon. It was perfect as I commuted to and from work, 45 minutes each way. I was an English teacher at the time, and periodically I would re-listen to what we would be covering in class that week as I drove so my prep time could be spent drawing up the questions and exercises.

Sometimes free or heavily discounted titles would be offered, so I ended the year with quite an extensive library, not all of which I was able to listen to. However, I had used an email address for that account that I no longer had access to, and since I couldn't remember my password, there was no way to log in and I couldn't reset it without access to the email account. This has been hanging over my head as something I really wanted to figure out, and I'd periodically contact Audible to see if I could resolve it, getting one step closer each time. FINALLY I got connected with Jessica, my favorite Audible employee of all time. Over a couple different phone calls, I was able to track down the necessary details to prove I was the holder of that defunct account, and Amazing Jessica then merged those titles with my current account.

This was one of those titles that I was re-connected with (I'd listened to it ages ago, but it had been a different performance). I loaded it onto my phone in anticipation of our holiday driving. It's a short but entertaining listen about false identities originally created to allow an out for tedious social commitments. When confusion arises that might result in the loss of love, there's brief tension that ends up concluding pleasantly.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Book Log: November 2017

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them. This is my second year doing this; here is a page containing the 2016 posts (or here is a list of all 2016 books, without the commentary on each one).

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

70) 11/1: Gathering Blue by Lois Lowry
Like I mentioned last month, once I learned a fourth book had been published in The Giver series, I wanted to reread the first three before concluding the quartet.

If The Giver shows us a future society where technology is supreme, Gathering Blue reveals when we have minimal development. Kira has a crippled leg, which would typically have condemned a child to be left to die. However, due to her father's sway in the community, her mother is able to save her life.

Kira is gifted at embroidery, so she is given protection and shelter when she is later orphaned. She begins to find fault with the way things are done in their society, how people decide who does or does not have worth, and is wrestling with what her role is to improve her world even as she struggles to make sense of her gift.

71) 11/5: Messenger by Lois Lowry
It's not until Messenger that you truly get to see how the books tie together. I wasn't aware -- until this title -- that the books are all occurring at nearly simultaneous points; previously, I felt that there could be generations between the titles.

You see previous characters immediately come into play. This was poignant to listen to at this time in our political climate, if only because I could draw parallels as I read of a community's desire to close itself off and stop refusing shelter to strangers seeking new, better lives, even as their community began as a place where rejected, imperfect people could start over.



72) 11/8: Son by Lois Lowry
This was substantially longer than the previous three books (it was 400 pages, when the previous titles range from 200-250 pages). It introduces us to Claire, a character that grew up in the same community Jonas from The Giver did. We learn the reason for her escape is the desire to find and be reunited with her a son (not Jonas, as they're nearly the same age).

There is closure to the series, although I admit that it seemed too easy. Without giving anything away, there's a looming danger, but the resolution required some suspension of disbelief from me, although I don't at all regret having read this title.

It made me think of my time student teaching; the school I was in spent some time discussing The Hero's Journey, a framework for understanding many books and movies. The familiar trope of being called to adventure, facing challenges, hitting rock bottom but rising to conquer and return can be a natural lens to view stories. However, the reason it came to mind is that I couldn't naturally figure out who our hero was - the one we spend the most time with isn't present when we see the ultimate "battle," and so if we view it through the lens of the character who is present at that moment, I backtrack and see gaps where I don't feel that they were appropriately developed to be ready to face this moment.

Even with that criticism, though, I enjoyed my time with this series. The Giver was a fascinating book when I first read it, so getting to revisit the titles was nostalgic for me as I remembered where I was in my life when I encountered the different books in the series.

73) 11/19: My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She's Sorry by Fredrik Backman
Here was an audiobook listen, picked up after my youngest sister's recommendation. We follow Elsa, a young girl who is especially close to her grandmother but has to learn to live without her. There are messages she has to deliver, which give her insight into the other residents in the building as well as how they were interconnected with her grandmother.

Elsa relished the stories her grandmother told about the Land-of-Almost-Awake, but as she undertakes the mission entrusted to her, we learn those stories may not have been as imaginary as originally believed.




74) 11/26: White Teeth by Zadie Smith
This was the November book club selection. Few of us enjoyed it, but that led to great discussion, as is often the case.

In White Teeth, we meet a series of interconnected individuals who are all trying to assimilate, both literally and figuratively. However, as they go through life, most end up on extremes in their marriages, religion, and so on.

I found I had to push myself to stick with it, but towards the end, the pace picks up and I was more engaged, wondering how the culminating event would transpire.

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

Book Log: October 2017

My youngest sister has been doing an annual post of books completed, and I always enjoy looking through it. I do keep a log of my finished books, so I thought cataloging my completed books at the close of every month would be a good way to dust off this blog and encourage me to jot down a few lines -- or a few paragraphs -- with my impressions (a compiled list will appear at the close of the year). I don't like spoilers, so while I put some initial thoughts after each title, when possible I'm purposely vague regarding plot specifics so as not to dissuade any of you from reading them. This is my second year doing this; here is a page containing the 2016 posts (or here is a list of all 2016 books, without the commentary on each one).

