Tuesday, January 3, 2017

2017 reading challenge

I haven't written my reviews for the books I read in December yet, but this is more important anyway. I came up with my own reading challenge for 2017, with 35 categories. Because 50 books was fun and all, but it kiiind of gave me a weird eye twitch towards the end.

...Tom helped too. But most of these categories were from my little ol' mind. Tom'll probably be baffled that I didn't use more of his ideas, but I guess he'll have to make his own list if he wants a memoir about a retired clown or a scratch n sniff.

So here it is! Free for the taking!

Aaaaaaaand if you're really wanting to push yourself, here is the 50 book challenge I worked on throughout 2016. These were not my own categories, it was a list I got from my mother-in-law. Have fun!

Friday, December 30, 2016

Alllllllmost done!

Tomorrow is the last day of 2016! I completed my book challenge and threw in a few extra books for fun, even. So I need to wrap up my book reviews and move along to something new for 2017. Tap dancing? Trigonometry? Tent making. I've not decided yet, but I'm getting a real "t" vibe. Actually what I'll probably do is go back to binge-watching Psych, since I received the entire series for Christmas (who needs Netflix?!).

In any case, I present my November books, with December soon to follow.


Category: A banned book
Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury
Goodreads review: 1 star

This book bored me to tears. Well, not tears. But there was a considerable amount of napping. The writing style is SO vague. Can't he just say something outright—without trying to sound all show-offy and hipster? Nevermind. But—are all his books written like this? Because, if so, no thank you, Mr. Bradbury. Obviously parts of this book felt important, but I just couldn't keep my eyes open. And it's hilarious that THIS book is on banned lists. Come to find out—it's not hard to find a book that's been put on a banned list somewhere. There's always someone somewhere who is going to find fault with a book. But this one especially seemed funny to me, coming off the tails of The Cold Dish, which is FILLED with profanity and FULL of unsavory crime scene details. So apparently Fahrenheit 451, which was written in the 1950s, was banned for vulgar language and for a Bible being burned. As for vulgar language, there were maybe six swear words. Or in any case, not a lot. And I couldn't even find the part where the Bible was burned! I mean, it implies it—but it never actually has a scene where a Bible is burned. Unless that was one of the parts that I slept through (we shouldn't rule that out). This book must have really been scandalous back then, but 60 years later people can write all sorts of smut and it will be accepted juuuuust fine. I know there are tons of people that think this book is impressive, but the only purpose I found was to use it as a sleeping aid.

Category: A book with antonyms in the title
Little House in the Big Woods, Laura Ingalls Wilder
Goodreads review: 3 stars

One night Tom and I just started searching common antonyms on Goodreads: hot and cold, black and white, etc., etc., etc. I found probably a dozen or more books with antonyms that seemed like they might be good. In fact, I could start an entirely new book challenge just using all of the antonym books we browsed through. Then we searched little and big. And Little House popped up. And a ray of light shined through the heavens. I couldn't believe I hadn't thought of it sooner! Plus, I was needing a new book to read to the girls, so we started right away. I enjoyed the discussions that this book sparked with Clara and Maren—mainly, discussions about how different our lives are from Laura's. They had to work so hard for everything they had, whereas we only have to go to the store. However, some of the chapters—like the cheese making or the gun making and the meat smoking chapters—didn't hold their attention as well because they got long. But Clara especially enjoyed it, and she's already asking to read the next in the series.

Category: A book set in the future
For Darkness Shows the Stars, Diana Peterfreund
Goodreads review: 4 stars

This book is a quick, enjoyable little read. It caught my attention when I saw that it's a dystopian take on Jane Austen's Persuasion. Woo! It's been several years since I've read Persuasion, so the details of that plot are pretty fuzzy. This book centers around Elliot, a young girl who is devoted to her land and the people who work on it, and she gives up on her love with a boy named Kai, because she wants to make sure her land thrives. Anyway, there were a few things that bothered me about Darkness. The dystopian plot was really complex and I do believe there were some plot holes. Or at least there were some elements that didn't add up for me. Secondly, Kai was kind of a huge jerk! I mean, sure, she broke his heart and what not, but he's super bitter about it—and it's time to move on, Elliot! Anyway. And then the ending was over in a snap. Boop! We're done. I would have liked to see Kai be nice for a change, before wrapping it all up. Anyway, I enjoyed it nonetheless. I've mentioned before that YA books often bug me because they're filled with sexual, hormonal content—but this book is clean. I recommend it. This author also has a related dystopian based off The Scarlet Pimpernel, which I plan to look into.

