Leave of Absence

Hi Bookfriends!

A few of you may have wondered where I’ve been since I haven’t shared a post in here in almost 6 weeks! It’s a crazy busy time for me right now between training for the La Jolla Half Marathon (only two weeks away – eek!), studying for my Seismic Principles (aka Earthquake Structural Engineering) licensing exam, and working full time.

Last summer I was faced with a similarly busy schedule and when I evaluated my priorities, I leaned a lot more heavily in to reading and blogging than working and studying. That didn’t work out for me when it came to passing the test, and I’m vowing to do better this time. Since we’re being honest, the facts are that reading and blogging doesn’t pay the bills the way passing licensing exams and working hard at work does. Hence the leave of absense.

So, as much as I love this space, I need to take a step back until June 7th when I’ll be taking my exam!

I hope you’ll all still be here and we’ll be able to continue to share our love of books. In the meantime, feel free to follow me on instagram, where I’ll still be semi-active.

❤ Erin

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Revisiting: I Love Big Books

Confession: I haven’t finished Lonesome Dove (yet).

So instead of posting my Part 3 Recap and my formal and final book review this week, I’m going to talk a little about big books and why I haven’t finished Lonesome Dove.


When I really consider it, I think the primary reason that (Lonesome Dove was driving me crazy and) I haven’t finished it, is that books are a social outlet for me. Which means a few things that I want to get out in to the open here:

1. I feel the need to read a lot of books

Between this blog and the people in my life who know I enjoy reading and recommending books, I feel the need to be turning over books much more quickly than one per month. Not all of the books I read are books I’d recommend, and I get asked for a lot of recommendations, so having read only one book in the last month, I found myself feeling upset that I didn’t have much to offer by way of book recommendations. This is 100% a self imposed pressure, but being able to recommend good books to friends is one of the things I enjoy most about my hobby, so I want to make sure I can do that.

2. I feel disconnected when I’m reading one book for a long time.

I definiteyl struggled to feel like I could or should post to my instagram or my blog this month– or in real life, have good conversations with my book friends! It really started to wear on me and make me feel disconnected from this community.


So to touch back on my original post, when I professed my love for big books for the very first time: A few characteristics that stood out in the books I was discussing at that time were readability, action, the feeling that pages were flying past, and the quality of the book (, which, tying it back, made it recommendable and therefore extra worthwhile.) My general feeling when I wrote that post was that the quality of the book was often increased in a long book because the character development and plot had more time to develop. I’m beginning to think that long books that are good for me when a story and a set of characters needs the length, but long books for the sake of being long may not be for me.

While I enjoyed Lonesome Dove (the 90% of it that I’ve finished so far), I wouldn’t say that I recommend it. It’s length came from the fact that it never found a central story line, but rather followed each character to wherever they may go, leading it to tell about five stories in one. While it was well written, it didn’t feel concise or efficient, which is (apparently) they way I need books over 800 pages to go.

So to summarize 🙂 , I’m not giving up on long books and I’m going to continue to not be fearful of long books, but if a book is going to take a month, I need to space it out. I need the feeling of turnover in my reading life, and those long books aren’t going anywhere. I’ll continue to read them over time, as I can.

Do you have thoughts on this topic? Let me know!

FEBRUARY RECAP/MARCH PREVIEW

February.

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The month I read Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry, and that’s it! I can’t remember the last time I only read one book in a month, but to be fair Lonesome Dove should count as four books. It is long! My full review will be out next week, and I hope I’ve inspired a few of you guys to pick this one up.

I did also listen to The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs and For Better and Worse by Margot Hunt on audio, both of which were solid four star reads. My review for For Better and Worse can be found here, and my review for The Bright Hour will be out soon!

Unread Shelf Project 2019

All three books that I read/listened to came from my Unread Shelf this month!  Here are the numbers:

Unread Books at Start of Month: 16
Books Read from Unread Shelf: 3
Books Purchased: 0
BOTM Selections: 0
Books Gifted/Lent: 3
Unread Books at the End of Month: 16

So, at least I didn’t go up! And I kicked a few big ones off the shelf. I feel good about this 🙂

March Preview

After a long (short?) month of reading one book, I truly couldn’t be more excited for March. At the top of my list are two ARCs I recieved this month: Leading Men from Viking Books and Parkland from Harper Books. After that it’s back to the Unread Shelf Project Challenge and March has two great nonfiction books for me in store — Indianapolis and Blood and Ivy. I have a good feeling about this month!

