Monday, December 30, 2013

Top Ten Books I Read In 2013

For this week's Top Ten Tuesday, we are covering the year of 2013.  What did we read?  What did we like?

This year I have read more books than I ever have before.  Topping off at 112 books, I have made significant progress!   What did I like best..... in no particular order:

1. John Adams by David McCullough: I am a big fan of David McCullough. I learn so much reading his books.  And I am a huge fan of John Adams.

2. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens: I am not sure why I hadn't read this one before this year, but I finally read it.  I love Dickens.  He is a master of his craft.

3. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee: Confession: I have read this book about 10 times in my life, but I did reread it this year so it totally counts, right?! 

4. The Last Juror by John Grisham: I love Grisham.  He tells a story with such details and yet, it's never boring.

5. Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro: A unique story of human farming (for lack of a better term).  It's heartbreaking and clever.

6. The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson: A non-fiction narrative abut a real serial killer?  How could I not like it?

7. Playing the Enemy by John Carlin: This is a fantastic tale of Nelson Mandela right after he became President of South Africs.  I learned so much about this great man, and just before his death too.

8. The Help by Kathryn Stockett: I just read this one and haven;t had time to write a review yet.  But it's coming, and spoiler: I loved it!

9. Calico Joe by John Grisham:  John Grisham makes the list again with a baseball story.  I love baseball!

10. Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick: Seriously, I adore this book!

Making Up For Monday: The Final Count

Its time again for Making Up For Monday!

Question: How many books did you read this year and which was your favorite?

My final count for this year is 112 books!  Check out my list on Goodreads. My favorite.....that's a tough one.  I think I'll have to go with Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick. 

If you read my blog often, this won't be a surprise.  I rave about this book constantly!

Check out more from Making Up For Monday!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Innocents Abroad: 3 Stars

The Innocents Abroad by Mark Twain

I got this book a couple years ago because I really like Mark Twain and he has a second book called The Tramp Abroad. Both books are of his travels and are non-fiction. One was written closer to the beginning of his career, and the second was written about 11 years later. One of my favorite things about Mark Twain is that his sarcasm and bluntness got sharper as his life went on.  I thought the two of these books might show the change in my personality.  So I started with the first one.

This book accounts Twain's travels through Europe and the Holy Land. Now, this book was written before the Wright brothers figured out flying, so long before you could just go online, buy a plane ticket, reserve a hotel, and be there within a few hours. So, to get across the ocean, Twain had to go by boat. Once in Europe, he needed a guide and translator. He stayed in some sketchy hotels and traveled around via train and other things. This was very fascinating to me, considering our relative ease of travel these days.

Twain's wit and humor are not to be missed.  He routinely mocks the French while in Paris and notes the rather hilarious ways his guide tries to swindle him out of money. He is clever and witty in his descriptions of his various adventures.

On the downside, this book is a little like sitting and watching someone show you slides from their vacation. After awhile, it get rather old.

Rating: PG

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Great Expectations: 5 Stars

 Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

Let me start out by saying how much I love the way Dickens writes.  His words are beautiful and seem to leap of the page. Here are just a few of my favorite quotes:

"Then he pushed Miss Haverisham in her chair 
before him with one of his large hands and put the other in his pocket 
trousers as if the pocket were full of secrets."

“Suffering has been stronger than all other teaching, 
and has taught me to understand what your heart used to be. 
I have been bent and broken, but - I hope - into a better shape.”  

"Mrs. Joe was a very clean housekeeper, but had an exquisite art 
of making her cleanliness more uncomfortable and unacceptable 
than dirt itself."

"It was one of those March days 
when the sun shines hot and 
the wind blows cold: 
when it is summer in the light, 
and winter in the shade."

 "Take nothing on its looks; 
take everything on evidence. 
There's no better rule." 

You would think that I would have read Great Expectations sometime before now, being such and avid reader.  But the truth is, I was never required to read it in school so it never really crossed my mind. Then when I was getting ready to leave Portland and move to Spokane, I decided to go to Powell's bookstore and stock up on some books.

I found a beautiful copy of Great Expectations and bought it.
It has been in my to-read list ever since. Then a friend of mine agreed to read it with me and well, I read it. 

Needless to say, I ended up loving this book!   The story, the characters, everything. 

The story is well known.  A young, orphaned boy is raised by his mean older sister. He's honest and sweet and pure. Then he meets a convict and a rich old lady who is flat out crazy.  And suddenly he is given everything.  He has more money then he could have hoped for.  Does the money change him? Does he stay sweet and honest?  Or does he become stuck up and believe he is better than others? 

The story really make you look at yourself.  What about me?  What would I do?  Who would I become if the one thing I thought I needed, I got? I am one of the many, like Pip, who thinks if I had money, I would be happier, less stressed, and a better person. But would I?  Probably not.  Not that I would become evil or anything, but to think that money won't change you is silly. 

