Reading Challenge October Wrap Up

This month was one of my best months for reading out of the whole year! I managed to finish 5 books, and I’m well into two others.

File Oct 30, 3 31 22 PMFirst, I had Betrayed, which I mentioned in my September update that I finished just after the cut off, on October 1st. I really rushed through finishing it because I thought it was due back to the library on the 1st, but it was actually due on the 13th, so I rushed for no reason. It was a paperback, and so those sometimes are harder for me to read than ebooks, since I need to be able to hold it in two hands and there needs to be light in order to see the words. But I did finish it, and I feel bad that I didn’t like it, since it was the book that my mom loves for the challenge. But more on that in a minute.

Then I read The Heart Goes Last. My expectations were higher for this book since I’ve read several things by her before and really enjoyed them. I didn’t realize that this was the compilation of a serialized book that had been coming out in installments over the last several years until I started reading it. I recognized a few of the chapter names while reading. I worried that this might not count as a book published in 2015, but then it turns out that the final part of the book was new to this publication, so I say that it counts.

Now, here is where Betrayed comes back in. Both of the books have a heroine that is in peril (in Betrayed there is only the heroine, and in The Heart Goes Last, the action is divided between a male and a female protagonist), but the treatment of both really displays where there is writing talent and where there is not. Vicki Andrews (in Betrayed) makes a series of really bad choices that are implausible and just plain stupid. It is even more infuriating when at the beginning rails against her impulsive sister for being rash and not thinking things through. Charmaine has similar situations, but her entire character is different, so that it seems fairly reasonable that she would make the choices that she makes. She is characterized as naive and optimistic, and almost annoyingly cheerful. But after a few events, she begins to doubt her trust in her environment and the people around her. And even better, the “bad” guys in Atwood’s novel aren’t just potty-mouthed, greedy, evil monsters with no reasons. Some of the bad guys even start out with good intentions and get swept away by greed or some twisted sense of idealism. That isn’t to say that The Heart Goes Last is perfect and without problems. But none of the problems were with the mechanics of the novel.

I sped through Throw Out Fifty Things, although it was too long for its actual worth. It was about 250-300 pages, but there were a lot of “journalling” spaces, blank pages between chapters, and the font was fairly large. So it had that going for it. I need to start reading reviews before I buy or borrow any more self-help type books.

In other books that were a slog, Lady Chatterley’s Lover took me a long time, and I only kept going because I have high standards for things meeting the requirements for my challenge. Not many people know this, but few books are actually “banned”. Although, now that I think about it, I think Eleanor & Park actually was banned. And now I feel foolish for not counting that one, especially since at the time I decided it didn’t meet any requirements. Anyways, back to my point. Many, many books are “challenged”, but that is not equal at all to being banned. Whenever you see those “banned books week” displays at places where they have books, very few of them have actually been banned, and even less of them were banned by an establishment anywhere close to where you are viewing the display. I knew for sure that Lady Chatterley’s Lover was banned, because I learned about the postal obscenity laws in one of my college courses. However, if any of the people in charge of banning had actually read it, they may have fallen asleep before getting to any of the more racy sections.

Lastly, was my book club selection for next month: Spook. This one I really enjoyed, partly because I like nonfiction type books like this, and second because Mary Roach has a very engaging writing style that I enjoyed. I definitely think I will be picking up more of her books. I highly recommend an interview she did with Adam Savage from Mythbusters about her work. It was highly entertaining.

It turns out that I didn’t realize that one of the books I read at the very beginning of the year actually checked off a box on the challenge – for an antonym! The Honest Truth About Dishonesty by Dan Ariely. I didn’t write a review for this book at the time, and I can hardly remember it, but it counts!

As for what’s up next, I’m currently reading Penelope – my book based off the cover. So far it’s a little meh, but I’m hoping that it picks up. I’m also reading The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah for a different book club that I’ve joined. I’m almost halfway through both of them, and then after that I have to find a book set during Christmas, a book with a color in the title, and a play. And then I will be DONE. How amazing! I haven’t decided if I’m going to try find a 2016 challenge, or take the year off of crazy reading. It is pretty fun to do these challenges. It opens you up to new books and ideas, although I’ve read a lot of crappy books in the name of this challenge too. It’s really a mixed bag. We’ll see, I suppose, how burned out I feel by the New Year.