Lonesome Dove: Part 2

This is not a formal review of Lonesome Dove, meaning this post CONTAINS SPOILERS!  I thought these posts would be a great way to check in every 200-300 pages to recap the action and my feelings on it. This post is dedicated to Part 2.

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Once again, let’s start with a summary: This section really builds the story through the addition of the Arkansas crew. July Johnson, the sherriff of the Arkansas town where Jake Spoon killed a man, takes off from town to pursue justice. Followed shortly by his wife, Elimira – but in another direction. Then his deputy Roscoe is sent to let July know the news. So all of a sudden this whole cast of characters, as well as the crew from Lonesome Dove, are out on the planes. A lot happens: Lorena is kidnapped, Gus saves her, Roscoe is killed, Jake falls in with a bad crew, and Gus and the crew hang Jake. Wow.

Off the bat, I was surprised that there was a new cast of characters! I had just spent 280 pages getting in to the  Lonesome Dove crew! The new crew was interesting – brought a little comic relief if not much else. I ended up enjoying their chapters a lot since it was something a little different from what I was used to.

Particularly compared to Part 1, there is a lot more violence in this part. I’ve actually noticed that now when I’m out in regular society, I half expect everyone to be a gun wielding cowboy ready for a fight. Related: I’ve been listening to a lot more country music recently. Coincidence?

Newt remains a favorite character, although he has a smaller role than I expected him to have.  He seems to be the token relatable character, always saying what I would say. He’s frankly just not that invested in the horse business and not willing to accept things the way they are. I appreciate his commentary.

To touch on some of the action – Lorena being kidnapped and being forced to ride across the horse while tied at the ankles to the horse was absolutely horrific. That being said, I have to give credit to the writing, because this part was so vivid. The scene with Jake Spoon’s death was certainly surprising – I definitely didn’t expect them to really kill him. He got himself in a pretty bad situation with those band of brothers.

Despite all the plot advancements, geographically, it didn’t feel like they made much progress. I felt like they were constantly nearing the northern border of Texas. I did a quick google search, and there are heaps of maps of their route, but I quickly looked away to avoid spoilers of Part III. I can’t wait to check out the maps when I finish to see how everything is laid out.

One thing that makes this book stand out – and also makes it so long – is that no character is ever forgotten. Most books follow the story of one group, and other people can come and go, but McMurtry follows each character and story line wherever they go. Only now that Roscoe, Wilbarger, and Jake Spoon are dead will we, the readers, be finished with them. A huge factor in this is McMurtry’s skill with the third person omniscient style. He moves between points of view, even within the same paragraph or small section of a page, without it feeling confusing.

On a personal note, I loved that they went through Aiblene, Kansas! My boyfriend and I stopped there on our cross country road trip last year to see the house where President Eisenhower grew up and his Presidential Library/Museum. It was a really beautiful house and property, and the Museum talked about how Aiblene was on the cattle ranchers route heading north from Mexico. Now I feel like I’m experiencing it!

Overall, I’m liking this book. It’s long, but that’s kind of the joy of it. I’ve been reading this book for so long, just hanging out with my cowboy friends on the planes and I am here for it! Here’s to Part III!

Lonesome Dove: Part 1

This is not a formal review of Lonesome Dove, meaning this post CONTAINS SPOILERS!  I thought these posts would be a great way to check in every 200-300 pages to recap the action and my feelings on it. This post is dedicated to Part 1.

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Let’s dive right in with a quick summary: In Part I, we meet the crew from Lonesome Dove, which includes Augustus McCrae, Captain Call, Deets, Newt, Jake Spoon, Dish Boggs, and others. We establish that they are former cowboys, but currently cattle ranchers living in Texas, near the Mexican border. When Jake Spoon returns, after being away from the town for nearly twenty years, and suggests that the crew journey to Montana, the crew starts to mobilize to begin the trip.

My Thoughts:

The start of Lonesome Dove was.. good! It feels very introductory and set-up-y but I do have good feelings for where it’s going. Normally if I’m not well in to the story by page 100, I don’t have high hopes for the rest, so the fact that I read 228 very dense pages and still have hope for the rest says a lot.

One thing I was worried about in this book were the amount of characters. I thought about keeping a list, but McMurtry actually does a really good job of including context clues throughout this section to remind you of who each character is. Pro tip: a lot of characters have multiple names. While I suspected certain names were overlapping characters, it took me probably the first 50-60 pages to really be sure. For example, Augustus McCrae goes by Gus, Augustus, or McCrae interchangeable and Captain Call goes by Call or The Captain, and occasionally, Woodrow. But again, I found this surprisingly easy to pick up on.

