What I Read // June 2015

Hello!  I don't quite understand how it is the end of June, but regardless, I am here today to talk about the books I read in June.  I don't plan on talking in-depth about these books in these types of posts, but I'll say what I thought, share my rating if I don't plan to do a full review, and let you know if I plan to do a complete review in the future.  So without further ado, let's get to the books.
The first book I read in June was A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini.  I picked it up after hearing another of Hosseini's books highly recommended.  I plan to talk about it in more detail when I speak about the books I got from the library in June, so watch out for that.  But for now, I'll just say that I loved it and immediately bought another book by Khaled Hosseini.  

The second book I read was Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  I'm a big fan of speculative literary fiction like Animal Farm and 1984 by George Orwell, so I was highly looking forward to this one.  While I didn't enjoy it quite as much as those books, I still really liked it and especially thought the book angle was super interesting.  I think it will be one of those books I re-read in the future.  Lots of food for thought regarding what we read and how/why we read, and I am still thinking about it. 

The third book I read was Beloved by Toni Morrison.  This was one of those books that I ended up liking more after I read it.  I plan to talk more about Beloved when I do my library books post.  It was a haunting book, though, and I eventually want to read more Morrison.
The fourth book I read was Wearing God by Lauren F. Winner.  I really enjoyed this book.  It really opened my eyes to all God can mean to us and all that He symbolized to His people through metaphors and things like that.  It was fascinating and surprising, and it changed the way I think about worship.  I plan to do a full review of this book so I will speak more in-depth then.

Then I read Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie.  It was so good to read another book by her, and a mystery for that matter; I haven't been reading mysteries of late, so that was super fun.  I absolutely loved this book and flew through it in one or two sittings.  It was a lot of fun and has lots of twists and turn.  I will also say that it starred my favorite Christie detective, Hercules Poirot, and he was so good, as always.  I think I'll do a full review of this as well, so look out for that next month.  Also, this cover is so awesome and I just purchased this edition, so look out for it in my book haul.

The next book I read was actually a middle grade novel: The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood, the first book in the Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series.  I never read anything from this genre, but it sounded interesting, the cover is awesome, and I felt like reading something easy and fun.  I did enjoy it quite a bit for being something I don't normally pick up, and I've started the second book already.  I will mention this book again in my library books post.
The next book I picked up was actually a re-read for me – To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee.  I read it again so I could be all caught up for Harper Lee's new book releasing in July, and I enjoyed it so much more than I did the first time (and I loved it then).  I just felt all the feelings, and loved Scout's character more than ever and the story just meant a lot more to me for some reason this time around.  I absolutely loved it.  5 out of 5 stars, obviously.  

The final book I read in June was Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia by Samuel Johnson.  I had high hopes for this book, and they sort of fell flat.  It was far more philosophical than I was expecting, and it felt more nonfiction than fiction at times.  I was perhaps not in the mood for it, but yeah, I didn't enjoy it.  I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars.

I am also a little over 200 pages into War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy, which I began this month.  I definitely need to pick up the pace a little bit, but I am highly enjoying it in the evening with a cup of tea and classical music in the background.  I am looking forward to continuing it!

And those are the books I read in June!  I ended up with a total of 8 which wasn't as good as May, but still not bad.  I got through all but two books on my TBR, and I never planned to get through War & Peace this month anyway.  I also hope to get back into blogging more consistently in July, and I'm excited about that.  Hopefully I can get a post up about all the books I bought in June I the next week or so.  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella


Book Review: The Hobbit

Hello!  Yes, I am still here, I've just been focusing on other things beside blogging, and I haven't been reading a ton lately either.  But I thought I needed to review the other books I read last month before it gets too late.  And I love these too much not to talk about them.  

Today I'm talking about The Hobbit.  Now, if you remember, I have said before how much I have needed to read this for the longest time, but had some hesitation because I wasn't a huge fan of the idea of it being a children's book or a treasure hunt.  Despite my misgivings, however, it was awesome and so fun and I'm excited to talk about it today.