Category: A memoir
All Who Go Do Not Return, Shulem Deen
Goodreads review: 4 stars

(This review contains big, fat spoilers) There are some books that really stick with you. This was one of those books. I'm not one to pick up a memoir. I've found that a lot of people who write memoirs generally write them because they have a depressing tale to tell, and I'm rarely in the mood for depressing. And while this book certainly has a heartbreaking ending, it's insanely intriguing. Shulem Deen grew up in a Hasidic Jewish society located somewhere in New York (I think), and he gives a very revealing glimpse into a lifestyle that is basically from another world. His marriage is arranged when he is just 17 or 18, and he only gets to meet his fiancee once before they're married. I can't even imagine how insane that would feel. He goes on to tell how he eventually starts questioning the faith he was raised in. He starts listening to the radio, then starts reading things on the internet, and eventually purchases a tv—all things that are not allowed in his society. By the time he's in his early 20s, he and his wife already have 5 children, because birth control is another item majorly frowned upon in his society. I was sad that he gave up on his faith entirely. The ending result is completely obvious to the reader, and he even admits that he was naive to not see it coming. And I just kept wondering: was he really happier? Sure, he was free of living in a society where he didn't believe any of it, but he lost his family. His children want nothing to do with him. I can't really say which might be worse for him, but I know which would be worse for me. And I must admit—I would loooove to hear his ex-wife's perspective of the whole thing. During the chapters when he's spending all this time with another friend to discuss his questions, he mentions how he would be gone all night, or out for hours and hours. And try as I might, I just couldn't help but think: I wonder if his wife wishes he'd come home and be with their family? I do recommend this book. It's fascinating but heart-wrenching.

Category: A book that takes place in your hometown
How I Got Cultured, Phyllis Barber
Goodreads review: no rating

I couldn't decide how to rate this. Probably somewhere between 1 and 2 stars. It's about a Mormon girl growing up in Las Vegas who ends up joining some Vegas dance team that was a big deal a few decades ago. This book didn't evoke much of any emotion in me. You know how it feels to sit next to an old person and listen to them ramble on about their lives? (There's nothing wrong with that scenario—lest I be mistaken for bashing on old people who ramble on about their lives.)  That's what this memoir felt like. Another memoir! Two in a row is some sort of record for me. If she had any sort of point to her ramblings, I didn't pick up on it. And at times, it was just downright weird. So why did I choose this particular book that is so obscure even my Orem library didn't have it and I had to order it off Amazon for $.01 plus $4.99 shipping? Because a friend recommended it. Plus, my other choices ranged from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (no thank you) to Leaving Las Vegas—and I certainly wasn't about to pick up a book with Nicolas Cage's face plastered on the front. The end.

Category: A play
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, John Tiffany, Jack Thorne, J.K. Rowling
Goodreads review: 3 stars 

I didn't even know this book was a play. I'd hardly paid any attention to it when it arrived in the bookstores this summer. But then when I was looking for a play (again, I could start an entirely new book challenge compiled of all the play suggestions I received) everyone was all, "Uhhhhhh, the new Harry Potter....hello!" And then I heard it was a quick read. And that's what won me over entirely. Homegirl was on a deadline. Plus, since I'd read the entire series this year, I thought I'd be adoracute and wrap it all up. So okay, this play was okay. But it also isn't that great. It was fun to revisit some of the quirky characters, but I really do agree with other reviews that called it glorified fan fiction. The plot seemed terribly unoriginal. And why a play? I guess I would have enjoyed some of the scenes developed more like they would in a novel. It definitely doesn't hold up to the HP series.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Charles Dickens for the win!

I think October wins for the amount of books I was reading at the same time. I think at one point I was dabbling in 6 books. I always love when you're on the wait list at the library for a couple of books and they all become available on the same day. For awhile there it felt like finals week. I always used to get an eye twitch during finals week.

And who would have guessed that a Charles Dickens book would swoop in and take the lead as my favorite book read this year? (I've previously always made it a point to avoid Charles Dickens.)  Let's hear it for Charles!


Category: A book written by a female author
The Children of Noisy Village, Astrid Lindgren
Goodreads review: 5 stars

Good thing I have kids to help me knock out a huge portion of my reading challenge. Astrid Lindgren is best known for Pippi Longstocking, which is one that we have on CD, and we enjoy listening to it on road trips. The girls and I enjoyed Noisy Village. It's got short and snappy chapters and it comes equipped with pictures, so it held Maren's attention. Our narrator is Lisa, a little girl in a village in Sweden, called Noisy Village. What's ironic is that she doesn't live in a village, nor is it really that noisy. Her house is surrounded by two other homes on either side of hers, and there are six children total, and they're all great friends. It really feels like a little girl is telling the stories. Clara giggled during the part when Karl ties bows in Bill's hair while he's asleep. Our favorite chapter was when Lisa and Anna have to go to the grocery store over and over because they keep forgetting things from their list. I did have to do some quick-on-my-toes censoring—because there's a part that spills the beans about Santa Claus! So keep that in mind. I highly recommend this book for little girls.

