Monday, November 6, 2017

Jenny Reviews: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Release Date: 28 February 2017
Page Count: 450
Genre: Fiction
Target Audience: YA and Adult
Source and Format: Purchased :: Hardback
Amazon | Goodreads

Y'all. I wish everyone would read this book. I think everyone needs to read this book. It is a wonderful example of how important perspective is. This is something I have really been stressing with my students lately. It is so easy to have tunnel vision, to only look at the world through our personal lens. We miss out on so much when we do this: potential relationships, good conversations, new experiences, broader horizons, and open minds. This book is an excellent place to start thinking about things outside of your own box. I could go on and on about this book, but I am going to limit my gushing to five points. Know there are many, many more, but these are the top five.

1. Starr Carter. Starr is the protagonist and narrator, and she is the reason I bought the book. The cover caught my eye, but it was Starr's voice that sold me. I picked it up to skim a couple of pages, and before I knew it I had read the whole first chapter. Starr is one of my all-time favorite protagonists, male or female. She is smart, conflicted, brave, and real.

2. The Conflict. This book is timely in a terrible way. Angie Thomas does a wonderful job of examining all sides of a very ugly issue. She does not shy away from the complex social, political, and cultural implications of racism and prejudice. It is a hard, uncomfortable reality that most people do not want to think about for long because it is so tangled and all-encompassing; it affects everyone whether you like it or not. Thomas refuses to let anyone be an ostrich—no burying your head in the sand with this book.

3. The Lack of Stereotypes. It is easy to get conversations about race so wrong. Too often we think of people in terms of a group rather than individuals. Thomas does an excellent job of fleshing out each of her characters. The good, bad, and ugly are all on display, just like it is in each of us. The nuanced characters of this novel would be completely flat if Thomas had simply made them stereotypes. Her characters are real which makes their voices even more strong.

4. The Humor. There were several times I almost laughed out loud. The issues the book deals with are heavy, and Thomas balances this heaviness with wonderful humor. I especially love the dynamic between Starr's parents. The humor is natural and unforced, and Thomas's timing is impeccable.

5. The Questions. This book asks a lot of questions and does not give a lot of answers. It makes the reader think for themselves and about themselves. It is so entertaining you do not realize you are being made to think—this is harder to achieve than you would think. Thomas manages to be entertaining and insightful, bringing the reader to self-awareness as they are enjoying themselves.

Please, do yourself a favor—read this book. Borrow it from a friend, check it out from the library, buy your own copy. You will not regret it.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

8 Books I've Read So Far This Year

I know this is probably a horrible way to start this post, BUT in the spirit of being honest with y'all, I've been underwhelmed by most of the books I've read so far this year. You win some and you lose some, even in your reading life. I think the stress of being a working mom has had an effect on the way I've approached reading this year, so know that even though some of these books didn't work for me, they absolutely could be a good choice for you! 

Today I'm sharing brief thoughts on the 8 books I've read so far, and next week I'm sharing what I'd like to read in these last few months of 2017 that will hopefully get me out of my reading slump!

1. On Becoming Baby Wise by Gary Ezzo - I started this book in my third trimester of pregnancy, and finally finished 5 months later when we took a New Year's weekend trip and I had more focused time to read. It's so crazy to think we were in such a different stage with Gabe then! My philosophy on parenting books is to read them with an open mind and low expectations. Baby Wise can make you question some of your decisions as a parent, but know that babies are little human beings, and they don't always follow parenting books to a T. We applied the general principle of the eat, wake, sleep routine (and didn't worry about sticking to a specific schedule), and that worked really well for us. If you're planning on breastfeeding, this book has a lot of information on that topic as well, even though it's heavily marketed as a sleep book.

2. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany - Of course there were so many emotions going in to the infamous "eighth" Harry Potter book. I liked the plot overall, but felt the character development was lacking because of the script format. I wish we had more time to really understand Albus, and I was specifically disappointed in how Ron was portrayed as an adult. He came across as a lump who was useless in the face of Hermoine's stronger personality, and I felt there were several others who were inconsistent with their younger counterparts. I did love revisiting the Wizarding World and seeing lots of familiar faces and a few new ones, and it's Harry Potter, so of course I'm going to love it overall. But the more I think about it, the more I wish this had been developed in to a full novel. In the meantime, though, I just saw that tickets go on sale in a couple weeks to see the play on Broadway. I guess a trip to New York is in order!        

3. Grace Not Perfection by Emily Ley - One of the first things you'll notice about this book is the beautiful layout and design (it even comes with its own ribbon book mark!). As a longtime follower of Emily Ley, I expected nothing less from her. The overall message of holding yourself to a standard of grace isn't new or groundbreaking, but it's one I have a hard time implementing in my life all the same, especially as a new mom. I loved the questions at the end of each chapter and how it gave you space to reflect, which helped me dig a little deeper and not just passively absorb the content. While I enjoyed this book, I can see how it would fall flat for some since it is targeted at a very specific demographic of women.        