So far I have read 33 books. I have 5 more boxes left to go, but 2 of them are well on their way to being checked.

100 Picture Books: 65-61

This is the first batch that Sweetpea is legitimately interested in the books. None of the ones in this batch are particularly geared toward her age range, but she did express an interest in a couple of the ones that were shorter in length. We also got a ton of books about being a flower girl and about death (nice mix, right?) for some timely concerns, and those have usurped requests for this batch. I guess none of them were super interesting for either girl, but we always have the next batch.

the-arrival65. The Arrival by Shaun Tan

So this book was bizarre. It had no words or context, just a variety of pictures. It was sort of like a graphic novel in sepia tones and with aliens or something. I had to describe what was happening in each picture to Peanut and it got to be a little tedious. Also, neither of us really understood what was happening. There was a family, with a father-type figure leaving for a new place, and the little cute monster depicted on the cover. Some kind of alien-takeover situation was happening. I really just didn’t know what was going on. I did my best at explaining it, but it was a blind leading the blind type of thing.

This book was written in order to hopefully eke out sympathy from his fellow Australians towards refugees. The author said he was also inspired by the 1978 book The Snowman.

King-Bidgood-cover (1)64.  King Bidgood’s in the Bathtub by Audrey Wood

Peanut enjoyed this book because it was silly. The premise is that the King is in the bathtub, and a variety of subjects try to encourage him to come out by suggesting a fun activity, but the King decides that those activities can just as easily be done in the tub! This means that his bathtub is huge, and he also bathes with his subjects. Pretty weird. Of course, kids don’t think a bunch of adults bathing together is weird, so it definitely works for this age group. In the end, the clever page just pulls the plug (glub glub glub!) and so the bath time shenanigans are over.

On the author’s website, she has a couple of photos of people that posed as characters for them to draw for the book, so that is pretty cool. There are three Wood authors, the husband and wife along with their son, and together they have created many popular children’s books, including The Napping House. Audrey Wood had a pretty interesting childhood spent among circuses, which probably has inspired her whimsical style of art.

91f9f3a8241804a93a682beac9d3f28263. The Sneetches and Other Stories by Dr. Seuss

Our first Seuss! This book had a bunch of stories in it, but the longest one was The Sneetches. To an adult, it is obviously a story about racism and class differences, and how we have prejudices that aren’t fair and use them to oppress and exclude others. I’m not sure that the point of it got across to Peanut (and Sweetpea could barely sit still through the whole thing), but we were able to get across that the behavior of the Sneetches was “not nice”. What else can you hope for?

One thing that I appreciated about the stories was that it wasn’t just pointing out and demonstrating poor behavior, it was actively saying it was bad behavior. I find some stories for children aren’t explicit enough in this, and then children are confused over what type of behavior is appropriate to emulate. It’s not enough for the bad characters to not be the heroes, or maybe not “win”, but the particular bad behavior needs to be labeled as such for the kids to get it.

Theodor Geisel (aka, Dr Seuss) said that the Sneetches story was satire based on how he felt about antisemitism. The Sneetches have also inspired a lot of musicians, as they have appeared in song lyrics by artists like Bikini Kill, Dead Kennedys, and Ben Cooper, among others.

GoAwayBigGreenMonster62. Go Away, Big Green Monster! by Ed Emberley

This was a regular picture book printed on regular pages, but I felt that it was a little too flimsy for the cut out style of it. The book starts with eyes, and as pages are turned, more features of the Big Green Monster are revealed. Midway through the book is the entire monster. Then, the book’s narrator (which seems to be a child from the voice, but is never clarified) starts telling each specific feature to go away, until the monster is gone. “And don’t come back until I say so!” The library copy that we had obviously had some wear, because there were a few rips on the pages. A cardboard page design would have been much better for this book. Both girls liked it; Peanut liked the story and the idea of telling the monster to go away, and Sweetpea liked looking at the disappearing and reappearing pictures.

Despite Emberley’s rather long bibliography, he mostly appears to make books that are instructional rather than for reading. He has several dozen books about drawing. I personally find it ironic that he has so many drawing instruction books when the art in Big Green Monster is very rudimentary.

