Review: To Kill A Mockingbird


I vividly remember sitting at the kitchen table in 9th or 10th grade, reading this book. I was eating cereal or something. But despite that, I remembered very little of what happened in the book. The details that I thought I did remember were completely off. For example, I swear that I thought it was a mockingbird that was putting the gifts inside the tree because those birds collected shiny things. (A quick internet search tells me that might be magpies.) I had also remembered something going down near a jail or a street, which could be two different events that I smooshed together as one in my memory.

Despite how much I was apparently not paying attention the first time I read this book, I felt like it was really beautifully written and had a lot of interesting characterization. The viewpoint of Scout is well-articulated as coming from the memory of a child. The book also brings up a lot of topics, which made book club very interesting. Besides the obvious topic of racism in America, this also brought up classism, gender stereotyping, and empathy towards people that are different from you. I think what makes this book so great is that it is a fully contained story, but you can pick off little bits of it to chew on, or use it as a springboard for a discussion on a variety of themes. No wonder it keeps being used as required reading in schools. There is a lot here!

There are two downsides to this book, and it may be coming from my viewpoint in 2015. First, I felt like while it did sort of touch on how you can be “a girl” and prefer overalls to dresses, some of the points about women (particularly the “place” of women in the private sphere) seemed to be in agreement with the division. Also, while the book takes a very liberal view of black people in America compared to the time, they are still treated as “other”. It’s not even really specific or pointed out, but it’s simply a given that white and black people don’t mix socially and that is never condemned. Maybe that is how Harper Lee thought, maybe she agreed with “separate but equal”. It’s hard to say.

Often most people point to Boo Radley as the most prominent figure in this book, but really it fairly ancillary to the plot. The curiousity of the children towards him is a running theme throughout the beginning mostly, but he is introduced mainly to be their savior toward the end when Mr. Ewell comes after the siblings. I would like to read more about him, actually. He sounds like a pretty interesting guy.

I’m torn on whether or not I will read Go Set A Watchman. There’s some controversy as to whether Harper Lee actually wanted the book to be published or if she was manipulated in her feebler state of mind. I definitely think it is okay to change your mind after many years, but it does seem a little sketchy. Either way, her first (and for 50+ years, only!) novel still holds up as a fantastic piece of literature.

5 stars.

This book fulfills the Pulitzer Prize-winning book requirement for the challenge.

Reading Challenge June Wrap Up

File Jul 03, 10 10 16 AM

This month really zoomed by. I didn’t get much reading done at all, and it’s mostly because Ruby’s nap times have been on the go a lot, and her bedtime has been pushed way back by circumstance. Both of these things have left me with much less time to read.

The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up may be the most influential book that I will read all year. I’m still working (so, so slowly) on implementing the ideas from the book into our living space, and really into my life in general. For example, I enjoy a lot of podcasts, but not all the episodes of a particular podcast are really worth my time. So, the ones that I’m meh on, I skip them. This, then, frees up more of my time for things I genuinely am interested in. I hope that by the end of the year, my house will be in much better shape, but I’m trying to not be too hard on myself for being unrealistic in what I can accomplish.

Then, both at the same time, Insurgent and Allegiant from the Divergent series came available from the library, and so I downloaded both of them. In order to keep them from disappearing from my Kindle after my 2 week lending period ended, I’ve turned the wifi off on it. They won’t disappear until I’ve synced it, but that means nothing new can be added until I’ve finished them. I finally got through Insurgent midway through the month, and I’m getting close to finished with Allegiant. Of course, the conundrum that I’m having is that – does it really count as a trilogy because the author keeps adding stories from the same universe and using the same characters and publishing them. GAH. I’ve decided since the series is technically stand alone, and the rest are “short stories” or addendums, that it counts. But come on, stop adding onto trilogies, people.

As far as upcoming books go, I’ve got To Kill A Mockingbird coming up next for my book club read, and then I checked out Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell from the library.

I read two books this month, and only checked off one measly box. So, 19 books read and 29 boxes checked. I’m still on track if I keep up with my average pace. The image is technically wrong because I finished Allegiant on July 1st, so it doesn’t count for my June totals.

Review: Allegiant


I had heard rumblings about the ending of the third book being unsatisfying long before I decided to read the trilogy. And so, I gotta say, I am conflicted on how I feel about the ending of it. So, spoilers abound after this paragraph – be warned if you ever plan to read the books. (Although if you just plan to watch the movies, I have a feeling that the third movie will stray pretty far from this, so you will probably still be safe.)

