Monday, July 21, 2014

Monday's Reading Recap

I  haven't posted a reading recap in so long because I'll be honest: I haven't been totally invested in this blog lately because of everything else going on. Not to brag about my stress, but I've been working on turning our new house into a home, planning a wedding (less than 3 months away!!), preparing for a new baby nephew (which means lots of crocheting), and not to mention that summer is a big season for big birthdays! Ay yay yay! All that said, I actually have been finding time to read, even if it's just via audio book while crocheting. But I am seriously about 9 book reviews behind and I'm not even sure if I'm going to get to reviewing some of the books I've read this summer. I'm just happy I have a lot of book reviews scheduled already so you won't be getting rid of me too easily.

How is everyone else's summer going? What's the best book you've read so far (newly published or not)?

Last Week I Finished Reading: Twelve Years a Slave by Solomon Northup and Pandemonium by Lauren Oliver
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  This Week I Plan on Reading: Requiem by Lauren Oliver, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald and (hopefully I'll get to) Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
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This Week I'm Sharing a Review For: Memories of Babi by Aranka Siegal

What books did you recently discover? 

Friday, July 18, 2014

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

 I have come to believe that virtue isn't a condition of character. It's an elected action. It's a choice we keep making, over and over, hoping that someday we create a habit so strong it will carry us through our bouts of pettiness and meanness.
-from Mennonite in a Little Black Dress by Rhoda Janzen

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 {buy here}

Mennonite in a Little Black Dress chronicles Rhoda Janzen's life after her bipolar husband of fifteen years leaves her for a man. Rhoda weaves stories of growing up in a Mennonite home with stories of returning home after her divorce and the differences between the Mennonite lifestyle and the secular life she has chosen for herself. With a poignantly witty voice that uses humor to color in some seriously difficult chapters in her life, Janzen ultimately presents a story of loving yourself and appreciating your roots, no matter how different and somewhat ridiculous.

So here's what I expected: a story about a girl who chose a secular life of technology, R-rated movies and store bought butter. My ignorance of Mennonite life (despite my education in Comparative Religion) kind of affected my rating because I expected a much greater disconnect between Janzen's Mennonite family an her secular lifestyle, but aside from her parents being hyper-religious and, in effect, hyper-conservative, there were no horse-and-buggy or butter churning stories found here. As you can learn in the appendix, that would be the Amish, who are an even more conservative off-shoot of Mennonite. Overall I felt like Janzen's childhood wasn't too terribly different from any other extremely religious or conservative upbringing, especially considering she has two parents who love her dearly.

Similarly, I wasn't expecting this memoir to be such a mixture of stories from Janzen's past as much as stories about her transition after her divorce. Obviously there should be stories of her childhood to give the reader a gauge of where she comes from, but sometimes it seemed less about her journey going home and more about her life in general. The title in general completely gave me different expectations and ultimately felt like a marketing ploy, which I didn't like.

At the end of the day, Rhoda Janzen has a strong and funny sense of style as a writer. Her vocabulary is more than just impressive, not just by her knowledge but her usage of words. Some parts of this book are laugh out loud funny, some of them are just plain sad. I think most every female reader can identify with Janzen in some way or another, especially if you have come from a religious family (in any faith or denomination). I listened to this book via audio book and it entertained me throughout my commute. I just think it's important to know that you're not going to read a book about a huge culture-shock so much as you're going to hear another story of a woman learning to love herself with the help of her colorful family.

Bottom Line: This is a good read, but not as outrageous as the title implies. Full of colorful stories about Janzen's life growing up in a hyper-religious family, this story contains no horse-and-buggies, so don't confuse Mennonite with Amish. 3/5 stars, but it might have been better with different expectations.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

Real life was something happening in her peripheral vision.

-from Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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Amazon | Goodreads

Fangirl is one of those YA books that you've either read or you've put off reading because you're afraid you won't love it as much as the rest of the YA population. For a long time I was in the latter group and I'm not sure why I didn't trust Rainbow Rowell after reading Eleanor and Park, but I'm glad I finally checked this book off my TBR list. If you are or were a teenage fangirl in anyway, this is definitely a book you shouldn't put aside any longer.

Rainbow Rowell's third novel essentially follows the evolution of Cath Avery as she goes through her first year of college. On the outside, Cath is a fan of the Simon Snow book series and writes fan fiction, sometimes even with her twin sister, Wren. On the inside, Cath is a pro at setting boundaries and not letting people in because her mother left Cath, Wren and their dad when they were little. When Cath enters college and Wren wants to separate themselves as individuals from their twin habits, Cath finds herself alone and vulnerable to all the change. While she wants to stay locked away inside herself and her fan fiction where nobody can hurt her emotionally, with a little help from new friends, Cath might just be able to learn how to trust and grow without losing herself. 

I am always in awe of the way Rainbow Rowell is able to capture a character and make them so realistic. I really, really loved Cath despite her flaws because of the way Rowell constructs her (and believe me, I was annoyed with her plenty of times!). I can relate to her for a variety of personal reasons: the way she makes boundaries because of her absent parent, the way she guards her emotions and shelters herself, her co-dependence because of her manic father, and most of all her fan fiction (I had a fairly popular fan fic myself when I was Cath's age). Even Rowell's supporting characters are impeccably real, from Levi and Reagan to Cath's twin sister, Wren. I especially appreciated that Cath's dad wasn't a stock parental character but had his own depth and complications that added to the story. 

While one of my biggest complaints is that this story is just too long and somewhat aimless at times, that complaint is very forgivable given Rowell's craftsmanship of the characters. I don't know that I could have enjoyed such a long character-driven YA story without the strength of those characters. Similarly, I could have lived without all the fan fiction excerpts that end each chapter, although I'm sure if I examined them and deconstructed this novel better, I would find a real appreciation for them. But even the fan fiction characters were crafted well enough that I could overlook my indifference and find the parallels they draw to the novel's main characters. 

Overall, Fangirl is a warm and fulfilling novel that I found myself reading at any opportunity. While I know that my enjoyment of it stems mostly from being able to identify with Cath in a variety of ways, I think other readers will also like Rowell's strong writing style and tangible characters enough to make this a book for the favorites shelf. 

Bottom Line: If you were ever a fangirl of anything, definitely pick up Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. It's coming-of-age story colored with strong characters is one you won't soon forget. 4.5/5 stars.