July 30, 2014

inspiration: twenty two


The purpose of life, after all, is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.

~ Eleanor Roosevelt 


July 29, 2014

reading recap: just a few months behind

Overall: **

Summary: Fifteen year old Thea Atwell is suddenly sent away to an all-girls boarding school and equestrian camp following a mysterious family tragedy. Until then, her sheltered childhood on her family's citrus farm in rural Florida, homeschooled alongside her fragile twin brother, and riding her beloved pony was the only life she knew. Thea's new surroundings, filled with friends and foes, reveal a world of temptation, passion, jealousy, and maturity, that she may have already been too-familiar with. 

What I loved: At a glance, this book seemed to have all of the ingredients for a novel I would love again and again- so I purchased the hardcover right off the new releases table as soon as I could. Set during the Great Depression, in the South, at an equestrian boarding school, with a headstrong teenage heroine? I was swooning before I cracked the cover. Thea's stubborn personality, adventurous spirit, desire to fit in, and love of horses reminded me of a teenager I knew pretty well (ahem), but just when I was starting to enjoy the similarities, the story took a surprising, and bit bizarre, turn for the worst.

Not So Much: Without giving too much away, as this book may be someone else's cup of tea (it had rave reviews during it's premier), Thea's misguided actions and a stomach-turning scandal (or two) made this book less and less desirable with every page. Darker, twisty-er, and certainly a little more graphic than I was expecting.

Overall: *****

Summary: The memoir of a woman who was born in 1930's China to an affluent family but later endured a cruel existence under the reign of her evil stepmother and distant father. The book opens with the author, her siblings, and stepmother sitting around a table awaiting the jaw-dropping reading of her late father's will. This story is as heartbreaking as it is thought-provoking, and it's hard to believe that it's true. 

What I Loved: I love memoirs, stories about overcoming adversity, and learning about different cultures and this book satisfied all three. I found every page of this book absolutely fascinating as the author shared details of her devastating family life, the political and cultural atmosphere, and her journey into adulthood with sincerity and poise. 

Not So Much: Non-fiction and historic novels are typically heavy on facts, context, and timelines (obviously) so there is a lot of time spent setting the scene and building up to major milestones. Also,  this is a terribly sad story. As someone who never recovered from reading "A Child Called It" as an early teenager, it was difficult for me to read about some of her darkest memories and not get emotional. There were many times that I thought "how could someone do that to a child" and "how could this get any worse for her" just before it did, but the author felt she had a story worth telling, so I believed it was worth reading, and boy, was it ever. 

Overall: *****

Summary: A little boy and an elephant are born on the same farm, on the same day, in rural 1890's Germany. The boy, the son of a well-respected elephant trainer for a local circus, and the elephant, Modoc, were inseperable until every power on earth- from evil circus owners to shipwrecks, captors to continents- tried to keep them apart.  

What I Loved: A true story about an elephant and her human friend that spanned "7 decades" and thousands of miles? I was hooked before I even got home. Written simply and offering jaw-dropping details at every turn, this book is great for anyone who loves animals, adventure novels, and surprises.

Not So Much: The author is not a professional writer (in fact, he runs a ranch in hollywood for animals that have appeared in movies) so his wording feels a little overly simplistic. This won't be the most suspenseful and provocative book you've ever read, but it's a great story (perhaps "the greatest") about a remarkable elephant and her perseverance. 

Overall: ****

Summary: Father Greg (A Jesuit priest) took a job fresh out of school as a counselor in the gang capitol of America, Boyle Heights, California. His first few encounters with the victims of the gang violence that ravaged the neighborhoods around him lead to the founding of Homeboy Industries- a non-profit organization aimed at rehabilitating gang members and introducing them into the workforce- most, for the first time. 

What I Loved: Each chapter is written as a series of short stories about different people Father Greg encountered through Homeboy Industries. Having served thousands of gang members throughout Los Angeles, these short, simple stories about conversations or events that occurred are memorials to the individuals and relationships that prospered despite the odds. Also, you can buy Homeboy Industries bread and salsa (made in their bakery and cafe) in many California grocery stores- neat! 

Not So Much: The book's short-story format made it an easy, quick read but there were moments when I wished there was a bit more depth to the stories.  Also, being so far removed from gang culture and mentality it's sometimes hard to understand the members' perspectives and disappointing that despite the efforts of Homeboy Industries, not everyone has a happy ending...(yet). 

Overall: *****

Summary: A rural Colorado farming town is divided by racism and a new road that leads to an internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II. When tragedy strikes, tension flares between town residents and fingers point blame to the "intruders".  One family, the Stroud's, have lost all of their farmhands to the war so they have no choice but to enlist the help of some of the Campers, a decision that is not taken lightly by anyone in town. Reminiscent of To Kill A Mockingbird, the book's heroine is stubborn and fiercely loyal Rennie Stroud who barely flinches when she is thrown into a world few thirteen year olds could imagine. 

What I Loved: By now it's no secret how much I love Sandra Dallas' novels. Tallgrass had been on my list for the longest time but I couldn't get my hands on a copy at the library so I finally just bought it- which is great because now I can easily pass it on to everyone I know to borrow. The characters are so unique and complex, this book could easily become a play or movie- but for now, it's simply a really good book that I am glad to have finally read. 

Not So Much: I read this book in two days and wished it had lasted two more. While not every story pulls at my heartstrings the same way, I am yet to read a Sandra Dallas book I don't love. 
(Thank you, to my sweet friend, Kristin!) 
What are you reading right now? Any new summer favorites? 

July 21, 2014

life lately

Over Fourth of July weekend our friends from New Orleans and Chicago, whom we met while living in Denver, came to visit. We loved having a full house and getting to show them around town. We also had a little house warming/bbq party on the 4th followed by watching fireworks from the best vantage point in town. This summer has already been a bit of a whirlwind, we felt so lucky to have a few days with some of our favorite people, playing and relaxing right in our own beautiful backyard.