Friday, July 15, 2016

What I've Been Reading Lately (Quick Lit)

Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit to bring you some short and sweet reviews of what I've read in the past month. For longer reviews, you can always find me on Goodreads.

Since my husband gets two months off work each year (and I don't), he gets to take our toddler on long vacations in the summer to visit family, while I go to work and then relish in the quiet evenings and read books. They're now home for a few days before taking off again, and I'm very happy to have them home, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that having some uninterrupted reading time has been awesome. Here's all the reading I've gotten in during the last month.

Good-Bye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton: This was a sweet little book about one (fictional) schoolmaster's career at a boys' school in England. From a fearful young teacher trying to learn the art of discipline, to a doddering but wise old retiree still living across the street from the school grounds, we see how his life and the life of the school are intertwined.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven: I have a hard time understanding how this book is so popular because the characters seemed to be missing personalities. I also think there's a problem if you're trying to convey the message, "Your friend's suicide is not your fault" and you do so in a way that implies, "If you're suicidal, there's literally nothing that can help you."

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley: I reread this after recommending it for my book club's LGBTQ month theme, and I enjoyed it even more the second time around. (Almost everyone at book club liked it as well.) After learning about the "bury the gays" trope common in storytelling, I'm even more impressed with how Talley managed to end this story of an interracial lesbian relationship set during school integration.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck: I liked what Steinbeck was going for here, and I imagine this book is an English major's dream, but it was a little too sprawling and heavy-handed for my taste. I also wish Steinbeck could write female characters that didn't slot neatly into existing stereotypes.

The Whole Life Adoption Book: Realistic Advice for Building a Healthy Adoptive Family by Jayne E. Schooler and Thomas C. Atwood: This is one of the more comprehensive adoption books I've read; as the title suggests, it's not just about the process to adopt a child, but the lifelong process of raising an adopted child. It's geared more toward parents adopting older children with histories of abuse and neglect, but it has valuable tips for any adoptive parent.

Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie: This is a collection of Hercule Poirot short stories, and while it was enjoyable, I do prefer the longer format. However, I liked that there was a wide variety in the types of cases (murder, theft, blackmail) and the ways in which they unfold. Be aware that there are a number of ethnic slurs used casually by the main characters.

The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien: After feeling meh about The Two Towers, I expected the trilogy to pick up again in the final book, but I had an even harder time getting into it. Between the long, boring descriptions and the weird pacing, I'm glad to finally be done with this series.

Ruby by Cynthia Bond: I had mixed feelings about this book, as the storytelling and the writing are very good, but I was continually tripped up by what felt like unnecessary supernatural elements and excessive, sometimes gratuitous abuse and violence, mostly sexual. Whether you can enjoy this book will probably depend on how much those things bother you.

Buck: A Memoir by M.K. Asante: Asante is a talented writer, and though his story (inner-city black kid with the deck stacked against him eventually finds a way out from the life of gangs and drugs) was not the first of its kind I had read, his engaging prose interspersed with his mother's diary entries made this an excellent read. I recommend the audiobook, narrated by the author.

Beauty of the Broken by Tawni Waters: Waters' writing isn't bad, but she could have done a lot more research to avoid the stereotypes and cringeworthy messages that made up this book. It's not enough for her Christian characters to be hypocritical, they have to be literally abusive, while the "accepting" characters are a family who collects goddesses and a Native American boy from an unspecified tribe who has a magical spiritual connection to nature and possible psychic powers. I was not impressed.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion: Although I've never been in Didion's shoes (with a suddenly deceased husband and a daughter in intensive care), I found her story somehow utterly relatable. Her process of grief was a combination of logical and illogical thoughts, a search for answers among literature and research, and a constantly failed attempt to stay out of the "vortex" of memory. It was compelling and well-written.

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson: Not quite as funny as Let's Pretend This Never Happened, but still excellent. Lawson goes into a lot more detail about her mental illness, which I appreciated, while still being hilarious and having unbelievable adventures.

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L'Engle: This was a mixed bag of fantastic insights and overreaching generalizations. If you're willing to mine it for seeds of truth, go for it; if unsourced references to studies and events drive you up the wall, skip this one.

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans: This is my favorite of Evans' books to date. A blend of memoir, reflection, and church history, it uses the seven sacraments as touchstones to take the reader on a journey through what makes church wonderful and infuriating. I haven't had the ups and downs of Evans' church experience, but I still teared up with recognition more than once while listening to this one.

With Burning Hearts: A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life by Henri Nouwen: This deceptively slim book was infinitely better than I expected. Nouwen invites the reader to revisit the parts of Mass with fresh eyes, and his straightforward and relatable writing helped me reap tons from this tiny volume.

What have you been reading this month? Share over at Modern Mrs. Darcy!

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