Friday, October 30, 2015

Ready Player One

Author: Ernest Cline

One-sentence summary: In a bleak future America, a teenage gamer finds identity and more in a simulated reality game in his search for an elusive easter egg left by the game’s late programmer.

B.A.D. Girls Book Rating: 7

Our favorite thing about it: The plethora of 80’s references!

Our least favorite thing about it: It can lack interest for those not familiar with the gaming world and may be hard to get into at first.

Main Topics of Discussion: Reality, Gaming, Relationships, Escapism, the 80’s

Our favorite quote: “We exist as nothing but raw personality in here.”

Notes: Most of us really enjoyed this easy novel about a massive “treasure hunt” in a world-wide simulated reality game set in the future. The future reality that the author paints does not seem far-fetched to us, nor do some of the simulated school scenarios, etc. Those were interesting ideas to read and think about.

Although the book is about gaming and the majority of the story takes place in the simulated reality, for most of us, this was interesting and fun. A couple of us were not as enchanted with this aspect of the novel, which made a big difference in their reading experience. Even for those of us who do not play video games ourselves, either our husbands or kids to or both, making this world both familiar and at least a little interesting to us. The concept of this book and this aspect of it made it different than anything we’ve ever read.

The second layer of meaning behind the fairly straight forward plot was fascinating…the issue of reality and escaping reality. We discussed how the game created a new “reality” and allowed everyone to create an anonymous persona of their own choosing. Again, not far-fetched at all, but with obvious and interesting relational repercussions, which were discussed in the book. Can you really get to know someone online that you’ve never seen? How much do looks convey about a personality? How much do they get in the way? These were surprisingly interesting topics to discuss.

The riddle and hunt itself were also entertaining, and the 80’s references that made up the clues and challenges were really fun to read about and experience with the main character. Overall, this was a fun and different read.

Memorable Meeting Moments: It took Lindsay less than 1 minute to make a parallel between kids and dogs…again. We drank some nice bottles of wine together and celebrated Lindsay’s birthday with books and cards.

What We Ate: Italian cheese tray with 4 cheeses, olives, grapes, almonds, and fig jam. Then for dinner we had a salad and baked gnocchi with fresh mozzarella. For dessert we had salted caramel butter bars with ice cream.

(I only took one photo the whole night...and it's of the cheese tray.)

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Friday, September 25, 2015

For The Love

Author: Jen Hatmaker

One-sentence summary: Jen takes the reader through several relevant topics of womens’ lives today and speaks truth about them in a hilarious and poignant way.

B.A.D. Girls Book Rating: 9

Our favorite thing about it: The honesty and the humor.

Our least favorite thing about it: That there wasn’t more.

Main Topics of Discussion: Church, Parenting, Faith, Balance, Love, Calling

Our favorite quote: “If it isn’t also true for a poor, single Christian mom in Haiti, it isn’t true.”

Notes: It’s no surprise that we loved this book because we all love Jen’s blog and some of her other books that we’ve read. This book just really spoke to us…where we are as women and moms right now. The whole book felt very honest to us, which we have come to really appreciate. Although we said we would have loved to read more – and that was the only real negative for us – we also acknowledge that the book’s message was strengthened by the brevity.

Our favorite chapter – by a landslide – was “Worst Beam Ever.” Again, it just spoke to us where we are with our busy lives and people pulling at us from all sides. Jen’s metaphor of a balance beam resonated and was presented in such a way that we felt something we had been thinking was finally articulated in the best way. It also gave us a clear picture of how to better decide what goes on our beam and what doesn’t. Without guilt.

Jen’s more serious thoughts (and there were many) were punctuated by hilarious random thoughts on life, parenthood, and womanhood. The laughs interspersed with the raw truth was just the right recipe for a fun and easy, but incredibly powerful read.

Memorable Meeting Moments: We celebrated Dara’s birthday

What We Ate: We ate at Chuy’s and then went to Lindsay’s house for dessert and discussion.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

Author: Maria Semple

One-sentence summary: A creative and reclusive mom and wife goes missing after struggling for years to be herself, and her husband and daughter piece together the recent and distant past to find her.

B.A.D. Girls Book Rating: 7

Our favorite thing about it: The humor.

Our least favorite thing about it: The format was a little hard to follow for all of us.

Main Topics of Discussion: Creativity, Parenthood, Marriage, School, Art, Seattle

Our favorite quote:The past twenty years I’ve been in training for overwintering at the South Pole! I knew I was up to something.

