Read: March 2017

What wonderful March reads! And I didn’t realize until a few days ago that all of this month’s books were written by women authors. Very appropriate given the fact that March is Women’s History Month!

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Still Life by Louise Penny

First in the Chief Inspector Gamache series, Still Life takes place in the cozy, fictitious hamlet of Three Pines in Quebec, Canada. An unexpected death has occurred where Gamache and his team have to determine if this death was an accident or murder.

I’ve heard such rave reviews about this series from Anne Bogel and various guests on the What Should I Read Next podcast and am pleased to say the hype did not prove disappointing at all! I’ve already requested the second book (in a series of 13), A Fatal Grace, from the public library and am excited to continue in the series!

 

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Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling 

In January The Optometrist and I read The Sorcerer’s Stone aloud together and have continued the journey through book two this month. As I mentioned in that month’s post, the illustrations by Jim Kay are stunning and evocative, but now we have to wait until this fall for The Prisoner of Azkaban (my favorite HP book). In the mean time, maybe we’ll pick up some of the (American) audio books narrated by Jim Dale. (I’ve listened to several in years past, in which his voice shifts were subtle but the character changes were instantly recognizable.)

AfterYou

After You by Jojo Moyes

I first read Me Before You last February and found the story compelling and memorable. (If I can remember character and plot details a year later when reading a sequel, that’s a good sign…but this doesn’t always happen!)

We are reintroduced to Louisa, the female main character in Me Before You, as she navigates her life amid loss, grief, and guilt. After an accident impacts her own health, an unexpected teenager enters her life, as does a potential love interest, and she is forced to examine her motives and heart’s truest desires.
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Maybe in Another Life by Taylor Jenkins Reid

I feel like this came across my radar also thanks to Modern Mrs. Darcy, possibly from a Kindle e-book alert (?), but checked it out from my public library instead. The overarching theme of a “multiverse” caught my attention, after having loved Dark Matter by Blake Crouch so much. Reid’s take on this idea accompanied me during our Spring Break travels.

Our protagonist Hannah returns to her hometown of Los Angeles after several years living elsewhere around the country, and the night after she returns home a group of her high school friends, including her ex-boyfriend, meet to catch up. Does she stay to chat with him, or leave with her best friend? From here the story splits, allowing the reader to imagine both “what ifs” rather than just one happily-ever-after.

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A Fatal Grace by Louise Penny

After a little spring break trip to Branson, this library book awaited my return home. I’ve quickly developed such a strong sense of place for Three Pines and the cast of eclectic characters who repeated from Still Life (plus a few new ones).

In addition to Chief Inspector Gamache returning to Three Pines to solve another murder, there’s some treachery taking place between him and one (or more) of his officers, so I can’t wait to see how (or if) this resolves in book three, The Cruelest Month!

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I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai with Christina Lamb

I’ve owned a copy of I am Malala for several years and in light of March being Women’s History Month, felt it appropriate to finally read it. As soon as I finished, my husband asked me what I thought and the first word that came to my mind was “important.” The work that she has championed for children’s/girls’ rights to receive an education before the shooting was important and remains even more so even now. What a remarkable young woman she is.

Ms. Yousafzai provides great historical perspective of her home country of Pakistan, what it was like to live through the rise of the Taliban, a glimpse into her family’s progressive and encouraging counter-cultural influence on her life, as well details surrounding the act of violence perpetrated against her, and her difficult but triumphant recovery.

Watch her (26 minute) Nobel Peace Prize Speech here.

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Art of the Pie: A Practical Guide to Homemade Crusts, Fillings and Life 
by Kate McDermott

When logging into my public library’s e-book (Overdrive) system last week, this contemporary guide to pie baking was listed and I just couldn’t pass it up! Most of the book is comprised of delicious-sounding crust and filling recipes, but there are some sweet narratives about the author’s life and experiences as a pie baker. I’ve been on a low-sugar diet for a few years now, so pies have been off limits for me, but after reading how little sugar it takes to sweeten a naturally sweet fruit pie (like apple), I’m excited about using a sugar substitute and work on my pie baking skills this spring and summer!

Since I read it on my Kindle, I didn’t have a full appreciation for the pictures since they were in black & white, but this is one that I just might look for in print!
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Books in progress for April include a sci-fi classic, more Gamache, and maybe even and a soon-to-be-released love story!

Read: February 2017

My reading journey for most of the month of February can be summed up as “gloom, despair, and agony on me.” Maybe because I was trying to read most of these at the same time or maybe because the first couple contained heavier & darker subject matter, which didn’t help my mindset. Yet, as the month has ended, an inspiring pair of memoirs helped perk up my reading mood!