Category: A book published this year
Pax, Sara Pennypacker
Goodreads review: 3 stars

The thing that initially caught my attention about this book was the illustrator! We looooove I Want My Hat Back and This is Not My Hat. I was disappointed that their weren't more illustrations. The beginning of this story channeled my childhood Fox and the Hound trauma. Cue Goodbye May Seem Forever. Anyway. Pax has been getting a lot of great reviews, but I didn't quite catch on to the magic of it all. The storyline is vague and mysterious. I'm sure it was written that way on purpose, but I didn't really see why. Why not give us more details? SO here's the gist: Peter rescues a baby fox and has kept him as a pet for 6 years (or something), but one day his father has to go to war and Peter has to go live with his grandfather. His fox, Pax, isn't invited. So they drop him off in the woods. The story is actually told both in Peter's perspective, and in Pax's perspective. Later that night, in his grandfather's home, Peter is filled with grief and guilt over deserting his fox, so he leaves right then to go find Pax. Only a day into his journey to find him, Peter trips and breaks his ankle. He's rescued by a lady—I can't remember her name—who lives alone in the woods. She sets his ankle and agrees to help him recover enough so he can get back to finding his fox—as long as he agrees to help her with a few things as well. Meanwhile, Pax is trying to survive in the wild when he's never lived in the wild before. He befriends some other foxes. Anyway, it's well written. I didn't unenjoy it. But the vagueness of the war was confusing to me. What time period was this story supposed to be? And where was it all taking place? I just wanted more details, I guess. And then there was Peter's relationship with his father. I wanted to understand more about that as well. The ending was expected, but a let-down all the same. So that's that.

Category: A book with a number in the title
A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens
Goodreads review: 5 stars

Tom is the one that convinced me to read this. Ever since Great Expectations (which I was assigned in high school and didn't finish), I've steered clear of Dickens, because that guy is just too smart for me. So I put up a decent-sized fight about it, but Tom felt convinced I would like it. And he was SO right! But for reals, the first 25 pages of this book? What on earth was I even reading?? I'm glad I didn't give up though. Because this book is ah-mazing. AMAZING. I never expected to like it as much as I did, considering how difficult it is to read—plus the two main characters (Lucie Manette and Charles Darnay) are pretty flat. It's Sydney Carton who won me over. Why doesn't he try harder to get Lucie? Why does he think so lowly of himself?! Why does he think he'll never be able to change? I loved the scene when Mr. Stryver is informing Sydney of his intentions to marry Lucie. It's hilarious. Throughout the scene Sydney keeps throwing back more alcohol to handle it all: "Sydney Carton drank the punch at a great rate; drank it by bumpers, looking at his friend." His character is so much more complex than Darnay's that you just can't help rooting for him, despite his drinking problem. Oh, and then—subject change—when Darnay decides to head to France without first telling Lucie about it—he writes her a letter to find after he's gone! Oh no, buddy. What in heaven's name are you thinking? Anyway, I recommend this book to anyone who is a romantic at heart. (Even though the love story is hardly what this book is about.) The writing was so dense and poetic at times that I feel certain I was only scratching the surface at understanding it all. After I read it I felt SO enthused, that I nearly vowed to read everything that Charles Dickens has ever written. Someone talk me out of it.

Category: A book written by someone under 30
Red Rising, Pierce Brown
Goodreads review: 3 stars

This book takes place in the future. I was planning on plopping it in the Future category, until I realized I didn't have a book picked out for someone under 30. Props to Pierce Brown for publishing a book before turning 30! That really is an amazing accomplishment. I mean, what had I managed to do before turning 30? I had a couple of kids, so I guess that's something. I guess. I mean—it's no book. So what's this book about? Pfffff. It's about everything. Well, no. But it's got a little bit of everything. Horses on Mars? You betcha! It's over-the-top dramatic with plenty of killing and a weird emphasis on dancing, if that's something you're into. It feels very Hunger Games-esque with a side of Game of Thrones and a dollop of Harry Potter. It just has too much going on. I found the plot slightly hard to follow. And the dialogue too, sometimes. Like, for example, someone would say something like (this is just a Season example, but it'll help if you read it in the movie-guy preview voice): "Does this mean what I think it means?!?" And then the next person would be like, "Yes, it DOES mean what you think it means." And then I'd be over here going, "Uh, guys? What does it mean? I don't know what it means! What's going on in your heads??" And Darrow? (He's the main character.) He's not full of himself, or anything, so THAT'S a relief. Good heavens to Betsy grief. But despite it all—it did hold my attention. Maybe someday if I get bored I'll read the rest in the series! Errrr, well, I mean, I don't know. It's a solid maybe.