While not a lot happened in the first part, I found the pacing of the novel really well done. I never felt bored and always felt like things were moving ahead. I think this is helped by the amount of characters, and the narration style that travels effortlessly from character to character, providing a lot of different opinions and keeping the plot advancing.

One note is that when comparing this book to modern standards, it’s pretty sexist. The story is set in the 1800’s, so it’s important in keep the story timely, but I will admit that a few times, I had the feeling that if I were more fussy about feminism (including retroactive feminism) I may not totally love this book. Having a whore in every town, and talking about how cheap a Mexican whore would be is not exactly 2019 conversation. Semi-related: I think it’s kind of funny that the author refers to sex as a “poke” and male genitalia as a “carrot”.

Overall, I think the cast of characters is great. The Gus vs. Call conflict, as well as the Gus vs. Jake conflict, is sure to keep things interesting. I like Lorena, but think she’s a fool if she thinks Jake Spoon is going to take her to San Francisco. And I think Newt is an interesting character with a lot of opportunity for controversy due to the unknown nature of his father! As they set out on the trail, I’m very interested to see how they can keep the story interesting. And how far will they go? All the way to Montana?

What Would You Read if Noone Would Judge You?

People judging what other people read has always been an interesting topic to me. Considering there are so many reasons to read and so many genres, it’s a little funny that judging other people’s tastes are a thing. 

The truth though: I definitely take what other people think in to account when I choose what I’m going to be reading. Without making these rules, here are a few factors that I consider when choosing my next read.

  • I know my family values non-fiction, so I usually make sure I read some nonfiction to discuss when them when I see them
  • I know the blog-o-sphere is interested in New Releases, and publishers want you to read the books they give you within a reasonable timeframe, so I’m always trying to stay present for content
  • I know when a coworker asks me what I’m reading I want to be able to say something other than thrillers, beach reads, and romances.

Luckily, these rules of mine, align closely with my tastes. I love reading contemporary fiction, and I tend to get really excited about a good nonfiction read. And as I’ve gotten older, my taste for thrillers and beach reads have dwindled.

So overall, I think I’m right where I should be in terms of reading what I want to read — while also considering what people think of my reading taste.

But what I want to talk about is what if noone was watching? Did you know 50 Shades of Grey sold SIX TIMES more kindle versions than print versions? To me that screams that we as a society have a judgement problem, and I’m so fascinated to hear what genres are being left out.

My answer: If I truly lived in a world where noone was watching, I think I’d read more murder mysteries. Or love stories. I distinctly remember reading a book when I was younger about a family full of sisters getting ready for a wedding. I loved it! It was a bright yellow book, and I read it on a beach, and it was great! And sometimes these days, I find myself wondering why I don’t read more books like that anymore. 🙂

What about you? If you could read more of anything with no judgement what would it be? YA? Fantasy? Romance? Love stories? Harry Potter for the 6th time?

Book Review: For Better And Worse

Author: Margot Hunt
Genre: Thriller
Pub Date: December 11, 2018
Feel Learn Wonder Rating: 4/5

I’m going to start this post with a correction that I feel should really be made, and may impact your interest level in this book: The tagline on the front cover reads, “It was the perfect marriage, until everything went perfectly wrong”, but that’s not the intrigue of this book. In my opinion, the way it should be phrased is, “It was the perfect murder, until everything went perfectly wrong.” Now if that’s not intriguing…..

For Better and Worse is the story of Natalie and Will – two lawyers who bonded on their first date over how being a lawyer would allow them to literally get away with murder. They understood the system, the loopholes, and the paths detectives would take, and therefore it would be easy for them. It was all hypothetical until something happened to make them consider the what ifs. What if they did pull off a murder? Could they really get away with it?

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What drew me to this book was the feeling that the story would keep me on the edge of my seat through the complexity of the situation, not just the risk of violence. I’ve noticed that while I’m reading less thrillers than I used to, sensing a psychological element can often push me to pick one up. This book had it all in that regard – family drama, a murder, and strong vibes of a police procedural.

Similar to The Husband’s Secret this book was engaging and relatable — even though I don’t expect to ever wind up in their position. And what I think this book did well is how calm the plot was kept despite how not calm the plot was. Here we are with our protagonist considering murder and I, the reader, was thinking, “you know, that’s really not a horrible idea.” How did this book get me to that point? But I could feel the ethical debate and even though through the law and society, and really all concepts of right and wrong, I knew murder was the wrong choice, I found myself conflicted.