The most noticeable thing about the third book that separates it from the previous two is that the book alternates between the viewpoints of Tris and Tobias/Four, when the first two were solely from Tris’ viewpoint. I feel like this was only necessary because Tris dies near the end when saving the world, and so in order to continue the narrative, there needs to be someone to take over and explain what happens after her death. Otherwise, it’s not that great of a literary device. I don’t learn much about Tobias from reading his first person viewpoint. The chapters are actually indistinguishable, and I frequently had to check back to see which person I was reading about. The whole issue would have been better handled using a third person omniscient narrative throughout the whole trilogy.

However, I am torn on how I feel about the death of Tris in general. First, it seems unfair to the reader to take this journey with a character, to have them die, especially when we have been with her first person viewpoint for most of the trilogy, and then just switch to the other viewpoint that was inserted in a kind of sloppy way. I love having a tough protagonist that happens to be female, but I just don’t know how I feel about her sacrificing herself at the end. I think it would have been more effecting for Caleb to jump in at the last minute and sacrifice himself. But then, it also shows that Tris is a strong person, capable of loving someone that betrayed her, of overcoming so many obstacles, and yet choosing the scary path. But then, her death is sort of an “oops”, as she is shot on her way to wipe the memories of everyone, including her attacker. Wouldn’t just a shot that caused her to black out and then awaken later be just as dramatic? Especially if Caleb had come in and stopped her from being killed.

Needless to say, I have mixed feelings on the whole thing.

There are a lot of ideas and world building going on in this installment, but it is just a lot of info dumping. We are told about so many things but very little of it is actually explored in any meaningful way. Both Tobias and Tris each take a separate trip to The Fringe (which is definitely never explained and reminded me of some Afghanistan desert by the descriptions), but I’m not sure what the purpose behind it was, other than to show that this new America is very fractured. Speaking of America, why does no one care about the rest of the world? They talk about how tiny Chicago is on the map compared to the entire Earth, but never mention what is going on in parts other than the United States. We don’t even know what kind of government oversees the Bureau. And if the Bureau oversees several experiments, why is the headquarters right outside Chicago? So many questions.

In the end, the story had a lot of good potential, but the ending was not satisfying.

This book fulfills the trilogy requirement for the challenge.

Review: Insurgent


As with Divergent, I read this book after I had already seen the movie. It just kind of worked out that way, since I was on the wait list for this and the third book for awhile. But unlike the first movie adaptation, the movie strays pretty far from the book in a lot of significant ways. Of course, the book came first and so the original plot is from that, but my experience in seeing them the other way definitely colors how I feel about it.

Tris’s motivations are much better explained in the book, which is probably a no brainer since it all takes place in her first person viewpoint. She can talk about her emotions and thoughts behind her actions, where in a movie that would have to be in the form of super lame voice-overs. The movie version condensed a lot of the plot by removing several minor characters and changing the entire goal of the villain, Jeanine Matthews. In a way, the movie plot makes more sense. The goals are clear and understandable, while in the book, Jeanine captures Tris and experiments on her for “reasons”.

A lot of the same events happen to the characters in both the book and the movie, however, more things happen to fewer characters in the movie, which does help in keeping track of things. It does, however, make things more complicated in terms of relationships. For example, Christina has all kinds of horrible things happen to her but is somehow still on Tris’ side by the end of the movie. In the book, less happens and it seems more understandable why she is loyal. One relationship that was very confusing was the love story between Tris and Four. It is much more believable in the movie, but that could be because of the chemistry between the actors. Reading the book, I sometimes wonder what exactly it is that they see in each other. (Also, the sex scene is so vaguely implied that I could believe it didn’t even happen.)

The best part about this book versus the movie was how much it foreshadowed and explained about why everyone is in this society and how it came to be. Obviously, most of it isn’t explained because that is for the final book in the trilogy, but it does allude to it and outright say some things. It ends on a much different note than the movie, as that one seems much more hopeful and the book has Tris imprisoned, with the factionless staging an uprising against those that have been helping them.

4 stars.

This book fulfills no requirements for the challenge.

Review: The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up


A short article I came across about this book piqued my interest in it. I’d already seen a couple of mentions about it, and was ready to disregard it, until I read the basic premise. Marie Kondo’s tidying philosophy is so simple – only keep things that “spark joy”.

I think this book really resonated with me because I’ve been so unhappy with our living space lately. It has become overrun with clutter. I have boxes upon boxes of stuff that I just don’t know what to do with. I had a closet full of clothing that I didn’t love. Books I have had on my shelf for ages that I don’t care about reading anymore. I’m just done with all of it, and I’m tired of storing this stuff that I don’t care about. I was already in the middle of a great amount of discarding, but this really pushed me forward. Now, the idea of having a closet full of things that I am excited about wearing, books I am excited about reading, and other things that “spark joy”, is really attractive.