How_the_Grinch_Stole_Christmas_cover61. How The Grinch Stole Christmas by Dr. Seuss

We’ve had this book awhile (and have enjoyed the classic animation many times). It was one of the first picture books that we bought and it took awhile for Peanut to be able to sit through the entire thing. It is pretty long. Peanut likes to recite Cindy Lou Who’s lines when she finds Grinchy Claus taking away the Who Christmas tree. Sweetpea is still too young to enjoy this, but I’m hoping she will grow to love it as well.

This book was apparently simultaneously published on its own and in an issue of Redbook magazine in 1957. I find it interesting that Geisel wrote the book in a matter of weeks except for the ending, which stumped him for several months! His wife was ill during the time that he wrote it, but she was able to help with the editing. The Grinch is such an integral part of our culture now that we refer to just as many Christmas curmudgeons as Grinches that we do Scrooges. (There is a semantic difference though – Scrooges generally imply some kind of greed or lack of generosity, while Grinchiness seems to be just general grumpiness. I feel like there may be a thesis paper in there somewhere.) I found it surprising to learn that Geisel considered the Grinch to be modeled on himself. Hopefully, his own heart grew three sizes after completing it.


 

Next time, we have more holiday books, which is timely, since the holidays are around the corner!

Review: Spook

Spook-cover2I read a lot of these layman’s academic non-fiction type books, and usually by the time I get to the end I feel somewhat disappointed. In this case, it might be because the author never really shores up enough evidence to persuade the reader either way. However, I think that feeling in this case is more because I so enjoyed the book that I wish there were more of it!

Mary Roach takes us on a journey about finding more about what science (and pseudo-science) says about the soul and life after death. We start with reincarnation and end with near death experiences, and along the way we talk to a variety of scientists, researchers, and people who are using “science” (applied loosely) to communicate with the dead. I found Roach’s writing style to be witty and inclusive, and just like a friend telling you interesting stories over coffee. (By inclusive, I mean that when the book gets jargon-y, she realizes this and tells you how it goes over her head too. There is lots of care to guide the reader along when things start to get complex, and I really appreciate this as a non-scientist.)

One omission in the book is about the amount of Biblical scholars that write and teach about the existence of heaven. They may not be scientists, but are academics in their own right. Several years ago, I read a really really long book by Randy Alcorn titled Heaven, and I know he interviews a bunch of researchers. While he has a vested interest in biasing his book towards the probability of Heaven existing, there was a lot of good stuff in there that I found convincing when I read it. This book only has a brief side bar about Catholic priests and the papacy. The Hindu religion actually has more prominence in this book.

Otherwise, I found this book very engaging and enjoyable, and I much enjoyed her writing style. I will probably be checking out more of her books in the future.

4 stars.

 

Review: Lady Chatterley’s Lover

9781411432505_p0_v1_s260x420It took me three months to finish this book, and not because it was particularly dense or long. Imagine a somewhat tame erotica novel, and then add pages and pages of ranting about Bolshevism, industrialism, and classism. That is Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

After reading an essay about the book and having it contextualized in the time in which D.H. Lawrence wrote the book, it makes sense why this may have an important stepping stone for modern romance novels. Despite any importance in the literary canon, however, this book is terrible. The characters are shells of characters, the plot meanders and jumps ahead in the future without warning, and there is too much unrelated ranting. There is a somewhat interesting story buried in between all the rest, but it really needed to be massaged out of it.

The book is very nearly autobiographical, as it takes many elements – including its setting – from Lawrence’s own life. Lawrence’s father was a collier, and the book is based adjacent to a mining town. The adultery in the book is also mined from his life, as his wife was married when they became entangled. The gamekeeper is supposed to be the author’s mouthpiece in the book, and most of his opinions are those of Lawrence’s.

I thought the book could have been better if it had included more exploration of the relationship between Connie and her husband, Clifford. Why did she decide to marry him at all? What drew her to him? Was their relationship lukewarm before his paralysis, or did that ruin it? There is a sense of the pompous, self-righteous attitude that Clifford has and that worsens as he feels more powerless and impotent, which is very interesting, but instead we get pages about how he feels about spirituality or transcendence. And Connie, for that matter, doesn’t seem to feel much of anything until she just decides that she is going to ditch Clifford for Oliver Mellors, the gamekeeper.

