Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Book Reviews & Reading Challenges Update

At the beginning of the year, I chose eight reading goals and challenges to work on this year. Today I'm sharing several book reviews along with an update on each of these and why I'm letting some go and narrowing my focus down to only three of these goals for the remainder of the year.

1. Fiction Pulitzer Prize Winners
There are currently 62 Pulitzer Prize winners in the Fiction category. I've completed 18 (29%) of them. Of the remaining 44, our local library has 12 in its collection, so I'll be concentrating on those for the remainder of this year.

2. My Children's/Young Adult Library
I'll definitely be continuing to work my way through the 407 books in our children's/young adult collection and sharing reviews along the way.

3. Noontime Pageturners (Local Library Book Club)
I've enjoyed being a part of this book club for the past nine years. Many of the books chosen each year are ones I might not have picked on my own. Occasionally I end up not liking the books, however this group provides a great way for me to stretch outside my comfort zone and discuss books with others each month.

This month we read and discussed Anita Diamant's novel, The Boston Girl, an easy-to-read first-person narrative that I enjoyed. The main character, Addie Baum, is relating this story to her granddaughter as she looks back on her life in the early 20th century. Addie is a Jew born in Boston in 1900 to immigrant parents. The book primarily focuses on the years 1915 to 1927, giving a detailed look into Addie's life as she makes friends at a library group, works various jobs, feels guilty over her sister's suicide, attends night courses, deals with two young nephews dying in the flu epidemic, and finally finds love.

The book gives a really good picture of women finding their places during that period of time. A few short chapters at the end of the book sum of the rest of her life and we learn that she eventually ended up teaching at Boston University. She shares this nugget of knowledge that she remembered from her very first night course with an English professor who was on the verge of retiring yet took a great interest in his students in that final semester. "When I started teaching, I remembered how he talked to us, and you know what? If you treat every question like you've never heard it before, your students feel like you respect them and everyone learns a lot more. Including the teacher."

At the June book club meeting, we'll be discussing The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. (This book is being turned into a movie that premiers later this year.) This book is categorized as a psychological thriller and draws the reader in as the story is told from various viewpoints. The primary character is Rachel (the girl on the train) who watches the lives of people in the houses she passes on the train into London each day. When one of the women goes missing, she thinks she knows the story behind the disappearance. However, everything is complicated by the facts that Rachel is an alcoholic (which causes blackouts and memory loss at times) and  that her ex-husband and his new wife and baby live a few doors down from the missing woman's home. I enjoyed the read, although I figured out what happened and why less than halfway through the book. I admit that I questioned my hypothesis a few times during the reading, but it turns out I was correct. I'm looking forward to hearing other readers' reactions at the library book club meeting next week.

4. Simple Scrapper Online Book Club
I've read five of the Simple Scrapper Book Club selections and participated in three of the discussions. The books have been interesting, however I have to admit that the book club discussions do not hold my attention well or become too serious about the hobby of scrapbooking. Thus, I'm not planning to continue participating in the book club; although I might read a few more of the selected titles.

The March selection was Do the Work: Overcome Resistance and Get Out of Your Own Way. I was surprised when I received this book in the mail from Amazon. It is a very small book. It is a quick read that basically states you simply have to do the work, that there will be resistance, but you still have to do the work to get to the finish. That's pretty much all it said, and I have to admit that I'm disappointed that our library didn't have this book because it wasn't worth purchasing (in my opinion).

The example the author used throughout the book was that of writing a book, but the information can be applied to other areas as well. I had a few thoughts about how the material could be related to my current teaching ministry, a business venture I was considering, and my weight loss goals. However, I didn't see the connection to scrapbooking, so I was intrigued to see how the discussion would go in the online book club. In all honesty, the discussion didn't keep my attention because it seemed irrelevant (to me) as I don't spend time evaluating the "fear" or "resistance" factors in this hobby that I enjoy.

I did not like the author of this month's selection, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, which discusses creativity, courage, enchantment, permission, persistence, trust and divinity. The premise is that creative living hinges on the question: "Do you have the courage to bring forth the treasures that are hidden within you?" The author uses quite a few Harry Potter references (to magic, an invisibility cloak, etc) that I liked, however her use of religious phrases ("curiosity is the beginning and end, the alpha and omega) were out of context and inappropriate (in my opinion). She believes that "ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form" capable of interacting with us, and the statements that her parents were "responsible people," "taxpayers," "solid," and "voted for Reagan (Twice!)" are not meant as compliments.