4. The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan - I feel like the black sheep when it comes to this book. So many people I know love it, but it just did not work for me. I was really surprised, since the novel is loosely based on William and Kate's story and I love anything to do with the Royals. But while I was reading this, I was not excited to finish it, and only finished because I had already made it so far and wanted to see if it got any better. Spoiler alert: it did not. The time Nick and Bex spent apart especially dragged on, and made me wish that Freddie was the principal character instead. I will say the audiobook narrated by Christine Lakin was excellent and made my experience much more enjoyable, so if you do pick this one up, I highly suggest the audio version. Lakin's accents for the different characters were spot on!    

5. One True Loves by Taylor Jenkins Reid - This has been my favorite read of the year! I feel like this is one of those books that came to me at the perfect time. I loved it. The premise was heartbreaking and thought-provoking, but it also had the right amount of lightheartedness. The ending was tied up a little too neatly, but it did not keep me from loving the book overall. Now I need to read all the titles on Taylor Jenkins Reid's backlist!  

6. Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling - This is a physical copy of J.K. Rowling's 2008 commencement speech at Harvard University, so not technically a book. But I'm counting it because the book I read next, A Court of Wings and Ruin, was 700 pages long--so basically two books in one. ;) Anyway, I'm so glad I read this! The illustrations were beautiful and the speech itself was full of sound advice, including one of my all-time favorite Rowling quotes, "We do not need magic to change the world, we carry all the power we need inside ourselves already: we have the power to imagine better." So good.

7. A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas - Usually I have nothing but love for Sarah J. Maas' books, but unfortunately I was disappointed with the pacing and structure of this one. It took about 400 pages or so for the story to finally pick up, and the overuse of deus ex machina throughout the book had me rolling my eyes quite a bit. There were too many convenient resolutions to problems and the characters barely had to deal with things not going their way, which just isn't realistic. Another hangup I have with Sarah J. Maas' books is the sexual content, so I recommend her books with reservations based on that aspect. I still loved the Inner Court, though, and the glimpses in to the other Courts. Maas' world building still remains one of her biggest strengths, and that aspect of this novel did not disappoint. I definitely wanted more from the Lucien and Elaine storyline, so hopefully they will play a bigger role in the next three books of the series!

8. Reading People by Anne Bogel - Since I preordered this one, I received access to a free copy of the audiobook, which Jenny and I listened to during our recent girls trip to Florida. Now that I've finished the audiobook, I want to go back and read the physical copy to really dive in to the different personality tools. I will say that from listening to the audiobook, the information contained in this book was very repetitive and more surface level than I was expecting. Most of the information in the book is already available online and it felt like a simple compilation of the different tools out there. That being said, I am excited to learn more about the Enneagram, which is all the rage right now, especially in the podcasting world. This book is our book club pick for October, so I'm really looking forward to our discussion on personality and how self-awareness can help in our day-to-day lives!  

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

You Can Help!

One of the best parts about reading, in my opinion, is that it gives you the opportunity to view the world through a different lens. I enjoy reading books from perspectives that are vastly different from my own, and I find that I am more thoughtful, more patient, and more empathetic because of it. The ability to read is a gift. It is often squandered, neglected, or unappreciated. Reading opens doors that often hard to open.

Take 30 seconds to think about all the benefits you derive from reading.

Pretty easy to come up with several, wasn’t it? Reading is something that we, in the first world, take for granted. There are a lot of our peers (probably not those of you reading this blog because you are enlightened and understand the beauty of reading) who look at reading as a chore, punishment, or necessary evil. And that is okay… not something I relate to at all, but okay. If, however, you are excluded from quality education, from learning to read well, by race or socioeconomic status, that is a different story.

One of our (Lesley Anne’s and mine) best friends lives in Romania. Her family moved over there when we were seniors in high school (a looong time ago). She came back for college, married, paid off her student loans, and left for Romania permanently. She and her family run an after school program (among other things) for the poor and the Roma in their village, as well as a couple of others. The quality of education available to Romanians is pretty low, even in the cities. The people of Sintelec, our friend’s village, are either too poor to afford the daily bus fare to a better school or are Roma. The Roma are one of the most heavily persecuted people groups in Europe. The first time I visited, I watched as cars would literally speed up as they passed through the village; they did not slow or stop for children in the street.

