Tuesday, February 28, 2017

The Scent of Rain and Lightning

Book 16 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from February 16 - 28

The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard

Summary (via Goodreads)
One beautiful summer afternoon, from her bedroom window on the second floor, Jody Lindner is unnerved to see her three uncles parking their pickups in front of her parents' house - or what she calls her parents' house, even though Jay and Laurie Jo Lindner have been gone almost all of Jody's life. "What is this fearsome thing I see?" the young high school English teacher whispers, mimicking Shakespeare. Polished boots, pressed jeans, fresh white shirts, Stetsons - her uncles' suspiciously clean visiting clothes are a disturbing sign.
The three bring shocking news: The man convicted of murdering Jody's father is being released from prison and returning to the small town of Rose, Kansas. It has been twenty-six years since that stormy night when, as baby Jody lay asleep in her crib, her father was shot and killed and her mother disappeared, presumed dead. Neither the protective embrace of Jody's uncles nor the safe haven of her grandparents' ranch could erase the pain caused by Billy Crosby on that catastrophic night. 
Now Billy Crosby has been granted a new trial, thanks in large part to the efforts of his son, Collin, a lawyer who has spent most of his life trying to prove his father's innocence. As Jody lives only a few doors down from the Crosbys, she knows that sooner or later she'll come face-to-face with the man who she believes destroyed her family. 
What she doesn't expect are the heated exchanges with Collin. Having grown up practically side by side in this very small town, Jody and Collin have had a long history of carefully avoiding each other's eyes. Now Jody discovers that underneath their antagonism is a shared sense of loss that no one else could possibly understand. As she revisits old wounds, startling revelations compel her to uncover the dangerous truth about her family's tragic past. 
Engrossing, lyrical, and suspenseful, The Scent of Rain and Lightning captures the essence of small-town America  - its heartfelt intimacy and its darkest secrets - where through struggle and hardship people still dare to hope for a better future. For Jody Lindner, maybe even love.

My Opinion
First, a quibble about the description...Jody was not in her crib, or in the house at all, when her dad was shot.  She had already left to spend the night with her grandparents.  Also about the description, it sounded like this was going to be a story between Jody and Collin but over half of the book was in the past.  It was hard to be invested in backstory that long when I knew what was going to happen.

The last few chapters gave me the relief and resolution I was looking for (I wasn't completely wrong with the prediction I made early on but there were still surprises) but by that point it was too little, too late and had been drawn out for so long, I was over it.

Quote from the Book
"On this particular day, Jody wasn't worried about anything worse than how to ease away from her lover and whether or not she'd prove to be a good high school teacher. And then her uncles walked into her parents' house and reinforced her belief in bad following good as inevitably as the moon chased the sun.
 Billy. Crosby. Released from prison. Coming home."

Monday, February 27, 2017

American Hookup

Book 15 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from February 10 - 27

American Hookup: The New Culture of Sex on Campus by Lisa Wade

Summary (via Goodreads)
The hookup is now part of college life. Yet the drunken encounter we always hear about tells only a fraction of the story. Rising above misinformation and moralizing, Lisa Wade offers the definitive account of this new sexual culture and demonstrates that the truth is both more heartening and more harrowing than we thought.
Offering invaluable insights for parents, educators, and students, Wade situates hookup culture within the history of sexuality, the evolution of higher education, and the unfinished feminist revolution. Using new research, she maps out a punishing emotional landscape marked by unequal pleasures, competition for status, and sexual violence. She discovers that the most privileged students tend to like hookup culture the most, and she considers its effects on racial and sexual minorities, students who "opt out," and those who participate ambivalently.
Accessible and open-minded, compassionate and brutally honest, American Hookup explains where we are and how we got here, asking not "How do we go back?" but "Where do we go from here?"

My Opinion
I didn't learn anything new.  Hookups themselves don't bother me but the cavalier attitude about women, or when people feel they have to act drunk to be able to participate, is troubling.  I believe the book's research but with everything based on individual accounts and no ideas of changes given (other than the unhelpful "If we want to fix hookup culture, we have to fix American culture" on the last page), I don't see why the book was written.

I understand changing the names but I didn't understand how "other details have been changed and sometimes dramatized."  How do you dramatize non-fiction?

Reading about gender roles and "benevolent sexism" (when a positive trait of someone's gender is used against them, such as women being gentler leading to the assumption that they don't want sex without love) was very interesting.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"Hookup culture is an occupying force, coercive and omnipresent."

