It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 11.0

Happy Monday everyone! This week I am participating in the “It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?” meme.

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

Last week I finished:

waterforelephants

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski’s ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell.

Jacob was there because his luck had run out—orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive “ship of fools.” It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all. Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, was there because she fell in love with the wrong man, a handsome circus boss with a wide mean streak. And Rosie the elephant was there because she was the great gray hope, the new act that was going to be the salvation of the circus; the only problem was, Rosie didn’t have an act—in fact, she couldn’t even follow instructions. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.

I really, really wanted to love this novel after all the reviews I read about it and everything I had heard from friends…but I really didn’t. I liked it to be sure, but I certainly didn’t love it. Is this book a casualty of over-hyping or was I just destined to not love it as much as everyone else? I’m not sure, but I think it’s likely the latter and not the former.

Jacob as a character just never really rang true for me. He was an Ivy league educated almost-veterinarian and yet he was shockingly naive at times. I also felt like the love story between Jacob and Marlena lacked the the heat and passion that the older Jacob recalls. The book rushes through these scenes (and really every scene) with the speed and frenzy of the train on which the circus resides, and I think the book would have benefited greatly if more time would have been devoted to character development. But maybe that’s just me.

My favorite part of the book by far was Rosie the elephant. I also appreciated all the other weird and wacky circus anecdotes Gruen included. Overall, (as I mentioned above) I liked but sadly did not love this book. 2.5/5 stars.

 

enchantedlifeofadamhope

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope is an unconventional and passionately romantic love story that is as breathtaking and wondrous as The Time Traveler’s Wife and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.

During WWII, teenager Evelyn Roe is sent to manage the family farm in rural North Carolina, where she finds what she takes to be a badly burned soldier on their property. She rescues him, and it quickly becomes clear he is not a man…and not one of us. The rescued body recovers at an unnatural speed, and just as fast, Evelyn and Adam fall deeply in love. In The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope, Rhonda Riley reveals the exhilarating, terrifying mystery inherent in all relationships: No matter how deeply we love someone, and no matter how much we will sacrifice for them, we can only know them so well…

Wow! What a unique book! I really enjoyed how Riley managed to place such extraordinary characters in such ordinary circumstances. The story was strange and fantastical, yet you could also picture living next door to these people.

I think my favorite part of the book was Riley’s vivid descriptions of the land. I would say the land itself is arguably a character in this novel–especially since it is from where Adam comes and presumably where he returns. I’ve heard many people compare this book to things like The Story of Edgar Sawtelle for its description of the natural world, and having read both I’d say Riley does it better. I also like the explorations of the nature of love and the things we will do for those whom we love. Love grows and changes over the years, and I think Riley does a nice job of illustrating how we sometimes have to change together and/or make sacrifices for those we love.

I appreciated Riley’s exploration of gender and identity (although I know this part of the novel made many readers uncomfortable), but I do think she raises more questions than she answers. I realize a deep discussion of these issues was probably out of the scope of the novel, but I would have appreciated at least some discussion. Also on an unrelated note: I think the 60’s-70’s portion of the novel really drags and could have used a bit more editing.

Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. It made me think about family and life in general, and has stuck with me even as some time as passed since I finished it. 3.5/5 stars.

This week I am reading:

the-house-of-mirth

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

First published in 1905, The House of Mirth shocked the New York society it so deftly chronicles, portraying the moral, social, and economic restraints on a woman who dared to claim the privileges of marriage without assuming the responsibilities. Lily Bart, beautiful, witty, and sophisticated, is accepted by “old money” and courted by the growing tribe of nouveaux riches. But as she nears 30, her foothold becomes precarious; a poor girl with expensive tastes, she needs a husband to preserve her social standing and to maintain her life in the luxury she has come to expect. While many have sought her, something—fastidiousness or integrity—prevents her from making a “suitable” match.

I have barely cracked the cover on this one, but I loved The Age of Innocence and am sure I will love this too!

This week I am listening to:

The Interestings

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

The summer that Nixon resigns, six teenagers at a summer camp for the arts become inseparable. Decades later the bond remains powerful, but so much else has changed. In The Interestings, Wolitzer follows these characters from the height of youth through middle age, as their talents, fortunes, and degrees of satisfaction diverge.

The kind of creativity that is rewarded at age fifteen is not always enough to propel someone through life at age thirty; not everyone can sustain, in adulthood, what seemed so special in adolescence. Jules Jacobson, an aspiring comic actress, eventually resigns herself to a more practical occupation and lifestyle. Her friend Jonah, a gifted musician, stops playing the guitar and becomes an engineer. But Ethan and Ash, Jules’s now-married best friends, become shockingly successful—true to their initial artistic dreams, with the wealth and access that allow those dreams to keep expanding. The friendships endure and even prosper, but also underscore the differences in their fates, in what their talents have become and the shapes their lives have taken.

Wide in scope, ambitious, and populated by complex characters who come together and apart in a changing New York City, The Interestings explores the meaning of talent; the nature of envy; the roles of class, art, money, and power; and how all of it can shift and tilt precipitously over the course of a friendship and a life.

