The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, by C.S. Lewis

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One of my goals this year is to go back and re-read books. When I was younger, I used to re-read books all the time. Certain characters became as beloved and well known to me as my closest friends were. But as an adult, I have found that I hardly ever go back and re-read books. I think a big part of that is because I have easy access to a library, and I don’t have to wait for a ride anytime I want a new book. So I’m going back through my Goodreads “Read” list and working my way through it backwards.

Although I was familiar with the BBC version of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, I didn’t sit down and read this series until I was an adult. It was at that time that I discovered there was some controversy about the reading order of this series. Although The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was published first, it is actually often considered the second book in the Chronicles of Narnia series. Prince Caspian is the first book in the series, chronologically (that is, the events in Prince Caspian take place before the events of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe). I am not going to sit here and tell you that you MUST read one of these books before the other. You are in charge of what you read, so you can make the decision. Instead, I’m going to gently suggest that if the only story of the series  you are familiar with is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, then I think you should start with that book. It will give you the best idea of Narnia and Lewis’ style of writing. And you’re starting with the familiar. Then you can treat Prince Caspian as a prequel.

This series is very allegorical to Christian ideologies, and as the series progresses, the allegory becomes more and more obvious. In these first books, though, the allegory is very subtle, which I prefer. You can read it as a straight children’s story and enjoy it deeply for that alone. Or, if you want, you can read more into it and find symbolism that will enhance your reading experience.

I listened to the story this time on audio, performed by Michael York, and I think York does a brilliant job of catching the warmth and whimsy of the story, while adding just a touch of gravitas. The story is whimsical, while at the same time addressing heavier topics, such as lying, stealing, and death. I think it can be hard for an author to capture a balance between the whimsical and the heavy, but Lewis does so brilliantly.

Language: None
Sex: None
Violence: Very, very little

You may also likeThe Wonderful Wizard of Oz, by Frank L. Baum; The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett; The Ocean at the End of the Lane, by Neil Gaiman (although, fair warning, this is not a children’s book)

The Heist, by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

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Think Ocean’s Eleven crossed with White Collar and that’s what this book is. I happened to love both Ocean’s Eleven and White Collar, so this book was right up my alley. It’s funny, engaging, smart (although not confusingly so). And the woman protagonist is also funny, engaging, and smart, and believable as an FBI agent.

This book is not deep or really even intellectually stimulating. But it’s not exactly cotton candy. I’d say it’s like a good Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. It’s sweet and caloric, but it has hidden gems of cookie dough sprinkled throughout. The main characters are funny without being annoying, and they don’t jump into bed together (although I’m sure it’s coming, and when it does, it’s not going to bother me). The writing is polished and tight, and I think it’s a great Saturday night book.

Language: Hardly any
Sex: Not really any (but definite allusions and euphemisms)
Violence: Very mild

You might also likeThe Thousand Dollar Tan Line, by Rob Thomas; Once a Thief, by Kay Hooper; A is for Alibi, by Sue Grafton

A Crown of Swords, by Robert Jordan

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I have a love/hate relationship with The Wheel of Time series. I first read the first few books when I was a young teenager, and I think that’s probably the age that these books are targeting. I love the epic fantasy genre, and The Wheel of Time series has been the standard of that genre for a long time. So for that alone, I think it’s worth reading if you are into epic fantasy. But there are things I really hate about the series, and after this book in particular, I’m ready to put the series down for awhile, maybe forever.

I think Jordan is great with action sequences, but I think he’s terrible with the more mundane parts of the story. It also really bugs me how insecure all the main characters are. And I don’t think he writes women well, or the man/woman relationship. A Crown of Swords, especially, has the women acting shrewish, stubborn, argumentative, and mostly, as objects for the men.

I actually started this book several months ago, after I had binged the three preceding books in the series. But I had to put it down because it became too tedious for me to slog through. A Crown of Swords is the most political book of the series so far. And, like I said earlier, Jordan isn’t that great when it comes to the mundane part of the stories. I feel like he’s a little too wordy in this book, and he’s in the characters’ heads too much. Like most of the books in the series so far, the beginning is slow and kind of hard to slog through, and by the end of the book, as a woman, I was pretty offended by the portrayal of all the female characters throughout.

I want to finish the series, but only because Brandon Sanderson is the co-author of the last three books in the series, and I think Brandon Sanderson is the best epic fantasy author on the market right now. But I don’t know if I’m going to make it that far.

Language: None
Sex: None (although it is alluded to, perhaps more in this book than in previous books)
Violence: Mild

You may also likeThe Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson; Pawn of Prophecy, by David Eddings; The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

What Alice Forgot, by Liane Moriarty

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Moriarty’s books are always darker than expected. I say it that way, because, as you’re reading her books, they don’t feel dark. They’re funny and witty and cutting. The women in the books are doing things that you (hope) you would never do, but they’re relateable because you can see into their minds and realize they’re thinking the same snarky comments that you would be thinking. They’re laughing about devastating situations and gossiping about traumatizing events. But this book doesn’t have the same lightness that the others do. It’s much sadder in tone. That’s not a bad thing, just not exactly what I was expecting from her.