While this book may still be classified as more of a thriller than a work of literary fiction, I love that it allowed me to feel that internal conflict, and let me learn in and embrace it. I felt so connected to this book in a way I haven’t with other books of this style, and for that reason I would strongly recommend this book.

One final caveat: Without dwelling on it too much, I did find the ending a bit frustrating. It was disconnected from the rest of the plot and an end that didn’t need to be added. Again, similarly to The Husband’s Secret, I’m going to pretend that the ending didn’t exist, because honestly the rest of the book was just great without it.

So that’s it – if you’re looking for some domestic/familial drama in your reading life, look no further!

Book Review:The Husband’s Secret

Author: Liane Moriarty
Genre: General Fiction
Pub Date: July 30, 2013
Feel Learn Wonder Rating: 4/5

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t read a “beach read” in years. The last two books I’ve read on the beach were Beartown and A Place for Us, which both made me awkwardly sob in public. All this to say, The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty was not a book I ever would have chosen on my own, but when I friend dropped it off with the note of “in case you need a beach read,” I felt like I should give it a try.  True to form, it did feel like an indulgent vacation read, and I might even have to admit that I liked it.

The Husband’s Secret tells the story of three separate families in Sydney, Australia. Rachel is an employee at a local Sydney school, and the mother of a girl who was murdered when she was 17; Tess is the mother of a young boy, and the wife of a man who’s having an affair; and Cecilia is the mother of three children, and married to the husband with a secret. When Cecilia discovers her husband’s secret, these three families become united in a way that none of them will soon forget, and the decision of if everyone should be informed hangs heavily throughout the story.

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One thing I see a lot in the book review world is the importance of rating books within their genre – and I think for me it’s particularly important to do that with this book. It didn’t blow my socks off or really teach me anything but it entertained me and kept me engaged wondering what each character would do. In fact, I finished it a few weeks ago, and I’m still thinking about the characters, so to me that’s the sign of a good read.

You may have recognized the author’s name from the best seller and HBO mini series title Big Little Lies – I have to say that going in to this book, I had extremely high expectations for both the complexity of the plot and the size of the twist or revelation at the end based on watching and enjoying that series. After reading this, I can say that I found this book to be similarly complex, but to contain a lot less of the dark undertones that Big Little Lies had. While there were adultery and lies abounding in this novel, nothing as severe as the domestic violence of Big Little Lies occurred in this one. So, on the plus, if you didn’t appreciate that aspect of BLL, this book may be a better alternative for you.

On the whole, I really did enjoy this book. It was fun and light and exciting, and as I mentioned, kept me entertained. I did listen to most of it on audio, and since Moriarty is Australian (and the book is set in Melbourne/Sydney) the narration was done with an Australian accent. That was a big shock to me at first but ultimately I liked it and felt like it added to the atmosphere to hear the characters speaking in the accent they were written to speak in. That may be an odd comment, but definitely something that stuck out to me about the audio version of this title.

If you’re looking for a light “beach read” I’d definitely recommend this one, and if you’ve read it I’d love to hear what you thought! Do you think everyone did the right thing?!

 

BONUS: I JUST READ THAT THE HUSBAND’S SECRET IS BEING TURNED IN TO A MOVIE, STARRING NONE OTHER THAN BLAKE LIVELY. I CAN’T WAIT!

My Favorite Love Stories

I really wanted to do a post on love stories this week, and yes, that is what this post is about, but going through my Goodreads shelf, I realized I don’t really read many love stories. It surprised me because a good love story is pretty much my #1 criteria for tv shows, movies, and even songs sometimes, but I did some digging and here’s what I came up with — unconventional love stories, which definitely cannot be classified as romance 😉 . (If you don’t get the wink check out my Who I Am as A Reader post.)

My favorite love story 😉 My boyfriend and I on our cross country road trip last year

Presidents

Ignoring our current president (because that makes me want to throw this topic out the window), a presidential love story is one of my favorites. Non-book related, I loved the romance with Fitz in Scandal, and one of my favorite movies growing up was The American President. Now I need to watch that again.

Deadwake by Erik Larson

Deadwake is my number one nonfiction book suggestion when anyone asks for a narrative nonfiction reccomendation. One of the things that stands out to me about it, is the way Larson was able to describe Lyndon B. Johnson’s love story as part of the overarching WWI and Lusitania storyline. It’s a love story for the ages, so if you enjoy narrative nonfiction with a hint of love, this one is for you!