It’s also been neat to read in a variety of formats this month: non-fiction audio (British), fiction e-book (British), and two print non-fiction books (American).

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H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald

This is my second book finished via Audible (first one here) and the narration by the author added to the beauty. I felt this book had two main themes: 1.) The reader joins Macdonald as she recounts the sudden death of her father and the subsequent grieving process, which coincides in training her new goshawk Mabel. 2.) Macdonald shares her childhood/lifelong fascination with training birds of prey and repeatedly references T.H. White’s The Goshawk (1951), comparing and contrasting her personal experiences with his.

I’d heard such good things about this book and agree that the writing is notably smart and vulnerable. I wasn’t surprised that I learned more than I ever thought I would about raising hawks, but wasn’t expecting to empathize with her grief as strongly as I did.

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Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

When I read Cleave’s Little Bee in 2010, I fell in love with his style of writing, and have such fond memories of reading both it and then Gold in 2012. I kept hearing rave reviews from book bloggers and even had access to this via a digital ARC since December 2015 but finally dove in January.

Although I loved Cleave’s turns of phrases throughout the entire book, I honestly had to slog through the first bit before I really cared about the plot and characters about halfway through.

Set in England in WWII we meet characters from a variety of social backgrounds: privilege, middle class, those esteemed, and those marginalized. As always seems to be the case, the war brings out a sense of national pride in these individuals as they forego what has been normal and step into positions of public service with inevitable loss, but with love and personal honor discovered along the way.

My thanks to NetGalley for this digital ARC!

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Self Talk, Soul Talk: What to Say When you You Talk to Yourself by Jennifer Rothschild

I already wrote a lengthy post about this book last month, so check out that thorough blog post to read more!

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The Magnolia Story by Chip and Joanna Gaines

Since we don’t have cable, I was excited to see how Netflix carried select episodes of Fixer Upper for a short time (boo! for it being removed). While I didn’t watch as many as I would have liked, I immediately came to love Chip and Joanna Gaines, their design aesthetic, and the kindness they show to each other (vs. other mean-spirited reality TV shows).

Their memoir contains both of their voices (differing font, which makes it easy to “hear” which one is talking) and provides insight into the hard work it has taken for them to reach their current level of success. My take-away from the book was Joanna’s decision to thrive in the midst of change and upheaval rather than just survive.

 

What an encouraging read to wrap up the month! And with March comes spring break and a road trip, so, extra time for reading (and knitting, too)!

Read: January 2017

A new year, new month, new books read! Here’s my January recap.

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Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

I kept reading reviews from bookish bloggers who read this near the end of 2016 and it piqued my curiosity. My formative years and my current geographic location were/are entrenched in living in a small town surrounded by very rural areas. But my impression of “hillbillies” received such a startling wakeup call through the eyes of Vance, who grew up in the rural Rust Belt of Ohio. His memoir shines a very personal light onto the everyday lives of those living in poverty, violence, and without a lot of hope. This cycle continues today in all parts of our country, evidenced by certain educational and political statistics, but Vance is a living testament to the fact that change and a bright future is possible.

This recent article/interview from The Guardian has more details about this best seller.


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Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, illustrated by Jim Kay

The Optometrist surprised me at Christmas by giving me the boxed set of the Harry Potter movies on Blu Ray! We’ve since worked our way through all eight, which was a lot of fun to see the actors age (with improved acting skills) quickly, one movie at a time. This spurred us to begin re-reading the series aloud to each other, this time from the beautifully illustrated edition by Jim Kay. If, for some reason, you still haven’t journeyed into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (either through the books or movies), what are you waiting for?!

This video provides a glimpse into Kay’s home art studio and some of his artistic inspirations.

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March. Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, & Nate Powell

This YA graphic novel autobiographically recounts Representative John Lewis’ (D-GA) youth growing up in rural, segregated Alabama, and the eventual and pivotal role he played promoting the social gospel and Civil Rights movement. It’s the first of three graphic novels in this series and would be a terrific inclusion for any discussion about Civil Rights, Martin Luther King, Jr., or Black History Month in February. And March: Book Three won the Printz award last week, so I am especially excited to read installments two and three!

Related: This video clip showing Lewis, Aydin, and Powell accepting the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature for March. Book One will bring a tear to your eye.

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Stranded by Dani Pettrey

Third in the Alaskan Courage series (previously read books 1 and 2 in December), Pettrey plots another inspirational mystery, this time on a cruise ship headed from Alaska to Russia with an unaccounted for disappearance at the heart of the story. The McKenna siblings, along with other recurring characters from the first two books, are featured once more as they open their hearts to God’s leading, find love, and rely on one another to bring about justice to those who have been victims of evil.

