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(A long stitch picture I made when I was 14!)
Hi all! I'm back again and hopefully can do more than just stealthily lurk on everyone's thread this year. My reading plans, at the moment, aren't very specific, but just a continuation of my usual goal of 1) reading the classics and 2) reading more global authors.
My favorite novel from last year: A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles
Runner up: A Confederacy of Dunces byJohn Kennedy Toole
Chaim Potok's The Chosen was a re-read but will always be a favorite and I thoroughly enjoyed The Promise as well because I was more than happy to revisit those characters.
My favorite non-fiction from last year: Israel: A Concise History of a Nation Reborn by Daniel Gordis which was just fascinating.
Potok's My Name Is Asher Lev was a foundation book for me. I read it as when I was around 12, and I was an artist as well—one of those always-drawing kids—and his description of the creative process really moved me. Plus it gave me an inkling of what a writer could do descriptively. I'd like to reread that at some point.
1. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
2. My Squirrel Days by Ellie Kemper
3. The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
4. Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Gregg Gilmore
5. Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown
6. Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth
7. Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
8. The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook
9. The Unteachables by Gordon Korman
10. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
11. A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles
12. Switch On Your Brain by Dr. Caroline Leaf
13. So Close to Being the Sh*t Y'All Don't Even Know by Retta
14. Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
15. Crushing by T.D. Jakes
16. Make Something Good Today by Erin and Ben Napier
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
It feels like I've been reading this book forever (in reality, it's just been the last few months) and was thrilled to have finished it this morning.
I am not sure what to say about this Russian classic; I think the most accurate thing I can say about it is that there are many layers to the story. On the surface, it seems like a Russian soap opera, but the reality of it is that Tolstoy uses his characters, their inner workings, and their circumstances to comment on everything from societal norms, psychology, philosophy and religion.
I was worried that this would be hard to read, but it wasn't. It was difficult to keep track of all (there were a ton of people in the story!) the characters - some who were called by 2 or 3 different names but also since Anna Karenina's husband and her lover had the same first name (Alexei!). This is one of those instances where I was thrilled to have my Kindle ... I could tap on it and use the X-ray feature if I got confused as to who was who. I also had the same version of the novel in hard copy so I could turn to the footnotes in the back or the list of characters in the front but the Kindle was easier for me to navigate.
It was definitely well worth reading.
And, yes, it is an experience. :)
My Squirrel Days by Ellie Kemper
I am a die hard, totally devoted, obsessed fan of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on Netflix. "Kimmy," played by Kemper, is like Prozac for me, but without the pesky side effects. "Unbreakable" is about Kimmy, who was kidnapped on her way to school one cold Indiana morning, and kept in an underground bunker with three other women for 15 years. After their rescue, the "Indiana Mole Women" go on the Today show in New York and Kimmy decides to stay behind in New York and make a new life for herself rather than go back to Indiana where she will always be seen as a victim. Kemper calls the show, created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock, "... brilliant, hilarious, dark and simultaneously uplifting ..."
So, being the obsessed fan I am of the show, of course I was thrilled to see that Kemper had written a book. This book is not quite a memoir and not quite an autobiography. It's a collection of humorous essays on a variety of subjects and/or times in her life. Kemper's quirky sense of humor and ability to make fun of herself makes it a fun read and I really enjoyed reading her one essay, "Kimmy," about how the show got started and the lessons she learned from her character: "If Kimmy Schmidt can remain hopeful, then you can too. .... As corny as it sounds, when I am having a bad day, I give myself a nudge. I think of Kimmy in that situation, and I get my act together. Calling on my inner Kimmy has been particularly helpful during the Trump administration."
The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson
I chose to read this book for a very important reason: the cover is really cool! This came across my desk at the library around Halloween last year and I was so impressed with the cover with its Halloween colors and black edging on the pages that I just had to check it out and bring it home with me! And then it hung around here until I finally read it.
The edition pictured here is the Penguin Classic Horror collection - curated by Guillermo Del Toro. There's an essay at the beginning of the book on horror literature by Del Toro, which is an overview of the stories he chose to include in the collection and his personal interaction with certain horror stories when he was a kid. This is fascinating reading on its own. After Del Toro's essay there's an essay about The Haunting of Hill House by a different author (the book has long been returned to the library so I don't remember her name: Laura Miller?) I skipped both of these until the end; I didn't want to go into a brand new novel with preconceived notions or spoilers (and the essay on Hill House does include some spoilers!)
I wasn't really sure what I was getting myself into here. I'm not a fan of horror literature or movies but Jackson's book was a real page turner for me. The Haunting of Hill House proved to be delightfully creepy and intriguing. It is a classic haunted house story: people are invited to a haunted house and strange and scary things happen. Here, the people are invited to assist a doctor with his research into the psychic phenomenon at Hill House. Hill House is not a setting for the story, rather Hill House is a character in the story, which I think makes Jackson's story such a classic.