I kind of lost steam of my “One Year to An Organized Life” book blogging series that I was doing, mostly because it was moving too fast. The monthly sections were just too much to undertake in one month, and I was ending up with a pile of stuff at the end that was in a bit of a holding area, since I didn’t know where to store it and the rooms I wanted to store them in were so messy and cluttered that I didn’t know what to do with them in the meantime.

Getting rid of other people’s things without permission demonstrates a sad lack of common sense. … To quietly work away at disposing of your own excess is actually the best way of dealing with  family that doesn’t tidy. (Kondo, 51-52)

The one thing that I feel is lacking here – although she does address it – is the fact that I have no control over other people’s things and that is part of the problem. Being overrun with toys and other things that don’t give ME joy, but may give joy to my family members – or that they are not psychologically ready to part with for whatever reason – is a huge part of my clutter issues. Her contribution to this problem is to simply take care of your own things, and the zen-like aura emanating from you will be contagious, but I really will have to see it to believe it.

A booby trap lies within the term ‘storage’. (22)

This was one of those ah-ha! moment quotes from the book. It made me think about how I’m storing things, and that I can organize things to be perfectly neat and tidy and it all falls apart within days. Also, unless it’s something that I use at particular times (like holiday items), why am I storing things in a way that makes it hard for me to get to it? It just makes me less likely to use it. If I’m not using it regularly because it’s a pain to get to and that doesn’t effect me in my day-to-day life, then I should just discard it.

In fact, that particular article of clothing has already completed its role in your life and you are free to say, “Thank you for giving me joy when I bought you,” or “Thank you for teaching me what doesn’t suit me,” and let it go. (60)

There’s no need to finish reading books that you only got halfway through. Their purpose was to be read halfway. (91)

You will never use spare buttons. (111)

The above quotes were some of the biggest take-aways for me from this book. I do hang on to several item “just in case” and half-read books, some clothing, and buttons are big ones. I’m 31 and I have never used a spare button. I’ve forced myself to finish books that I hated. I have a ton of clothes that I save for a someday occasion or size that by the time I even get close to wearing it, I don’t even like it anymore.

The things we own are real. They exist here and now as a result of choices made in the past by no one other than ourselves. (183)

I’m not really into all of the spiritual things that she brings up in the book. I’m not going to start asking my house where it wants me to store things. But hanging onto things out of a sense of obligation to either ourselves or others when the utility or joy of the thing has passed is pretty silly. It just creates more mess to contend with. And I, for one, am tired of dealing with it.

This book fulfills the originally written in a different language requirement for the challenge.

Reading Challenge May Wrap Up

This month was really slow. I knocked off another couple of boxes, but took a break while I was waiting on some library books to come available before I started something new. Of course, I do still have Jane Austen’s Emma on the go, but I really don’t want to read it.

So first up, I finished Imaginary Jesus, which is completely perplexing and strange, but at least it was short. This definitely leads me to believe that I have a lot of books downloaded to my Kindle that I am never going to read. I sometimes feel a little panicked that there are so many books in the world to read, but not enough time to read them all. But, being realistic, most of those books are probably not worth my time.

I also read Still Alice, which is was a little nervous about but ended up really enjoying. I have the movie waiting for me to watch still, and I’m interested in how they portray the relationships in it. I think I’m going to remember this book for a long time, because it kind of sticks with you in an emotional kind of way.

The other book I completed this month is Yes Please by Amy Poehler, which was so disappointing to me. I read this book for my book club, and I really thought I was going to love it, based on the buzz I had seen about it. It seems to me that Amy has enough good will generated from her various things going on to paint the book in a better light than it would have been just on its own. I’ll be honest, after following her Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls facebook page, I was really hoping for a feminist diatribe/memoir. This wasn’t it, for sure.

Next on my reading pile is the final two books in the Divergent series. They are downloaded to my Kindle and ready to go. I’m also considering tossing Emma to the side, and reading Lady Chatterly’s Lover for my old book instead. It’s also been banned, so that would check off yet another box.

The whole question of books that have been banned is kind of a tricky one, to be honest. I feel confident choosing Lady Chatterly’s Lover as an example of a banned book because it’s kind of the poster child for book censorship. But so, so many books have merely been challenged, and not actually banned. Also, a book that is banned in one city may not raise an eyebrow in another.

So should I stick with Emma, or toss it? That is kind of the big question. I would almost rather just watch Clueless again.

I checked off 5 boxes this month, so that brings my total up to 28 boxes total, and 17 books read.