Belief in Motion, the organization our friend’s family started, works tirelessly in many areas to fight poverty, injustice, and lack of education. Belief in Motion is the feet of Jesus in its small corner of Romania. There are many opportunities to help, but one that is near and dear to my heart is the book drive. You can donate books, written in Romanian, to the after school program. That might not seem like a lot, but the cycle of poverty the children are caught in is the stuff of nightmares. BIM seeks to give these children exactly what the need to help break this cycle- Jesus and education.*

I urge you to check out Belief in Motion here. You can find more information about the book drive here. Look around the website. There are plenty of opportunities to help. Even if you do not have the ability or inclination to help, thank you for looking. Just being aware of the problem is a start.

*BIM in not concerned only with education. They have programs for literally everyone, from grandma down. 

Monday, October 9, 2017

Series Spotlight: Flavia de Luce

  Release Date: 28 April 2009
  Page Count: 374
  Genre: Historical Fiction; Mystery
  Target Audience: Anyone 11+
  Series: Flavia de Luce
  Source and Format: Borrowed :: Paperback

  I was introduced to this series this past summer by my aunt. She
  said they were quirky and fun—perfect beach reads. I tried the
  first one and finished it in one day while laying out by the pool.
  Flavia, the protagonist, all but leaps off the page right from the
  start. She is definitely in my top 5 favorite female protagonists of
  all time.

  The series takes place in 1950s England. The country is
  recovering from the horrific events of WWII and every member
  of Flavia’s family has been affected in some way. Flavia herself is 11 and I would not be surprised to find she is Hermione Granger’s grandmother. Flavia is curious, intelligent, stubborn, and young. (Side note - Alan Bradley does an amazing job of keeping her true to age. She lacks self-awareness the way all children do). Flavia uses all of these qualities, plus an astonishing understanding of chemistry, to solve murders that happen around her.

It is a long series— book 9 releases next year— but worth it. Some of the middle books are slower and not as engaging, but the pace picks back up as a new story arc is unfolding. I highly recommend them. Flavia is a character that I do not want you to miss out on! 

Friday, October 6, 2017

We're Back!

Long time no see, friends! Jenny and I just got back from the most incredible girls trip to Universal, and we spent a lot of time talking about our goals for the blog while we were together. We definitely want to get back in the habit of blogging, and we've got some fun plans in the works! Stay tuned for recaps of what we've read so far this year, books we want to read this Fall, holiday gift guides, a full review of our trip to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, and more!

We're so excited to be back and spread the bookish love!
Lesley Anne and Jenny       

Friday, May 26, 2017

Top Ten Characters I Can't Even

This post is inspired by my previous post (found here), and I have had a lot of fun writing it. I think we can all think, off the top of our heads, of at least 3 characters that immediately set our blood boiling and/or we wish would fall into a wormhole, never to be seen again. I am slightly disturbed by the glee I take in hating these characters. This is a post that I really, really want y'all to respond to; I'm dying to know who y'all loathe with your entire being.

I Can't Even With...

1. Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby. I do not like this book, and 90% of the reason why is freakin' Daisy Buchanan. She is awful and blind to her awfulness. Sure, she is a product of her society, but come on. You can't even go to the funeral?

2. Rosamond Vincy from Middlemarch. This girl literally exists in a world of her own making and refuses to let reality alter her ideas of who people should be and how they should act. Her poor husband views her as a special snowflake of a burden to endure by the end of the novel. I was choking on indignation (literally- I had to stop eating my cookie) at her reaction to needing to cut back on her spending.

3. Catherine Earnshaw from Wuthering Heights. I wish she would have made up her mind who she wanted, rather than pitting two men against each other. I realize she is not wholly at fault, but once she was married she was so unfair to Heathcliff. She is the definition of weak willed.

4. Tamlin from A Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy. This guy was closemouthed, overbearing, selfish, irrational, condescending, and a coward. He could not see things from anyone else's perspective and was unwilling to change.

5. Oonagh from the Sevenwaters series. This woman is cruel and selfish. There is nothing redeemable about her. She does not love anyone- other than herself. She puts character after character through gut-wrenching trials and just does not care. (Caveat- I am glad that Marillier keeps her as a villain and not as a conflicted character. I like a good villain that is truly evil.)

6. Severus Snape from the Harry Potter series. I know I will get a lot of crap from this one, but seriously. He is a grown man who takes out his grievances on a boy who has no idea of the history between Snape and James. Why not try and befriend him for Lily's sake? It seems to me that his love for Lily was trumped by his hatred of James (except at the end).

7. Lissla Lissar's Father from Deerskin. I do not think I have to explain this one at all. He breaks several foundational bonds- emotional, relational, physical, spiritual- and is repulsive.

8. Bob Ewell from To Kill a Mockingbird. The man is a drunk. He beats his children. He has entitlement issues fueled by willful ignorance. He knowingly wrongfully accuses a black man of crime he and his daughter committed. He. Is. Repulsive.