I’m about midway through this one and am enjoying it. Thus far I’m not overly fond of the main character, Jules, but I do think Wolitzer has done a great job of creating very real and complex characters.

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What are you reading this week?

It's Monday

Linking up with Book Journey!

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? 10.0

Hey-o! Happy Monday everyone! Good news–I’ve finished a couple of books recently, so I can actually participate in this meme this week 🙂

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It’s Monday! What Are You Reading?

Last week I finished:

bonfire-of-the-vanities

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

Tom Wolfe’s modern American satire tells the story of Sherman McCoy, a Wall Street “Master of the Universe” who has it all — a Park Avenue apartment, a job that brings wealth, power and prestige, a beautiful wife, an even more beautiful mistress.

Suddenly, one wrong turn makes it all go wrong, and Sherman spirals downward in a sudden fall from grace that sucks him into the ravenous heart of a New York City gone mad during the go-go, racially turbulent, socially hilarious 1980s.

Oh Tom Wolfe! After reading I am Charlotte Simmons I knew sort of what to expect: gritty, dense language, long sentences, and characters who are very real and also very difficult to love. The Bonfire of the Vanities (BOV) did not disappoint me in any of these expectations.

The main character, Sherman McCoy, is everything we love to hate about Wall Street–rich, arrogant, and basically without a conscious. For most of the novel I borderline hated the guy and felt like he deserved everything that was happening to him, but by the end of the novel I felt sort of sorry for him. I never grew to love him or any of the characters in the novel, nor do I think I was supposed to. Despite that, I really did appreciate the degree of realism Wolfe instills in each character…even if it is a dark side. I also like the exploration of the self in Wolfe novels. Frequently the main character loses himself or herself along the way (as did Charlotte in Charlotte Simmons and Sherman in BOV) and reemerges as something else entirely. Some authors might try to soften a character by having them reemerge at the end as someone good, or at least something close to what they were. Not Wolfe–he very realistically shows how events can shape us into someone new, even if that someone isn’t very likable. It may not leave the reader with a warm and fuzzy feeling at the end, but it is honest.

I’m glad I read BOV, even if I didn’t always enjoy it. I appreciated Wolfe’s characters, and the re-creation of New York City in the 1980’s. At times, it was hard to believe the story was set nearly 30 years ago as many of the issues it touched on are still very relevant today. 4/5 stars.

persuasion

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

Twenty-seven-year old Anne Elliot is Austen’s most adult heroine. Eight years before the story proper begins, she is happily betrothed to a naval officer, Frederick Wentworth, but she precipitously breaks off the engagement when persuaded by her friend Lady Russell that such a match is unworthy. The breakup produces in Anne a deep and long-lasting regret. When later Wentworth returns from sea a rich and successful captain, he finds Anne’s family on the brink of financial ruin and his own sister a tenant in Kellynch Hall, the Elliot estate. All the tension of the novel revolves around one question: Will Anne and Wentworth be reunited in their love?

Jane Austen once compared her writing to painting on a little bit of ivory, 2 inches square. Readers of Persuasion will discover that neither her skill for delicate, ironic observations on social custom, love, and marriage nor her ability to apply a sharp focus lens to English manners and morals has deserted her in her final finished work.

I’ll admit I read this book with a bit of bittersweet pleasure. I’ve loved Jane Austen’s books my whole reading life, and this was the last one I’d ever get to read for the first time. I loved it. The story moved quickly, and I really loved both Anne and Fredrick. I also thoroughly enjoyed the side stories. 5/5 stars.

dadisfat

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

In Dad is Fat, stand-up comedian Jim Gaffigan, who’s best known for his legendary riffs on Hot Pockets, bacon, manatees, and McDonald’s, expresses all the joys and horrors of life with five young children—everything from cousins (“celebrities for little kids”) to toddlers’ communication skills (“they always sound like they have traveled by horseback for hours to deliver important news”), to the eating habits of four year olds (“there is no difference between a four year old eating a taco and throwing a taco on the floor”). Reminiscent of Bill Cosby’s Fatherhood, Dad is Fat is sharply observed, explosively funny, and a cry for help from a man who has realized he and his wife are outnumbered in their own home.

I love Jim Gaffigan’s stand-up comedy, so I was excited to see he had written a book. I patiently waited in the library queue (it was highly requested book last month) and pounced when it was finally my turn to check it out. It was almost everything I could have asked for. It was sharp and funny (like JG’s stand-up), and a very fast read for me. Even though I don’t have children, I could relate to some of the situations he describes from my own experiences with my family and other adults I know with children.

