Reading Recap: May 2018

Yay, another reading recap!

My main goal this month was to get through all the required books in the syllabus for my Young Adult lit class before term starts.  I’m happy to say that I succeeded with three days to spare!  Required novels dominated my pleasure reading this month.  Eight of the following books were for class.  There were some really great titles and I’m really looking forward to discussing Maus, Brown Girl Dreaming, and the book on the Romanovs with my classmates.

As for the books I picked up purely for fun… I was unimpressed with the newest Court of Thorns and Roses installment, but enjoyed being back in that world.  Naturally, rereading Cinder for my class launched another reread of the entire Lunar Chronicles series, which has been delightful.  For my morning cup-of-tea Christian nonfiction, both titles I finished this month were excellent.

May2018ReadingRecap.jpg

Overall Statistics:

  • Number of books read: 11
  • Number of pages read: 2,949
  • Number of audiobooks listened to: 2
  • Number of rereads: 2
  • Longest book: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer
  • Shortest book: Maus by Art Spiegleman
  • Highest ratings:
    • Cinder by Marissa Meyer (4.75 stars)
    • Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren (4.5 stars)
  • Lowest rating: Black Butler Vol. 1 by Yana Toboso, translated by Tomo Kimura

Continue reading

Inbox // Outbox 3/22/17

I was supposed to put this out on Monday, but forgot to polish it up over the weekend.  It’s a big list this time around… Enjoy!  What have you been reading this week?

Inbox:

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

I keep seeing things for this book everywhere!  It hasn’t even been out a month and there is already a movie lined up.  I saw that the audiobook was available through Overdrive at the library and decided to jump on the bandwagon. The book was inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement and tells the story of a teenage girl who was in the car when one of her childhood friends is shot by a white police officer.  So far, although Star’s story is very different than my own, I really appreciate the perspective this book gives.

The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit

I’m about halfway through Solnit’s book of feminist essays.  This is a book I can only read in short bursts, but it’s good.  I absolutely loved the essay on silence.

Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber

I was introduced to Nadia Bolz-Weber a few years ago and loved her book, Pastrix.  She, like Anne Lamott, Rachel Held Evans, and Sarah Bessey, offer a broken and beautiful picture of Christianity. Books like these help me sort through the baggage of the fundamentalist evangelical church of my childhood. They help me stay true to my faith and grow in new directions.

salt. by Nayyirah Waheed:

I’ve been reading contemporary poetry lately and love what I’m reading so far.  Waheed’s collection came highly recommended by a friend and I’m glad that I followed through.

Inbox 32017 Continue reading

On the Shelf: Winter by Marissa Meyer

FINALLY, the conclusion to Marissa Meyer’s fantastic Lunar Chronicles series.  This book was released on my birthday and it was one of my favorite gifts.

This post contains spoilers.

winter-finalMy rating: 4 / 5 stars

Summary from Goodreads: Princess Winter is admired by the Lunar people for her grace and kindness, and despite the scars that mar her face, her beauty is said to be even more breathtaking than that of her stepmother, Queen Levana.

Winter despises her stepmother, and knows Levana won’t approve of her feelings for her childhood friend—the handsome palace guard, Jacin. But Winter isn’t as weak as Levana believes her to be and she’s been undermining her stepmother’s wishes for years. Together with the cyborg mechanic, Cinder, and her allies, Winter might even have the power to launch a revolution and win a war that’s been raging for far too long.

Can Cinder, Scarlet, Cress, and Winter defeat Levana and find their happily ever afters?

To answer the question in the summary: Yes they can.

I knew that these books would tie up neatly.  The tone in which they are written doesn’t imply defeat.  It was clear that all would end well, that Cinder would cast down Levana and reclaim the the Lunar throne.  I knew that the four couples would get together.

But, oh, how I loved the ride.

The thing about this series is that it’s not perfect.  To be honest, the characterization is patchy at points.  I like most of the male characters, but some of the heroines *cough*Scarlet*cough* are boring.  The plot tends to be predictable.

But what Meyer does is create a world and enjoyable that is so original that I can’t help overlook the weak points.  I loved my time in these books.  There are a lot of dystopian YA worlds out there and while the way her Earth is structured is similar to many of its contemporaries, the existence of Luna makes hers unique.  I mean, she’s got a society of magical aliens who can manipulate people’s minds who live on the moon!  How cool is that?

I adore the way Meyer merges dystopian lit with fairytales.  She balances them well.  Throughout the series, we see familiar moments: Cinderella losing her shoe, Red Riding Hood searching for her grandmother, Rapunzel escaping her tower, Snow White eating a poisoned apple.  But they’re morphed: Cinder is a cyborg and loses a foot and Cress is a computer-hacker and escapes a satellite.  Meyer strikes a wonderful balance between reteling stories from long ago while creating something new.  She has the hallmark moments, but those moments don’t overwhelm the story.  It’s almost as if the story pauses over the moments, acknowledges the source material, and then pulses forward into something entirely new.

