Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Review: The Power

Almost overnight, everything changes. Girls suddenly have the ability to send electricity through their hands--they can use this to attract attention, to protect themselves, and even to hurt others. We follow four people as the power dynamic between men and women begins to shift. Margot is an American mayor wondering how this power will affect her political future and the decisions of her teenage daughter. Roxy is the tough daughter of a British gangster, while Allie is a terrified girl who runs away from her abusive foster family to the safety and possibility of a convent. Tunde is a young man in Nigeria whose knack for capturing the right moments catapults him to journalistic fame. The Power is a fascinating look at what it means to have and be in power.

This book is one of the most buzzed-about books in 2017. I heard about it first from my sister who was studying abroad and had the opportunity to read it before it came out in the US. The Power won the Baileys Prize for fiction and is appearing on many "best books of the year" lists. And it certainly is a fascinating idea: what would our world look like if women had a kind of power that men could never possess? How does a female-dominated society operate?

Unfortunately for me, this was one of those books that had a great idea but the execution fell flat. Aldermann gives us four very different perspectives, so we can see what is happening all over the world. This necessitates that we don't get close enough to all of the characters to really want to follow them. Personally, I was really intrigued by just two of them and found myself eager to skim through the other sections to get back to them.

Perhaps one of the boldest things the author does is to show us a world that really isn't that different from our current one. Power corrupts everyone, male or female, and Aldermann writes women who do not hesitate to threaten, injure, rape, or kill to keep their power. While I was intrigued, I found myself wishing for more nuance. Surely some things would be different if women were in power. While I would have loved to read that book, I am fascinated by Aldermann's ideas and look forward to seeing what she writes next.

The Power
By Naomi Alderman
Little, Brown, and Company October 2017
288 pages
Read via Netgalley

Friday, December 15, 2017

The Plight of the Too-Nice Book Reviewer

It happens more than I would like to admit.
I write a review and find myself pausing.
Am I being too mean?

I understand that the author of even the worst book spent years of their life writing and re-writing, creating and refining characters, planning and dreaming and working. There is a distinction between literary criticism and cruelty. I want to be the kind of reviewer who stays way over on one side of that line. A bad writer can improve. A good writer can and will occasionally write a dud. And can we just take a minute to mention the subjectivity of enjoying a book?

On the other hand, my job as someone who reviews books is to distinguish between good writing and bad writing, and to guide anyone who reads my reviews towards the books they should spend their precious time reading.

So I often find myself reading a snippet aloud to my husband to double check that it's insightful instead of insulting. I can point out both the good and the bad in a book without stomping on anyone's hard work. It's easy to write a zinger that is a bit funny and a bit cruel, but it's harder to point out places where the narrative could have been smoother or the characters written more vividly while also writing about the strengths of a particular book.

How about you? Do you sometimes find it hard to navigate between critical and mean?

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Netgalley Mini-Reviews: Sing! and Sing, Unburied, Sing

Jojo is used to his parents not being around. He is happy most days to live with his little sister Kayla and his grandparents. But when his dad is released from prison, his mother Leonie packs up the kids and takes them across Mississippi to bring him home. Sing, Unburied, Sing is the story of one family's attempts to reach each other, but it's also an examination of the ways history haunts us many generations later.

This book is gracing many best books of the year lists and it won the National Book Award. After so many glowing reviews, perhaps there isn't much for this reviewer to write. But I will add my voice to  the chorus that says that Jesmyn Ward is one of the most excellent writers working today. She can evoke a powerful sense of place and history. She also writes characters so carefully--by the time the book is over, readers feel that they have truly gone through this journey with Jojo, held little Kayla when she's scared, and relived a painful past with Pop. Ward has written another beautiful, evocative, thought-provoking story; I'm so glad we get to experience her writing.

Sing, Unburied, Sing
By Jesmyn Ward
Scribner September 2017
285 pages
Read via Netgalley

Keith and Kristyn Getty are well-known as musicians, songwriters, and worship leaders. They believe that the Bible commands each of us to sing often and in many settings. In Sing! they remind us that singing together deepens our connection with the family or congregation we sing with, as well as our connection to God.

Some of you may know that I am a part of the music team at our church. I sing with our choir, sing solos sometimes, pick music for our praise team, and lead the congregational singing. I was hopeful that this book would help me to bridge the divide between the people who happily sing every week and the ones who look like they would rather do anything else than sing in public. While Sing does offer a lot of basic information about why singing is important, I was hoping for some more specific stories about reaching non-singers instead of reinforcing the joy and power of song for musicians. I did appreciate reading about the impact songs have on us, though--most of us can tell you the song that represents a certain time for us or still sing the lyrics of our favorite song from a decade ago. This book is a good starting place for people who work in churches or want to add more music to their families and congregations.