The included Amazon links are affiliate links; many of these titles I check out from the library or already own, but should you be inclined to purchase one, these links only mean Amazon will give me a small percentage of the cost, at no additional expense to you.

59) 10/2: Beartown by Fredrik Backman
First off, I don't think I've discussed Playaway devices yet. I stumbled on them at my library a year or two back and I love them - they're a book loaded onto a simple audio player. Insert battery, attach headphones, and away you go. Perfect for saving my phone battery since it's a standalone device (my normal default is to check out an audiobook via the Overdrive app), and I've even taken to glancing at the children's books in case I find one that will suit my daughter.

Moving on, though, to the book in question (just promise me that you'll glance at the Playaway section next time you're at the library, though - so much nicer than swapping out individual CDs).

Along with many others, I was introduced to Swedish author Fredrik Backman by his book A Man Called Ove (one of last year's reads). Beartown is his most recent book, and while browsing audiobooks one day, I saw they had this in a Playaway edition.

It's a departure from A Man Called Ove. The Beartown community is all about hockey, and we get insights into the junior players, coaches, and families. We wrestle with themes of truth, loyalty, friendship, and success. Individuals learn what they're made of when everything is about to be taken from them.

One character quips, "People round here don't always know the difference between right and wrong. But we know the difference between good and evil."

It's an interesting read, but it tackles some darker topics, and not everyone comes out glowing. There are some redemptive storylines, though, to help balance out the compromised characters.

60) 10/7: Franny and Zooey by J.D. Salinger
This is only the second Salinger I've read, but it came up when there was an online discussion about books you hate, for better or worse. Someone quipped The Catcher in the Rye, and it caused me to chime in with my own evolution surrounding that book (here's the basic story, somehow one of the most popular draws for strangers to my blog -- I think students are hoping there's an essay about it hiding on here they can "borrow").

Anyway, someone suggested I might like Franny and Zooey; in their words, it is seen as a female version of The Catcher in the Rye.

Franny and Zooey is a book of two connected novellas. They are siblings, the youngest in the family. A brother of theirs died years earlier, and there are themes of mourning and faith throughout. Neither story is as edgy as I found The Catcher in the Rye (if you follow my above link, you'll see I was so offended by Holden's mouth and attitude upon first read, only later perceiving how his actions stem from his unprocessed grief over a lost sibling). I struggled with how to pigeonhole Zooey, and his attitude towards his mother in particular was grating, but I found myself marking down several phrases and passages that struck me.

61) 10/11: Dear Enemy by Jean Webster
I had read Jean Webster's Daddy Long-Legs a few years ago, learning about it after I read Dear Mr. Knightley, a modern adaptation of it. Only recently did I learn that there was a sequel to the original work, and as it's in the public domain and a quick read, I picked it up.

It's also in an epistolary style and follows a friend from the first book who is charged with taking over the orphanage and ushering in updates and improvements. It's a pleasant, simple read, but I admit bristling at times as some of the language and beliefs haven't aged well (some of it might have been meant for humorous effect, but the talk of "idiots" that she places elsewhere and her flippant comment about the child of a lyncing victim sobered me up).

62) 10/12: Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters
This was a recent audiobook listen (a Playaway edition - so convenient!).

The premise of the book is that Lincoln is assassinated before his re-election. A couple states had seceded but were moved by his death that they return to the Union and the Civil War is avoided. Through negotiations, four states continue to have slavery to this day. Our protagonist escaped from slavery when he was younger, but now works for the government tracking down other escaped slaves.

The case he is given at the beginning of the book feels different, and as he investigates we see him relive his past and question his present.

63) 10/13: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
This was the selection for last month's Book and a Movie event. I'd hoped to go, but a busy week had me skipping it (I would put forth that creating time for my husband to finish his tenure packet trumps going out to watch a movie that can easily be acquired at any time).

Once I skipped the event, I wasn't sure if I was going to finish, but I was just invested enough to want to know the outcome.

Take a lighthouse keeper and his wife on a remote island. Have her experience repeated pregnancy losses. Then introduce a boat with a dead man and young baby aboard. Consider hiding the shipwreck evidence and claim the child as your own.

Here's the thing: I'm a rule follower. If there's not a good reason to break a rule, I'm not going to. But in this book, this HUGE infraction is made, and although I recognize it as fiction, I found myself tensing up, so frustrated at all that was going to transpire from this one decision. So many things could have been avoided but for that choice. Blame postpartum depression or whatever, but the stubbornness and pain that resulted had me all twisted up. I don't regret reading to the end, but my emotions were manipulated.

64) 10/17: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
I was talking with a retired friend and he suggested this book was one that stood out to him, a new favorite alongside A Prayer for Owen Meany (yet another book I've begun but have yet to finish).

What a read. It's like an international Forrest Gump storyline, weaving in countless historical individuals as we learn about why a certain centenarian escapes from the nursing home and begins a spontaneous adventure, becoming hunted by the law. His entourage grows, things have a way of working out seamlessly, and we break away regularly to learn of his earlier years (see also: how many historical meetings can happen before it's just too darn ridiculous?).

