Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Book #85: The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman

I'm pretty sure Tommy and I read this book right after we got married, and I've thought about it a lot since then. A lot of times it helps me to realize that something is somebody expressing love in their love language, even if it's not something that I appreciate. But I didn't remember much of what he actually talked about, so I picked this up and read through it the other night after someone mentioned it in their talk at church (it only took about an hour and a half to get through this, because it's short and because I'd read it before/knew the main gist already). I think the main thing that is important about this book is the idea that people feel and express love to each other differently, and if you aren't sensitive to how your spouse feels love from you and you aren't expressing love to them how they feel it, they won't know how you feel. Chapman fills his book with stories of different couples who go from being completely unhappy to blissful just by realizing that they need to change how they express love to each other. I like this main idea, although I'm not totally sold on his claim that there are five main love languages. I feel like it's like personality tests that say there are four types of personalities--like, you're going to say EVERYBODY in the world feels love in one of five ways? The five languages (according to Chapman) are Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Gift Giving, Acts of Service, and Physical Touch. Of course, there are lots of different ways to use the five languages (dialects, he says), but I still feel like the main benefit of this book is just understanding that main idea and then applying it to your partnership/family as it works.

As an aside, my love language is definitely Quality Time, closely followed by Acts of Service and Words of Affirmation. Physical Touch is pretty far behind, and Gift Giving is almost non-existent for me. It's funny to realize how much of a disparity there is for me between the different categories.

Saturday, August 19, 2017

Book #84: My Lady Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows

This. Book. Was. Hilarious. I loved it. First off, DEFINITELY was a great audiobook listen, because the reader, Katherine Kellgren, was AMAZING. Absolutely amazing. She had the most fantastic British accent, and did excellent voices for every single one of the characters. This was one book where having such a good narrator made me enjoy this book 900 times more than I might have just reading it. Although, the story was fantastic itself as well. This book is a re-telling of the story of Lady Jane Grey, the nine-days queen of England after Edward Tudor died and before she was dethroned and eventually decapitated by Bloody Mary. But that one-sentence summary, which is all you'll ever find about Jane Grey (as the authors say tongue-in-cheek in the book), is not the whole story. Instead, they change everything and make the story awesome and make it so that Jane does NOT die--and, actually, neither does Edward--and even add in a bit of magic into the world to spice things up. Instead of the Catholic vs. Protestant feud that Henry VIII started (look at my British history skills coming into play), this book claims it was Ethion magic vs. Verity non-magic that was the big dividing point. Ethions are able to transform into an animal form, and Verities believe they should be exterminated. This Ethion magic becomes a major point in the story as Jane's husband who she is married off to at the beginning of the book is an Ethion... and he is a horse. For half of the time. I loved how there were three different viewpoints that each chapter rotated between: Jane, Edward, and Guilford (Jane's horse husband), and how these three viewpoints all felt very different and had their own voices. Both of the different romances, between Jane and G, and Edward and Gracie, were very sweet and cute and funny as well.

The authors say that they are writing in the spirit of The Princess Bride and their hilarious, irreverent tone definitely follows in the same sphere. I loved how the narrators continued to "check in" with the reader and break the fourth wall of the story by telling us things behind the characters' backs and how they would give little asides like, "He looked like a regular Casanova--although the comparison didn't actually cross his mind, since the actual Casanova wouldn't be born for another two centuries." All in all, this was a really fun and excellent read.

Side note: I saw some people on Goodreads label it as YA but there's nothing YA about this, in my opinion.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Book #83: Surprise Island by Gertrude Chandler Warner (Boxcar Children #2)

Dane LOVED the first Boxcar Children book so much (yay!) that we are moving through the first ones together, slowly but surely. This is the second one in the series--I found a set of the first eight that I bought on Amazon. (There are apparently like 120 of them so there's no way we are going to own all of them... but the first, original set I wanted to get.)

I feel like reading this book, Warner must have been kind of unsure how to recreate the magic and independence and self-reliance that is the main theme of the first book for a sequel. Now that the kids have been rescued and live with their super-wealthy grandfather, they have servants to do everything for them, so what's the fun in that? So she has the grandfather send them to fend for themselves and live on a private island he owns for the summer, because he thinks that would be fun for them. (It's so hilarious that this was considered okay back then--for four children to go live alone on an island unsupervised all summer long.) They forage for food and dig up some surprises and make a museum out of the things they find, and discover an unknown cousin in the process. It definitely wasn't my favorite of the Boxcar Children books, but not bad. Dane loved it and has been making little museums out of his toys and stuffed animals in his bed at night, and is begging to move on to the next one during our reading time.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Book #82: A Tangled Web by L. M. Montgomery

Before a year ago, I'd never read any L. M. Montgomery books except for the Anne of Green Gables books, although I'd read those hundreds of times. I LOVED those, but I'd never really considered reading any others of hers. This book was exactly like those ones, especially like Rainbow Valley and some of the later books that had a lot of short stories in the chapters. A Tangled Web is about two families, the Darks and the Penhallows, who are all intermarried, and want to inherit the hugely important Dark jug that Aunt Becky is giving away when she dies. She decides that she won't allow them to know who inherits it for a year, and make it based on people's behavior (as judged by her executor)--and this book is about that year after her death and how the whole clan acts in trying to be the ones who get the infamous, all-important jug. There are about seven different main stories that get told throughout the book, and the nice thing about Montgomery stories is that they always end happily, so there are about five weddings and everyone kind of gets what they want in the end--even though they are all surprised by what happens with the jug in the end.

