Thursday, April 29, 2021

Simple & Free by Jen Hatmaker: Book Review


                                         Title: Simple & Free. 7 Experiments Against Excess
                                                                  Author: Jen Hatmaker
                                                                           Pages: 336
                                                           Publisher: Convergent Books
                                                       Publishing Date: March 23rd 2021
                                                           Genre: Nonfictiona, Christian
                                                                        Format: Kindle
                                                                             Rating: 3*

I've been meaning to read Jen Hatmaker's book "7" for years, so I was glad to see it was available on Net Galley a while back. It took me a long time to read it, but it's the sort of book that makes you want to stop and think about what you've just read.

The book follows Hatmaker and her family during a year when she chose seven big areas where she wanted to make changes and remove the excess of contemporary life. The areas she focused on are: food, clothes, spending, media, possessions, waste, stress. She approached this from a Christian perspective, but it could very well be seen as a secular decision to simplify and reevaluate. I am so glad she focused on the spiritual aspect a lot, and she didn't shy away from being honest and admitting her failures & errors.

The seven aspects she's tackling in her book are important and relevant today, just as they were back in 2011 when she first wrote the book. There are some funny parts, just as you'd expect from a Hatmaker book, but through funny she draws home tough points. I also liked the edits she wrote throughout the book pointing to the changes that intervened since she first wrote "7", and how things changed or stayed the same. 

All in all I liked this books, although at times it was slow paced. It did help that for each of the big seven parts she structured the book on days, which made the reading easier. It was fun seeing the good and the bad days string together. I do recommend it to readers who feel the same way she felt when she decided to do this experiment: overwhelmed with too many options and stuff. It's relatable and fitting to our daily life.


I received a free copy of the e-book from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

Monday, February 1, 2021

The Paris Library - Janet Skeslien Charles: Book Review

Author: Janet Skeslien Charles
Pages: 409
Publisher: Atria Books
Publishing Date: February 2nd
Genre: Historical Fiction, WWII
Format: Kindle
Rating: 4*

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles is a Second World War novel set in Paris, but without much focus on the Holocaust aspect of it. It tells the story of a French librarian, Odile, who works at the American Library in Paris. The plot moves back and forth between the War years and 1980s in the US, telling the story of Odile, and a young girl, Lily. There's a colourful cast of characters who make the story interesting, in both timelines. 

One thing I didn't like is how at some points in the beginning the story seemed to skip a few sentences and it was almost as if I, the reader, had to patch things and figure it out. As the story progressed, though, it got better and it didn't stop me from getting invested into it. Similarly to the beginning of the novel, towards the end the pace started rushing to wrap things up. However, it was a nice story overall.

I liked the different aspect of the War that was described; I didn't know anything about the American Library or any of the other international libraries in Paris. It was a fascinating aspect, and it didn't bogge me down with administrative aspects. Oh, and I just loved all the books mentioned and how they were part of the characters' lives. I wish there was a list of tall the books mentioned in the novel at the end of the book.

All in all, I enjoyed the novel, I liked most of the characters, there were some twists and turns that kept me even more interested, so I recommend this to readers who like reading novels set during this time.

I received a free ebook copy of this book from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own. 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Share Your Stuff. I'll Go First - by Laura Tremaine. Book Review

Title: Share Your Stuff. I'll Go First.: 10 Questions to Take Your Friendships to the Next Level
Author: Laura Tremaine
Pages: 224
Publisher: Zondervan
Publishing Date: February 2nd
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Format: Kindle
Rating: 4*

I liked Laura Tremaine's book a lot. The anecdotes she shares are at times wild and surprising, and it was great learning more about the person behind the 10 Things to Tell You podcast. The tone of the books is friendly, but at the same time I can see why she says her friends call her bossy. 

I don't necessarily like the way she tells the listeners on her podcast to "Now go share something", but I liked the way she invited and gave her readers the chance to think about each topic. She picked different questions and subjects of conversation, some deeper, some less, told her stories, and then asked questions for the reader to go deeper and talk or write about their experiences. Although it says the questions are aimed to deepen your friendships, I am sure they could be used for any meaningful, close relationship. I read this at the same time as my best friend did, and it made the experience even better. Clearly, we're doing this book right!

I found this book both easy to read, and deep enough to make you think. Maybe because I like the podcast I was even more open to the message she shared. I find her life choices and changes fascinating, and it was fun reading about them. I look forward to reading her next book.