Title: The Hobbit

Author: J.R.R Tolkien

Publisher/Price: Harper Collins / $9.56 here (looks like my particular edition is out of print)

Type: Fiction

Genre: Classic, Fantasy

Number of pages: 336

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

My thoughts: By now, I have a feeling you know the basic plot of The Hobbit, so I won't bother summarizing it.  If you are a little rusty, go here to brush up a little.  Anyway, I went into this book with low expectations.  The Lord of the Rings trilogy took me a long time to read and honestly, I loved the movies better than the books.  Also, I wasn't sure about this being about a treasure hunt.  I love the "saving the world" theme of LOTR, and I just wasn't interested in reading this.  But.  I was wrong.  This book was fantastic.  It was loads of fun and a pretty awesome adventure.

Part of what allowed me to enjoy this so much was that it felt so different from LOTR.  LOTR is a grand epic tale, a mission that leaves none of the participants the same.  It changed who they were.  The Hobbit changed Bilbo, but he was able to go back home and live relatively the same life.  That said, The Hobbit felt totally different from LOTR.

The Hobbit is ultimately an adventure.  I've read stuff about both this book and LOTR, but even if I hadn't, I would have gotten this out of The Hobbit.  Go on adventures.  Even when it doesn't make any sense at all.  Going on that quest with the dwarves and Gandalf is the best thing that could have happened to Bilbo.  It made him into a different hobbit.  He became less fearful of the world and new things, he became more generous and gained wisdom.  He became a better version of himself.  And that's what adventure does to us.  It changes us.  And that's my favorite thing I took away from this book.  Adventure is good for us.  When I finished reading this, I wanted to go on an adventure.

The difference between The Hobbit and LOTR is primarily in the depth of the adventure.  Frodo's adventure was a mission.  A save-the-world-type-mission.  Bilbo's adventure was truly an adventure.  Yes, both of them changed, but ultimately, Frodo sacrificed a lot more than Bilbo.  But I think the difference is only appropriate for a book written as a children's tale.  Also, I can now testify that it is certainly not a book only for children.  And as C.S. Lewis would say, those are the best types of children's books.

I also want to talk about Peter Jackson's movie trilogy based on the movie.  Now that I've read the book, I feel appropriately qualified to compare the two medium.  Lots of die-hard Hobbit fans disliked the movie (to put it lightly), mostly because Jackson turned it much darker.  I feel like now, having read the book, I would have been happy with either version.  I would have enjoyed the lighter, more children's-book-like version, but I also liked Jackson's version.  Generally, I liked the movies, even though they shifted away from the spirit of Tolkien's Hobbit.  They were awesome, and having watched them before reading the book didn't affect my enjoyment of the book.

And those are my thoughts on The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien!  I enjoyed it far more than I was expecting and I totally recommend it to anyone who loves LOTR, or fantasy in general.  Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella


Shakespeare in July

Okay, so, confession time.  I have only read one Shakespearean play ever.  I read Julius Ceasar a couple years ago for a class, and since then have just never gotten around to picking another one up.  Sad, I know.  Well seeing how pathetic that was, and also wanting to remedy that, I decided to do a thing I've coined #ShakespeareinJuly.  It's kind of a riff on Shakespeare in the park (I am totally clueless on that reference other than Ironman's line in Avengers).  I know, I know, I'm pathetic.  Also, I know this is early, but hey.  Whatever.

