Monday, November 3, 2014

Book Review: Love and Other Acts of Charity - A Memoir, by Kate Baestrup

I loved this book. I love her writing. Kate B. is gracious, thoughtful, funny, and oh so smart. This book is less memoir and more essays on the many forms of love as viewed from her vantage point as a Unitarian minister who believes one thing for sure, "God is love."

She includes stories from her first marriage and her less-than charitable view of love at that time in her life. Arguments were more prominent than acceptance. Then she experienced a miracle of sorts that changed her overnight. She became more accepting (charitable) and appreciative and less combative. But her marriage ended in tragedy, which ended up revealing her life's purpose - celebrate and cultivate God's love in its many forms.

Kate listened to her calling and she found love again. As a minister, she counseled the about-to-be-betrothed, Maine game wardens suffering from lost relationships and work stresses, and the newly divorced. Her abiding faith in love is reassuring and a welcome beacon amid the realities of love on the battlefield of life.

I especially liked her exposition on the meaning of eros, philos and agape as aspects of love. This is hilariously outlined in a chapter where she is asked to speak about Sex to her daughter's middle school class. Eros is passion and romance. It is highly enjoyable but also the most likely to be corrupted. Philos is affection, friendship and good-natured loved. It is durable and relatively incorruptible. And there is agape - abiding, unconditional, selfless and offered entirely for the well-being of the other.

I suspect this book will remain on my shelf and I will turn to it through the years as my marriage continues to evolve, hit bumps and reach new highs.

4 stars.  
Here If You Need Me by this author is also 4 stars in my book (or on my blog I guess.)

Book Review: The Girl Who Chased the Moon by Sarah Addison Allen

I read her book The Sugar Queen so I knew to expect a sweet story with interesting characters and plot. This kind of book is a nice break when you need one, but it missed a few notes that would have made me more satisfied with the time I spent reading it. But it was a sweet treat all in all.

I would recommend The Girl Who Chased the Moon to people who like stories set in Southern towns (me), readers who like a bit of whimsy or magic thrown in (me), and coming of age stories (me). I would not recommend this book for people who want emotional depth weaved in with the characters and plot (me) or for folks who avoid the sugar coating of Youth Adult fiction (me.)

I am annoyed that this book is called "The Girl who Chased the Moon" which is a reference to one character when this book is really about two protagonists. But I get easily annoyed when covers and titles don't match the book. Just one of my things.

So many elements of this tale where really quite charming. Probably so much so that as time goes by, iI will look back more favorably on its appeal. But the tension and conflict was about the learning of a big secret and once those things were brought out in the light of day (or the dark of night, is more like it) the story was over. Everything is not resolved with the revealing, but learning how to live with that new information. It seemed to end too abruptly for me.

3 stars

Book Review: Against the Wind by Kat Martin

So bad and yet I read it. So bad I kept telling my kids "I am reading the dumbest book." So bad and yet I finished it. I was hoping for an easy romance read. This isn't usually my genre, and I obviously don't know how to pick them. The book ended up on my Kindle and I don't remember how, so when I was looking for something easy and a bit juicy, I thought why not.

There is a long list of why nots. (Caveat, I don't read romance for a reason and the reasons why are the same reasons why I didn't like this book.)

Outrageous plot (abused widow returns home to WY and when her husband's crooked cronies come after her for info, she is able to find out more about her dead husbands illegal activities than the police and FBI.)

Completely predictable romance - he longed for her in high school, she isn't ready for a new romance (but is ready for steamy sex)

One dimensional sex scenes - always aggressive on round 1, then because they are young and erotic enough to be multi orgasmic they keep having lots of sex and it gets more tender and personal.

Cookie cutter characters

Terrible dialog

I won't be reading the other books in the Raines trilogy.  1 sad star.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Book Review - The Vacationers by Emma Straub


The Vacationers is no vacation at all. Unless your idea of vacation is waiting for the cheater to get decked, the annoying mother to get her due, or the sulking virgin to find her Romeo. I usually don't review a book before my book club has talked about it but our gathering is 2 weeks out and I want to get this book behind me.

I just can't do books where I don't like the characters. This family was believable, their predicaments realistic and their faults quite human. But they aren't fun to be around. And they are NOT fun to be on vacation with, especially on my summer vacation. I was rooting for no one. (Actually I was rooting for the virgin to get her sandy, beach romp.)