I received a free e-book copy from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

Things We Didn't Say - by Amy Lynn Green: Book Review

Title: Things We Didn't Say
Author: Amy Lynn Green
Pages: 416
Publisher: Bethany House Publishers
Publishing Date: 3rd November
Genre: Christian Historical Fiction, WWII, Epistolary Novel
Format: Kindle
Rating: 4*

 This novel helped me get out of the reading slump I'd found myself for a few weeks, uncharacteristically avoiding fiction.

Things We Didn't Say is written in epistolary form, my favourite style, and it focuses on a year in Johanna Berglund's life, a linguist student turned US army translator. I liked the unknown (to me) perspective on World War II. It's always interesting to look at that time period from a different angle. I don't think I've read a WWII novel set in US before.

There is a lot of depth in this apparently easy to read novel. I admit this was my reasoning going in: something light to make me want to read fiction. I liked how different mysteries were hinted at and scattered thoughout the novel, but it was done without it being overbearing or just for the sake of creating something to keep the reader interested. The characters have depth and personality, so the novel was full of relatable moments for me. Getting to distinguish a character's voice solely through letters is not something easily achieved, but the author did it.

It was also fascinating to learn about the US Prisoner of War camps in the Midwest and the attitude the locals had towards these prisoners. I found the topic of the other, the foreigner, the one of a different race very relevant to the history of US, and especially relevant these days. However, it is applicable to anyone, not just Americans. The struggle with one's faith and how we can accept God's plan was another theme the novel dealt with.

There is a delicately presented love story unfolding, but I especially appreciated it not being the focal point. It was cheeky how the angle of the false romance was added in. Since romance is not the main point of the novel at all, it made the novel even better for me. What it focused on were the relationships in a small community, the power of the written word, the value prayers have for the one who prays, the importance of holding strong to what you believe in, and the willingness to give up something good for something even better. Funny how a story of the mid -1940s has echo in the 2020s.

It's the sort of novel you speed through towards the end because you want to learn how it all ties together, but at the same time you don't want it to end. I enjoyed reading Things We Didn't Say a lot and I look forward to reading more from Amy Lynn Green, an original voice on the Christian Historical Fiction scene.

I received a free e-book copy from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own. 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

So how's your reading life going?

I've neglected this blog for so long that I almost forgot about it. Instagram has taken over, and that's where my creativity has been directed to over the last few weeks months. 

I've had a good reading year so far. Nothing over dramatic, but I stayed true to my resolution of reading for fun, not for the numbers. I chose quality over quantity. I don't know what to say about quality, but for sure I've read less than I had this time last year. I am quite pleased about that, I must admit.

I remember last year in September-October when school was the highest priority (same as this year...), my reading took a hard hit. I don't know why I was so surprised this year, especially since this is a recurring thing every fall. This year, after the initial sadness and surprise wore off, I embraced my lack of motivation. I simply didn't want to read, so I didn't. I was in a serious reading rut and nothing tempted me. The biggest surprise was that I didn't want to read fiction! That's... that's... not me! I love fiction, fiction is my jam! What does one do when she wants to read, but fiction feels like too much for her teacher-back-from-summer-break-and-teaching-in-a-pandemic brain? She reads nonfiction. Ha! That's a paradox right there, if I ever did see one!

I finished reading The Awakening towards the end of September, despite starting it on the first week of the month. It was a good book, and I enjoyed seeing a feisty woman in the late 1890s. Some quotes from the book resonated quite a bit with me, and that made the reading even more impactful. Reading this novel was due to an account I follow on Instagram which motivates me to read more classics. It's because of the girls running it that I read One Hundred Years Of Solitude, a feat* of the year, clearly! Over the month of October they selected Dracula, but I took a hard pass on that one. They chose The House of Mirth for November and I'll pick my library hold tomorrow. I'm curious and glad to try another classic.

Fittingly, the weekend before school and over the first couple of days of the new year I was accompanied by Roald Dahl's Matilda. It was such a darling read, and I remember the movie so vividly it's still tricky trying to keep the book facts straight. I am glad I finally read it, since it's a children's literature classic and my students like it.