This book does not age well. I’m sure it was scandalous for the time as it has some fairly graphic depictions of the relationship between Connie and Oliver, but between the rantings and outdated references, it is pretty vanilla and boring.

2 stars.

This book fulfills the classic romance and the banned book requirements for the challenge.

Review: Throw Out Fifty Things

throw-out-fifty-things-book-cover-jacketI started reading this book ages ago and just randomly stopped. Okay, it wasn’t entirely random, it was because the first time I sat down to read it, I actually intended to follow it and throw out fifty things. In much the same way that I ran out of steam with my One Year to An Organized Life reading and series of blog posts, I just couldn’t keep up with it on any sort of timeline, and gradually the book made its way into the closet and I didn’t even find it until post-KonMari. The thing is, I now compare all organizing/decluttering/tidying books against The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and they all fall short. Not in the sense that the KonMari method is just so mind-blowing that no other book comes close to approximating the genius within those pages, but mostly because all those other books basically say the same thing, but not as clearly and concisely.

Gail Blanke’s purpose for this book is not actually centered around your living space. This is a motivational self-help book disguised as organizing how-to. The book is arranged into 3 basic parts (actually 4, but 1 & 2 are pretty similar). The first deals with physical clutter (what I was interested in), the second was mental clutter (hrm, okay), and the third was about achieving your maximum potential (what?). I just want a clean house – I’ll worry about realizing my dreams after that. (Really, my dreams right now are to be able to walk without stubbing my toe on something or be able to find something without tearing the house upside down.) I felt deceived by this book when I got to the third section, because it did not seem like the same book. And it became a whole lot of positive thinking meets “The Secret” meets cognitive behavioral therapy. And that stuff is all fine, but it just wasn’t what I was looking for.

In a way, I can understand why a book might have this premise and also might appeal to a lot of people. If you are unhappy and looking to make a change, you might think a house sprucing-up might just be the ticket, but while reading you may realize you need to make some bigger changes in your life. That’s great! I hope this book really helped someone. I would have preferred that it hadn’t been advertised as something else though. After finishing the book, I skimmed the jacket and blurbs and really didn’t see how anyone would be able to see what this book is really about. Maybe that’s by design. Either way, it has a lot of rah-rah motivational speak that I find cloying and absurd. The book is also much too long for the content within.

I did not throw out fifty things while reading it this time. I’d already done plenty more before that while going through KonMari, and the best part of that is that book was shorter and didn’t really require steps in between chapters. If I had decided to go back and do Blanke’s program, it not only would have required a lot of journaling for the mental clutter and dream actualization chapters, but I would have had to start over and go chapter by chapter.

The best part of the book was the heart warming stories about being who had turned their lives around after dumping stuff they didn’t need and thoughts and feelings that were holding them back. I would read a whole book about that.

2 stars.

This book fulfills the book with a number in the title and book you started but never finished requirements for the challenge.

Review: The Heart Goes Last

Content warning: major spoilers near the end of the review!

Heart-Goes-Last_Atwood-2I usually really enjoy Margaret Atwood books, but this one left me feeling a little dissatisfied. The premise itself is very interesting. It’s a dystopian near future, where there’s been a horrible economic downturn and large cities are now ghost towns of vigilante youths and people living in their cars. The book follows Charmaine and Stan, a former middle class married couple that are running out of money and options. Charmaine works at a dirty diner/brothel and sees a commercial for an experimental community that offers jobs and security to everyone it accepts. So they sign up for Positron and Consilience – a duel community where residents live half the month in an actual prison and the other half in the adjacent community.

The plot begins to get sinister from there, where there are red hot affairs, spies, executions, and lifelike sex robots. And many Elvis impersonators, but yeah. It would take a long time to really detail all the plot because it is quite intricate. Atwood interweaves the perspectives of both Charmaine and Stan as different chapters throughout the book, and even if the audio book wasn’t narrated by both genders, I think it would be easy to follow along. They each have a unique voice and temperament, which comes across in their chapters. She also only gives the reader the same information that each character actually has, so as you are unfolding the story there is a layer of suspense as you don’t really know what’s happening.

