50/50 Reading Challenge Update: May Books

I’m having a bugger of a time writing this post. The words and ideas keep sticking together in a jumbled mess and refuse to flow from of my brain, through my fingers, and into the computer.  Is this writer’s block? I hardly know – it happens so rarely to me.  Besides, I know exactly what I want to write about – the four books I’ve read this month.  And still, I sit here, looking at a cursed blank screen, feeling fragments of sentences knocking aimlessly around in my skull.  It doesn’t help that I’m preoccupied with a few personal issues or that this sublime day was made for taking walks and eating strawberries on the front porch, not staring at a computer.  I’m feeling lazy, too.  So as not to prolong this torture any longer, I’m going to stop trying to be clever and just write a few random thoughts about each book.  It will be a win-win situation for all involved (namely, me).  The reviews will be finished and my misery will end.

May Books

  • Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen.  1) A very satisfying example of magical realism. 2) Similar to Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman but with a lighter feel.  3) Stands on its own due to unique characters and excellent story-telling.  4) I like Sarah Allen Addison’s writing (The Sugar Queen is even better).  5) Reading Garden Spells was like eating a really good cream-filled doughnut – delicious, soul-satisfying, zero nutritional value.  And who doesn’t need a cream-filled doughnut every once in a while? (4/5 stars)

  • Lemonade Mouth by Mark Peter Hughes. 1) Recommended by Ace (my almost 11 year old son).  2) More authentic and deeper than the stylized Disney movie, although I enjoyed that, too (probably because I saw it first).  3) The story is told from the perspectives of each band member (Stella – ukulele, Charlie – percussion, Mo – double bass, Wen – trumpet, Olivia – vocals).  They must have made some pretty interesting music.  4) Mark Peter Hughes did a great job of developing the main characters through their narratives.  5) How can a story not have the expected outcome and still give off a hopeful vibe?  I don’t know, but Lemonade Mouth pulled it off.  6) There is not enough money in the world to tempt me to revisit my high school experience!  (4/5 stars)

  • The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Loved: 1) Everything about Le Cirque des Reves: the performers, the descriptions of the tents, the magic.  2) All the magic. It was palpable.  3) The descriptions of the different settings in the story – they were opulent and luxurious.  4) The passionate love story between the two main characters, Celia and Marco.  Struggled with: 1) The timeline – three separate scenarios at different times in history are taking place simultaneously.  Trying to keep track of which scenario was taking place when was a pain using my Nook.  It would have been easier with a “real” book. 2) The plot.  I expected it to be more substantial – just as rich and layered as the settings and characters.  I’m not exactly sure what I wanted, but whatever it was, it was lacking.  How’s that for profound?  Even with its flaws, I still enjoyed the read, continually marveling at the imagination required to think up such a wonderful place.  I so wish it were real. (3.75/5)

  • Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte.  1) I’ve seen several movie versions of Wuthering Heights and read a modern adaptation by Alice Hoffman entitled Here On Earth (which I hated).  I’ve never really felt compelled to read the book before this.  2) I finally relented because Lovey (my 15 year old daughter) asked me to.  Besides, it is always popping up on those “100 Must Read” book lists.  3) I Can. Not. Stand. Catherine Earnshaw.  Period.  4) I can only tolerate Heathcliff slightly more.  It’s very hard to stick with a book whose characters mean nothing to me.  5) Speaking of Heathcliff, did you know that some experts believe he might have been African because he is described as having dark skin? I think, because he is called a “gypsy”, he was probably dark-skinned like Indian or Middle Eastern people groups.  Gypsies (or more appropriately the Roma) are believed to have originated in northern India.  6) Reading Wuthering Heights is like doing that Boot Camp workout I dread.  It’s long, hard, and painful.  I often want to quit in the middle of it.  When I finally finish, sweat is dripping off my nose, my muscles are quivering, and I need a drink, but I feel great. 7) Wuthering Heights is not a love story.  It illustrates the twisted outcome of an absence of love: selfishness, obsession, and revenge and the misery that arises from their pursuit.  8)  After all that dark suffering, the hopeful ending saved the book for me.  I probably won’t be reading this one again.  (3.5/5 stars)

That makes seventeen books through the end of May.  I’m still behind by three books but I have a feeling the summer will be kind to me.  I’m already halfway through A Secret History by Donna Tartt (love that last name) and I have a vacation coming up that will lend itself perfectly to lots of reading by the pool and ocean.  I have a pile of vintage books I recently bought at a fundraising book sale and I just picked out a whole bunch of samples to check out on my Nook.  It would seem the reading will be easy the next few months.  At least easier than the writing was today….