I finished a Net Galley nonfiction, Alone Together, although towards the end I skimmed it. I got the idea of the book and I was ready to move on. I did, however, keep the nonfiction streak and since I had bought Melanie Shankle's latest book, On the Bright Side, a few weeks prior, I started that one. It was the perfect mix of serious and funny, just what I was expecting from her. She's more confortable in her writing, and that's so clearly seen. I am glad to have read all her books.

I am also keeping up with Annie F. Down's devotional 100 days to brave. I like it, and I like her style. I'm thinking of maybe reading her latest memoir after I finish the devotional. I have about twenty days left. 

Once I finished Melanie Shankle's book, I was facing a dilemma. Whatever should I pick up next?! I remembered my #ReadLesMis2020 challenge. I haven't read a single page since late August, so I decided to pick it back up. This was my reading companion for a solid two weeks, but I am delighted to report that I was all caught up a few days ahead of the deadline for finishing the fourth volume. Now I'm back to being behind, again, ha! I seem to not be able to stick to a reading plan that forces me to read every day/ a chapter a day. I think I'll catch up over the weekends, but I am most definitely not going to abandon it now that I'm so close to the end. We're on the last volume and I'll be one thrilled reader on December 30th, that's for sure!

Thursday evening something magical for every reader happened: my fiction reading funk was interrupted! I don't remember how (although it happened three-four days ago... my memory gets worse and worse, I'm getting old!), I decided to start a Net Galley book. Maybe it was me logging into the account to see if I can find a book I'd just heard about? Maybe I accidentally requested two other books? I know I received an email from a Bethany House about three Christian fiction novels, and one of them said something along the lines of read this if you enjoyed The Literary Potato Pie Society. I did indeed enjoy that novel, so I requested this historical Christian fiction. Funny thing: just a few days prior I had thought to myself that what I actually wanted to read was something light and easy and fun, and nothing dramatic because my brain wasn't prepared for that yet. Then into my inbox came this email, and one click led to another, and there I was on Thursday evening reading an epistolary novel. It came at the perfect time, not to mention I love novels told in epistolary form! I have another one from NG in the same format, but I'll wait a bit before I start reading it. I'm already past the 25% mark and I enjoy it a lot. Anca and I had a little photo shoot for it so I plan to finish it by November 3rd when it releases so I can post the review and the photo on Instagram.

Ah, how true it is that books find you at the right moment and come when you least expect it! I was and am so proud of myself for not force reading anything. I took my time (although I sped a bit!) with Les Miserable, but didn't force any fiction if I didn't feel like it. That's why I made the resolution to not read book just for a magic number, and that's also why I can't keep to a reading plan or challenge or goal. I'm a mood reader. 

Now the only problem I have with reading is the lack of more time for it. I must admit, though, that sometimes I have the time, but not the mental space for it. Most of the reading I got done over the last almost a month happened on the bus to and from school or various places I needed to get to. I am now a reader who's taken the Les Miserable, The Awakening, the Kindle with her on the bus and tram. Proud!

I hope to have a good reading month, sprinkled throughout my every growing to do list. One can hope!

*Reading so many classics this year, after many years of trying to fit them into my reading life failed, feels like a surprising 2020 achievement. Of course, having read so much of Les Miserable is the greatest accomplishment. I plan to make a list of all the classics I read this year at the end of December/ beginning of January. I hope my enthusiasm won't jinx my reading streak!

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Alone Together - by Jennifer Haupt: Book Review

Title: Alone Together: Love, Grief, and Comfort in the Time of COVID-19
Author: Jennifer Haupt
Pages: 288
Publisher: Central Avenue Publishing
Publishing Date: 1st September
Genre: Nonfiction, Essays, Quarantine Life
Format: Kindle
Rating: 3 *


Alone Together is the kind of book you take in bits - it's a short story/ essay collection that captures life during the months of March - June 2020 when the whole world was turned upside down. For those looking for stories about life during that time, this sure is something to look into.

Some stories are relatable, not so much; some are sad, some written in a funny and silly way; some go deeper, some focus on the surface things - but one thing that connects them all is the common thread of how people dealt with quarantine and lockdown.

I liked how there are different voices and styles used, including poems (although I skipped right over those) to appeal to various readers.⁣⁠ It took me a few weeks to finish it, but I can see the value of a common thread in times of uncertainty. It was nice to read someone's story and know that all over the world people had to deal with the same thing, yet things weren't the same.⁣⁠

I received a free e-book copy from the publisher via Net Galley. All thoughts expressed here are my own. 

