Wednesday, December 25, 2013

What I Read Wednesday

I hope you get a lot of books for Christmas! Or if you don't celebrate Christmas, I hope you have some good books to read today.

The Valley of Amazement
Every now and then, I forget how much I enjoy Amy Tan. This book helped me remember. The Valley of Amazement follows the intertwined lives of a mother and daughter: Lucia (sometimes Lulu) and and Violet. Lulu is a white woman from San Francisco who runs one of the top courtesan houses in Shanghai and is estranged from Violet's father, the Chinese painter she followed across the ocean while pregnant with Violet. Through a series of events somewhat out of her control, Lulu boards a ship back to San Francisco without Violet. Violet is sold to another courtesan house and begins training to live the life of a courtesan--a life with which she's familiar but never thought she'd follow. There were parts of the book that drug for me and were maybe a little too detail-oriented (it is not a quick read), but I really enjoyed it. Violet and Lulu do not live easy lives, nor do many of the other characters within this novel and it's easy to get drawn into their struggles and find yourself rooting for them (most of them).

The Apartment: A Novel
I think it was maybe not a great idea to follow a novel that spans forty years with a novel that spans one day. I loved this book in a sense (except that the author didn't use quotation marks and I know that's prose and acceptable and blah blah, but it bugs so much) because the plot line was intriguing. A man comes to an unnamed European city after working as a contractor in Iraq. Although it's just one day in his life, searching for an apartment, he flashes back routinely to Iraq in moments that are eye-opening. That said, I felt really disconnected to the character. I don't know if it was the style of writing or that I read it after a fairly long novel with massive character development or what, but I just couldn't bring myself to care about his day. I just wanted his day to end so I could put the book down.

The Beginning of Everything
At the end of his Junior year, Ezra Faulkner has it all: he's on the varsity tennis team, he's popular and he has a gorgeous girlfriend. Then one night leaving a party, he's hit by a car, his leg is shattered… and just like that, everything is gone. Ezra is forced to find his way back to his old best friend, an unpopular boy who is known for being the kid who once caught a decapitated head on a ride at Disney Land. Ezra joins the debate team, falls in love with a mysterious, troubled girl named Cassidy and struggles, really struggles, to find himself and discover who he is and where he fits in along the way. I loved this book, the characters and especially the ending.

I Am the Messenger
Does anyone remember the CBS show "Joan of Arcadia"? I loved that show. This book reminded me slightly of that. Ed is ordinary in every sense of the word. He's a 19 year old just drifting through life with an equally aimless group of friends, until one day he's in the midst of a bank robbery. Compelled by he doesn't know what, Ed picks up the gun dropped by the robber and apprehends him, causing him to become an ordinary hero. After this event, Ed begins receiving anonymous messages on playing cards. The messages all involve a person and it's up to Ed to figure out what he has to do to help this person--or maybe the people around them. Ed is pushed to find who is sending the cards, but also, to make the world around him a better place. I thought this book was lovely, though I know there was some criticism of the ending. I liked it. I had to read it twice, but once it sunk in, it worked for me. The whole idea of "ordinary Ed" making right in the world was beautiful and that sold this book for me.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

What I Read Wednesday

Almost Somewhere: Twenty-Eight Days on the John Muir Trail (Outdoor Lives)
I was one of the people who didn't really care for the book Wild. I knew it was a memoir, but I found myself not that interested in the author's journey of self-discovery and blah blah, but I came out of the book really fascinated by the Pacific Crest Trail and have been having one of those Langston Hughes "what happens to a dream deferred?" moments ever since. Like, I really want to hike the PCT someday, even though by all accounts the actual hiking of it sounds miserable and I would have to split it into two summers, unless I wait until I'm retired and would I still be able to hike that far when I'm retired? Probably not. But I really want to do it someday, so I've read as many books as I can on the subject. This book is technically about hiking the John Muir Trail, which splits from the PCT, but it was still a good read. While it was a memoir, the author still gave good, vivid descriptions of the wilderness and I felt that she gave apt descriptions of the differences in hiking in the wilderness for men vs women, in terms of fear and safety. She did an excellent job of balancing her insights on the beauty of the nature on the trail with her thoughts on hiking, her trail partners and the people she meets on the trail. This was a really good read.

