As February comes to an end, I once again feel compelled to reflect upon what I have read so far this year. There have been a few disappointments (Death Comes to Pemberley and Flora and Ulysses come to mind), but I also have given four books 5 stars, the highest rating available on Goodreads. Eight of my 30 designated categories are complete, and I have read 11 books total towards my overall reading goal of 60 books in 2014. Two months in to the year, I appear to be right on track with my reading plans! If only I could say the same about my cooking plans–I am most definitely NOT on track to get all 153 Comfort Food Fix recipes cooked.
1. The New Testament in Modern English –
2. Theology – Done! In February I read Mudhouse Sabbath: An Invitation to a Life of Spiritual Discipline by Lauren F. Winner and granted it 4 stars. My Goodreads review is below:
In Mudhouse Sabbath, Lauren Winner explores ways to apply Jewish spiritual disciplines to modern-day Christian practice. Winner was raised Jewish but converted to Christianity in young adulthood, and it is this background that pushed her to write Mudhouse Sabbath. Despite her new-found love of Christ, Winner admits that there are elements of the Jewish tradition that she misses now that she is a Christian, such as Jewish ways of observing the Sabbath, mourning, and hospitality. She does not deny that these traditions are present in Christianity, but she remarks how they exist to different degrees and specifics. In some instances, Christians can take a lesson or two from their Jewish counterparts. I found Mudhouse Sabbath thoughtful, inspiring, and accessible. Winner left me wanting to read and learn more, and I hope to take what I have read and apply it for the better to my own Christian journey of faith.
3. Pulitzer Prize Winner – Done! Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout left me with mixed feelings and therefore earned an average, 3-star rating from me on Goodreads.
I am conflicted on how I feel about Olive Kitteridge. On the one hand, it is an extremely well-written book with intelligent imagery, thoughtful observations, and vivid characterization. On the other hand, it largely lacks joy, focusing instead on the difficult, depressing sides of life. While I am not opposed to dramatic fiction that portrays a deeper picture of domestic family life and relationships, I also do not think it is realistic to focus so exclusively on the low points. Life is a mixture of both, and I feel that Elizabeth Strout largely forgets this in her series of short stories about the characters of small town Crosby, Maine.
4. Mystery – Done! (For now.) I read, and was sorely disappointed by, Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James. Here’s my 2-star review from Goodreads:
Billed as a mystery, I found very little that was mysterious or intriguing about this novel set in the world of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Death Comes to Pemberley plods along with characters and plot events flat on the page. Mystery and Jane Austen fans: look elsewhere for a good read.
To cleanse my mystery palate, I will be picking up an Agatha Christie before the year is out.
5. Spy/Crime Novel –
6. Science Fiction –
7. Fantasy –
8. Christian Romance –
9. Popular History – Done! John and I listened to the audiobook version of Bill Bryson’s One Summer: America, 1927 during our holiday travels after I won a free copy from Goodreads. Here’s my Goodreads 4-star review:
One Summer by Bill Bryson is an extensive, but enjoyable and accessible, history of America in the summer of 1927. Infamous personages, including Charles Lindbergh, Babe Ruth, Sacco and Vanzetti, Al Capone, Jack Dempsey, Calvin Coolidge, Herbert Hoover, and Henry Ford (among many others) had their names and faces featured on newspaper pages around the United States and the world during that long summer, and Bryson brings them all back to life with vivid detail and wry commentary. While the book covers a wide array of topics and lives, Bryson deftly weaves them together, often circling back to previously-mentioned content. Bryson organizes One Summer by month rather than by topic — a choice that gives an overall arc and direction to the book. I listened to the audiobook version of the book, which is read aloud by Bryson himself. With One Summer, Bryson does a solid job as both the author and the reader, making it an informative and worthwhile experience for his listener.
10. Social Criticism –
11. Biography –
12. Memoir –
13. Book-That-Has-Been-Made-into-a-Movie –
14. Comedy –
15. British Classic –
16. American Classic – Done! John, Kalyn, and I agreed upon Little Women by Louisa May Alcott as our winter book club read. I gave it an easy 5 stars on Goodreads:
Despite having read Little Women multiple times in childhood and young adulthood, I found that I could not put the book down upon this reread. Louisa May Alcott once again had me utterly charmed with the March family and their small circle of friends. My use of the word “charmed,” however, does not mean that all is perfect, happy, and ideal in the world of Little Women. Alcott is honest about the flaws and foibles of her characters, and indeed about humanity as a whole. We all have selfish desires and ambitions, and we all make mistakes. Even when we strive to be “good,” disappointments and tragedies come our way. Yet growth is possible and love of family paramount. Little Women may have been written in another age, but its heart is timeless.
