Saturday, October 31, 2015

October 2015 Bookshelf

Orchard House: How a Neglected Garden Taught One Family to Grow
by Tara Austen Weaver
Kindle Edition - 305 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Ballantine Books for this free reader's copy. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

What a lovely read. I am not a fan of 1) the outdoors 2) dirt 3) bugs 4) sweat and I have a black thumb. If it isn't human I have not been able to keep it alive. So I appreciate people who can grow things and are fans of the things I am not. Weaver is one of those people. She uses a large, neglected garden as the picture for restoring her disconnected family.
Every family has a heart which is embodied by one of its members.  Weaver is the heart of her small little family. She was mother when her mother couldn't be, she nurtured her brother when nobody else was available to do so, and she works to create community within her family. It's not lost on her the role she has played and must still even though everyone is grown now. Her mother's newly acquired garden becomes a visual for this little family. Weaver and her mother put hours and hours of work, sweat, and yes tears into renovating the neglected garden into something that produces beauty and sustenance.  As they learn about gardening in the PNW they learn about themselves. As is always the case, to be so intimately involved in something is to have a very different picture of it than those who are a bit removed and have, in many cases, a clearer perspective. When all Weaver saw was clutter and overgrown areas in the garden her friends saw charm and beauty. When all she saw was disconnect and distance in her family others saw each member for who and what they really were. Hoping to give the next generation of Weavers more than what she and her brother had Tara sets out to tend the garden of the family in a way to bring growth and sustenance. And as growing a garden requires patience and faith, so does, Weaver discovers, growing a family.
A well-written memoir that was cozy to read and were I a fan of the outdoors and such would compel me to get my hands in some soil, both literally and perhaps figuratively.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Kindle Edition - 242 pages

When my daughters have to read books for their English classes I like to read them as well, if I haven't. This title my eldest is reading in school right now and it sounded so interesting, in part, because she was a little confused by it. I was intrigued.
What a great read. So well done.
Every summer Cady, Mirren, Johnny, and Gat spend the summer together on the family island, Beechwood Island. Granddad has money, lots of it, and years ago he bought an island and built homes on it for his daughters and their families. Summer Fifteen (the age of Cady, Johnny, and Mirren) finds the sisters fighting and the older kids, dubbed The Liars, sick of it. Grandma has passed on and Granddad is egging his daughters on regarding estate matters. There's too much drinking and too much fighting going on. But the summer ends abruptly with an accident. Cady is found mostly naked on a beach with hypothermia.  But nobody understands how she got there, especially Cady herself. Two years later, summer seventeen, Cady is allowed to return to Beechwood Island for part of the summer. She can't wait to be with the Liars again.  But something is wrong. The Liars are keeping secrets from her, going places without her, in fact everyone is. Cady keeps asking questions, trying to figure out answers to the summer fifteen accident but nobody seems to want to talk.  Through persistence she begins to remember and understand what happened two summers ago and how it has impacted what is happening now.
Lockhart does a beautiful job with such a complicated storyline. Character development is well done and engaging. It's one thing to think up a story like this, it's a whole other work to execute it well and Lockhart does so.  Yes, it is a YA book but who cares? It's excellent.

Social Media ROI: Managing and Measuring Social Media Efforts in Your Organization
by Olivier J Blanchard
280 pages

Clearly this read, for me, isn't pleasure reading or not even necessarily reading for the sake of learning for myself. It is a read for the sake of learning for work related things.
I started it October 4 and on October 30 I returned it to the library with only about 20 pages read. I had the craziest month so I've given up the book for now. I've abandoned it but not forever, or at least I don't intend it to be forever. :)