Notes: We all enjoyed this book. It was a good story with a lot of humor and commentary on Seattle, Canadians, private schools and various other things that had us literally laughing out loud. The humor alone is a reason to read this book. We thoroughly enjoyed that aspect of it.

The characters were just interesting enough and unpredictable, although we felt that some acted unrealistically. (Like Audrey’s complete 180 degree turn regarding Bernadette.)

Our biggest complaint, which we mentioned several times in the course of our discussion, was the format. While we acknowledge that it gave the book a bit of novelty and sets it apart from the regular novel format, we had a hard time following the story because of it. Having to read who was writing to who, and figure out which character was speaking and in what setting was sometimes confusing to us and interrupted the flow. In addition, for a while, we had a hard time keeping the characters straight…and there aren’t that many. We attributed that to the letter format as well.

Overall, we would label this a witty and enjoyable book.

Memorable Meeting Moments: All the food, the sunflowers that Dara cut from the field and put in mason jars, meeting on a Friday night

What We Ate: Chicken enchiladas with roasted tomatillo chile salsa, black bean corn salsa, chips, sangria, and caramel toffee bars for dessert.

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Friday, July 31, 2015

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry

Author: Gabrielle Zevin

One-sentence summary: A lonely and cantankerous book store owner on a small island has his world turned upside down by two new ladies in his life.

B.A.D. Girls Book Rating: 7

Our favorite thing about it: It was an easy, fast and enjoyable story. And the book mentions!

Our least favorite thing about it: It was almost too fast…we were looking for a little more depth.

Main Topics of Discussion: Grief, Bookstores, Adoption, Honesty, Illness, Death

Our favorite quote: “The words you can’t find, you borrow. We read to know we’re not alone. We read because we are alone. We read and we are not alone.”

Notes: Overall we enjoyed this story about AJ’s life. Lots of amazing things happened in his life…good and bad. We loved how the bookstore was the center, almost the anchor, of his life and those in his life. We loved the little letters to Maya at the beginning of each chapter about book recommendations. AJ himself is a dry, but witty character and becomes loveable. Beyond that, we didn’t care that much about any of the characters, although there was so much potential for that. We felt that some of the major life events in the book are just “mentioned” in a chapter and that’s it. Some of us were wanting a little more depth in those areas. The book sort of read like a survey of AJ’s life and glossed over the events and characters a little too quickly. This might be one of those novels we wished was actually longer. Still, we enjoyed it for what it was and were glad that it was not a laborious, but shallow read.

Memorable Meeting Moments: Well, we were at the lake house, so there were a lot of memorable moments.

What We Ate: All our usual lake house stuff and Love Shack burgers in Fort Worth on the way home. 

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Baker's Daughter

Author: Sarah McCoy

One-sentence summary: The stories of two women in very different times and places intersect as they struggle with their histories, present troubles, and make crucial decisions about their futures.

B.A.D. Girls Book Rating: 8

Our favorite thing about it: We loved the time period and new insights into Nazi Germany.

Our least favorite thing about it: Some of it may have been slightly rushed and the pacing a bit off in places (but we were willing to overlook that because we loved the book).

Main Topics of Discussion: Government, Sacrifice, Family, Consequences, Nazi Germany, US border control

Our favorite quote:We knew things were not right, but we were afraid to change what we knew and even more afraid to find out what we did not.”

Notes: We usually love books set in the WWII time period and this was no exception. We also loved the blending of the story from that time with present day El Paso, TX with all its border issues. In fact, that may have been our favorite thing about the book other than the fact that it was just a great story…the struggle between country and conscience, morality and obedience, and all the grey areas in between was so well done. We loved the way this book made us think.

We gained yet another perspective on German nationals during the Nazi regime as well as the Lebensborn Program, which was very interesting to us. And the descriptions of the bakery and its goods was absolutely mouth-watering.

Overall, we really loved how the story wove throughout both time periods and connected the characters as well as brought up questions (often unanswerable) about right and wrong and what people choose to do when they are faced with moral dilemmas. We definitely recommend this book. (But have some baked goods nearby when you read it because it made us hungry!)

Memorable Meeting Moments: Christina made us homemade German pretzels and an amazing cheesecake that is a family recipe from her grandmother…from Germany! And we made plans for our next and favorite meeting of the year…the lake house!

What We Ate: German Cucumber Salad, Beef Rouladen, Spiced Red Cabbage, and German Cheesecake (Kasekuchen)

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Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Girl on the Train

Author: Paula Hawkins

One-sentence summary: An emotionally unstable woman inserts herself into the lives of people she sees from the train into London each day.