This book was an amusing read, but I found myself periodically wanting to roll my eyes because of the ongoing orchestrations. It's absurd. Entertaining, but absurd. You're either going to love it or hate it. But if you don't take it seriously, it can be a nice, lighthearted break.

65) 10/21: Henry Huggins by Beverly Cleary
I wasn't familiar with this series, but it was recommended to me as an alternative to the Ramona books (also by Beverly Cleary). In fact, Beezus is a friend of his, with her little sister Ramona tagging along.

Henry is a good boy who just happens to make things complicated and repeatedly finds himself in amusing circumstances. Each chapter is a stand-alone, although they do build on each other. For instance, we learn in the first chapter about how he gets his dog (he eventually finds a way to sneak it onto a bus, although the dog doesn't stay hidden).  Then, in subsequent chapters, his dog is at his side for the adventures.

I listened to this on audiobook and knew immediately my second-grader would love it. Sure enough, as she heard details of Henry's fish expanding in number or the antics of digging up earth worms, she had a huge grin on her face and would giggle.

66) 10/22: Henry and Beezus by Beverly Cleary
There are six books in the Henry Huggins series, and this is the second. It was in the same style as the first, with each chapter a concentrated story. Here we see him try to get out of the main part of the school Christmas play, attempt to acquire a bicycle from a packed auction, and so on.

I don't think I'm going to seek out the further books in the series, only because I'm not the target audience, but if they cross my path as a read-aloud to my daughters, I know I'd enjoy it alongside them.





67) 10/24: Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
This was the October book club selection and is a phenomenal read. It's the sort of book I find myself reflecting on and wanting to recommend to everyone. If I hadn't been reading a library copy, I would have marked it up and underlined repeatedly.

Atul Gawande describes how end-of-life care has evolved in our country. For instance, he reflects on the development of nursing homes, where safety is paramount and the decisions and structure seem geared towards making the family members feel comfortable with the arrangement without taking into account the desires of the individual who will actually be living there.

However, I felt encouraged by some of the alternatives that were discussed. There are cities and towns where there are support systems to allow people to stay in their homes until the end, with supplemented, affordable handymen, food delivery, and so on. Or take the Eden Alternative, created by Bill Thomas, where he addressed loneliness, helplessness, and boredom. It was fascinating to read how he introduced on-site childcare, animals, and live plants, creating responsibility and interest where there had been nothing before. The gains patients made were astounding. Finally, there were examples of set-ups where individuals had private rooms but shared living/eating quarters with about 10-12 others. They could wake and eat when desired but developed friendships with the others and had nurses who knew them and their desires intimately.

I appreciated how Atul Gawande, a surgeon, used this information, and the experience of losing his father, to change how he interacted with patients, using these four questions (developed by another) as a guide to treatment decisions: "What is your understanding of the situation and its potential outcomes? What are your fears and what are your hopes? What are the trade-offs you are willing to make and not willing to make? And what is the course of action that best serves this understanding?" (page 259).

68) 10/28: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
This was a lighthearted read. Take a narrator who suffers from Asperger's (although he isn't aware of it at the beginning). He lives a very regimented life. For instance, he doesn't want to expend the mental energy to try new food dishes, so he has a set menu of seven dinners that he has memorized so he can dwell on other topics.

Don is a genetics professor and is contemplating marriage. As he's not seeing anyone and doesn't want to waste time by doing a conventional search, he creates a questionnaire that he believes will narrow down the pool to a small number of highly qualified compatible candidates. We witness the results, as well as what happens when he gets to know someone who would fail the questionnaire on multiple levels but becomes a good friend to him as they research The Father Project.

This was just an okay read for me. It paired as a nice alternative to Being Mortal (while that was an exceptional book, sometimes I didn't need to read about dying), but it is just fluffy entertainment with periodic bouts of cringing at the behavior of Don's best friend Gene.

69) 10/30: The Giver by Lois Lowry
I've read this book several times, but I wanted to revisit the series since I heard there was a fourth, and final, book to the quartet. I was unaware of it and wanted to read/listen to them all in order before reading that final one.

I remember much of this book - it's commonly read in schools, and it wasn't until a reread in college that I learned not everyone perceived the ending as I did. In fact, some came to an opposite, darker conclusion.

Take a futuristic society that is highly advanced and controlled, and you have The Giver. Everyone is assigned a job, if you want a spouse or a child, you apply for one and are matched up. Nothing is left to chance, everything is observed and overheard. This society values, if not happiness and love, contentment and placidity and conformity. However, someone must have knowledge of the past, and that is where the name of the book comes in.

This is a great book for discussions. At what price do you want to seek serenity? Is removal from pain a requirement? What do you sacrifice in exchange? It makes me think of my mother, who has struggled for decades with depression. She is very creative and artistic, and her primary complaint about times she has been medicated is that, while it controls her mood swings and levels her out, she loses her creativity. For her, that is an acute loss and she would rarely think the trade-off was worth it.

I was actually surprised at how much longer the ending was than I recalled. I have a vivid recollection of the closing scene, but there was more preceding it from what I originally remembered.

I believe I heard the final book might make the ending of this one less ambiguous, although I don't know that for sure.