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Kindle Edition - 249 pages

I've never read this classic. It was never part of any required reading for any class I took in High School or my very very brief time in college. I've heard about it, of course, but never got around to it. I finally got around to it because the youngest redhead had to read it for her Freshman English class. She and I had interesting discussion on it even though I hadn't yet read it. I am so glad I finally got around to it!
First of all, find a 60th Anniversary Edition and read the Intro penned by Neil
Gaiman, he has such an amazing dialogue with the reader about this book. It's worth reading the book for this Intro, seriously!
Now the book itself.
So, and this is an understatement, good. SO GOOD. So interesting considering the time in which Bradbury penned the tale. His forward thinking was impressive, I'm always awed by visionaries. His siren call, so to speak, very poignant about our society and its temptations toward "dumbing down" or numbing the intelligence of humans. Also a commentary on equality and the cons of the kind discussed in this story.
Guy Montag is a fireman. But not the kind of fireman who puts out fires. Guy starts them, on purpose and for a purpose. Guy burns books. They are illegal in his lifetime and he is part of a group of people trained to "keep order" by burning books and the locations they are found in. These days (in Guy's days) that is in private homes. But when Guy meets, and is challenged by, a neighbor girl he begins to wonder why are books considered so dangerous. And that leads Guy to traveling a road of questioning that leads to choices he cannot reverse, even if he wanted to. Led first by his neighbor girl and then secondly by a man Guy had met in a park one random day, Guy makes some life-altering decisions that he hopes will or can affect others he interacts with,
The time period in which Bradbury started, finished, and published this tale was one where books were actually being burned. It doesn't seem that particular fact fed this story but maybe its overtones did.  During World War II Hitler and his Nazi party burned piles and piles of books as a form of censorship and control.  Bradbury has said his influence for the book came from a couple of different sources but never indicates that World War II had anything to do with it.  Why Fahrenheit 451? After many phone calls to scientist, physicists, chemists, and the like, Bradbury finally just called a local fire station one day and asked at what temperature did book paper burn.  The answer that nobody else could seem to get him was Fahrenheit 451 and the book title was birthed. The story had already been crafted but this bit of news, and it becoming the title, seemed to help Bradbury tie up loose ends and flesh out the story he was telling.
This is a relevant story for today. Bradbury has crafted a story, a warning, that is rather timeless. He tells a cautionary tale of equality in the wrong ways and for the wrong reasons. He sounds the alarm for human thought, reasoning, and intelligence. He champions the written word and its usefulness regardless of technology and its advances and attempts to replace. And his story does and tells more. Read it, if you haven't, and see what more there is in store for you. Each reader sees and understands something differently in this story.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

September 2015 Bookshelf

Possible: A Blueprint for Changing How We Change the World by Stephan Bauman
182 pages

Thank you to Stephan Bauman and Multnomah Publishers for this free copy. In exchange I am providing an honest review.

Yes, it is possible to change the world but not until we change our ideas of how to change the world. Bauman takes apart the traditionally held ideas about world change and proposes a *new* way of sparking change. It's not really a new way but it is to us in this culture and in this time.
We have to go beyond doing something to feel good about ourselves to doing something for good. If what we do is about feeling good then we should stop, we affect no change. Change is about relationships, giving and receiving, empowering from within the community not outside resources, change is about hero making.  Years ago I took my first trip overseas to East Africa, Kenya to be specific. It changed my heart, my life, my worldview. Since then I have sought to understand assisting change from within the community instead of change from a distance. The arrogance and patronization bothered me, embarrassed me, and challenged me. Much of what Bauman says in this title supports my desires to help people I love change their worlds. We are most effective when we come together in unity not in hierarchy. I think I highlighted approximately half of the book which not only lays out the possibility for change on a global level but I found to be helpful on a local level in the places where we don't often think about biblical change, such as the workplace or homes or community groups within our traditional churches. He shared good and relevant thoughts about people with power that goes beyond the topic at hand and filters into the places I just mentioned. He outlines a method called appreciative inquiry that I thought was helpful for all avenues of life and for many different scenarios of troubleshooting.
Bauman's thoughts on world changing can indeed be life changing if allowed.  #possible

The Same Sky by Amanda Eyre Ward
Kindle Edition - 288 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Ballentine Books for this free reader's copy. In exchange I am providing an honest review. 

