Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Book Review: The Light Between Oceans

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

Summary (Courtesy of Goodreads): After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby. Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them. 

I've just got to say upfront that I listened to the audio version of this book, and I can't say I recommend that. I mean, yes, it was nice to hear everything pronounced in an Australian accent, but the reader's voice was not my favorite. He was so soft spoken that I kept having to turn my volume way up to try and catch what he was saying, and even then I feel like I missed out on a lot of the finer details (seriously, it was like he was mumbling). Also, I'm just not sure about the choice to use a male narrator here. I understand that Tom Sherbourne is probably the most common point of view in the story, but the language and descriptions (especially about babies) just felt so feminine to me that I think a female reader would have felt more natural. But whatever. It was fine.

Besides the fact that I didn't care for the audio production, and the fact that it took me FOREVER to finish this book (I think I started it back in February, which is seriously pathetic), I actually loved this book quite a bit. It was beautifully written, and the characters were so real and believable. Which was the tragic part. Especially Isabel. I felt like her flaws were so real, so understandable, and yet so unforgivable. The conundrum these people get into! It's terrible and heart-wrenching. And even though I knew the whole time that they should have notified the authorities and turned the baby in, and even when I sympathized with Tom for doing the "right" thing in the end, my heart just broke for Isabel. Being a mother myself, I felt her desire and longing and pain, and it was excruciating. And poor Tom just loved her and just wanted her to be happy, but couldn't live with a guilty conscience.

This was one of those books that really made me think, "What would I do if I were in their place?" I would like to think I would have enough sense not to keep a baby that wasn't mine, but then again, I've never had a miscarriage (knock on wood, real hard please). I can only imagine how hard it would be to lose a baby, and then have one turn up unexpectedly that for all the world looked like an unwanted orphan. I can really understand how Isabel thought it was a sign from God. But poor Hannah (the real mother)! I can't imagine her pain. What a terrible mess. There were so many times when I wondered, "What is the right thing to do here? Who really is to blame?" When I described the scenario to my husband, it was as clear as black and white who was wrong and who was to blame, but I tried explaining that when you get involved with the emotions of the characters (and in my present pregnant condition, I can't help sympathizing with the emotions of everyone in this book, especially the mothers), it's really not so clear (my dear, sweet, extremely logical husband has never been good about sympathizing with hormonally-charged emotions). This book is just about honest good people who make misguided decisions that lead to terrible messy situations where a lot of people end up hurt. And you just wonder how good people can make such a mess of things.

Anyway, I hope I'm not giving too much of the plot away for those of you who are interested. I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone looking for a well-written, heart-wrenching little story. I can't say I think this one will go down as a classic exactly, but I found it a very thought-provoking and worthwhile read. Right now I'm giving it four stars (though I might change it to five, we'll see how long it sticks with me).

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Getting My Pleasure Reading Groove Back

Pleasure reading has always been my thing. And I mean, since like first grade I've ALWAYS had a book I was deep in the middle of, one I carried around with me and sneakily read under my desk when classes got boring (although after being a teacher myself, I realize I was probably fooling no one. I've even been annoyed by a few students who I knew were distracted by books under their desks, but then I would remind myself that, as an English teacher, that's exactly the life skill I was trying to encourage, and if my lesson that day wasn't interesting to them, well, that was my fault.) (Also, never tell this to my boss, but I used to keep a book hidden in my desk drawer when I worked in university administration., and would read when things were slow, only to slam my desk drawer closed whenever anyone walked by my work space).

Anyway, I've just always been the kind of person to have a book going, to be plowing through my to-read list, and to actually pace myself so I didn't spend ALL my time reading.

But recently? I don't know if this pregnancy is messing with my brain, or if I'm just losing it, or what, because pleasure reading has been way, way down on my to-do list. In fact, on our recent family vacation, I didn't take a single book with me. I'm not sure I even thought about it when I was packing. I had a few audio books on my phone, but considering that my phone was the go-to toddler-distraction-device on all our plane flights and car rides, I didn't actually get a chance to listen to anything. I can't tell you how many times I thought, "I wish I had a book with me." It was such a strange, out-of-character move on my part, that honestly I'm completely flabbergasted by it. How did I not pack even one book? What was I thinking?

But the truth is, I've just been struggling to fit pleasure reading into my life for a few months now. And this is not acceptable. This is not who I am. So I've been consciously working on a few strategies to get me going again, and I thought I'd share them here, just to remind myself in the future in case I ever go through this weird phase again.

1. Have lots of books on hand.  When I got home from that family vacation, I immediately went online and put about ten books from my to-read list on hold at my library. I've got about five now sitting on my bedside table, reminding me they need to be read.

2. Give yourself a deadline. I've found that I tend to read library books with more alacrity than the books I actually own, because I know I have to return them. That forced deadline works wonders on my motivation to start a book (whether I finish depends on the book).

3. Have different media options going at once. By this, I mean I need to have audio books, e-books, and good old paper books available to me at all times. In the first two years of motherhood, I totally converted to audio books, and tried to get my hands on the audio version of every book I wanted to read. It was just so much more convenient for multi-tasking with a baby. But recently, I've found that paper books are a little more convenient for this stage of my life (or really, my toddler's stage of life). And e-books are always handy for out and about (it's easier to slip my e-reader into my purse for the doctor's office waiting room than some massive hardback). Anyway, it's just good to have options, for whatever situation is at hand.