Category: A book based on or turned into a TV show
The Cold Dish, Craig Johnson
Goodreads review: 3 stars

Tom and I have gotten into the Longmire Netflix series. It's pretty good, albeit a tad on the dramatic side at times. It's about a sheriff in Absaroka County, Wyoming. Tom and I joke that Wyoming is the most dangerous place to live, apparently, because Sheriff Longmire is solving a grisly murder in every episode, not to mention all the drug dealers and kidnappers who gravitate to his town. The series is based on Craig Johnson's Walt Longmire series, The Cold Dish being the first in the series. I was interested to see how closely the Netflix series follows the books. Here's one difference you'll find: F words. Boy howdy this book is full of profanity. The book has a lot of police and weapon jargon that went over my head. The book was also a little slower paced than I was expecting, and it ends differently than I was expecting—so that was a fun twist. I enjoyed the dynamics between Walt and Henry, just like the Netflix series portrays it (until the end of the 6th season, 'cause they're fighting, silly boys.) Anyway, I can give a definite recommendation to the Netflix series, but I cannot say I'd recommend the book. It's not really my genre.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Something about September

Well here it is, the middle of November. Thanksgiving is more or less here, and Christmas is more or less here the day after that. And then BAM. 2016 calls it quits.

And I'm going to do it—I'm really going to cross the book-challenge finish line! I've only got four books left—and so help me— I'm totally gonna do it! Next year I'll go for 70. (Nope.)

So tonight I take a jaunt down September's memory lane, where I managed to read 4 books—The Woman in White felt like 10, though.


Category: A book set in high school
Anna and the French Kiss, Stephanie Perkins
Goodreads review: 3 stars

Here's the thing. I didn't get into high school drama even when I was in high school. So I couldn't fully get into this book because in my head I kept saying motherly things like, "Look, Anna, you're 17. You're gonna need to take my word on this: in five years NONE of this will matter." So here's the scoop. (Did I really just say "here's the scoop?) Anna is our main character. She gets dropped off at a fancy high school in Paris because her father, who has recently come into money because he writes awful romance books, thinks it'll be good for her to get some culture. She doesn't want to go, because she likes a boy at home. Anyway, she meets another boy in France—named Etienne St. Clair. He has a girlfriend, but he and Anna really hit it off. Sparks fly. Drama ensues. That's really the best I can come up with. It isn't a horrible book. It has a fun writing style, and the conversations between Anna and St. Clair are enjoyable, except for when they're fighting. Which is every other day. It felt like toward the end the author tries to make her plot a little more meaningful by throwing in introspection and whatnot—but that really flopped for me, because—at the end of the day, none of this will matter in five years.  If high school romance stories are your thing—then you've probably already read this.

Category: A book with a color in the title
The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins
Goodreads review: 5 stars

If you find yourself in the throws of a rigorous reading challenge with the ending coming ever closer, the thing to NOT do is take up a 600-pager with the teeniest font known to mankind. I enjoyed The Woman in White, but boy howdy it felt about 200 pages longer than it needed to be. It's not the type of book you can breeze right through (like the above-mentioned book), and should not be undertaken in one week, like I tried to do. Here's what I enjoyed about this book: the story. It's mysterious and creepy. The villains are so entirely—villainous. Count Fosco and his crazy wife? Perfection on the bad-guy scale. It's hard for me to give a simple outline of this plot because it's crazy complex. Like, whoa. The story is told through quite a few perspectives, and begins with Walter Hartright. Hartright is an artist who has been hired to come to an estate and teach two elite women, Laura Fairlie and her step-sister Marian Halcombe, how to draw. As he's traveling late at night (to reach their estate) he encounters a strange woman along the road, dressed all in white, who asks him for help but won't tell him anything about herself. He helps her because he can see that she is agitated and upset about something. And let's go ahead and end the scene there. The story progresses, and Hartright, while working alongside Laura Fairlie, has fallen in love with her. We all saw that coming, didn't we? Marian informs him to move along because Laura's been betrothed, for like, forever. Plus, she's above his station. And we'll end that scene there. Seriously—how am I supposed to write this without turning it into a book report? It's a hearty story. So I just won't write any more of the plot. Let's talk about what I found lacking in this book. Our heroine, Laura. This book is told through the perspective of probably 10 people (that's just a guess) and not once do we hear from Laura. It's basically her story! Modern day stories would dissolve the characters of Laura and Marian and turn them into one capable human being. Laura can't do anything for herself. She can't even tell Hartright that she's already engaged—Marian has to do it for her because Laura might faint. And after things go really bad for her (and they do), Hartright and Marian treat her like I would treat my 6-year-old, because she can't handle life sometimes. Come on, Laura! It's time to adult! Also, the ending was ever-so-convenient. Everything just wraps itself up in a perfect little bow. After investing all this time to create an overwhelming sense of mystery and all-out dread, at least reward us with a firework ending! But, nope. And here's what I found humorous about The Woman in White. Keeping in mind that it emerged from the 1800s, it's full of laugh-out-loud sexist commentary. I lost count of all the "like a man" comments. All the men in the novel respect Marian because she's smart and can make decisions for herself like a man. Hilarious! Still, I totally recommend it. My favorite part of the book was told through Marian's point of view, because she can tell a story like a man.