But if you look at someone like Joe in the story, you realize that money isn't needed for you to be a good person. Joe was kind and caring, even to those that may have not deserved it. He saw the good in everyone. And he never seemed to care about money or social status. Pip learns more from watching Joe than from anyone else. 

If you haven't read this book, I can not recommend it enough.  But I suggest taking your time with this one. The story is more than just a story, just like with most of Dickens novels. 

Rating: G

Friday, December 27, 2013

Freedom: 4 Stars

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

DISCLAIMER:  I hate politics!  I didn't always. When I was in college, I was very into politics.  When I turned 18 (which was actually in my junior year of college), I remember getting my voter's pamphlet for the mayor's race and reading the whole thing.  I watched speeches and did research.  I chose who i thought was the best candidate.  After I voted, I talked to my dad about it and it turns out he voted for the other guy. I was so proud of myself for making the decision all by myself and having done all the research.  I felt independent and excited, especially after the candidate I voted for won. What made it even better was that within the first year in office, he did EXACTLY what he promised. But that's where my joy stopped.

In doing exactly what he promised, he angered the wrong people.  He angered very rich people. They were so unhappy, the began to print half-truths mixed with lies about him in the paper. This angered the citizens.  And despite the fact that he denied the lies (and later a retraction was printed), because there was a small ounce of truth (nothing that effected his politics), people still believed the lies. Lies travel faster than truth I guess.  Anyhow, long story short  (too late), he was kicked out of office.

Now I don't trust politicians.  Not because of what he did, but because of how easily people tried to control him and when it didn't work, BAM he was gone. Every mayor since has done exactly what these rich people wanted. I do not trust that other politicians, even higher up, are any different. I feel like they each are in someone's pocket and so I don';t like politics. 

REVIEW: Ok, so why did I warn you that I hate politics?  This book is very political!  Franzen, however, doesn't seem to be attempting to sway you one way or another too much, although his opinion isn't hard to decipher.  But I did roll my eyes a few times as certain characters went on rants about why they are right and others are so very wrong.

Patty and Walter are the perfect neighbors. Patty will never speak ill of her neighbors and is always willing to help out. Walter is a environmental lawyer who bikes to work each day.  they have two kids and Patty is home, raising them. But this picture perfect scene doesn't last long.

Their son, Joey, ends up leaving home in high school to move in with his girlfriend right next door. Patty calls the police on them over very petty things and eventually slashes the tires of one of their trucks (although no one can prove it was her.  Walter gets a job in the city at Big Coal. Patty eventually ends up at their lake cabin with Walter's best friend and college roommate, rock star Richard. What happened to this family?!

This book tells the tale of each of the Berglund family (and Richard) and how they each ended up how they did. The family is incredibly dysfunctional. Each is out to gain what they believe is theirs. The want to get what they deserve.  This of course leads to multiple affairs and lots of sex and drugs. I do think that the sex was just too graphic and constant. Call me a prude, but I just don't need to know the details of everything that happens during sex.

Patty eventually ends up a shut in, caught up in her own depression and woes. Walter ends up trying to shame the American people out of having children to save the planet from overpopulation.

This book has political satire and opinions laced in every word.  But it also a fascinating story of the storybook family who is anything but.

Rating: R

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Jacob T. Marley: 4 Stars

Jacob T. Marley by R. William Bennett

I was not super excited about reading this book because, well, it's a a sequel of a Dickens novel NOT written by Dickens. Eeek! My book club was reading it and my sister and mother both raved about it.  So I read it.

Now, I grew up being a huge fan of Marley.  This is because my family watches the Albert Finney movie Scrooge every year.  When I read A Christmas Carol, I was shocked at how spot on it was (except the singing of course). But my favorite part was Marly.  Marley was played by Alec Guinness, aka Obewan.  He was AWESOME! 

So, seeing as I am a huge fan of Marley, I guess it shouldn't have surprised me that I loved this book.

This book covers before, during, and after A Christmas Carol, but tells the story of Marley rather than Scrooge. Like Scrooge, Marley was an angry, selfish, lonely man. He cut off his family, made no friends, and was kind to no one. After becoming partners with Scrooge, he turned the "on the fence" Scrooge into a crotchety old man, just like himself.

But on his deathbed, Marley saw what he had done to Scrooge, and immediately wished he had done it all differently.

What a wonderful story!  This story breathed life into a tale that has been told countless times. I loved it!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Top Ten Books I Wouldn't Mind Santa Bringing Me

Merry Christmas Eve! Its time for Top Ten Tuesday! This week's theme is: Top Ten Books I Wouldn't Mind Santa Bringing Me

1. Fight Club: I have been meaning to read this for years.

2. World War Z: Why have I not read this yet?

3. The Replacements: Ever since I saw this amazing cover, I have wanted to read this.

4. Pride and Prejudice: I have never read a Jane Austen novel (I know, I know!)

5. The Book Thief: I need to read this before I see the movie.

6. The World's Strongest Librarian

7. Something Wicked This Way Come: I loved the movie as a kid so I really need to read the book.

8. Empire Falls: I have wanted to read this for awhile now.

9. Atlas Shrugged: I want to read this book, but every time I see it, I lose my courage.  I need someone else to buy it for me so I can man up and read it.