50/50 Reading Challenge Update: January Books

January has turned out to be a great reading month for me.  I unintentionally compiled a pretty eclectic group of books and I’ve enjoyed each one for the unique experience it was.  I’m also maintaining the pace of reading about a book a week – an astounding feat considering I’m juggling three classes this semester on top of my regularly scheduled life.  If I stay at this pace, I shouldn’t have any trouble meeting my fifty book goal.  Yeah!

Age of Opportunity: A Biblical Guide to Parenting Teens (Resources for Changing Lives)

  • The Age of Opportunity by Paul David Tripp (1/50).  Less a how-to guide for navigating the rough waters of teendom and more a whole parenting philosophy based on sound biblical principles and built on hope, The Age of Opportunity is worth it’s weight in gold.  Paul David Tripp believes the behaviors we see in our teenagers are a product of the condition of their hearts.  It’s our job as parents to help our teens sift through the heart issues and then the right behaviors will follow.  It’s a simple sounding formula that requires dedication, effort, and sacrifice.  He exhorts parents to look at themselves and their own sins, to be real for their children, and to pursue open communication on a regular basis.  This book offers a very positive approach to parenting teens that I found refreshing and hopeful.  There is so much good information tucked between the covers – I think I highlighted half the book.        (4.5/5 stars)

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (2/50).  The New York Times describes this book as “a profoundly moving novel, and an honest and true one.  It cuts right to the heart of life.”  I have to agree.  The story, set in the slums of Brooklyn, New York between 1900 and WWI, draws a detailed sketch of the poverty and struggle that was intimately connected to a particular place and time in American history.  Against this background, Francie Nolan’s life unfolds and blossoms, despite the seemingly endless sufferings.  Betty Smith counters the harshness of reality with love, hope, and the irrepressible determination of the human spirit.  It is an inspiring tale gift-wrapped in Ms. Smith’s superbly descriptive and insightful writing style.  I loved this book!  My only question is, “Why?”  Why did I wait so long to read it?  (5/5 stars)

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

  • Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (3/50).  I know this is technically a young adult book.  And the term young adult has not applied to me in decades.  But, I do have teenagers and I’m always curious to know what quality of literature is out there for them.  Usually, my kids give me recommendations.  This time I picked the book out on my own because the weirdness of it attracted me.  Miss Peregrine’s turned out to be an easy, face-paced read with a whole lotta action. The main character, Jacob, is likeable and funny and makes for a fine protagonist in this fantasy/action-adventure with a bit of spook mixed in for good measure tale.  My only issue was the ending.  Ransom Riggs seems to be setting the stage for another book or perhaps even a series and I wanted a clean finish.  That’s just my personal preference, though.  I’ve already recommended the book to my kids.  While it probably won’t win any awards, the writing is very solid and the story is interesting and exciting.  It’s a very entertaining and worthwhile read.  (4/5 stars)

The Art of Racing in the Rain

  • The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein (4/50).  My Mom gave me this book at the beginning of last summer with the warning that I would need a tissue (or several).  I’d been putting off reading it because I just didn’t feel like purposely making myself sad.  I don’t know why I decided now was the time to read this tear-jerker, but I’m so glad I did.  Just in case it is not common knowledge, the story is told by a dog named Enzo, who loves his family, car racing, and TV watching.  He also believes in karma and reincarnation and that when he dies he will be reborn as a man (after he is finished running free in the open fields of heaven, of course).  Mr. Stein writes with such canine perception that I almost wonder if he wasn’t a dog in his former life.  If you love dogs, racing, or life, I can’t recommend this touching story enough. (4.5/5 stars)

It appears that I am one of those people who rave about everything they read.  I’m really not.  (Well, maybe I am just a little because I won’t usually waste my time reading a book I don’t like or care about.)  I just happened upon a great group of books this time around.  What have you read this month?  I’m always looking for recommendations.