I plan on reading more by Shirley Jackson and highly recommend this classic!
Looking for Salvation At The Dairy Queen by Susan Gregg Gilmore
This is a story about a small town girl (very small - one stoplight/one Dairy Queen) who dreams of leaving her small town world behind for the big (well bigger) city. Having grown up in a small town (and always wanting to leave), I felt like I could relate to this character and the small town world she was in. This was an easy read; nothing challenging or life changing here. This is just a fun story (it would make a great Christian Hallmark-y movie) that's fun and entertaining while you read it.
Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown
Brene Brown's The Gifts of Imperfection is one of my all time favorite books so I was interested to read this one. Here, she's addressing more of a how do you stand your own ground in today's climate and maintain decent relationships with people and your own sanity and the difference between "fitting it" (i.e. faking it) and true belonging. It's very down to earth stuff.
This was a library copy which I had to return (due to a list of people requesting it) which leaves me thinking I need to read it again in the near future. There were a lot of things she said in the book that I would like to remember - especially some of her takes on social media.
Black Klansman by Ron Stallworth
OK. File this one under "you can't make this s*** up" category. Ron Stallworth, soon after becoming the first black man hired by the Colorado Springs police department, as part of his police duty to detect any subversive activity in his area, answers an ad in the newspaper for the local KKK. Assuming not much would come from his response - maybe a brochure or a form letter sent to his undercover address - Stallworth is surprised when the Klan actually calls him and wants to meet him! How to solve the problem? Easy: a Ron Stallworth on the phone, a white Ron Stallworth in person. Before long, Stallworth is actually talking to the Grand Wizard himself, David Duke. The situation itself is funny; but the reality of the situation is pretty dark and disturbing.
The book is good - because the story is good and worth the read if you're interested in the case itself. The movie (which I saw first) matches up to the book pretty closely. Of course, there were some things added/condensed in the movie for time/dramatic effect. The only thing I gained from reading the book (as opposed to just watching the movie) was a greater understanding of Stallworth himself and a little more in depth look at the Klan philosophy and how that is being played out in some corners of our society today.
And in case you missed it here's the trailer for the movie:
Blackkklansman, the movie, is a lot of fun ... except for what a friend of mine at work called "the sucker punch at the end."
Spike Lee was nominated for best director for this movie (he did win for best adapted screenplay).
>30 NanaCC: It IS crazy! The movie is fun and the book isn't very long.
Educated: A Memoir by Tara Westover
Read this as a library ebook on my Kindle. It's a fascinating story and a well written one about Tara's journey from quasi home schooled kid living under the thumb of her right-winged zealot "prepper" father to Cambridge graduate. Having had to deal with some mental health issues in my own extended family, I found a lot of the incidents she wrote about believable. However, there were some incidents where I doubted her accuracy somewhat and to her credit, she says right up front that other people's memories differed from her own. It's just that I thought some of these incidents wouldn't be easy for anyone to forget so it left me with a little doubt as to how accurate and valid some of her stories are. And, as they say, truth is stranger than fiction. (?) Overall, I really enjoyed her story and glad I read it.
The Aftermath by Rhidian Brook
I saw the HBO "first look" trailer for the movie that's about to come out and decided to read the book first.
The story centers around an English military captain and his family who go to Hamburg immediately after WWII to help rebuild Germany.
Military people often live in German citizen's homes, basically kicking the German residents out of their house (if they were one of the lucky few to have a home still standing after the horrific "firestorm" of the late war). Captain Morgan, having some genuine compassion for the people of Germany, decides to let the German Herr Lubert and his daughter Freda, remain in the house (a mansion) with them. It's a complicated situation, to say the least. English code of conduct says to not even "fraternize" with the Germans and here the Morgans are, sharing a home.
My feelings on this one are a mixed bag. On the one hand, I learned a lot about an episode in history I knew nothing about. I enjoyed Brook's writing style, and I was hooked into the story from page 1. But, then as I read along I kept waiting for something to happen and, while things were happening, so to speak, those things weren't all that exciting. Then, all of a sudden, everything seemed to happen all at once, and then boom! the story was over. The epilogue at the end even fell flat for me and even the romance between Herr Lubert and Rachel (especially at first) seemed contrived.
I really wanted more (quite literally) from this book. I felt like Brook's story was a great one; but he could have done a little more with it. It just kind of fell flat for me in the end. I wanted to love this book, but all I can up with here is a dose of heavy duty "like." Still, I am glad I read it and will most definitely be on the look out for the movie.
The Aftermath movie trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FPv3e2FZOgo
The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
It's been a long time since I've read a book that captured all my attention - one of those unputdownable books.