Anyway, as the name suggests, I plan to read some Shakespeare in July.  I've decided to set my goal for four plays, but we'll see if I choose to be overzealous and read more than that.  On my list so far are Hamlet, Romeo & Juliet, and Macbeth, and I am very open to suggestions for my fourth pick.  I'm really excited about this, and if you, like me, want to read more Shakespeare, you can do it along with me!  If you do, use the hashtag #ShakespeareinJuly and tweet me!  I will be sharing my progress and thoughts on Twitter as I read next month! Thanks for reading!  xo, Ella


Audiobooks I Listened to in May

Last month, I got really into audiobooks.  I've started mowing our gigantic yard again, and when I'm clean out of podcasts to listen to, I turn to books.  And last month, I was into historical fiction apparently.  I haven't read much historical fiction of late, but I listened to a couple books last month and really enjoyed them.  I am here today to talk about those!
The House Girl by Tara Conklin - First up, a book that's been on my TBR for a while, but one I haven't heard a lot about.  This book is a split narrative, switching between Josephine Bell, a slave prior to the Civil War, and Lina, a burgeoning attorney in present day New York City.  Lina has just been assigned to a slavery reparations case, and her mission is to find a lead plaintiff to represent the case.  Eventually, the stories of the two women collide, and as Lina discovers more about Josephine Bell, the mysterious house slave/artist/runaway, her course of her life is altered.  This book was great.  I don't read a lot of slavery fiction (something I am trying to remedy), and this book was the perfect gateway drug.  I really enjoyed both of the main characters: Josephine and Lina, and found their voices equally engaging.  I absolutely love the split narrative trope in historical fiction, and it worked brilliantly here.  At first, I thought Lina was going to end up being annoying, but I warmed to her character and ended up really enjoying her throughout the book.  Josephine's character was fascinating.  She was multifaceted, and just when I felt like I knew her, she changed on me, right up to the (really surprising) end of her story.  I enjoyed most of the characters in this book - I felt like I connected with them and was able to empathize with most of them.  I did have a couple little things I didn't love about this book.  First of all, I found the idea of a reparations case a leeeetle bit unbelievable.  Like, really?  You think a single case, one sue against the U.S. Government is going to right all the wrong done to African American slaves?  And even if it could, the government of today is not guilty for a wrong that occured over 150 years ago.  Also, Lina's relationship with her dad got a little bit long.  The little references and hints to the truth he was keeping from her seemed a little heavy-handed at times, and it almost seemed like the author had to drag that out till the end of the book to make her ending work.  Those are just a couple minor things, and they didn't affect my enjoyment of the story at all, I just thought I'd throw them in.  Overall, I really enjoyed both the story and the characters.  They seemed alive and warm, and I haven't stopped thinking about the book. (Also, the narrator for the audiobook did a nice job).  I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars.

The Daring Ladies of Lowell by Kate Alcott - This book reminded me so much of North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell.  It's basically a story of the mill girls who work in the cotton mills in Lowell.  When they decide they want change in their mill, which isn't the safest place to work, one of the girls, Alice Sparrow, decides to be the group's spokesman.  Alice catches the eye of the mill owner's son, Samuel Fiske, a man who is different from everyone else in his family, and works for the good of the mill workers.  When Alice's best friend dies, her death and suspected murder stirs up controversy against the Fiske family, her budding relationship with Samuel is torn between their loyalties to "their kind" and a chance at true love.  This book was really good as well.  It doesn't compare to North & South, but I really enjoyed it all the same.  I didn't connect with the characters quite as much as I would have liked, but the story was strong and the characters were pretty likeable for the most part.  Lovey Cornell, the girl who is killed, (this is not a spoiler because it happens pretty quick) was my favorite character, because she seemed like she had the strongest personality, so I was pretty bummed when she left the story.  I enjoyed her far more than the main protagonist, Alice Sparrow, basically because Alice never had a really sturdy, consistent personality.  Though this may have been because the narrator voiced her with kind of a weak, timid voice, which was totally opposite to her character.  That was annoying.  Another issue I had with this book was the romance.  I'm totally okay with romance in historical fiction, but this one seemed ever so slightly unbelievable and rather heavy handed at times, and both of those things will turn me away.  So while the romance was sweet, it seemed a little incompatible with the character of Alice Sparrow and ever so slightly unbelievable for its time.  Overall, I enjoyed this book quite a lot, but I didn't love it like I did The House Girl.  I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars.