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Take the Key and Lock Her Up by Ally Carter

YA author (from Oklahoma!) Ally Carter resumes her Embassy Row series with this third installment, which continues with Grace needing to be on the run to preserve her safety, finding out who her true allies are, and discovering the answers to long-held secrets. Grace possesses a lot of youthful angst, but the plot and mysteries are compelling, inviting the reader to journey with her and find out what she learns, especially in light of the historical pressures her character faces.

Read more: my review of book 1, All Fall Down, and thoughts about book 2, See How They Run.

A sneak peak into my February reads…H is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald (Audible streaming), Self Talk, Soul Talk by Jennifer Rothschild,  Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling, and more!

Books: December Edition

Several sick days during finals week (when the library was busy with students, but slower for me not having to provide any instruction) afforded me lots of glorious time to stay at home to rest, drink tea, and read, read, read! And then, with the semester ending and visiting family over Christmas, I had even more time to read! And somehow, I forgot to post this before 2017 rolled around…so here is my December reading recap!

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Good Behavior by Blake Crouch
Oh how I love anything by Blake Crouch! The Pines trilogy was so engrossing and Dark Matter was my favorite book read in 2016 (twice). Now, after finishing Good Behavior, I realize why I enjoy Crouch’s books so much: he writes descriptively and draws the reader in, which helps vividly envision scenarios and characters’ mannerisms, allowing the stories to mentally come to life and remain with you long after the last page is turned.

Comprised of three novellas stories, “The Pain of Others,” “Sunset Key,” and “Grab,” we meet Letty Dobesh, a seasoned criminal who is smart but her past choices and addictions haunt her life post-prison and influence the decisions she currently faces. The stories each stand alone, so there really isn’t a cohesive flow between the three. Yet, after each short story/novella, Crouch provides additional commentary about the story, its creation, and/or how it was adapted for TV; a neat, insider’s glance behind the scenes, allowing the reader to understand this slightly disjointed structure.

While I haven’t seen the TNT series, I’m curious about it simply because Michelle Dockery, Lady Mary from Downton Abbey, plays Letty. Talk about an actress not wanting to be typecast and playing a diverse range of characters!

My thanks to NetGalley for the digital ARC!

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Greenglass House by Kate Milford

I saw this listed as a Kindle daily deal in early December, and as I always do, first looked to see if my library had this in the youth collection, which we did (which means I probably ordered it…)! Free beats a Kindle deal any day!

This is an inviting story, perfect for cold, snowy weather, drinking hot chocolate nestled near the Christmas tree, and escaping into a world where two children are solving ongoing thefts and mysteries in a unique, snow-bound inn. Although this is a children’s book, the reading level is advanced (upper elementary for sure) and the plot requires some attention to remember different characters, various names, and details about the mysteries that unfold.

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What Light by Jay Asher

I received a three-chapter preview of this Young Adult novel from NetGalley, and it propelled me to request it from our public library. Jay Asher is best known for his book Th1rteen R3asons Why, which has become a well known, go-to YA story about the tragic impact of bullying.

In comparison, this Christmas story is much more positive and sweet. Sierra’s family owns a Christmas tree farm and each year they travel from Oregon to California to sell their trees, so she has two lives and two sets of friends divided around the holidays. This year, however, she meets a cute boy whose past is shrouded in speculation and rumor, and she must decide whether to accept him as he is, or be fearful of his past. This YA novel includes positive messages of acceptance, fresh starts, and openness towards the future.

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Submerged by Dani Pettrey

While I’m pretty familiar with Inspirational Fiction authors, Dani Pettrey had never been on my radar until seeing one of her books as a Kindle daily deal. Again, I opted for checking my public library first to see if any of her books (especially starting with Book 1 of a series) were available. Thankfully, several were, including Submerged, the first in her Alaskan Courage series.

Although I’ve never been to Alaska, I was easily whisked away to the small, fictitious, coastal town of Yancey where Cole McKenna and his adventurous siblings work together with a friend from years past to uncover the motives surrounding a series of interconnected murders. This Christian fiction story includes themes of forgiveness, letting go of the past, the bonds of family, and an assurance in God’s faithfulness.

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Shattered
by Dani Pettrey

After devouring Submerged I grabbed Shattered, the second book in the Alaskan Courage series, at my public library and enjoyed it equally as much as I did the first! The McKenna siblings return once more, with sister Piper and family friend Landon being featured as the main characters in this installment, as they collectively work to prove the true identity of someone who has killed their brother’s friend.  Themes in Shattered include dependence on God, being open to love, truth prevailing, and loyalty among family members.