Becoming by Michelle Obama

Another nonfiction choice, this one of our 44th president, Barack Obama. Becoming is Michelle Obama’s memoir that I absolutely adored (you can find my review for that here), but one of the great parts about it is how she talks about her love story with Barack. I love so many things about it – from the way they met, to how they communicated throughout their time apart, to the sacrifices that were made behind the scenes on both sides. One of the best parts about this book is that it is Michelle’s story, and I don’t want to take that away from her at all, but I love their love and wanted to share that here.

Love When You Need it the Most

You guys know I am a sucker for these next two titles. There’s nothing more satisfying to read about than someone getting exactly what they need to be happy in life. That’s not always a relationship, but in this case the love stories told are really special and I think so important for the people involved.

All The Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

This one is certainly controversial – it involves the daughter of a drug dealer and an employee of said drug dealer. The age difference is huge, and some (most) may say inappropriate. But a love story has never hit me to the core like this one did. This one made me want to scream LOVE IS LOVE (and not at all in the usual context for that statement). This book is an all time favorite of mine.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

There are many relationships in this book – not all of them healthy and loving – but there is one that really sticks out to me, and that is between Leni and her classmate Matthew. Leni’s home life is complicated and precarious at best, and her finding a supportive and loving companion is one of the most beautiful parts of this story. I highly recommend it!

Friendly Love

Enchanted Islands by Allison Ahmend

This book is truly unique, and in my opinion, beautiful. Set in World War II in the Galapagos Islands, Frances is hired by the military to be Ainslie’s wife and act as a spy on the Germans who they suspect are also using the island as a military base. Their set up requires them to live off the land and depend so heavily on each other for so many aspects of life. What develops is a beautiful friendship and relationship. This book is a bit of a slow burn, but if you can’t tell I think it’s one of the most well done books, and this is a relationship not to be missed!

That’s it for now — as promised, these books are not your traditional feel good rom coms, but they’re all wonderful romances within even better books. If you’re looking for a love story to round out your February TBR, I hope you’ll give one of these a try!

Book Review: When Death Becomes Life

Thanks to Harper Books for the free review copy – as always all opinions are my own!

Author: Dr. Joshua D. Mezrich
Genre: Medical memoir
Pub Date: January 15, 2019
Feel Learn Wonder Rating: 5/5

For what it’s worth, I thought this book was incredible. For context, I’m an engineer and science lover, but have no knowledge of medicine outside of what I garnered from Grey’s Anatomy. Nonetheless, this book managed to keep me engaged while talking about totally new-to-me topics, and taught me so much valuable information that I’ll take forward with me in life.

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When Death Becomes Life is an anecdotal memoir of a transplant surgeon who became fascinated in the (surprisingly short) history of transplant surgery. He explains both the technical and social developments of the field and addresses many of the debates surrounding it, through a compelling and thoughtful narrative.

One of my favorite things about this book is the structure of it. I felt like Mezrich did a really great job laying out the story. You first learn about each of the commonly transplanted organs – in chronological order based on time of advancement, then you will move in to specific stories of surgeries: those of living and deceased donors and their recipients. I thought the layout was perfect because going in to the personal stories, you are equipped with the knowledge to make your own judgement on the stories.

Another thing that I liked about this story was how honest Mezrich was about his failures. Mezrich takes his failures both extremely seriously and totally in stride. I was impressed by both how much each surgery affected him, and also the way he was able to compartmentalize the failures to both show respect for those impacted and give the next patient the best care. He was also extremely honest, in my opinion, about how many things go wrong in routine surgery. At this point a kidney transplant is pretty low risk, but even in some of those cases, something out of the ordinary could happen and you have to immediately be ready for Plans B-Z. I had never really heard that side of surgery before, but it makes a lot of sense to me. Now I’ll just try to forget before myself or a loved one goes through it next!

In a few other reviews that I read, I heard a sense of disappointment at how much of the initial story is set in the past. As a history lover, I was totally fine with that and didn’t find it dry or overbearing at all. But, since I did see that a few times,  I wanted to include that here as fair warning that this book contains both entertaining surgical anecdotes as well as a lot of technical history.

Overall, this book is one of the best nonfiction memoirs I’ve read in a long time. It was informative, personal, entertaining, and engaging – all the things I look for in a memoir. I already sent my copy off to a doctor-friend, and I know I’ll be buying this book for friends and relatives for years to come!

P.S. If you want a preview check out this episode on NPR’s Fresh Air podcast!