If I were to be a bit nit picky (and since I’m a book blogger I feel like this is expected), I would say the chapters were a little on the short side. Frequently he has the beginnings of a great tale, but then fails to follow it up with any kind insight or meaning. Yes, they were all VERY funny but there were many times he left me wanting more. Also (another nit picky thing), I recognized many funny one-liners as bits from his stand-up routines. Again not a huge deal–I just found that it would jar me out of whatever anecdote he was telling as I recalled that I heard that line from somewhere before…

Overall great, fast read–especially if you are a fan. I recommend getting the audiobook version if you can since it’s narrated by Jim himself! 3.5/5 stars

This week I am reading:

waterforelephants

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

Though he may not speak of them, the memories still dwell inside Jacob Jankowski’s ninety-something-year-old mind. Memories of himself as a young man, tossed by fate onto a rickety train that was home to the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Memories of a world filled with freaks and clowns, with wonder and pain and anger and passion; a world with its own narrow, irrational rules, its own way of life, and its own way of death. The world of the circus: to Jacob it was both salvation and a living hell.

Jacob was there because his luck had run out—orphaned and penniless, he had no direction until he landed on this locomotive “ship of fools.” It was the early part of the Great Depression, and everyone in this third-rate circus was lucky to have any job at all. Marlena, the star of the equestrian act, was there because she fell in love with the wrong man, a handsome circus boss with a wide mean streak. And Rosie the elephant was there because she was the great gray hope, the new act that was going to be the salvation of the circus; the only problem was, Rosie didn’t have an act—in fact, she couldn’t even follow instructions. The bond that grew among this unlikely trio was one of love and trust, and ultimately, it was their only hope for survival.

Yes I know–I’m the last person to the party with this book. Heck they’ve even made a movie out of it already! Regardless, I am really enjoying it so far. I don’t know if I’ve ever read a novel about a circus before!

This week I am listening to:

enchantedlifeofadamhope

Synopsis adapted from Goodreads:

The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope is an unconventional and passionately romantic love story that is as breathtaking and wondrous as The Time Traveler’s Wife and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.

During WWII, teenager Evelyn Roe is sent to manage the family farm in rural North Carolina, where she finds what she takes to be a badly burned soldier on their property. She rescues him, and it quickly becomes clear he is not a man…and not one of us. The rescued body recovers at an unnatural speed, and just as fast, Evelyn and Adam fall deeply in love. In The Enchanted Life of Adam Hope, Rhonda Riley reveals the exhilarating, terrifying mystery inherent in all relationships: No matter how deeply we love someone, and no matter how much we will sacrifice for them, we can only know them so well…

I started this book a few days ago and I’m zipping right through it. It’s unique and fantastical, yet also very grounded in everyday life. Evelyn is a great character and I’m excited to see where this book goes!

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What are you reading this week?

It's Monday

Linking up with Book Journey!

Thursday Thoughts 21.0

Happy Thursday everyone. Some thoughts on my mind today:

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[1]

Work updates:

1) I gave a research talk to my group this week and I think it went pretty well. I spent a lot of time beforehand making figures (and re-making figures) and slides, but I think it paid off.

2) It’s time to start thinking about/preparing for my next research trip. I took a trip in late June (hence my lack of posting during the entire month of June) and it’s hard to believe the “late August” trip is already approaching. Seriously, where does the time go?! So for the next few weeks I’ll be busy prepping samples (and hoping they work).

[2]

A few weekends ago (time is really flying by folks) I attended my friend Kayla and Alex’s second “No Pants Pirate Party”.  For this party everyone dresses up in pirate garb, but cannot wear pants. Acceptable lower garments include shorts, skirts, swim trunks etc. As usual people came up with some pretty funny costumes (jorts were really popular this year) and everyone had a great time.

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Arrrr!

[3]

Trivia is now over for the season, which makes me a little bit sad. However, we did get a chance to compete in the Chicago area (and National) league finals this weekend. The finals for the Chicago area were held at Derby, which despite being really far out of the way for us was a cool place.

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They had a really nice brunch menu–I had a mimosa and the “hangover burrito” (which was a really large breakfast burrito).

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The ladies of team Tuesdays with Morrie

Unfortunately we didn’t win any of the prize money, BUT we did win a raffle prize ($25 gift certificate to a bar in Wrigleyville). Overall, we had a great time and it was a nice way to finish out the trivia season!

In other semi-sad news, the local bar which used to host the weekly trivia is no longer participating. This means we probably won’t play in the league this year 😦

[4]

After an atrocious cardio performance in June, I stepped it up and reclaimed some of my pride in July:

JulyI’m really happy I made my goal, and I definitely made it more of a priority this month (despite having a busy schedule). Even though it can be kind of tough sometimes to make the numbers, I’m still glad I’ve kept at this goal. I’ve noticed that tracking all of my numbers this year has really made me aware of the difference between how much I think I exercise and how much I actually exercise. I know that trying to make that 84 miles a month goal has really helped me to exercise more consistently.

[5]

The lovely and always interesting Sarah posted this yesterday, and it really hit home for me. In the past year I’ve gone through many changes and the things she says in this talk really highlight some of the things I’ve thought, felt and experienced.

Side note: I like TED talks but haven’t seen very many of them. Does anyone have any recommendations for other talks I should see?

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Have a great weekend everyone!