So, yes, this book is masterfully crafted, as many of Atwood’s books are. But it just doesn’t deliver the same punch that many of the other books of hers that I’ve read have. A large part of that is the operation that Charmaine may or may not have undergone. When I believed she had, it felt icky. When it is revealed at the very end that she hadn’t, I just felt cold. I think particularly the reaction of Stan was unsettling. He is practically misogynist, and he is supposed to be the hero of this story. Well, not even practically – he is. He has several rape fantasies towards Charmaine and other women, and even when he believes that Charmaine is his willing (albeit lobotomized) sex slave, he is unhappy about it. He treats Charmaine like dirt, and is surprised that she had an affair and also “killed” him. For all of the book’s social commentary about the treatment of women, it doesn’t do a lot to propose an alternative.

I went back and forth on the rating for this book. It is definitely well-written, engaging, and thought-provoking. All good things that I look for in a novel. But that ending – and really, the final few chapters – brought it all down for me. It turns out that the book is divided into 5 parts, and each had been released over time through a service called Byliner. That service recently shut down, and so Atwood decided to release the book as a legitimate release, with the final 5th part included for the first time. It does make sense, then, why that ending feels really disjointed with the rest of the story. In the end, I decided not to weigh too heavily on the final chapters, but it definitely still colored how I feel in total.

3 stars

This book fulfills the book published this year requirement for the challenge.

Review: Betrayed

1955441

I tend to avoid Christian fiction because it is generally very poor. I’m not the only person that feels this way, there’s a bunch of articles on sites like Christianity Today that also lament this. A lot of the reasons they give are things I noticed in this book.

First, the writing itself is pretty bad. I wouldn’t be surprised in the least if this was the first draft of the book. There are sentences that don’t make any sense. I had to read entire paragraphs multiple times just to understand them because the phrasing wasn’t clear. It shouldn’t take this much work to follow a plot. I was constantly rearranging things in a way that sounded better in my head, instead of reading the story. It was also hard to be really invested in the story because there was a lot of filler. About 100 pages could have been cut from this story, easily. I also don’t like stories that misdirect so clumsily. There was a lot of “and then the tall sinister man laughed maniacally behind the scenes.” Well, not literally, but it was certainly very mustache-twirly.

The heroine was also really ridiculous. I kept wanting to smack her in the face. She was unrealistically naive, especially when she rails about her sister being the naive one. She was almost worse! She ran from man to man, continually being betrayed by them, and then would turn tail and run to the next man. I could tell who the “bad” man was from the very beginning, and near the end it was pathetic how the “bad” man would swear and be unbelieving in God while the “good” man was Christian and had Christian faith (and no cussing or innuendos!). You can always tell who the good people in a Christian novel are because they are always talking about faith.

Speaking of faith, that part of the story was really shoe-horned in. Are there guidelines with Christian fiction with how much Bible they need to add to the story for a Christian publisher (this book was published by Tyndale, a pretty big one) to accept it? It really wasn’t relevant for the characters to go on and on about different Bible stories. I was trying to think about books that had Jewish characters, or just other religions, and I never remember it being so inorganic. I’ve actually read a lot of stories with Jewish characters and it never feels like I’ve been beaten over the head with it.

Another bummer about the book was that there were too many characters with no personality. It was hard to keep everyone straight because it was a lot of faceless people. Ironically, the character most full of life was the one killed off at the very beginning of the book. It was easy to get an idea of how she was, how she reacted to things, and what her “off screen” activities might have been. Everyone else was either Good or Bad.

There was a lot of promise in this story. The bones of it were very interesting, and it would have been even better if the good and bad male lead characters had been reversed. That would have been a twist that I wouldn’t have seen coming and would have been interesting. It would have benefited from a lot of editing. I also felt like the stakes in the book were over-hyped so much that when we finally got to it, it was a bit of a disappointment.

Despite all of the things that didn’t work for me about this book, the ending was actually pretty great. And by ending, I don’t mean the part where Vicki hooks up with Mr. Studly Good Man, but the final two or three paragraphs where we get a tag of what happens to Mr. Sinister Bad Man. THAT was excellent, and I had originally rated the book 3 stars just on the basis of that ending, until I began really thinking about it and realized it really deserved a two.