And those are my thoughts on the audiobooks I listened to last month.  Thanks for reading and let me know if you have any audiobook recommendations, I would love to hear them!   xo, Ella


Mini Book Reviews // May Library Reads

Today I am here to talk about and review the three books I read from the library last month!  Two of these were books I read during the Bout of Books 13 read-a-thon, so I've decided to just review them here and not do a wrap-up of that read-a-thon.

I only really loved one of these, but I'm still glad I read the other two, and I'm excited to talk about them!
The Beekeeper's Apprentice by Laurie R. King - This was the book I didn't read as part of the read-a-thon, but the one I really loved, which, by now, is no surprise, as the Mary Russell series is my most favorite mystery series of all time.  The Beekeeper's Apprentice is the first book in the series, and it begins with Russell just meeting Sherlock Holmes for the first time.  From there, it progresses through several of their first small cases, and eventually hits a couple big ones.  I absolutely loved the way this book was written.  I loved reading the back story first, then the short cases, which felt like short stories almost, since they were all mostly unrelated.  I really enjoyed that because it hearkened back to the style of the original Sherlock Holmes.  This book was so much fun.  I loved getting to see the early stages of Russell's relationship with Holmes and her training and apprenticeship.  One of my favorite things about the entire series is how much it humanizes Holmes, and this book was no exception.  You see a lot of Sherlock's father-ness coming coming out in this one, and it was great.  As always, I adored the characters.  It's so much fun seeing Russell as a teenager.  She's moody and snarky, and I think that's why the two of them got along so well.  Also, I would like to say that if you are looking to get into the series, make an effort to start with this book (which I guess is obvious, but I didn't do that).  Overall, this was just a fantastic look at the early relationship between Holmes and Russell, and as always, the characters were brilliant and fun.  I gave this book 5 out of 5 stars.

The Pearl by John Steinbeck - This is my second Steinbeck book, and I have to say that I liked Cannery Row much better.  This one just had a terrible ending.  Ugh.  The Pearl is short - less than a hundred pages, and I enjoyed the writing style, and also the wife of the main character - her name is Juana - but the ending was just really sad and depressing.  I guess the point of this book is to illustrate the awful consequence of human greed, and it did that all right.  I don't really have a lot more to say about it.  I enjoyed the setting and most of the characters - they were all pretty believable - but the ending ruined it for me.  I gave this book 3 out of 5 stars.

Memory Wall by Anthony Doerr - This book the first short story collection I've read, and while I really like the short story format, these stories were kind of hit or miss for me.  I didn't enjoy Doerr's writing style in this as much as I did in All the Light We Cannot See, for some reason; all the stories seemed really surreal to me, which I don't enjoy, unless that's the point and it's about unreal things.  Most of these stories were just okay, they didn't really make me feel very much.  I found all of them interesting, but unlike with All the Light We Cannot See, I didn't feel much empathy with the characters or connection with the stories.  That said, I really enjoyed two of the stories: "The River Nemunas," and "Afterworld."  I loved those two (especially "The River Nemunas") and I would read those again.  "The River Nemunas" was really moving and I got a legit lump in my throat at the end of that one.  It was beautiful.  Overall, I liked the collection because I loved a couple of the stories in it, but I did not loved the collection as a whole.  If I could have just read "The River Nemunas," I would not have had to read the whole book.  I gave this book 4 out of 5 stars based on the two stories I really enjoyed.

And those are my thoughts on the three books I read from the library last month!  Thanks so much for reading and I will be back soon.  xo, Ella


June 2015 TBR

I apologize for not getting this up yesterday, on the 1st, but I've just been thinking a lot about how I want organize posting around here, so I wasn't sure what I wanted to do yet.  I think I will still do a post at the beginning of the month like this one, to keep me accountable with my reading, and then I'll do a post at the end of the month where I mention everything I read and link to respective reviews, etc.  I wasn't able to do that in May, obviously, because I ran out of time.  But I think that'll be the plan from here out.  But, let's get to the books!