""Casual sex was happening before in college," says Indiana University psychologist Debby Herbenick, "but there wasn't the sense that it's what you should be doing. It is now." It's the elevation of the hookup over all other ways of engaging sexually that has transformed campuses from places where there is hooking up to places with a hookup culture. Hookup culture is new. Where did it come from? And how did it get here?"

"Hookup culture isn't carefree; it's care-less."

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The 5th Wave

Book 14 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from February 5 - 16

The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey
Book 1 in The 5th Wave series

Summary (via Goodreads)
After the 1st wave, only darkness remains. After the 2nd, only the lucky escape. And after the 3rd, only the unlucky survive. After the 4th wave, only one rule applies: trust no one.
Now, it's the dawn of the 5th wave, and on a lonely stretch of highway, Cassie runs from Them. The beings who only look human, who roam the countryside killing anyone they see. Who have scattered Earth's last survivors. To stay alone is to stay alive, Cassie believes, until she meets Evan Walker. Beguiling and mysterious, Evan Walker may be Cassie's only hope for rescuing her brother - or even saving herself. But Cassie must choose: between trust and despair, between defiance and surrender, between life and death. To give up or to get up.

My Opinion
I don't feel like I can fairly rate this book.  I was confused about whose perspective I was reading (the sections were in first person narration and would shift without a label) and had to flip back quite a few times to jog my memory on which name went with which secondary character.  However, my schedule was incredibly hectic and there were days where I didn't get to read it at all.  Plus I read the book in stolen moments at a cheer competition, a basketball tournament, and a MathCounts competition.  So I can't say my confusion was due to anything but my lack of focus.

Since it was very engaging while I was reading and I really like the author's writing style, I'm going to give it the benefit of the doubt and round up to a 4 star rating.

And a little plug: this series is well-known but the author has a lesser-known series, The Monstrumologist series, that I would recommend.  The first book is called The Monstrumologist.

A Few Quotes from the Book
"It's hard to plan for what comes next when what comes next is not something you planned for."

"I might be - no, I probably am - doomed.
 But if I'm it, the last of my kind, the last page of human history, like hell I'm going to let the story end this way.
 I may be the last one, but I am the one still standing. I am the one turning to face the faceless hunter in the woods on an abandoned highway. I am the one not running, not staying, but facing.
 Because if I am the last one, then I am humanity.
 And if this is humanity's last war, then I am the battlefield."

Friday, February 10, 2017

Becoming Nicole

Book 13 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from February 1 - 9

Becoming Nicole: The Transformation of an American Family by Amy Ellis Nutt

Summary (via the book jacket)
When Wayne and Kelly Maines adopted identical twin boys, they thought their lives were complete. But it wasn't long before they noticed a marked difference between Jonas and his brother, Wyatt. Jonas preferred sports and trucks and many of the things boys were "supposed" to like; but Wyatt liked princess dolls and dress-up and playing Little Mermaid. By the time the twins were toddlers, confusion over Wyatt's insistence that he was female began to tear the family apart. In the years that followed, the Maineses came to question their long-held views on gender and identity, to accept and embrace Wyatt's transition to Nicole, and to undergo an emotionally wrenching transformation of their own that would change all their lives forever.
Becoming Nicole chronicles a journey that could have destroyed a family but instead brought it closer together. It's the story of a mother whose instincts told her that her child needed love and acceptance, not ostracism and disapproval; of a Republican, Air Force veteran father who overcame his deepest fears to become a vocal advocate for trans rights; of a loving brother who bravely stuck up for his twin sister; and of a town forced to confront its prejudices, a school compelled to rewrite its rules, and a courageous community of transgender activists determined to make their voices heard. Ultimately, Becoming Nicole is the story of an extraordinary girl who fought for the right to be herself.
Granted wide-ranging access to personal diaries, home videos, clinical journals, legal documents, medical records, and the Maineses themselves, Amy Ellis Nutt spent almost four years reporting this immersive account of an American family confronting an issue that is at the center of today's cultural debate. Becoming Nicole will resonate with anyone who's ever raised a child, felt at odds with society's conventions and norms, or had to embrace life when it plays out unexpectedly. It's a story of standing up for your beliefs and yourself - and it will inspire all of us to do the same.

My Opinion
The prologue drew me in and the entire book read very quickly.

It really highlighted the difference a supportive family can make.  I don't want to say Nicole is lucky because I believe parents supporting their kids should be the norm, but realistically I know it's not the case and having parents willing to advocate for her, including challenging the school legally, and find the doctors who could help her gave her an enormous advantage in her transition.

While both her parents always loved her Wayne, the father, took a little longer to fully get on board and he was very honest about that.  I appreciated that the book talked about the sacrifices and struggles but also kept the underlying respect and love the family had for each other.  Everyone's position was very understandable.