B.A.D. Girls Book Rating: 7

Our favorite thing about it: The story moved along nicely and kept us interested.

Our least favorite thing about it: We found the whole premise a little creepy and not that original.

Main Topics of Discussion: Divorce, Job-hunting, alcoholism/addiction, therapy, relationships, roommates

Our favorite quote: I have never understood how people can blithely disregard the damage they do by following their hearts.”

Notes: Our initial reaction to this story was that the main character, Rachel, was really creepy. She was abnormally fascinated with people she had watched, made up names for, and had never met. She had an abnormal attachment to them and to top it off, they lived down the street from where she used to live with her ex-husband, who now lives there with his new wife and baby daughter. Creepy, right? And poor Rachel was burdened by an alcoholic addiction that she never seemed able to get control of or to ask for help with. We simultaneously really felt for her and understood her feelings and yet could not completely comprehend all of her thoughts and actions.

Some of us felt that the ending was rushed a bit and that an encounter with one of the characters (Scott) was a little weird and out of character for him. It seemed to create a violent event that was out of left field and didn’t even relate to the eventual outcome of the story. It wasn’t even a big plot twist.

We actually compared this novel a little bit to Gone Girl, which may be unfair. We didn’t like the ending (or non-ending, as the case may be) of Gone Girl at all. We thought the books were similar because of the thriller-type story that has a psychological vein running through it as well as a disturbed main character. But Gone Girl kept us on our toes and maneuvered through some very shocking plot twists a lot better than this novel. Again, it may be unfair to compare, but those were just our thoughts. In other words, we felt that this basic story had been told before and in a much better way.

One thing that was interesting and made the outcome harder to figure out was the unreliability of our main character and narrator, Rachel. She never could figure out the true motives and personality of anyone. Scott, her ex-husband, the new wife, the therapist…we saw them all through her eyes and therefore, we didn’t have a clue what or who any of them were either. At its best, it is a clever narrative technique and at its worst, it was incredibly annoying to not ever get any reliable information!

Overall, we enjoyed this story and ended up giving it a fairly high rating because of how easy and fun it was to read.

Memorable Meeting Moments: This was Stephanie’s meeting and we had another non-traditional gathering. We met at Chiloso for dinner and dessert and then went to the movie together to see Pitch Perfect 2.

What We Ate: Yummy Tex-Mex at Chiloso and Stephanie’s sopapilla cheesecake!

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Boys in the Boat

Author: Daniel James Brown

One-sentence summary: A western American men’s rowing team battles great odds during the American Great Depression to compete in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin with Hitler at the helm of Germany about to begin WWII.

B.A.D. Girls Book Rating: 7

Our favorite thing about it: The insights into individual lives during the Great Depression as well as the details about the great deception of the Nazis during the 1936 Olympics were both fascinating.

Our least favorite thing about it: Too many details about rowing.

Main Topics of Discussion: Teams, work ethic, hope, sport of rowing, Germany, friendships, family relationships and responsibilities

Our favorite quote:Like so much in life, crew was partly about confidence, partly about knowing your own heart.”

Notes: Overall we really liked this book and the remarkable story it told of the rowing team. We enjoyed learning about rowing as well as more intimate details as to the day to day lives of people during the Great Depression. We were also intrigued to learn about all of the propaganda and deception surrounding the Berlin Olympics and how that affected the world’s perception of Germany and Nazis. Really fascinating. The incredible work ethic and team spirit of the boys (men) on the rowing team and the extreme dedication by everyone involved even down to the intricate building of the boat was an inspiring and uplifting story. Joe’s story, in particular, was hopeful and about overcoming immense hardship and emotional trials.

Our critiques are minor. We felt that there was TOO much information about rowing and after a while it got repetitive. How the strokes were performed (correctly or incorrectly) and the logistics of each practice and race made the book drag a little in the midst of an otherwise very interesting story. It’s not that we didn’t want to learn anything about rowing…but we felt that some of the repetitions of the information could have been edited out. Because of this, we felt that it also made the book a tad too long. Long books are fine as long as everything in them is crucial…which we did not feel was the case with this book. Still, it was definitely worth our time and very enlightening.

Memorable Meeting Moments: This was Amberly’s meeting and she took us to a wonderful little Thai restaurant where we sampled so many delicious dishes. We stayed for over three hours at our table and even had our dessert there. Such a fun evening!

What We Ate: Lots of yummy Thai appetizers and dishes plus Amberly’s chocolate cake and lemon bars.

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