While some of her characters get old, the rest are incredibly endearing.  Cinder is probably my favorite.  For those of you who have been with me for a while, you know I’m a sucker for a good Cinderella retelling and Meyer’s princess has stolen my heart.  I mean… she’s a cyborg mechanic!  How cool is that?  She meets the fairytale requirements, but also throws them off entirely.  I also really love Carsewell Thorne, the dashing, obnoxious thief who is the hero of the third installment of the series.  Cress is timid to the point of being annoying, but definitely grew on me.  I couldn’t help love Winter and Jacin’s relationship.  Iko, though, remained one of my favorite characters.  Even though she’s an android, she is incredibly human.  She’s the perfect companion for Cinder, matching Cinder’s quiet intensity with her bubbly charm.  More than once, her swooning and sighing over attractive men and beautiful fashion made me laugh out loud.

I won’t go too far into revealing plot details, but the story doesn’t disappoint.  Characters are constantly coming together and becoming separated, various storylines weaving together towards the final conclusion.  The final showdown between Cinder and Levanna is extremely satisfying.  The happily-ever-after wraps up all the loose ends.

When I reached the end of Winter, all I wanted to do was go back and read the series again.  Meyer’s fairytale retellings are endearing, successful, and I know they will grow on me the more time I spend with them.

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Fan art by candy8496 on DeviantArt

Be sure to check out my review of Fairest: Levanna’s Story as well!

November in Review

Because I was a bad blogger and skipped out on October… here is my November Month in Review!

Month in Review blog heading

I. Blogging

November has been a good month.  Although I haven’t been writing like a maniac like my NaNoWriMo and NaNoBloPoMo friends, I definitely have been hanging out with my words.  The past few weeks have been filled with meaningful posts that I’m really proud of.  Be sure to read my comparison between apple farming and writing, my frustration at American responses to the refugee crisis, and musings from the shore of Lake Superior.  I also posted a poem that’s been sitting in my archives for over two years.  Be sure to check it out and let me know if I should put on my poet hat more often.

Looking ahead, I have an exciting December planned!  I hope to start posting book reviews again.  I also have a fun holiday-themed series coming up that I am going to need your help for!  Stay tuned for more details.

II. Books

This month, I was a literary fiend, tearing through books at an alarming rate.  I keep track of how many books I read each year on Goodreads.  In the past week, my count has exceeded 100–a personal record!

I’ve spent a LOT of time over the past two weeks binge-reading fluffy YA novels.  Rainbow Rowell is SO GOOD.  Marissa Meyer’s conclusion to her Lunar Chronicles series was incredibly satisfying (review coming soon!).  And, despite my love/hate relationship with Stephanie Perkins, I managed to eat up one of her novels in less than 24 hours.  (Oh, the beauty of Thanksgiving Break.)

Here’s a list of some of my reads:

  • Symphony of Ages trilogy by Elizabeth Haydon
  • Fangirl/Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  • Seven Words of Power by James Maxwell
  • Winter by Marissa Meyer
  • Isla and the Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins
  • Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber
  • Forgotten God by Francis Chan
  • Yes Please by Amy Pohler

III. Life

November was filled with unexpected twists and turns.

Things at work went from awful to not-so-bad.  Of course, once I finally get a firm grip on the job, it’s time to hand it off to someone else.  We managed to find a stellar candidate for the Executive Director position.  The hiring decision isn’t official yet, but will be in a week or so.  This means that my brief stint into Chamber of Commerce life is nearly over.  No tears are being shed over this.

Orchard season also came to a close.  We’ve been going strong since August, but finally reached the end.  It was a season for the record books–biggest crowds, biggest crops, biggest sales.  It was an exhausting, rewarding ride and I am happy to be done.  I do miss the physical work.  Hauling around 40 lb crates of fruit helped me stay in shape and I liked the monotony.  Still, having actual weekends is an absolute dream!

This month, I celebrated my twenty third birthday by enjoying a shopping spree with my mom at the Mall of America.  I spent WAY too much money, but have worn my purchases (a sweater, new pants, some scarves) enough times to make it more than worthwhile.

I hung out with friends quite a bit.  My high school buddies and I had a movie night, where they introduced me to The Sandlot.  Now whenever my mom exasperates me, I can knowingly retort, “You’re killin’ me, Smalls!”  My friend, Kassandra, and I had a delightful brunch at a cafe in St. Paul a few weeks back and I was reunited with my long-time friend, Holly, who made the trip from Washington D.C. to spend Thanksgiving with her family.  My study abroad friend, Maddie, came up from her now-home Minneapolis and we spent a memorable afternoon closing up the orchard, wandering around Taylors Falls, and discussing music, politics, and spirituality.

I managed to escape home for a night by accompanying my mom and brother to Duluth, where they had work meetings.  While there, I had some quality me-time strolling along the lakeshore.  That afternoon, we went to a press conference and I got to shake hands with a U.S. Congressman, which was pretty cool.