2 stars.

This book fulfills the book your mom loves and book with a love triangle requirements for the challenge.

Reading Challenge September Wrap Up

I think this is a record, because I only read one book this month and it didn’t even check off a box. I don’t know if I’m necessarily losing steam, but I have been spending a lot of time listening to podcasts this month rather than reading. I should probably get going because I have three months left and 11 boxes to go.

I finished Betrayed by Jeannette Windle October 1 (yesterday), but it didn’t make the cut off for the September books. The only book I completed in September was The Martian. Which was a fantastic book, and the narration from the audio book was excellent. We will be discussing it for my book club in less than a week, and the movie comes out today.

Other books I’m working on still include Lady Chatterley’s Lover. I need to discipline myself into reading at least one chapter a day to knock it out, because I’m unfortunately not enjoying it very much. I would give up on it like I did Emma, but I’m over halfway through it and it knocks off two boxes.

I ordered the book based on its cover from Paperback Swap. It’s called Penelope by Rebecca Harrington. The cover is a waffle with the Harvard logo on it, and it’s bright pink, which is what caught my eye when I was in Barnes & Noble for another reason. I also have my Christmas/number book at the ready. What I should start looking for is a book published this year. I have a few that I’m interested in, I just need to pick one.

Well, this isn’t much of an update since I am still where I ended last month. Hopefully October will be a month full of good reading!

100 Picture Books: 70-66

Sweetpea’s newfound interest in books has moved along the project again, as things were stalling a little when she wasn’t interested and it was difficult to carve out snuggly reading time with Peanut with a little sister tugging on us. Both girls now are bringing books for us to read fairly frequently throughout the day. It has become a teaching tool about taking turns!

rhyming dust bunnies70. Rhyming Dust Bunnies by Jan Thomas

This book was short but very cute. There are 4 dust bunnies in an array of colors, and they spout of rhyming words together, except one who isn’t shouting “look out!” They quickly dodge an incoming broom, but in the middle of another bout of rhyming action, they get sucked up into a vacuum cleaner. It is the perfect length for a preschooler’s attention span, and somewhat educational too.

The author has written a sequel entitled Here Comes the Big Mean Dust Bunny! There is also a cute activity where kids can fill in the speech bubbles with that they think the dust bunnies might be saying. The School Library Journal article on the book includes pictures of most of it, and some people dressed up in costumes of the dust bunnies, so that’s new and different.

51hXWiuxGYL69. Moo Baa La La La by Sandra Boynton

This book has been a favorite for a long time. It may have actually been one of the first books that we ever read to Peanut. I’ve memorized it, since there’s only about 100 words or so. It’s pretty short and cute, with animal sounds and rhyming. Peanut is a bit out of the age range for it, as with the previous Boynton, but it is perfect for Sweetpea. Our copy looks very well-loved, although this time around, neither girl seemed particular interested in it.

This book was published the same year as But Not The Hippopotamus, along with 6 others that are still in print and quite beloved by kids. I would consider this batch of 8 books kind of the beginning collection of Boynton books that are great to have in a collection. We have most of them. They haven’t aged a bit.

The-Three-Pigs-Wiesner-David-978061800701168. The Three Pigs by David Wiesner

This book was interesting, and broke the 4th wall a bunch. The story starts off with the basic Three Little Pigs story (not the Disney-fied one – the pigs get eaten in this one!) but right before the wolf is about to have bacon for the first time, his huffing and puffing sends the little pig right out of the page! That pig goes along and rounds up his buddies, and they all go exploring in some other stories. They find a dragon to scare the pants off the wolf, and then they live happily ever after. It was cute.

This book is our second from Wiesner, which is interesting because I had never heard of him before. He has a great blog on www.davidwiesner.com which lets readers into the process of drawing picture books, with sketches and commentary. I couldn’t find anything specific on the pigs book, but I bet if you dig in there, you can find something.