I also love unconventional narrations, which this book uses. I love seeing different scenes from different perceptions, and I love when the author trusts me enough as a reader to make connections without hitting me over the head with them.

I am at the point in my life that Alice regresses to — young(-ish), married to a wonderful man, new homeowners of a house that needs some work. And I find myself relating so well to young Alice and her loving husband. As I think about the next decade of my life, this book is helping me remember not to take these things for granted. And to use face cream and not furrow my brow so much. Gotta watch out for those wrinkles.

To be honest with you, I might not have read this book if I had realized that one of the themes was infertility. As a woman who is facing the prospect of IVF, I usually shy away from books/movies/mothers/children/pregnant woman/etc (The Rosie Effect left me irrationally angry for days) — anything that has to do with getting or being pregnant or motherhood. But, in Moriarty’s unique way, this book handled that theme beautifully and realistically. I found myself relating to the woman dealing with this and thinking, “It’s okay to feel this way and to pretend like everything is fine and have days that are great but then have the loss come barreling back at you out of nowhere. That’s normal.” Or at least normal enough that a fictional character shares these same feelings with me. I’m glad I didn’t know beforehand that this was part of the book and that I read it anyway. It helped give me some validation and perspective.

In the end, I feel somewhat conflicted about this book. Conflicted in a good way, though, conflicted in the way good fiction is supposed to make you feel. I don’t love all the characters, and at times, I found I wasn’t even really rooting for Alice. Her flaws seemed too real to me. I thought I wasn’t going to like the ending, but the more I think about it, the more I’m coming around to it. This book was a good mirror of life, which is probably why I feel conflicted about it and about Alice. I sometimes feel conflicted about my life, too. And as I found myself relating to Alice, I realize that sometimes I’m conflicted with my relationship with myself, too. This book makes you examine those feelings, look at them in context and out of context, and then (hopefully) stop being so hard on yourself and try to be a little better in the coming moments.

Language: Mild
Sex: None
Violence: None

You may also likeLandline, by Rainbow Rowell; Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, by Maria Semple; The Devil Wears Prada, by Lauren Weisberger

Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill, by Gretchen Rubin

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This delightful book does not read like a traditional biography. Rubin is a woman after my own heart, presenting Winston Churchill as if he is on trial, examining every facet of his life — good and bad. Recognizing that biographies are inherently biased, she leans into that bias and presents both the favorable and the unfavorable as if this were a courtroom drama. She then allows the reader to reach her own conclusions about Churchill’s character.

Each chapter focuses on a different, often controversial, characteristic of Churchill. Rubin then makes a case  for whether that characteristic was true or not. For example, was Churchill an alcoholic or wasn’t he? Rubin presents facts that go in both directions and allows the reader to come to her own conclusion.

I can see how this style wouldn’t be liked by some, but Rubin shows Churchill in all his complex glory, strengths and weaknesses alike.

Language: None
Sex: None (although one chapter discusses academically Churchill’s sex life)
Violence: None

You may also like: The Forgotten Founding Father, by Joshua Kendall; Angels and Ages, by Adam Gopnik; 84, Charing Cross Road, by Helene Hanff

Shift, by Hugh Howey

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Shift Omnibus, by Hugh Howey, is the second installment of the Silo series. Originally published online, Howey introduced the story in short story segments. When Howey decided to release the story in print form, the short stories were collected and published in three segments, starting with the Wool Omnibus.

The Shift Omnibus tells the story of the beginning of the silos. I would recommend reading this book shortly after reading the first book to help with continuity. Sometimes the time frame is confusing, especially in regard to how it fits in with the first book.

That being said, some of the confusion is deliberate. Howey does a great job of keeping you invested as a reader, despite not really knowing what’s going on. It’s not until you’re about halfway through this book that you get an explanation, and even then, you’re left wondering if what you’ve been told is really the truth. Howey doesn’t spoon feed you as the reader and assumes that you can make deductions and guesses as you go along. He lets you come up with your own theories based on the limited evidence he gives you before divulging the entire plot. It keeps you on your toes as a reader.

Despite its bulk, it’s a pretty quick read, and I think it’s one of the better dystopian post-apocalyptic books. The main characters aren’t all children or teenagers, and they act age appropriate.

There are definite political overtones, as the silos represent our world in miniature. It’s kind of a grim view of human nature. The book highlights how finite our resources are, how lack of communication can be deadly, and how power and knowledge limited to only a few can have unexpected consequences.

Language: Medium (the f-word is sprinkled in here and there but nothing gratuitous)
Sex:
None (although it is alluded to)
Violence:
 Medium (people are dying, folks, this is a post-apocalyptic world)

You may also like: Ready Player One, by Ernest Cline; The Road, by Cormac McCarthy; Next, by Michael Crichton