Finally, the most unexpected thing of all happened in the form of an opening to live and study at a ministry in England.  If you had told me a month ago that I’d be returning to the U.K., I would have laughed in your face.  It’s amazing what a few short weeks can do!  I’m not really sure what to expect from this adventure, but I’m having a lot of fun dreaming about it.  Who knows if I’ll ever come home?

That wraps up my Month in Review!  As always, thanks for reading.

On the Shelf: Fantasy Trilogies Galore

I’ve been reading a lot lately, but have totally shirked my book reviews.  Oops.  The stresses of my new job have me spending evenings rolling around on the couch in a sweater and leggings, avoiding anything that requires thinking.

So, until I’m able to write any focused reviews, here’s a bit of what I’ve been digging into over the past few weeks!

His Fair Assassin trilogy by Robin LaFevers:

I’ve been seeing things about this trilogy for quite a while, but never engaged until now.  I downloaded an ebook version of the first novel, Grave Mercy, from my local library and was off to the races.  I completed the trilogy in five days and loved them so much I ran online to order physical copies.

These books aren’t the most well-written in the world, but they’re incredibly fresh and original.  The premise is a convent in medieval France where they are dedicated to serving Mortain, the patron saint of Death.  Novices are trained as assassins and sent into the world to do Death’s bidding.  Each book is very different in flavor, although all have their share of romance.  Grave Mercy is, in many ways, a political thriller.  Dark Triumph is very dark and personal.  Mortal Heart is a coming-of-age tale.

If you like historical fiction, fantasy, and romance, these books are a must-read.

The Symphony of Ages trilogy by Elizabeth Haydon

I read the first three books of this now-longer series in high school and have been hankering to revisit them ever since.  That being said, I picked up Rhapsody on a Friday and had all 2,000+ pages of the series read ten days later.  You’d think that a series this long would have dull points, but I couldn’t put these down.  (And this is my second time through!)  Haydon has created a story that suck you in and doesn’t let go until the ride is done.

The books tell the story of Rhapsody, a young singer who finds herself swept into an adventure across Time to learn of a prophecy that foretells her destiny to be a key force in destroying evil.  Through her journey, she encounters a vast array of characters that are diverse, complex, and wonderful.  Haydon’s universe is vast, with deeply structured, believable cultures and religions.  Her world-building is top-notch.  The scope of the story is epic, leading up to a satisfying, memorable conclusion.

If you’re a fantasy fan, add these to your list.

Right now, I’m also re-reading Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell.  I’m loving it even more this time around.  Maybe I’ll make a focused On the Shelf discussing it in a couple of weeks.

In the meantime, when I finish that, I’m going to dig into Winter by Marissa Meyer.

Here’s to more books!  Keep an eye out for more On the Shelf posts in the coming weeks.

On the Shelf: Fairest (Levana’s Story)

I read the first three Lunar Chronicles novels last Spring and, although they certainly weren’t perfect, I fell in love with them.  I’ve been putting off reading the novella telling Levana’s story simply because I didn’t want to buy it on my Kindle.  When I saw it on the shelf at the library last week, I picked it up without hesitation.

Fairest by Marissa Meyer

My Rating: 1.5 / 5 stars

Summary from GoodreadsFans of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her “glamour” to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story – a story that has never been told . . . until now. Marissa Meyer spins yet another unforgettable tale about love and war, deceit and death. This extraordinary book includes full-color art and an excerpt from Winter, the next book in the Lunar Chronicles series.

My Thoughts:

The Lunar Chronicles books leave you with serious questions regarding Levana.  Why does she wear the veil?  Why is she so evil?  Was she born a tyrant or made into one?  This novella answers those questions.  Because I liked the series so much, I hoped to enjoy this.

As you can tell by my rating, I was disappointed.

The focus is completely on Levana–her life, her story, her problems.  After cracking open the book, it doesn’t take long to see that she has reason to be unhappy.  Disfigured by the cruelty of her elder sister, Levana is a lonely, insecure girl who just wants someone to value her existence.  At first, this is sad.  Pitiable, even.

But it becomes quickly apparent that the protagonist is also extremely immature, trying to fill her lonliness by forcing a palace guard to marry her, despite the fact that he is in the midst of mourning his beloved wife.  This sets Levana on a lifelong course of manipulation, self-importance, and desire for domination.

What disgusts me about Levana is that her childhood mistreatment, though horrifying, makes her feel that she deserves love, no matter what the cost.  It leads to the ruin of multiple lives.  In order to cling to the thin fabrication of love she’s worked so hard to possess, she turns to violence.

At one point, she has everything she has ever wanted: a husband, step-daughter, and even the throne.  But it’s not enough.  She becomes increasingly power-hungry and paranoid.  In attempt to become all-powerful, she destroys the very thing that she first loved.

Levana is not an admirable character, nor a likable one.  At the start, she’s pitiable.  At the end, she’s disgusting.  I don’t know why Meyer felt her story needed to be told.  It doesn’t redeem Levana in the slightest.  It just makes me hate her more.  I sure do hope that Cinder succeeds in taking her down in the final novel, which comes out in November.

You Will Like If: You enjoy fairy tales, The Lunar Chronicles, villain backstories