Angie Thomas's debut YA novel The Hate U Give centers around Starr, an African American teenager living in the ghetto with her family but attending a very preppy upper class mostly white school. Navigating between the two worlds is a challenge, but when Starr witnesses one of her best childhood friends get shot by a policeman, Starr is forced to make decisions about who she is and if/when and how she should speak out. Starr's journey affects everyone around her.
This is one of those great books because it has a compelling story accompanied by some great writing. There's nothing over the top about the way Thomas writes but the way she develops all her characters and all their respective stories seems so very real.
OK more than highly. :)
There's a very good reason this book has been on the NY Times best sellers list for 114 weeks!
The Unteachables by Gordon Korman
This was a fun and easy book to read - straight out of the juvenile section of the library. Honestly, I was drawn to the cover. The Unteachables centers around a class of underachieving 8th grade students and the new teacher assigned to teach them. The students, being so used to not being taught (because nobody ever bothered to see what their underlying problems were) and their burned out teacher (who just wants to bide his time till the end of the year so he can retire early) are thrown together. Enter a "short term" student, living with her dad and stepmom while her L.A. actress mom is on location making a movie. Stepmom doesn't bother registering her for school correctly, so our heroine simply inserts herself into the "Unteachables" class and helps her fellow students and teacher begin to care - and achieve - again.
It's a funny story and well written - even if it is a little predictable. Each chapter is devoted to a different kid in the class writing their story in first person. Really fun read. :)
A Gentleman In Moscow by Amor Towles
A re-read for me. (I ordered it for our local library through their ZIP books program and then my son bought me my own copy to keep). It was great knowing where the story was going and being able to just sit back and enjoy Towle's writing, which I think is best described as "elegant."
Admittedly, the first half of the book is not what you call "exciting"; it's one of those books you have to stick with to get to the payoff. Worth it though.
need anyone else—there’s no big hole in my life, no missing part of my own particular puzzle. I am a selfcontained entity. That’s what I’ve always told myself, at any rate."
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine reels you in by tricking you into thinking it's a cut and dry rom/com kind of read at first but then takes you in a completely different direction. Eleanor Oliphant works in an office, is incredibly socially awkward and has no one in her life (except for her houseplant). This all changes when she and coworker help a stranger one day and Eleanor finds herself - for the first time - letting people in her life and dealing with the deeper and disturbing issues that make her her.
Really loved this one. There's a bit of a mystery to solve (what did happen to Eleanor?) and a twist at the end. It's funny, heartbreaking, hopeful and well written.
Very highly recommended!
Switch On Your Brain by Dr. Caroline Leaf
Dr. Caroline Leaf is a Christian cognitive neuroscientist who I have managed to see on TV on TBN a few times. I've always found her fascinating. She takes what she knows about how the mind/brain works as a scientist and compares them to the Bible - especially the passages which talk about the renewing of the mind, "as a man thinketh so is he", etc. It's very interesting to see it in black and white. It is fascinating to read, in more or less easy terms, how the brain works. The first part of the book deals with the science of the brain, how we think, etc. The second half of the book deals with Dr. Leaf's "brain detox" program. Unfortunately, that's where the book fell short for me.
While I was fascinated to see her take on science catching up with the Bible, and just the neuroscience itself in the first part of the book, the second part where she goes into detail about her 5 steps to "detoxing" the brain (i.e. you need to replace the negative thoughts with positive ones by literally destroying the bad and creating the good) fell flat. As detailed as she tried to be about her 5 step program (a chapter for each step), she seemed to fail on providing concrete examples on how to actually implement the program. There is a workbook companion to the book but it is more of a study guide to the book, not an actual implementation of the program itself. Also, some things that she thought were so revolutionary seem common place to me. (In all fairness, the book was written a few years ago.)
Maybe my brain just hasn't switched on yet but I wish she would have been just a tad clearer on what the walking out of the program should look like. (I see that for $29 you can sign up for a 1 year subscription to her 21 Day Brain Detox Program).
Having said all that though, it is an interesting study on how we think, how they can now actually SEE thoughts in the brain. It is fascinating and well worth the read.
So Close to Being the Sh*t, Y'All Don't Even Know by Retta
I'm new to the Retta game. I've been addicted to "Good Girls" where she plays Ruby from the minute that show aired and in recent months started binging "Parks and Recreation" where she plays Donna. This book highlights all her lows and highs in the industry (like the time she didn't audition for Effie in "Dreamgirls" because she was afraid she'd have to wear high heels and dance and the highs of joining Parks and Rec. cast and meeting Lin Manuel Miranda) and her upbringing in New Jersey.
In a word this book was fun!!!!
Definitely recommended if you are a Parks and Recreation fan and/or Good Girls fan or if you just need a little fun in your life.
(*Of course, Retta spells it out ..... She doesn't hold anything back.)