My favorite quote from the book is this: "I wish somebody had told them (famous authors) all to go fill up a bunch of pages with blah-blah-blah and just publish it, for heaven's sake, and ignore the outcome." I think this is what she did!

5. The Lady Detectives 2016 Reading Challenge - I've already read seven lady detective books this year qualifying me for the top level, however there has not been any activity on the blog hosting this challenge. I'm working my way through the Trixie Belden series, so I'll be reading quite a few more books this year with a lady detective as the main character despite this not being an active reading challenge.

6. 2016 Anne of Green Gables Reading Challenge - I've completed the first Anne of Green Gables book and will be completing the other seven later this year. However, I have not kept up with the monthly reading questions and posts for this challenge, so I've missed out on the link ups.

7. Bookish Bingo: Holiday 2015 -  I mentioned in a previous post that I did not complete any bingos for this challenge, which ended in February.

8. Clocks, Cogs and Mechanisms Reading Challenge 2016 - This is another challenge where the hosting blog has not had any activity, thus my decision to not continue tracking progress on it. However, I do have some books on my list of things-to-read that fall into the steampunk genre.

Along with the books I've read for these goals and challenges, I've completed several books that I received free in exchange for an honest review. [I have such a huge books-I-want-to-read list that I've decided not to choose any additional free books for the remainder of the year.]

5 Habits of a Woman Who Doesn't Quit (which I received from B&H/Lifeway) is a look at the lessons learned from the Biblical book of Ruth. I enjoyed this book and Nicki Koziarz's stories relating the lessons to her own life as she shares how a woman who doesn't quit: (1) accepts the assignment of refinement, (2) follows through with her commitments despite how she feels, (3) stays open to the movement of God, (4) gives others what she needs, and (5) moves forward in faith. One of my favorite quotes from the book is: The space between where we are and where we want to be is called potential. 

This book from Booklook Bloggers chronicles the life of Scotty McCreery, the American Idol Season 10 winner, leading up to and five years after his win. Go Big or Go Home: The Journey Toward the Dream is an enjoyable read about a young man who is enjoying his new found fame while holding on to the faith that he grew up with in a small town in North Carolina.

I received The Aerobic House Cleaning Lifestyle from Booklook Boggers as an ebook. Honestly this was a complete waste of time. The book is written in short "sections/pages" rather than chapters. It's very choppy reading and repeats the same thing over and over again. An author that asserts in one line that "the solutions to America's obesity epidemic are spiritual, not physical" and in another line states that "I've had a couple of beers writing it, so what the heck" while using an acronym denoting profanity is not one that I can respect or recommend.

And finally I enjoyed an audio book during my road trip with Mama in early April.

Two Little Girls in Blue is a mystery/ thriller with a great story line, lots of characters (which were a little difficult to keep track of on the audio), several plot twists, and a nicely wrapped up conclusion. The story centers around twin girls who are kidnapped and there's lots of suspense and a whole host of individuals who could be the culprits. I did not have this one figured out!

How are you doing with your reading goals and challenges this year?


  1. My reading goals aren't anywhere near as extensive as yours, but I'm actually ahead of myself this year. A friend of mine recently recommended The Boston Girl, so I was glad to see your review. I had mixed feelings about Big Magic, and didn't find it anywhere near as compelling as several reviews I had read.

  2. Well you do have your fingers in a lot of pots, um make that pages, don't you? I am sure I have shared before that when it comes to self-help books, I am finding that they don't keep my attention either - because it is 90% common sense and they belabor the point to have enough for a book to sell. Back when I was in business there was a radio program that was an executive summary of popular business books of the day - it was great, boiling it down to the gist of the matter in 30 minutes or so. I guess maybe TED Talks might be the equivalent of that today, so I think I may hunt down a few of those instead. When reading to learn, I like meaty straight to the point material, when reading for pleasure then I am happy to meander slowly through it. I have only attended one Simple Scrapper book club discussion, and I thought they brought out some interesting views as they relate to scrapping. Several of the books that are in consideration for upcoming months sparked both my and my college daughter's attention, so we'll see what happens there.

  3. This was a fascinating read itself! I'm always very interested to see what you enjoy (or don't - I can't imagine enjoying a discussion about fear in scrapbooking either) and you always give me new ideas for books to look out for. Keep it up! Your reading challenges are of benefit to lots of us I think


Thanks so much for your comment - it's like a ray of sunshine in my day!