Now on to the grandfather of a classmate of Jonas and Nicole's, who became a catalyst for Nicole's struggles in school which eventually led to them moving and suing the school district.  He has rights to use the system correctly and voice his opinions but the way he used his grandson to do the "dirty work" during the school day was just gross. 

A Few Quotes from the Book
"When it comes to that physical self, for a transgender person every waking moment, every conscious breath, is a denial of who they truly are. For these people their bodies are at odds with their ideas of themselves, or their ideas of who they should be. They are estranged from the very thing that sustains them in the world, and there is no way to reconcile this conflict through psychological counseling or behavioral conditioning. There is only one way out of the alienation, and that's to make the body congruent with the mind."

"The experience of who we are is a celebration of what makes us human, and one of those experiences is being male or female - or something in between."

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

The Boys in the Boat

Book 12 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from January 24 - February 8

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown

Summary (via Goodreads)
Daniel James Brown's robust book tells the story of the University of Washington's 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals first from eastern and British universities and finally the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in the Olympic Games in Berlin, 1936.
The emotional heart of the story lies with one rower, Joe Rantz, a teenager without family or prospects, who rows not for glory, but to regain his shattered self-regard and to find a place he can call home. The crew is assembled by an enigmatic coach and mentored by a visionary, eccentric British boat builder, but it is their trust in each other that makes them a victorious team. They remind the country of what can be done when everyone quite literally pulls together - a perfect melding of commitment, determination, and optimism.
Drawing on the boys' own diaries and journals, their photos and memories of a once-in-a-lifetime shared dream, The Boys in the Boat is an irresistible story about beating the odds and finding hope in the most desperate of times - the improbable, intimate story of nine working-class boys from the American west who, in the depths of the Great Depression, showed the world what true grit really meant.

My Opinion
I loved the descriptions of the rowing events.  The author made it feel like they were happening at the moment I was reading.  It helped that I didn't know if they came through and won the gold medal and even though I wanted to, I didn't look it up.

The backdrop of Germany as Hitler was just getting started was frightening.  I can't believe how much effort and thought went into concealing to the world what they were already implementing, and that they were successful.  

A Few Quotes from the Book
"It is hard to make that boat go as fast as you want to. The enemy, of course, is resistance of the water, as you have to displace the amount of water equal to the weight of men and equipment, but that very water is what supports you and that very enemy is your friend. So is life: the very problems you must overcome also support you and make you stronger in overcoming them." ~ George Yeoman Pocock

"To defeat an adversary who was your equal, maybe even your superior, it wasn't necessarily enough just to give your all from start to finish. You had to master your opponent mentally. When the critical moment in a close race was upon you, you had to know something he did not - that down in your core you still had something in reserve, something you had not yet shown, something that once revealed would make him doubt himself, make him falter just when it counted most. Like so much in life, crew was partly about confidence, partly about knowing your own heart."

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Mermaids in Paradise

Book 11 of my 2017 Reading Challenge
read from January 29 - February 1

Mermaids in Paradise by Lydia Millet

Summary (via the book jacket)
On the grounds of a Caribbean island resort, newlyweds Deb and Chip - our opinionated, skeptical narrator and her cheerful jock husband - meet a marine biologist who says she's sighted mermaids in a coral reef.
As the resort's "parent company" swoops in to corner the market on mythological creatures, the couple joins forces with other adventurous souls, including an ex-Navy SEAL with a love of explosives and a hipster Tokyo VJ, to save said mermaids from the "Venture of Marvels", which wants to turn their reef into a theme park.
Mermaids in Paradise is Lydia Millet's funniest book yet, tempering the sharp satire of her early career with the empathy and subtlety of her more recent novels and short stories. This is an unforgettable, mesmerizing tale, darkly comic on the surface and illuminating in its depths.

My Opinion
A low 2 stars, not quite a 1 rating because it didn't make me angry or have any glaring issues.  It read quickly for all the wrong reasons, because there was no substance or depth to the story or the characters.  I was still having trouble knowing which character went with which name at the end of the book.  

Everything in the last paragraph of the book description was missing for me.  I didn't see the satire or comedy and it's definitely forgettable.

Quote from the Book
"What shocks me the most, in retrospect, is that within the next few days I would assimilate the mermaids handily. One moment they were impossible, the next they were everyday, in my view of the world. Like moon landings or cell phones. They went from of course not to of course. By the second day I was not only not disbelieving in mermaids but thinking of them as a given. A quirky facet of natural history. Oh the mermaids, I would register casually when they were mentioned.
 But before the second day, there was the first."