This month, I have quite an ambitious TBR, compared to last month, just because I read so much last month and I'm all optimistic now about what I'll be able to read.  We shall see how realistic that ends up being.
First up, a book by an author I've heard lots about.  I've already read A Thousand Splendid Suns – as it's only the second of May, that should tell you how much I loved it.  It was beautiful and devastating, and I'm going to read more of Hosseini's stuff, ASAP.

Next, another book by an author I've heard so much about: Beloved by Toni Morrison.  I don't know if I'm going to pick this one up next, as it sounds really sad and heavy, too, but we'll see.  I'm also not sure if I'll like it, but I really want to get to it.

And then, if you haven't heard (???), Harper Lee is going to release a new book in July, and there's been talk all over the place about rereading To Kill a Mockingbird so you'll be all up to date in time for her new book.  Apparently, it's about Scout when she's older, which I'm psyched about because I absolutely adore Scout's character.  She's the best.  Anyway, I'm hoping to get to this really soon.  Maybe after I get the new edition that will match the cover of the new book. *wink*

Then, I'm feeling in the mood for some dystopian literary fiction, so I'm going to pick up Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  This is a pretty short book, so I'm hopeful it'll be a quick read.

Oh, I am so excited about this next book.  The author of Wearing God, Lauren Winner was interviewed on the Relevant podcast a couple weeks ago, and she was brilliant, so I am stoked about reading this.  It sounds so so good.

And then, no surprise, but I'm hoping to get through, or at least read a good chunk of The Bully Pulpit by Doris Kearns Goodwin.  I had this on my TBR last month, as well, and I got through a couple hundred pages, but I really need to finish it.  I really enjoy it, it's just a slow read.
This is the month when I start War & Peace!  I am so incredibly excited to read this (more than I probably should be), and I have super high hopes going into it this time around.  I. Will. Read. It.  But, seriously, I am really excited.

I picked up a couple of novellas from Melville House's Art of the Novella series last month, and this is one of them.  It sounded super interesting, and so I might pick it up this month if I get a chance.

And finally on my TBR for this month, a book I've had for a while since picking it up at a library book sale, Death on the Nile, by Agatha Christie starring the irrepressible Hercule Poirot.  I picked this just because I knew it'd be a fast, easy read, and it will also tick off a box in the Books on the Nightstand book bingo I'm doing this summer.  I'm looking forward to it.

And those are the books I hope to get to this month!  I'm really excited about all of them.  Thanks for reading, and I will be back later this week to talk about, well, books, of course!  xo, Ella


Book Review: Give War and Peace a Chance

I'm here today to bring you my thoughts on the best nonfiction book I read last month: Give War & Peace a Chance.  It was so good, and I'm really excited to talk about it.

At the beginning of this year, I expressed my hearty intention to read Leo Tolstoy's War & Peace within the year.  I started out strong, talking about the section I read each weekend.  And then, it petered out.  I got tired of having to recall what I read and write about it.  Also, it got boring real fast.  But!  My desire to read it has been reinvigorated, and so I ordered a beautiful Penguin Deluxe Classics Edition of War & Peace and this book, which I had heard good things about.  Turns out, neither of those moves was a bad one, as this book was fantastic, and now I cannot wait to start War & Peace (I'm starting over completely from the beginning, as my original edition was abridged).  The new one could tone up your arms – I'm convinced.  #1400pagesletsdothis

Title: Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Troubled Times

Author: Andrew D. Kaufman

Publisher/Price: Simon & Schuster / $12.59 here

Type: Nonfiction

Genre: Literary Criticism

Number of pages: 304

My rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Overview: War and Peace is many things. It is a love story, a family saga, a war novel. But at its core it's a novel about human beings attempting to create a meaningful life for themselves in a country torn apart by social change, political divisiveness, and spiritual confusion.