17. Author-I’ve-Wanted-to-Read-but-Never-Have: Edith Wharton –
18. Current Bestseller –
19. Travelogue – Done! I whisked myself to the south of France courtesy of Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence, which I granted 4 stars on Goodreads.
I first visited Provence as a teenager on a school trip, and since that time I have maintained a fondness for southern France and the French people. A Year in Provence, Mayle’s account of his first year as an English-born homeowner in the remote Luberon, is witty, sincere, and both a gastronomic delight (bakeries! bistros!) and horror (sauces thickened with blood!). Mayle describes the men and women of his neighborhood with humor and honesty, but it is clear that he not only respects the natives, but he also likes them. A Year in Provence left me eager for more and itching to make a return visit to France.
20. Cookbook – I have begun to cook my way through Ellie Krieger’s Comfort Food Fix. I have 13 recipes done, with 140 still to go.
21. Culinary Memoir – Done! I heartily loved A Homemade Life: Stories and Recipes from My Kitchen Table by Molly Wizenberg. Here’s what I had to say about this 5-star book on Goodreads:
I picked up A Homemade Life never having read Orangette (the author’s blog) or any of Molly Wizenberg’s writing. Yet within a few pages, this culinary memoir/cookbook had me hooked. Wizenberg is honest, funny, and touching without being cloying or cute. Each “chapter” contains a brief, personal essay followed by one or two related recipes. I thoroughly enjoyed reading both. As a budding home chef and blog writer myself, I found Wizenberg inspiring, thought-provoking, and somewhat of a kindred spirit (I, too, am stubbornly attached to precisely following recipes). A Homemade Life is a worthwhile read for anyone who believes in the philosophy that cooking is an act of love.
22. Historical Fiction –
23. Christmas-Themed Novel –
24. Education –
25. A Collection of Poetry –
26. A Play –
27. Young Adult Lit –
28. Carnegie Winner –
29. Newbery Winner – Done–twice! After reading Little Women, I felt pulled to read Invincible Louisa: The Story of the Author of Little Women by Cornelia Meigs. I enjoyed it, but gave it an average 3-star rating on Goodreads:
While recently reading the Oxford World’s Classics edition of Little Women, I became intrigued by the various endnotes that drew parallels between the Marchs and Louisa May Alcott’s own family. I had known that Little Women was based upon the author’s life but had never realized the extent to which this was true. So upon finishing Little Women, I took up Invincible Louisa, the 1934 Newbery Award winner and children’s biography of Louisa May Alcott.
As an adult (and former history major), I found Invincible Louisa to be slightly frustrating. The book moved quickly and succinctly through Louisa’s life, leaving me longing for more details, dates, and excerpts from Louisa’s letters and other writings that were mentioned merely in passing. Yet this is a biography for children, not adults, so I cannot fault Meigs for having kept her book brief and child-friendly. The language and style felt somewhat dated to me, and I wonder if today’s children would find Invincible Louisa as accessible as the youth of the 1930s would have. Despite these quibbles, I did find the biography to be informative and even enjoyable, and I am glad to have read it.
After the 2014 Newbery winner–Flora and Ulysses: the Illuminated Adventures–was recently announced, John and I purchased the novel for our Newbery collection. I was disappointed in the book, however, and gave it 3 stars on Goodreads:
Flora and Ulysses is the tale of self-proclaimed cynic Flora, her divorced parents, and her quirky neighbors, all of whom are brought together by Ulysses, a formerly run-of-the-mill squirrel who writes poetry, flies, and learns to love after being sucked up by an all-powerful vacuum named the Ulysses 2000X (his namesake).
As a Kate DeCamillo fan, I fully expected to love Flora and Ulysses, the recently-announced 2014 Newbery Award winner, but I didn’t. Instead, I often found the novel to be choppy, uneven, and repetitive (I’m curious how many times the name of Flora’s favorite comic book series, The Illuminated Adventures of the Amazing Incandesto!, was mentioned in the book; I’m guessing at least 20).
However, the book has moments of humor and whimsy, particularly in K. G. Campbell’s illustrations which often appear in comic book form. Flora and Ulysses also has depth despite its silly premise, and I could envision that children, particularly comic-book-reading ones, would identify with Flora and find the novel to be an enjoyable one.
30. Graphic Novel –