I’ve also realized my favorite books are written with a strong sense of place, which allows me to fully immerse myself in the writer’s world, and this series definitely whisks me away to an inviting, fictitious place!

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A Baxter Family Christmas by Karen Kingsbury

I began reading stories surrounding the Baxter family in 2008 and have read every.single.one.of.them (this is the 24th) over the years – wow!  This is definitely the longest series I’ve read and endeavored to keep up with, but the characters leave imprints on your heart and it’s always cozy to return to beloved friends found between the pages.

However, Kingsbury shares a brief backstory about all the characters in the preface, so you can be completely new to the Baxter family and still enjoy this sweet story of love, honesty, forgiveness, family relationships, and the birth of Jesus at Christmastime.

My thanks to Edelweiss for the digital ARC!

 

Books: November Edition

It’s been a lighter month of reading, but these were both enjoyable books, although very different in theme and writing style.

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The Christmas Cat by Melody Carlson

I always enjoy reading Christmas-themed books throughout November and December and this one was immediately available via Overdrive from the public library. This was a simple story of faith, honoring a family obligation, and the special connections that exist between felines and humans.

A few years ago I would not have voluntarily read a book with the word “cat” in the title, but after our rescue cat Sylvester came into our lives and home over a year and a half ago, I have a soft spot for kitties, and this was a wholesome story that demonstrates the power of matching good pets within homes and families.

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Pancakes in Paris: Living the American Dream in France by Craig Carlson

Yes, this book will make you want to eat a hearty, all-American breakfast. Yes, this book will make you want to travel to Paris to eat a hearty, all-American breakfast at Breakfast in America.

What I wasn’t expecting was for this book to be filled with such a thorough background, business details, a long timeline, and the many personal ups and downs Carlson recounts in establishing his overseas business Breakfast in America in Paris. Yet, seeing his dream fulfilled and becoming so successful was rewarding to read.

My thanks to NetGalley for this digital ARC!

More Christmas (and non-Christmas) reading to come in December as the end of the semester nears, giving me more time to read, and Christmas break awaits!

 

Books: October Edition

October began with a valiant endeavor to read several books as quickly as possible. It reminded me of when I was in my final semester of library school when I read one to two books a week of various genres for my reader’s advisory class. It was a fun challenge then and was again now!

Yet in this instance my reading goal was to share personal insights with our University’s common read committee (of which I am a member) to decide next year’s Freshmen reading selection, so my timeline and reading list were much shorter.

We had ten overall candidates and, ironically, each of the three I read are our top three contenders, which will soon be voted upon by our faculty, staff, and students! It’s nice to know I can confidently advocate for any of these, as well as discuss plots and subject matter from a thoughtful, informed place.

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Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work by Dave Isay

My common read list kicked off with this compilation of short personal accounts, shared with the producers of the audio StoryCorps project, of which you might have heard segments on NPR. Each are memorable, many bring a smile, several bring a tear, and all of them have a connection to what fuels personal passions and motivations. My favorite was a conversation between two men who work together as repairmen on the Golden Gate bridge, who have been able to also prevent several people from jumping off the bridge and committing suicide. This was a great contender for next year’s common read!

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So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

This is another contender for our university’s 2017 common read, which stretched me and made me think about the serious ramifications of online behavior. And not just the “I posted pictures of me partying and I was fired” types of situations, but things that people posted that became trending topics on Twitter and “blew up the Internet,” causing tremendous backlash from perfect strangers who weighed in on the situation. An overarching theme Ronson offers is that the “they” of the Internet is actually “we.”

In the current political climate, where a certain Presidential candidate doesn’t indicate any apparent shame for his actions, makes this a very timely read…

There were some very R-rated themes and language, a high “shock value,” which makes me hesitant about this being our selection, but at the same time, I kept finding myself talking about what I was learning.

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How We Got to Now: Six Innovations That Made the Modern World by Steven Johnson

This third common read selection was a terrific one and was my favorite! Johnson uniquely researches the history behind our modern reliance on six common, ordinary objects or phenomenons: glass, cold, sound, clean, time, and light. As I read this from a college freshman’s perspective I think they, too, would love discovering unknown historical facts that have a present-day connection, the supporting diagrams and photographs were an added touch, and my overall impression was one of amazement and appreciation for human perseverance and ingenuity.

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The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living by Louise Miller

After reaching the end of my common read commitments, I picked up this ARC I had been wanting to read for several months. My thanks to Edelweiss for this advanced reader’s copy!