Review: Yes Please


I did not expect to be so underwhelmed by this book, but I was. The structure was barely hanging on, and it was so all over the place, I had difficulty keeping all the story threads together.

Obviously, Amy Poehler had gone through a lot of personal and career upheaval during the writing on this book and was probably not at a very good place emotionally. She also doesn’t like talking about herself, as is evident from several subjects that are just a no go, including her divorce, embarrassing moments, and a few other things.

The book reminded me of a lot of reasons why I disliked Mindy Kaling’s book (and I’m glad I didn’t spend any money on either of them). It was just a bunch of vignettes, loosely strung together and attempting to be funny. I guess it even reminds me of Ellen Degeneres’ latest book. Chapters of narrative style writing, interspersed with odd bits, like emails, poetry, or lists. It doesn’t work for me. For a great example of memoir, everyone should read Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher. Now that was fantastic.

There were a few things I found interesting and thoughtful about the book. The chapter of apologies was good, and I enjoyed the story, the honest depiction of anger and shame, and then acknowledging that the thing she did was careless. More of those stories, yes please! I also liked the portion where she talked about her brief touch with sexism in the workplace, with the unwanted physical touch. But I get the sense that even though she is famous, her life isn’t really all that interesting. I think the real reason she hated writing this book so much was that she really didn’t have much to tell. It’s not that she is a bad writer. It’s that she just didn’t have anything to work with.

3 stars (and that’s generous)

This book fulfills the funny book requirement for the challenge.

Review: Imaginary Jesus


When I first got my Kindle, I thought the free ebooks were awesome, and I regularly scoured the free list and looked up websites that also had lists of free books, and I pretty much downloaded them indiscriminately. That is how this book came into my possession. I needed to find a book whose author had the same initials as I do for the challenge, and there were two books with MM authors, this one and another. This seemed the most interesting, but I didn’t read a synopsis or anything.

So I began the book, and within the first chapter I was completely baffled. “What have I started reading?!” was my initial thought. The book essentially starts off as a guy, eating a vegan meal in a “communist” cafe in Portland, with Jesus sitting across from him, listening to music on an iPod. So you know, already I was caught off guard. Then a burly man comes in and strikes up a conversation with them, then accuses Jesus of being imaginary. A brawl ensues, with Jesus making an escape on foot. Then, the burly man introduces himself as the Apostle Peter and they take off after the escaped Jesus. There are talking donkeys, time travel, mysteriously appearing guys on motorcycles, and reformed prostitutes. And about 100+ “imaginary Jesuses”, all depicting different stereotypes of how people envision Jesus.

I think this would have been a great book if it had not been a novel. There were some good insights about Jesus and suffering, and about compartmentalizing Jesus and removing the context of the actual time that he lived in. But the fictionalized aspects were so nutty that it made me want to dismiss the whole thing altogether. A tube race down a snowy mountain, where two Jesuses need to battle it out theologically, until one is eaten by a bear? I wish I was making that up. And the ending went soft on real insights. It makes me cringe when people literally put words into Jesus’ mouth, too. He spends a chapter or two ragging on Mohammed and the Book of Mormon, when he essentially does the same thing. Yeah, he doesn’t set up a religion, but don’t smack talk “Conversations With God” if you are going to slip into the same narrative.

“Wouldn’t it be great if someone wrote a sort of semi-autobiographical novel comedy thing instead of a Sunday school lesson for once? Wouldn’t that be cool?” (Chapter 31)

Well, I guess you did it.

2 stars.

This book fulfills the book you own but have never read, and book written by an author with the same initials as you requirements for the challenge.

Review: Still Alice

Still Alice cover

I knew that this book was about a woman who slowly descends into Alzheimer’s disease, but I wasn’t expecting it to be so profound about the meaning of life. Alice Howland discovers she has early on-set Alzheimer’s disease shortly after her 50th birthday, when she is in the prime of her career. Her children have recently moved on into adulthood and she and her husband John are empty-nesters, with prestigious careers at Harvard University. The diagnosis shakes her to her core, and John is firmly in denial throughout most of the book.

While I really enjoyed a lot of the story that centered around an understanding of what it may feel like to have Alzheimer’s (because we really won’t ever know), I think part of the story that really captivated me was the reaction from her family. Her relationships at the beginning of the book are so different from the end. Her two eldest children, Anna and Tom, are closer to Alice than Lydia, the “wayward” youngest, who has defied her mother’s expectations for her and moved to Los Angeles in order to begin a career as an actress. Alice has spent most of her life deep into higher education, and she places high importance on it. It seemed to be a personal slight to her that Lydia dismisses it out of hand. But, as Alice loses more and more of her memory and “self”, Lydia is the one that seems to deeply understand her, or at least is interested in meeting her where she is.