Alice and Carla will be forever connected although they have never met. Their stories collide under the same sky although many many many miles apart. Carla lives in Honduras, Alice lives in Austin, Texas and they both are searching for family.
Written in engaging prose and with warm storytelling Ward invites the reader to travel through a season of life with both Carla and Alice. We read their stories in alternating chapters. Ward has a knack it seems with character development as in no time at all you feel as if you know Carla and Alice and the others that live life with them.
Carla is forced to grow up at an age when all she should have to think about it is her next book report and what kind of dessert she might get after dinner. Her mother is in the United States and her twin brothers are under her care along with her Grandmother.  When harsh life in Honduras forces Carla to make the courageous decision to flee her home country for America she only has one brother to worry about.  Not knowing if she can trust anyone who offers her help to get to the border she decides she must risk it anyway and so we travel miles of shimmering hot terrain with Carla and her brother as they fight their way toward a better life in America.
Alica and Jake own a BBQ in Austin and have a lovely marriage.  Really they do but it is not one without tears.  We meet them the night after they became parents for just a few brief hours. The birth mother changed her mind and Alice and Jake are left, again, childless and aching for a chance to raise a baby together. They grieve together and yet separately and begin to stumble in little places. But they love each other so Ward shows us what it takes to make a marriage work day after day and sometimes heartache after heartache.  While Carla is traveling toward the United States, Alice is traveling toward acceptance of her life with or without a baby. The two stories meet even though Alice and Carla never do but who knows what the end of the story will actually be?
I loved Ward's use of Carla's voice in this title.  I love that she crafted it into a college essay for admission. It made it so much more meaningful and heartfelt than it already was. I also loved that she crafted Carla's travels to the United States based on research she did with migrants, immigrants, etc so while Carla is fiction, her story is not. And I appreciated the awareness Ward brings to the issue of illegal immigration into America. I haven't read any of Amanda Ward's books before this one but now the rest of her publications are on my "to-read" list, I really loved her style.

Ignoring Gravity by Sandra Danby
Kindle Edition - 437 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and Beulah Press for this free reader's copy. In exchange I am providing an honest review. 

This book took me entirely too long to read. I blame life not the storyline or the writing. Both were decent enough.
Rose and her sister Lily are helping their Dad clean out their Mum's possessions when they run across diaries they didn't know existed. And suddenly Rose has an explanation for why she never felt like she and her Mum got on. Her Mum isn't her Mum, at least not in the blood relation way. Rose feels like her whole life has been a lie and she dives into researching who her actual blood relation might be. But as she finds out more of the truth she also uncovers secrets that have been kept for years. Does she really want to know the truth? Will it actually bring her the peace of mind she thinks it will? Who is her family and what actually makes a family?
This is the first book in a series in which Rose Haldane becomes an identity detective. Presumably she is known for this in other titles because of this title and discovering her own identity. Identity gives us a sense of belonging and/or stability in this world.
Sandra Danby writes well enough but it did feel a bit tedious to me in spots. It seems there could have been moments that were tightened up a bit and the story could have been told in a lesser number of pages.  Even with life being busy a book will be quickly read by me if it moves along at a fast enough pace. I'm not opposed to reading book 2 but I'm also not anxiously awaiting it.

Second Degree by A. Turk
Kindle Edition - 460 pages

Thank you to NetGalley and A. Turk LLC. for this free reader's copy. In exchange I am providing an honest review. 

A.Turk’s second book has, no exaggeration, 54 main characters. FIFTY-FOUR. I know this because they are listed in the front of the book. That list gave me a sense of foreboding. I got three chapters in and knew it was a book I couldn’t read or give time to. I gave book 1 two stars but was willing to give book 2 a chance. But I couldn’t.  FIFTY-FOUR main characters, which means there are more characters – just not main ones. A. Turk self publishes and I’m pretty sure the reason why is because publishing houses have rejected his manuscripts based on too many main characters, among other reasons.
He needs an editor that isn’t his friend, someone tough and willing to challenge him. FIFTY-FOUR main characters. And then he needs to listen to that editor and make some necessary cuts/edits.