Give War and Peace a Chance takes readers on a journey through War and Peace that reframes their very understanding of what it means to live through troubled times and survive them. Touching on a broad range of topics, from courage to romance, parenting to death, Kaufman demonstrates how Tolstoy's wisdom can help us live fuller, more meaningful lives. The ideal companion to War and Peace, this book will also be enjoyable to those who have never read a word of Tolstoy, making that masterpiece more approachable, relevant, and fun. (Amazon)

My thoughts: This book was so great.  It was SO GREAT.  I loved it so much, and I want to reread it again really soon.  The thing that excited me most about it was the fact that it got me so incredibly enthusiastic about reading War & Peace.  Like, I cannot wait.  And that's coming out of the mouth of the girl who originally put that book down because it was boring.  But this second time reading it, I'm going to take it slow, I'm gonna write all the things and mark up all the margins, and highlight all the awesome quotes, because Give War & Peace a Chance has gotten me so pumped.  It helped me realize and understand why War & Peace is considered one of the greatest novels ever written, and I honestly could not be more excited to jump in.  How many times can I possibly say "excited" in a paragraph?

This book was just so much fun to read.  And I absolutely mean that.  The author was able to write about his subject in an engaging manner that made me not want to put it down.  His writing style made whatever he was talking about seem totally interesting.  This book was insightful and brilliant and anyone who has the slightest interest in reading War & Peace or any of Tolstoy's work needs to read it.

Give War & Peace a Chance is organized topically, with each chapter focusing on a timeless theme that one finds in War & Peace and expounding upon it, using passages and characters from the novel to illustrate each theme.  Those themes are Plans, Imagination, Rupture, Success, Idealism, Happiness, Love, Family, Courage, Death, Perseverance, and Truth.  All of these themes are timeless, meaning they are always pertinent, and people are always asking questions about them and thinking about them.  One of the best things about this book is that the author comes at these questions simply from how they are portrayed in War & Peace.  He doesn't come at War & Peace from a Christian perspective, or any other perspective, for that matter.  I found that really refreshing and the absence of those perspectives added a lot of clarity.

Mostly, this book helped me realize that War & Peace is a sweeping tale about humanity.  It's a book about people and universal truths and experiences that everyone relates to.  It's about themes that are deeply and fundamentally human.  It's a book about life, and death.  Sadness and happiness.  Hope and despair.  Kaufman quotes War & Peace in his books when he writes "Love awoke, and life awoke."  And not only will that end up being one of my favorite quotes – I can tell – I think it also sums up what War & Peace is ultimately about (without having read the book) :P

Just from having read this book about War & Peace, I can see that War & Peace is a book with a heart and a soul and one that will definitely change the way I see the world.  And that's why I can't wait to read it.

I plan to read this book again while I'm reading War & Peace and then at the end.  And I'm sure I will refer back to it countless times throughout.  Another thing I love about this book is the excellent appendices.  The first is a chronology of Leo Tolstoy's life, and the second is a guide to the characters of War & Peace, which I was absolutely thrilled to see.  It has a pronunciation guide (bless you, Andrew Kaufman) and a short description of the character.  And as the author mentions in the book, there are almost 600 characters (what??) in War & Peace, and that character guide is going to be a lifesaver, lemme tell you. 

In conclusion, when a book about a book, or, more accurately, a literary criticism, makes me want to read the book in discussion, like, now, that makes it a firm favorite.  This book was totally that for me.  Seeing how much I loved Give War and Peace a Chance, I have high hopes that I'm going to really love War & Peace.  Despite the page count.  Fingers crossed.  Anyway, I loved this book like crazy, and if you or someone you know has the slightest inkling of an interest in reading War & Peace, this is totally the book for them.  Or, whatever, it's such a good book, everyone should read it.  And then they'll want to read War & Peace.  And then maybe we'd all be better off.  And now I'm going to stop, because it's late and I'm tired and I'm rambling with run-on sentences and getting carried away (wow). 

I hope you liked this review and found it informative and interesting, and I will be back to share the books I hope to read in June.  Wait, how is it already June?  That cannot be happening!