Alice’s relationship with John is probably the saddest part of the entire novel. At first, he rejects the diagnosis outright. He wants to meet with the doctor himself, and argues over and over. When Alice has a DNA test done and it reveals that she has a genetic mutation found in many Alzheimer’s patients, John is on a new mission to find some kind of cure or treatment. He begins researching it with as much fervor as he does with his Harvard laboratory experiments. But as Alice descends farther and farther into her disease, John retreats from her more and more. He clearly feels like her handicap is slowing him down. He can’t stand to be around her. He won’t watch her take her medications. And near the end, when she can’t remember the names of her family, or even that she is related to these people, he moves to New York City for a new job and leaves Alice behind.

One of the plot threads that runs throughout is Alice’s plan to take her own life once her symptoms become out of hand. She sets an alarm on her Blackberry to ask her every morning to answer 5 basic questions: What month is it, Where is my office, Where do I live, How many children do I have, and When is Anna’s birthday. The document instructs her to find a bottle of sleeping pills and take them all when she can no longer answer the questions. The Blackberry unfortunately meets an untimely demise in the freezer, but while poking around on her computer some time later, she happens upon the document, entitled Butterfly (an allusion to her mother’s prized necklace that she has taken to wearing). She tries to carry out the instructions in the document, but her forgetfulness (and possibly John’s removal of the pills) prevents her from completing the task.

This book is important, I think, for families that have a member who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, or even someone in the early stages of diagnosis. There is an empathy that comes from reading about this experience, even if it can never be verified that this is actually how it feels.

I checked off the box for something that scares me, because the idea of one day having Alzheimer’s, or caring for someone that does, is really frightening. It does run in my family, although I don’t think I’ll be having my DNA tested. (Like Lydia, I’d rather not know.) But somehow, this book has tempered the fear. It would still be not the most awesome outcome, but maybe it wouldn’t be that terrible.

5 stars

This book completes the a book that scares you and a book that made you cry.

Reading Challenge April Wrap Up


I don’t know why, but April seemed way busy. Too busy to get much reading done. I really only managed to read 3 books, because the Captain Marvel was a short graphic novel and I read the whole thing while Ruby took a nap in the car one afternoon. I checked off even fewer boxes because half of the books I read fulfilled zero requirements. I’m trying to change that this month with my choices. But I’ll get to that. First, what I read this month.

I read the 5th book in the Kissed By An Angel series, Everlasting. It made me interested enough to track down the 6th book, that I serendipitously found at Half Price Books for less than the Amazon price. I should probably read it soon, before I totally forget what happened in the previous book. Good thing I have these reviews to remind me.

Then, was the Captain Marvel graphic novel. I was really surprised by how much I loved this. Of course, I went into it knowing I was going to love Chewie (the cat, not the Wookie), but the entire story was great. I really felt like I got a sense of who Carol Danvers is as a character, although I would like to read the origin story. I will probably add this series to my list of graphic novels that I follow (since I do that now.)

I only really read Sycamore Row to get some kind of perspective on my feelings about A Time To Kill. I definitely can see how John Grisham has improved as a writer (or at least found a better editing team), but some of the old sexism lingers. It makes me curious about his other works, but I don’t know if I have the patience to read all of them and see how things change over time. At least the racial aspects got better.

The last book I completed in April was Where We Belong, which I had been wanting to get to for some time and the library didn’t have an ebook copy and so I just kept neglecting it. I finally ordered it from Paperback Swap and then it sat on my shelf for awhile. Finally, I picked it up so I could check off a box, and as hoped, I really enjoyed this (despite the air-deflating ending).

I have slowed down a little in my reading frenzy, as usually happens around summer time for me. I’ve been watching some movies and catching up on podcasts in my down time, and so I haven’t been racing through books. I did read Still Alice for my upcoming book club meeting, and I sort of halfheartedly read a bit of Emma. I’m considering tossing Emma to the way side because I just can’t get into it.

Next up is my short story collection. I have a book that I’ve had for a really long time that I will probably read. I’m hoping one of the short stories takes place in France, because that would also knock off another box. I also have my last Kissed By An Angel book to read. I think I found the book I’m going to use for poorly reviewed, which is a memoir from a frequent wedding guest called Save the Date. The reviews on Goodreads and Amazon aren’t good, even though most of the published book reviews I saw were pretty good. The Britney Spears book is still a contender though!

I’ve read 14 books and checked off 23 boxes for the challenge!