4. Read what you like. So, I've got a couple of books going right now that are "should read" books about pregnancy and parenting. Now, I'm a total advocate for reading books to stretch your mind, learn new things, and enrich your life experience. And these pregnancy books are very good and interesting and things I want to read. But in my current situation, where I'm struggling to find motivation to read on a daily basis, the dryer tone of these books isn't helping much. I found myself thinking the other day, "I just wish I had a really good YA fantasy to lose myself in right now." Ask and ye shall receive. I got an email the next day saying my hold for Dreams of Gods and Monsters was available, and I kind of dropped everything to indulge in it for a few days. When you're struggling with pleasure reading, read what is absolutely most pleasurable to you.

5. Make reading an established part of your routine. This is the one that's been the biggest culprit for me, because I feel like my routine has been all disrupted lately (i.e. sleeping so much more than I used to, it really takes a bite out of my reading time). I finally decided to let myself read a chapter or two before bed each night. This used to be a huge no-no for me, because of the ever-present danger of getting sucked into a book and then not putting it down until the wee hours of the morning. But it's a risk I'm taking now because most days, I don't find any time to read until I'm climbing into bed.

6. Make it a priority. This last piece of advice isn't as concrete as the others, but it's still important. I think pleasure reading has been falling off the grid for me because other things are feeling more important. Or generally because I just feel exhausted all the time (yay for being pregnant!). But when I stop and think objectively, I really want pleasure reading to be a part of my life. That's not just the kind of person I am, it's also the kind of person I want to be, even if I have to work a little harder at it. I just have to view reading time as important and worth the effort. Because it is.

Do you ever have reading slumps? What helps you get over them?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Grammar Nazi

Other areas of my life have exploded with busyness recently. It's to the point that I can't even take naps anymore (and trust me, I protect my nap times), so blogging is taking a backseat again (like it has this entire year). But anyway, I saw this music video posted on Facebook today, and couldn't help but share. It's been making the rounds, so you've probably seen it by now, but the old English teacher in me found it vastly amusing.

Somehow, I don't think the song would make much sense without the video. I can't say I'm a huge Weird Al fan, but he just nails it sometimes with his parodies. He's quite clever, really. Hats off to you, Mr. Yankovich, for providing English teachers the world over a chance to play another YouTube video in class.

Anyway, despite the fact that I am the English teacher / literature master's student / bookish person in our relationship, I will freely admit that between the two of us, my husband is by far the bigger grammar Nazi. He's a total stickler for Oxford commas and split infinitives and other rules that I consider unjustly imposed on our English language by the Latin fanatics of centuries past (because of him, I now notice all the times people misuse the subjunctive, and it's often). Maybe it's the want-to-be creative writer in me, but I'm much more kindly disposed to experimentation and focusing on communication and expression rather than mechanics and conventions.

That being said, you should know the rules before you break them. I strive to at least show I'm intelligent and aware of grammar rules (even if I don't always follow them).

What side do you fall on?

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Books I Read in June

At some point in this pregnancy, I expect to get some sort of groove going. Despite my best efforts to eat well and exercise and get (plenty) of sleep, I just feel thwarted. First there was the thyroid issues in my first trimester that made everything just so much more terrible, but gratefully my hormones have settled down and we're mostly past all those problems. Then there was that little hiccup of being anemic (which might explain why the unusual exhaustion is dragging on into the third trimester), but hopefully the recent addition of iron supplements will fix that soon. And I'm just coming to terms with the fact that this little baby doesn't like sugar, and as tragic as that fact is it's probably best for both of us. So now that I'm done with my family reunioning and travels for the summer (thus the blog absence for the past few weeks) and I'm back in control of my diet and sleep schedule, I have real hopes that the rest of this summer will start shaping up in terms of not feeling like a zombie all the time.

Here's to a positive outlook!

Anyway, somewhere in the past month (and by that, I mean sometime in June, even though June ended nine days ago) I finished three books. As pathetic as that might sound for a book blogger, this is a record for me this year (not counting the books I read for school). It's been a rough one on the pleasure reading front, but I'm feeling my old itch again to start scratching these titles off my to-read list, so hopefully the steam only builds from here.

Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson

Yay! I actually finished this behemoth. You guys, as much as I love me my Brandon Sanderson, this Stormlight Archive series is not for the faint of heart. You must be a dedicated, hardcore, nerdy fantasy fan. You have been warned.

That being said, wow is Sanderson incredible at crafting a story. It was when I found myself comparing the themes in this book to Crime and Punishment that I really appreciated the complexity Sanderson is creating here. This is straight up great fantasy.

Cress by Marissa Meyer

I finished this one in two days, and it felt so good to allow myself the indulgence of such a fun, light, consuming read. So, I adore this Lunar Chronicle series, and while I don't think Cress is nearly my favorite (definitely suffered from some middle book syndrome dragging) I still enjoyed every minute of it. Such fun fairy-tale retellings.

All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood by Jennifer Senior

I added this to my to-read list after reading Amy's review of this book, and then was pleasantly surprised to find it on the "New Non-Fiction" display at my library the very next week. So I snagged it, and subsequently devoured it. I could probably write a super long post analyzing all the thoughts and feelings I had while reading this book, but for now I'll just say that I highly recommend this book to anyone who is or might become a parent. I found it fascinating. It's not a typical parenting book, as in there is no real advice (do x, y, and z and you'll have happy, healthy, successful children), but it does provide a broad historical background on how parenting as a cultural concept has evolved over the past century or so, and I found that perspective vastly illuminating. This one gave me and my husband a lot to discuss, and I love books like that. Also, I cried all the way through her last chapter about the "joy" side of this parenting business (but that just might be the pregnancy hormones). Good stuff.