Category: A book that came out the year you were born
Cold Sassy Tree, Olive Ann Burns
Goodreads review: 5 stars

I've read this book before, but it was well worth a second time through. THIS is the book that gave me my start to boy howdy! Full of small-town southern charm and gossip, the book follows a family in Cold Sassy, Georgia (a made up town) during the start of the 20th century. After Will Tweedy's grandmother passes away, his grandfather, Rucker Blakeslee, shocks his family and the entire town by remarrying only three weeks after her death. He remarries Love Simpson, a much younger woman from the north (gasp). I like this book because it's funny at times (like when Camp paints over a cockroach because he's too lazy to move it), but it's also sad at times (there's a few funerals), and it's got lots of simple wisdom from his grandfather (who's a very likable character despite all the scandals). Some have found fault with the book because it's written in southern vernacular, but I think that just adds to the delight of it all. It can make it a little hard to understand what they're saying, I s'pose. I recommend this book.

Category: A nonfiction book
The Boys in the Boat, Daniel James Brown
Goodreads review: 5 stars

This one gets a round of applause for thoroughness. It talks its head off about rowing—which I knew absolutely nothing about before. And if we're being honest, still don't really know anything about—because I have the brain retention of a vegetable strainer. Trying to remember back on it now, I think there were times that I felt that the pacing was a bit slow, but it's all good because it's a great read. I've mentioned before I that I struggle with nonfiction unless it reads like a story—and this book does just that. It's all about the University of Washington rowing team that went to the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, Germany. But it starts waaaaaay at the beginning, back to the freshman tryouts, and I'm pretty sure this book discusses each and every competition that was held UP to the Olympic games—in great detail. It talks about weather conditions. It talks about the types of wood that was used to create the boats. It talks about what they were allowed to eat. The author mostly focuses on one of the rowers, Joe Rantz—I'm thinking he must have had the most access to his story—but it weaves in bits about the other rowers as well. We learn all about Joe, from his troubled childhood to how he barely made it onto the Olympic team. Reading about the ending race will give you the chills. It's fantastic. It might even evoke happy tears. I recommend-ommend it.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

A chip off the ol' book challenge block

One sad, lonely book is all I mustered out of August. I must have been partying too hard with my six-, four- and one-year-old as summertime approached its end.


Category: A classic romance
The Grand Sophy, Georgette Heyer
Goodreads review: 3 stars

First of all, do you know how many classic romances I'd read already by this point in the challenge...that don't really seem like romances? Emma, Sense and Sensibility—each of those feature a romance, but it doesn't really seem like that's the main point of the book. Wuthering Heights—I can't even believe that's considered a romance. Seems more fitting for the "domestic abuse" category. So I went with a Georgette Heyer. I'd heard lots of good things about Heyer books, but I'd never read one before. And I DO love a little regency romance book that's fun and clean. I kinda figured it'd be like reading Edenbrooke, or Blackmoore, both by Julianne Donaldson and SO great. Anyway, I went in with high expectations, and it didn't deliver for me. I enjoyed this book for the most part, because it's fun and silly. But intertwined with all of that is the overabundance of propriety—you know, like how a woman can't show off her elbows to a male unless he's her affianced. That type of stuff. Well, I made up the elbow part, but honestly I wouldn't be surprised if that was a rule back then. Heyer is acclaimed for really knowing her facts about the regency period, but for me, her tedious attention to all those obnoxious propriety rules bogged down the story. That being said—now that I'm familiar with her particular style, I'd definitely be willing to give it another go with her books. Parts of this book were downright silly. I particularly enjoyed the part with the ducklings near the ending. So random!
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