Sing: How Worship Transforms Your Life, Family, and Church
By Keith Getty and Kristyn Getty
B Books September 2017
176 pages
Read via Netgalley

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Review: Home Fire

Isma Pasha has always cared for her younger siblings Aneeka and Parvaiz. Their father was never around and their mother died when the twins were still young. Now she finally has the chance to leave England and live her own life. She accepts an invitation to work and study at an American university. But she can't stop worrying about her sister and brother. Parvaiz has disappeared, determined to find the truth about his father's life as a jihadist and his death. Aneeka is dating a man who might break her heart or save her whole family.

Home Fire is a story told from alternating perspectives. We start with Isma as she embarks on a new adventure in the US and encounters all the difficulties that Muslim women experience. We meet Eamonn, with his easy charm and family influence, and spend time with the twins Aneeka and Parvaiz as they discover just how strong their bond is and how far they would go for the other.

The discerning reader will quickly realize that this is an updated version of the story of Antigone. The author sticks closely to the story in many senses, which makes sense when you consider the timeless themes of love, loyalty, and sacrifice. But bringing it into the 21st century and focusing it on a Muslim family makes the tale incredibly resonant. The novel opens with Isma's airport interrogation as she travels to her new home and this thread takes us all the way through the book--what is it like to live each day when you are seen as "other," when you are the person who will be affected by new laws?

Kamila Shamsie is a wonderful writer and I am happy to have read one of her books. Home Fire is catapulting her into some serious literary attention, which is entirely earned. It is a testament to Shamsie's writing that even a reader who knows what happens in the ancient Greek story will find themselves anxiously flipping pages because they truly care about these characters and want to know if they can somehow avoid a tragic ending.

Home Fire
By Kamila Shamsie
Riverhead Books August 2017
276 pages
From the library

Monday, December 11, 2017

It's Monday and I have a 10-year-old!

Hi everybody! How are your holiday preparations going? Are you checking things off your list? Are your evenings spent in a sea of wrapping paper?

This week, we put Christmas prep on hold for a bit because my favorite 4th grader had a birthday! As I mentioned last week, we started with a day at the aquarium. Then I took D and two of his friends to see the movie Wonder and get some ice cream. This weekend, we had the family here for a birthday party complete with a taco bar and Pokemon decorations.

Now I have to get back into that Christmas to-do-list. I'm making progress but I still have presents to buy and wrap, music to rehearse for church, and cookies to bake!

So I never really got into World's Fair, so I put it aside. Actually, I put it in the pile to donate to my local library; I'm trying to send books out instead of putting them back on my shelf in hopes of them working better another time. Instead I read Sing, Unburied, Sing and now I'm reading Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert's Roadmap to Getting Out There. 

        Sing, Unburied, Sing       Hiding in the Bathroom: An Introvert's Roadmap to Getting Out There (When You'd Rather Stay Home)

What are you reading this week?

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Review: The Girl in the Tower

The people in Vasya's village believe she is a witch. As her neighbors become increasingly antagonistic, she is told to join a convent or get married. But Vasya chooses instead to leave everything she has known behind. Disguising herself as a boy, she rides off into the Russian countryside. She soon finds a battle to fight when she learns that bandits are terrorizing small towns. Her bravery earns her the admiration of the Grand Prince. She must continue her facade to keep the prince's trust, but her choices could put her brother, her sister, and the entire city of Moscow in peril.

I absolutely adored The Bear and the Nightingale, the first book in this trilogy. Sequels can be tricky, but The Girl in the Tower lives up to its predecessor. This story gives our beloved protagonist room to grow while also giving us  insight into her brother Sasha and sister Olga. If the first book was primarily about Vasya, this one is about the whole family. It also moves the story from the quiet dangers of the forest to the perils of the city and court, where the person sitting next to you could be your friend or scheming to take your place.

Katherine Arden does a wonderful job of holding things in tension: Vasya glories in the opportunity and danger of the woods while appreciating the safety of a city, she can't resist spending time with the frost demon Morozko but won't give up her own agency, and she is a woman who makes unconventional choices, but those decisions have very realistic repercussions for a woman of the past. It's darker and the consequences are bigger, but the enchanting writing will still draw you in and refuse to let go.

The Winternight books are a beautiful blend of historical fiction and fantasy. If you haven't read them yet, you must pick them up and enjoy all of the magic that a good story with wonderful characters can provide.

The Girl in the Tower
The Winternight Trilogy #2
By Katherine Arden
Del Ray December 2017
352 pages
Read via Netgalley

Monday, December 4, 2017

I'm back to It's Monday!

I haven't done one of these posts in almost two months. But today, here I am!

Somehow, husband and I have kept a certain boy alive and well for the past decade. My kiddo turned ten today, so we played hooky. We started the day with chocolate chip pancakes, went to the aquarium, had lunch with his godmother who was here from the West Coast, and finished the day off with his favorite dinner and a movie.

Image may contain: 2 people
He used to be so little...

I'm trying to get through my crazy long to-do list when it comes to the holidays. It gets extra long when you child has a birthday just a few weeks before Christmas, so wish me well!

On the book front, I recently finished Forest Dark and Home Fire. Now I'm reading World's Fair and planning to pick up Sing, Unburied, Sing later in the week.

                     Home Fire     World's Fair

What are you reading? How are your holiday preparations going?