I liked how this felt so classic Montgomery to me, with hilarious, quirky, opinionated characters that seem to come off the page (I think Grandpa Murphy would have fit right in with some of these clan members). I especially liked the story about Gay Penhallow, who was young and in love and goes through her first heartbreak, and her emotions and realizations during that year felt very realistic. But I couldn't seem to quite get into it; I was kind of waiting for it to be done. I think maybe because there wasn't one main story to tie it all together? And I felt like some of the stories were a little silly and unbelievable, like the couple who got married ten years before but on their wedding night they separated and haven't spoken since, but the man still secretly loves her and the woman just needs a nudge to go back to him and they will live happily ever after? I'm sorry, but no, that would not have happened. Any of it. But it was a fun read and I'm happy to have it on my shelf.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Book #81: Lucky in Love by Kasie West

I've read maybe four other of Kasie West's YA romances, and have usually been pretty charmed by them. This one COMPLETELY fell flat for me. I didn't even finish it; I skimmed through the last half because I totally lost interest in it. The premise of it was that Maddie wins the lottery in her one random ticket she bought on a whim, and everything and everyone in her life changes. It was... completely and totally stereotypical. I feel like I've read this exact story before--all the unexpected bad things that happen when someone wins the lottery. Gasp! She wins the lottery and people start asking her for money and cheating her and treating her like she's popular and she makes stupid decisions about her newfound wealth! I honestly don't know why this book even got written, it was so cliche.

The two things I liked about this book were:
-Asian love interest--a nice difference from most YA novels, and appropriate for being in Southern California, where it was like 50% Asian (at my high school)
-Based in Tustin, five minutes from where I grew up, and at the Santa Ana Zoo, which I've visited many times and where I have pictures of Dane riding the exact carousel in the cover. So I was able to picture it all myself and enjoyed that.

But otherwise... not so much.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Book #80: Jane of Austin by Hillary Manton Lodge

I've read a lot of Jane Austen retellings. I have a whole category dedicated to that group (and other Regency books). This one was a REALLY GOOD Sense and Sensibility retelling. Usually, most retellings seem to lose out in the characters' personalities or the plot just doesn't seem to translate to the modern era very well, and even if I enjoy them, it requires a little bit of suspension of disbelief to make it work really well. This book may have stood on its own, even without the Jane Austen connection--although, of course, half of the fun of a retelling is anticipating what is coming next in the original plotline and figuring out how they make it work in a modern storyline.

In this story, Celia, Jane and Margot Woodward are left to fend for themselves when their pretty much good-for-nothing father leaves them and the country after embezzling money at his company. Celia and Jane decide to set up a tea shop to make money, and things work well for a while, until their new landlords up the rent and kick them out of their San Francisco shop-space and apartment. So they move to Austin, as a new place to start fresh and find a new place to set up shop, moving in to the guesthouse of a cousin of their (dead) mother's. And... you can guess what happens from there. I really liked how Lodge was able to modernize the Dashwood sisters and their predicament, and how she wrote them in a way that made them seem almost less charicature-ish than most retellings and even the original story, where Elinor is SO logical and Marianne is SO emotional. In this book, the two sisters definitely had more of those personalities, but the story was told from Jane's perspective (the Marianne of the story), which I feel changes the whole point of the overall story. Instead of looking on at Marianne's hysterics and obsessive romance and thinking she's totally overdoing it, you are in Marianne's shoes and seeing her get swept off her feet by the picture-perfect guy. I also liked that we got into Callum Beckett's perspective as well (the Colonel Brandon), which also gives the story a lot more depth. AND I really liked all the quotes about Texas and tea before each chapter--I thought that was cute. The author must live in Austin or Texas, because she really knew her Texas food places--Torchy's was mentioned several times, and Amy's Ice Cream, and a lot of Austin favorites. I thought the focus on tea throughout the story was pretty cute. And I thought it was kind of neat how there were recipes sprinkled throughout the story, since Jane was a huge baker/cook herself (for their tea salon) and that was a major hobby and interest of her character's.

All in all, this was a riveting audiobook--I kept sneaking a chance to listen every time I was nursing or sitting down for more than a minute, and I thoroughly enjoyed this twist.

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Book #79: The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines

Like everyone under the sun, I have watched and loved Fixer Upper, and loved Chip and Joanna Gaines. I've also made the pilgrimage to Waco (which everyone under the sun has also done if you live in or travel to the Dallas area) to visit their shop at the silos. But I'm not like a super-fan or anything, I only watched whatever episodes were on Netflix and whatever I've happened to see at the gym while working out. But Chip and Joanna have always impressed me as the real deal, cute parents with a cute family who are hardworking and relatively normal, living in a pretty average town (Waco is really nothing special, even if they make it look like heaven on earth on their show). It was fun to read more of their backstory in this book, and hear about how they met and started off their marriage. I can't imagine Chip's serial entrepreneurship lifestyle working for us--we are wayyyyy too risk-averse and stable. But it was super interesting to read about and see how people do it, because I've always wondered what that's like and how they manage starting new businesses and stuff. That was possibly my favorite part of the book, and hearing about how they got started with the show, and hearing their very distinct voices showing up in the writing. I also liked how open they were about talking about their faith and how they attributed everything to God and revelation. This book was really extraordinarily short, but it was a fun read for anyone who has read and liked the show.