Sunday, August 16, 2020

What I've Been Reading Lately #22

Here are my latest reads.

I liked this one a lot, and having listened to it on audio made the experience even better. It's a YA novel, with the focus on Emoni Santiago, a chef in the making, trying to keep all the plates in her life spinning: raising her toddler daughter, graduating from high school and making decisions for the future, figuring out how she feels about the new guy at school, her relationship with her father - it's a lot. This novel made me hungry, and at the same time full of confidence and it showed that young people can handle hard stuff. I loved Emoni's character. The writing is beautiful and I want to read more from Elizabeth Acevedo.

This has been my fiction read over the last two weeks of July. I am so glad I decided to join the challenge hosted by two girls on Instagram to read a classic every month, and they proposed reading this over the month of July. It didn't disappoint, that's for sure!⁠⁣⁠
⁣⁠Towards the end the events occured and happened in a faster pace than in the beginning, but I think that was a mirroring of how rapidly the universe of Macondo and the Buendia's house deteriorated. It reminded me of a quote from the ending of a Romanian novel: "the time no longer had patience with people."⁣⁠
⁣⁠The thing that surprised me the most, though, is how paced and naturally the story unfolded. Everything felt normal and acceptable, even the magical realism elements. No drama from the narrator, no shock at what happened, no judgment - just telling the story. It was what draw me in more and more, and what kept me turning one more page.⁠⁣⁠

An incendiary examination of burnout in millennials — the cultural shifts that got us here, the pressures that sustain it, and the need for drastic change.
I enjoyed this nonfiction a lot in July. It was my morning reading as I ate my breakfast. It started with a few historical aspects of what the millenials' and boomers' generations are, their beliefs and characteristics, and then it moved into different aspects of life. I resisted calling myself a millenial in the traditional sense for a long time, but as I underlined more and more of this book I felt understood! What I really liked about this book is that it didn't give any "tips&tricks" on how to fight burn-out; it just presented the situation and advised for change. 

This middle grade book surprised me in a nice way. It's a mystery set around the school life of a few eight graders and their peers. I know for sure very few students talk as precious as these kids do, but overlooking that, it's a book I'll recommend my students. The English title would be "How I survived eight grade" and this is a sentiment many of my eight graders share, so they'll get a kick out of that!⁠ 

An easy middle grade read for the weekend. Something got lost in translation, though, as I read this in Romanian, but it was still an enjoyable, quick read. Think Shakespearean theatre, small town, mystery, 12 year olds protagonists. I'll recommend this to my students.⁣⁣⁠


Anxious People - Fredrik Backman - 3*

This novel is a different Backman, but at the same time, the same author most people grew to like reading. Just don't compare this novel to his others. Also, this is not a comedy, don't buy that line.⁣⁣⁠

⁣⁣⁠There are some funny moments, sure, but the overarching tone is sadness and overwhelm - the same goes for each character. It's a very inclusive novel because the characters are diverse (as diverse as they can be in Sweden), but mostly sad.⁣⁣⁠
⁣⁣⁠What I think is a redeeming aspect of most of Backman's stories, though, is the focus in the end on people's good, and an attempt to tie it all nicely. That can be a good or a bad thing, depending on how you see things.⁣⁣⁠
⁣⁣⁠Am I glad I read this novel? Sure, it was fine. Was is memorable? Nope. Will I reread? Def not. Will I recommend? Don't think so... Am I eager for him to write book three of the #Beartown series? YES, of course, can't wait!⁣⁣⁠

I liked many of the poems in this short poetry book, but some I found cliche. For anyone spending time on Instagram, on bookstagram or plain Internet, the ideas of empowering women and being true to your self are not new. I'm all for that, sure, but in the form of a short poem it sounds like another catchy saying.⁣⁣⁠
⁣⁣⁠Every theme that has to do with women has been approached and ticked off in this collection, and I would have prefered a more in depth approach or focus on a specific theme/ direction. I couldn't help but notice that some ideas were sameness found on Instagram or have been repeated in different contexts over the last few years.⁣⁣⁠
⁣⁠⁣⁣⁠I underlined quite a few good lines and some turns of phrase made me stop and reread. I think for a reader whose go-to choice is not poetry this could be an easy introduction to this genre. ⁣⁠⁣⁣⁠