The Book Thief
I've been wanting to read this one for quite awhile, but the wait list at the library was miles long. I was so excited when it finally came in, especially because I'm teaching The Diary of Anne Frank and about the move on to The Devil's Arithmetic next. Good timing! This story was fascinating. It is narrated by Death, giving it an entirely unique point-of-view. First person but also third person, in a way. Death is, as you can imagine, quite busy during World War II. Death is detached because he's so busy and yet, he tells us that he always cradles the souls of children in his arms. From the outside, Death observes a young girl named Liesel who is a book thief, stealing her first book following the death of her brother. As the story and the war unfolds, so does Liesel's journey. It's difficult to discuss the plot without giving much away, but suffice to say, this was a beautiful story, with even more beautiful prose--and yes, I was sobbing at the end. Read it.

I love Fangirl and Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell, so I really wanted to read this. One thing the author does is write characters really well. Lincoln is the IT guy that everyone who works dreads: the guy who reads your emails if they web filter flags a word. One day, he comes across a series of emails by Jennifer and Beth, but he doesn't warn them. The next day, he doesn't warn them again. As the story unfolds, it switches between Lincoln's life and Beth and Jennifer's perspective, told via their emails. As always with her stories, the characters are engaging and fascinating and you feel like you know a piece of them when you finish the story.

What are you reading?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What I Read Wednesday

Well, I failed at last Wednesday. Wednesday needs to stop being so busy. I also read all Young Adult books in the last two weeks, so if that's not your thing, you probably won't find this interesting. OR you should try one of these books. Seriously. Just choose one. The YA Lit field has come a long way in the last few years.

The Thing About Luck
I've been trying to read more National Book Award winners or finalists and this one was a winner. I loved the story. It was simple, but really engaging and peaceful. Summer is a Japanese-American girl who travels with her brother and grandparents to work to harvest wheat in the Midwest. There's a lot going on thematically about hard work and culture and family and although this wasn't an exciting story, it was one that unfolded slowly and pulled me in. Bonus: There were drawings of combines, which Tommy loved.

Champion: A Legend Novel
This is the last book in the Legend trilogy. I was a little wary going into this because I still don't know how I feel about the conclusion of the Divergent trilogy, but overall, I was pretty happy with it. The plot was still action filled and the split character story telling worked. There were some interesting story arcs and explorations into the dystopian world that was set forth in Legend that kept me reading. I really enjoyed this trilogy.

The Coldest Girl in Coldtown
In Tana's world, vampires are a normal, every day threat and places called Coldtowns exist for vampires, those infected by vampires and those who want to be vampires. Tana wakes up in the aftermath of a party where everyone is dead, save for herself, her now infected ex-boyfriend and an ancient, hunted vampire. Somehow, this plot line not only completely worked, but really spun a pretty convincing bleak tale. It's not a sparkly vampire story, though it does involve a little bit of romance, but there are definitely some strong, true themes about human nature within an engaging story. I loved this one.

Far Far Away
This was an NBA finalist and one that I've had on my list for awhile now. Jeremy Johnson Johnson is your ordinary teenage boy, except for one thing: he hears ghostly voices. Specifically, the voice of Jacob Grimm who is Jeremy's somewhat fatherly spirit guide. Jacob knows that he's been left on this Earth to protect Jeremy from the Finder of Occasions, only he doesn't know who the Finder is. As the story unfolds, it becomes more than just a story about a boy and a ghost; it's very quickly apparent that it's a fairy tale in and of itself. It was, in parts, predictable, but aren't all fairy tales? My heart still pounded in moments, despite being able to predict what might happen next, and I found myself not wanting to put this one down. It was incredibly creative and so well-written.

What are you reading?