63196b9fc430c918d09ea40c38cf60b367. Bedtime for Frances by Russell Hoban

I requested this book from Paperback Swap awhile ago, and it came up briefly and then my request got cancelled. I worried that it would be another book I would have to shell out some dough for, although it turns out that it may have been a good thing, because the audiobook I managed to find was a surprise hit. It is a collection of all four Frances stories, with Bedtime for Frances as the first one. It’s basically a little girl (illustrated as a badger) that stalls for bedtime as many different ways that she can.

This story, and a few other Frances tales, were adapted into a 6 episode animated series by Jim Henson studios. The audiobook was read by a woman with an English accent (who played the mum in Mary Poppins, no less!), so now in my head, Frances is pronounced that way forever. Frawwwwnces. And thus, Parker has been introduced to audiobooks and there goes listening to music in the car forever.

chrysanthemum-big-book-image66. Chrysanthemum by Kevin Henkes

Peanut loved this book, but I tell you, I got really tired of reading the name “Chrysanthemum” out loud. In the book’s 30 pages, I had to read the name 51 times. And usually, three times in a row. The message of the book is actually pretty great. This little mouse girl was given this name, and she loved it. But when she got to school, she was mercilessly teased because it was too long and also the name of a flower. In the end, a teacher comes to her defense and says that when her baby girl is born, she is going to use the name Chrysanthemum for her because it is perfect.

Meryl Streep lent her vocal talents to an animated version of the book, and it won a whole bunch of awards.

 

 


Another batch coming, including my first Seuss! I’m hoping to get some more momentum on this project as I’ve started it over a year ago and I still haven’t gotten halfway through it! Life with children is ever unpredictable.

Review: The Martian

the-martian-coverThere are so many things about this book that make it unlikely that I would have read and enjoyed it, it seems strange that I would have happened upon a recommendation that intrigued me so much that I opted to actually read it. First, it’s about space. Space is not only a topic that I don’t seek out, but I actively avoid it. I frequently lament that we should forget about space and focus on the planet that we have. Second, it’s about being stuck in space, which is something that brings up feelings of anxiety in me. And third, it’s heavy in the science, which normally would make me fall asleep while reading. Despite all of these things that I normally don’t like and try to avoid, this was a really fantastic book.

Part of the appeal of this book is the humorous way that the protagonist shapes the beginning of the narrative. I think the lack of context in the beginning (it starts off with a series of log entries by Mark Watney, the astronaut stranded on Mars, and later fills in third person omniscient narrative) is actually a selling point to non-technical readers. The book doesn’t waste time filling in the blanks and gets straight to the problem of the book. We don’t even really get what went wrong with the mission that left Watney stranded until about midway through the book. It keeps the pace brisk, yet with enough hand-holding to keep the interest of a lay reader.

The book follows a formulaic narrative that could maybe get a little tiresome if it wasn’t for the humorous asides and everyman perspective we get from Watney. Something goes wrong, Watney panics. He comes up with a risky yet plausible plan. It mostly works, although a few things fail. He complains about 70s pop culture. Something else breaks, and we begin again. This general idea repeats about 4-5 times throughout the book, but somehow it isn’t as noticeable until you begin to describe the plot to someone else.

I have mixed feelings about the ending, but not because it wasn’t what I hoped for. Perhaps because it was incredibly predictable with no last minute twists, it didn’t have as much of an impact. It’s not a book that really sticks in your mind or that delivers a big punch. This isn’t a bad thing, per se, but it doesn’t have a WOW factor.

One thing that this book does incredibly well is have a diverse group of characters who have believable motivations and personalities. There was an overwhelming amount of white guys, but that is unfortunately pretty reflective of space exploration in general. Watney’s main contact at NASA is someone of Indian heritage named Venkat Kapoor, there are several Asians both on NASA’s team and in China (duh), where some of the story takes place. Apparently the character of Mindy Park is Korean, which I couldn’t tell from reading, but that’s also pretty cool. There’s also a German crewmember on the Ares 3 mission.

I’m planning to see the movie and maybe get some more context and visual help on some of the more sciencey things, and see how it compares to the picture in my head of the story. For a book like this, I felt like maybe what I was imagining was pretty far off the mark since I don’t have any love for space, and therefore, very little context over what elements of the story of purely fiction or what is science.

This book fulfills no requirements for the challenge.