9. Achilles from The Iliad. He is a whiny baby. For being the greatest warrior of the Trojan War, he sure is a diva. When he doesn't get his way? Watch out. He is going to throw a temper tantrum until he gets what he wants. Then, in The Odyssey, he has gotten what he wants but is unsatisfied.

10. Bella Swan from the Twilight series and Katniss Everdeen from the Hunger Games trilogy. I could not decide between these two, so I chose both. For one, freakin' love triangles. I hate them. Literally. Thoroughly. Completely. Bella's single-minded determination to hang on to Edward (while using Jacob as an emotional crutch) is creepy and selfish. Katniss's wanting to bury her head in the sand is selfish and impossible.

Man. This post was kind of cathartic. It was nice to get some of my frustration out. Please, let me know y'all's can't even characters. I really want to know!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Reading Goals Update

I (Jenny) thought it would be a good idea to do an update on the books I've been reading rather than a half way update. I don't know about y'all, but if I do not write about a book fairly soon after I read it, I will forget a lot. Even books that made strong impressions are hard to talk about if I wait too long. It starts sounding like, "It was so good! I loved... everything. The characters were awesome." Details, anyone?

If you are not familiar with my reading goal for this year, you can read about it here. I have 30 books I want to read this year. I think I am doing pretty well so far. Some I have loved, and some I am glad I do not have to pick them up ever again. I am trying to decide which ones to bring on vacation; I am always a much more inspired reader at the beach. Probably because the setting is my idea of perfection.

— Nonfiction —

1. The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert — This book is one of my new favorites. It is about an English professor's journey to knowing Christ. It is well written AND thoughtful. Her logical working out of a) what being a believer means and b) what being a believer will cost is particularly searing in its honesty. I wish everyone who has had any contact with any type of faith whatsoever would read it. Its mirror-like properties are unavoidable; it challenges as it encourages.

2. The Land of the Green Man — This book was incredibly entertaining. Even though it is nonfiction, the content most often reads like a story. Larrington does an excellent job of describing the British Isles (almost too excellent — I am ready to pack my bags right now). She basically sets down the majority of folk tales floating around the British Isles. It makes me wish I lived in a place with such a long history.

3. Two Views on Homosexuality, the Bible, and the Church — I. loved. this. book. It is a presentation of two ways of thinking theologically and practically about homosexuality. 4 scholars wrote 4 short essays defending two views of the issue. The scholars were highly intelligent and, more importantly, compassionate. This is a book I am still wrestling with (in a good way). My only complaint was that there was not a recommended reading list. I think a list would have been a really great- and helpful- addition.

4. Four Views on Hell — This book was not near as good as the one on homosexuality, in my opinion. The scholars were much more antagonistic and the writing harder to follow. I do not regret reading it and I did learn things, but I probably will not read it again.

— Classics —

1. Middlemarch — George Eliot is one of the most astute writers I have ever read when it comes to understanding human beings. The whole book is about a small town in England with, quite frankly, not the most interesting characters or plot. Her insights into human nature, however, kept me coming back for more. (Side note: Rosamond Vincy has joined Daisy Buchanan on my Can't Even list)

— Fiction —

1. The Enchantress of Florence — I was really enjoying this book until about 3/4 of the way through. I cannot tell you my feelings on it with spoiling things, so just know I was extremely disappointed by the way everything happened and I feel that all of Rushdie's lovely, insightful thoughts got washed away in the yuck of the ending.

2. Silence Fallen — This is number 10 in the Mercy Thompson series by Patricia Briggs. It is one of my favorite series and this entry did not disappoint. It was somewhat hard to follow because of how the story is told, but I did enjoy it. I really liked how Briggs expanded the world with a glimpse into Europe. 

3. Shylock Is My Name — This is a retelling of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. This is one of the most thought-provoking fiction books I have read in a long time. Jacobson wrestles with Shylock's Jewishness and its implications for Shakespeare's audience as well as the modern audience.  This is one of those books that I do not know whether or not to recommend it; it should be read, but not everyone would enjoy reading it. Conundrum. 

4. The Burning Page — I reviewed this book in a different post; check it out here.

5. A Court of Wings and Ruin — I was so disappointed by this book. It is the third in the A Court of Thorns and Roses trilogy and it was... dare I say it... kind of boring. The second book (A Court of Mist and Fury) was really good, YA at its finest good. The third one was definitely a let down. The main characters were kind of flat, there were some plot holes, and one deus ex machina moment was too much for me. If the second book hadn't been SO good, then the third would not have been as much of a let down.

Wow, looks like I need to do some work on the Classics category. I have picked up the Iliad and am about a quarter of the way in. It is more different from The Odyssey than I thought it would be. So far I am really enjoying this challenge I have set for myself. Hopefully I make much more progress this summer. How are y'all's reading challenges going?