I hated the relationship between Mama Post and her longtime friend Charles. Gay or not, the way she hung on and kissed on Charles disturbed me and showed big disrespect to her husband. Can you tell I forgot most of their names? Time to forget them altogether. Next book please.

Two stars.

Book Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Read January - March 2014. Review written prior to her Pulitzer win.

The Goldfinch
A reluctant 4 stars. You won't find a summary here. The plot is too expansive, the themes too many and that's partly the joy and frustration with this book.

Goldfinch, I couldn't quit you. I tried. I put you down many times and picked up other books when you got too wordy and stuck. But like the tiny bird on your cover, tranquil on her perch tied up by a dainty chain, I felt chained to you. I wondered what traumas Theo was facing, what pranks Boris was pulling, and how old Hobie was holding up. I couldn't break free of your clutches, so after hours and hours and hours of dedication I finished you. 784 pages. 

The torments. Mrs Tartt likes her words too much. A sentence or two would have sufficed but she often dedicated a paragraph or an entire page to an object or a thought. It slowed things down. I found myself skipping over large sections to get to the meat. The ending felt out of step with the rest of the book. The author went on a philosophical diatribe - here, there, everywhere, what if, how about that, can it be, does it have to be this way - over and over. Get me out of here.

But the dainty chain was there and I will give Mrs. Tartt her due. These characters were real for me. Dense, complicated, unique and well crafted. Each one of them was viewed solely from Theo's perspective, as was the entire book, and I was down in his self possessed hole with him. He had every right to be one messed up dude. But I was right there with him on his foggy walk home from the blasted museum, on the pool deck retching, on the bus ride hiding Popchik, and in Amsterdam, everywhere. Boris cracked me up. He had a strong, criminal voice that I loved. He was so loyal and dedicated to Theo (while still being a drug fiend shyster.)

This story had so many twists and turns - deliciously complicated and completely implausible but I still liked the overall arc of the story. I felt I was wallowing in a world wrecked with PTSD, grief, and abandonment yet elevated by art and beauty.

I give Donna Tartt kudos for many of her obvious gifts. But I think an editor should have reeled her in. 784 pages. Only a certain type of person is going to happily get through that much heft. I can't say I was happy out it.

Book Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Why are dystopian stories so popular? Veronica Roth has an explanation. Readers are intrigued with asking "what if" and dystopian novels allow readers to explore those big questions while the characters and the world still function according to some level of expectations (compared to paranormal or fantasy where everything is up for grabs.) I thought that was quite an interesting take on it. I believe it too! Here I am going diving into Divergent and her sister novels when I wouldn't expect this genre to capture me.

This book was almost too much like Hunger Games for me to approach it with completely open arms (and mind) - young female rebel who's decisions and willingness to fight could save or destroy her new world order. And there's a hot guy who may or my not be drawn to her. Been there. But I liked Divergent. The factions were a very compelling storyline - what do you value most. The initiation rituals were fascinating - how do you fight through what you fear the most. I love the visual of jumping off moving trains (go Dauntless.)

I am naive and a bit of prude, but the sexual energy between Beatrice/Tris and Tobias/Four and their exploration of that attraction isn't something I am ready for my preteen to read about. (But I sure liked it! Yummo.) Sorry kiddo, this might be considered Young Adult fiction, but I don't consider you a young adult yet.

While Hunger Games had a more original plot, Divergent had more emotional appeal and a level of authenticity I didn't expect. I felt more in-the moment and connected with these characters and this overall plot. 

Three stars!

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The kids headed off this morning for the last day of school. Bright backpacks will soon be shelved in favor of neon bathing suits.  School buses will soon disappear from our neighborhood streets to be replaced by zippy scooters and mountain bikes.  I've always been a big fan of this time of year. Heat. Downtime. The Pool!   

Many years ago though I abandoned the dreams of a "perfect summer."  I've grown more comfortable with not planning much and just seeing what might happen.  I do have a few hopes for the next long stretch of hot, humid months.  For me and the kids. Lots of reading (as always). A reemergence of healthy habits like tons of water, vegetables and dare I say exercise. 

We do have a few exciting plans on the horizon. T-Bone will take his first solo airplane trip. The Bug will play in her first statewide softball tournament. We are recreating the road trip of my youth when we drive my mom across West Texas to her hometown of Carlsbad. Great plans for sure.

In between those events, there will be lots popsicles, lemonade, and hopefully sleeping in.


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