This debut novel is written by an actual baker, which lends an air of authenticity to the descriptions of ingredients and methods for baking pies and other kinds of desserts. There’s also a nice subplot of folk music, which I also enjoyed. Each year I look forward to reading a good book about food (especially desserts) and thought this one was a fairly gentle story with a happily ever after, especially since the story begins in the fall – perfect timing. The main character Olivia was likable and found myself rooting for her to be successful with professional and personal decisions and to come out on top (which she does!).

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Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

The Optometrist and I enjoy audio entertainment, including lots of 30-60 minute podcasts we listen to on shorter car rides, and it’s not unusual for me to read books aloud to him. Yet, we have a very short commute to work so we don’t feel we would get our money’s worth out of a full Audible subscription. But thanks to our Amazon Prime subscription, we have a handful of Audible audio books we can stream for free, without having a full, stand-alone account.

Last week I took advantage of listening to a shorter book, the unabridged version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll, narrated by Scarlett Johansson. I had never read this childhood classic and found it bizarre, witty, and memorable. Johannson’s voices and accents were consistent and often made me chuckle. (If you liked her voice in the movie Her, with Joaquin Phoenix, you will like her interpretation of Alice.)
As November dawns, I’m endeavoring to read The Lord of the Rings trilogy for the first time (I’ve been intimidated by this fantasy series quite long enough and I’m being brave!) and queuing up a slate of Christmas books. Hurrah for overcoming challenges and cozy Christmas stories!

Books: September Edition

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Giddy Up, Eunice: Because Women Need Each Other by Sophie Hudson

Since this book is so new, I had to wait a while for it to arrive from InterLibrary Loan, but once it arrived and I began reading, what a gift it was! Sophie outlines the inter-generational relationships of three pair of women from the Bible: Elizabeth and Mary (Luke 1), Ruth and Naomi (book of Ruth), and Lois and Eunice (2 Timothy 1) – how both older and younger generations of women need the support of one another. She interweaves her own personal stories, some filled with deep vulnerability, some with chuckle-worthy humor, but overall it was a complete package of encouragement and truth I didn’t know I needed to hear/read.

I rank this as the best non-fiction book I’ve read this year!

Furthermore, even before having access to this book, I had signed up for the new Beth Moore Bible study, Entrusted, a study of 2 Timothy, with an inter-generational group of women at my church. I’m in the thick middle of a “sacred echo,” where God is getting my attention with some of the same themes in Giddy Up, Eunicementoring, inter-generational friendships, purpose, love, and service.

“Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.” ~ Romans 12:10 (ESV)

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The Fireman by Joe Hill

When I heard the premise of this book earlier in the year, I was intrigued: an epidemic is sweeping the nation, where the spore “Dragonscale,” is infecting people, causing them to catch on fire. Yet, one man, The Fireman, has somehow figured out a way to tame the flames. Even though this apocalyptic book clocks in with 752 pages, I found it a fast and compelling read, suspenseful and exciting, but not overtly scary (which surprised me since Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King). Additional themes include altruism, group dynamics, and reliant trust on those who become your “family” during hard times.

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The One in a Million Boy by Monica Wood

This was featured prominently in the Modern Mrs. Darcy summer reading list. When it was on sale for Kindle earlier in the summer, I went ahead and took advantage of the discount. While some raved about this book, I simply found it heart-stirring as kindness is shown and attempts at understanding are given among several unique inter-generational relationships (there’s that sacred echo again). Additional themes include the expectations we have for others and the importance of accepting people as they are.

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Armada by Ernest Cline

In April I mentioned reading Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, which I enjoyed so much I requested the audio book version (narrated by Wil Wheaton) and listened to it with The Optometrist in May. It was a treat for me to “read” it once more, this time with the added bonus of being able to discuss it with him (or discuss it after I had woken up from taking a nap in the car).

When I saw Cline’s newest book at the public library a few weeks ago, I promptly grabbed it and decided it would be our next read-aloud together (even though I’m sure Wil Wheaton’s performance for this one is equally fun). As I read it, there were many “Am I saying this right?” moments to my husband, since he’s the gamer/sci-fi aficionado, but I hung in there as I learned some additional  gaming/sci-fi lingo and occasionally earned “+10 nerd points” from The Optometrist when I remembered a quote or situation from an existing book or movie.

The premise follows a similar trajectory as Ready Player One: everyday video game playing teenage nerdy types are tasked with a life-changing video game challenge. But this time the ante is upped when our hero Zack is tasked with helping save the world after he discovers there’s more than meets the eye with Armada, his favorite video game.

Ahead in October are several contenders for our university’s 2017 common read initiative!