10. The Good Luck of Right Now: Ok, ok, so this one isn't released yet, but I want to read it!

Making Up For Monday: Great Gifts

It's time for Making Up for Monday!

Question: What is the best Christmas (or other holiday you observe) book you have ever read or received as a gift?
The best book I ever received as a gift was Angels and Demons by Dan Brown.  I had no interest in Dan Brown and would have never purchased the book myself. But since it was a gift, I read it it.  And  I loved it!  While I didn't like The Da Vinci Code as much, I still really loved Angles and Demons.

Check out more from Making Up For Monday!

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Thirteen Reasons Why: 3 Stars

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Wow.....just wow.  This book was heavy and kind of a little messed up.  But I guess that was the intention. 

In Thirteen Reasons Why, a teenage boy named Clay comes home to find a package on the porch addressed to him. Like with most of us, he's filled with excitement and wonder. But his excitement is soon replaced by horror as he realizes the package contains tapes; tapes sent by a girl who recently killed herself. The tapes are to go, one by one, to the thirteen people who pushed her over the edge....and one of them is Clay.

Hannah Baker moved to this area in high school. Since she knew absolutely no one, she had to start out on her own. She initially made two friends, who were also new, but they outgrew each other.  Eventually she met a boy; a boy who lied about what kind of girl she was with him.  And that reputation grew and grew thanks to most of the people on the list.

Honestly, I am still not sure how to feel about this book.  This girl is sending a long message basically blaming 13 separate people for her actions. That's heavy.  I totally get that these kids did things that were not very nice at all.  But that's quite the thing to put on someone. "Hey, I killed myself and it's your fault."  I can almost understand 10 of them, but three really bothered me.  Two were Clay and the very last person; but one girl that was on the list really shouldn't have been.  

She put someone on the list who ends up being a victim at the end, thanks to other people.  That really bothered me.  She is one of the few people who knows what that poor girl is dealing with and she adds to it for blaming her for her suicide. And then she tells 12 other people.  That's really messed up. 

Ugh...I really feel like I am not explaining it very well.  I don't want to give away plot points, so I am going to have to leave it at this: I do not feel the girl was justified in her tape sending.

The story was well told and the author did a fantastic job conveying a message that you need to think about your actions and how they effect people. It's a really powerful message  However, I can't shake the feeling that she shouldn't have sent this to at three people on the list, if not more.

Rating: PG-13

Friday, December 20, 2013

Skipping Christmas: 4 Stars

Skipping Christmas by John Grisham

I am not much of a Christmas person. I know, I know, I'm the Grinch! Actually, I think I am more of a Luther Krank. Grisham's description of him is me to a tee. The money that goes into it, everyone trying to outdo each other, the pressure to have everything perfect; is it really worth it?

After their only daughter leaves to join the Peace Corp, Luther and Nora Krank decide to go on a cruise and skip the Christmas hoopla. Without their daughter, they just aren't feeling the Christmas spirit. But when the small town they live in takes notice, no one is happy.  With every house on the block decked out in holiday decor, complete with a large Frosty on the roof, the Krank's un-lit home gets unwanted attention.

This story is a super cute, fun read. It's an over-the-top silly story, perfect for the holiday season.  I mean, seriously, what neighborhood is going to band together and chant "Free Frosty" when you don't put yours on your roof, or is going to carol loudly outside your home to drive you crazy?

But at the end of the day, it was a fun story with a good message and happy ending.

Rating: PG

Thursday, December 19, 2013

McKenna's Review: Brewster: 3.5 Stars

My youngest sister is a sophomore in college. She is a big fan of reading and has given me a few reviews of books she recently read.  I hope you enjoy.

 Brewster by Mark Slouka

I was required to read Brewster for my college English literature class. I was a little uneasy about reading it since it was a last minute decision assignment for the class and I only had a week to read it. So I wasn’t exactly excited about it. After finishing it however, I found it to be a pretty good read and actually ended up taking some things away from it. Let me start out by giving the warning that this is an R rated book and goes into some pretty dark subjects. The book is set in the town of Brewster, New York in the 60’s and follows two teenage boys and their friendship. Both boys have more than grueling lives. When all hope seems lost on finding any joy in Brewster, the two make an unlikely yet indefinable and unbeatable bond. Though the course of there lives only get more ruff and rigorous the two only grow closer. Their heartbreaking story of friendship and loyalty will relate to all ages young and old and leave you turning pages.

Rating: R 

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Secret Santa

This year, I participated in The Broke and The Bookish's Secret Santa.  I send my package off and one day after that, I got mine!  Whoo hoo!  (I meant to post this last week, but I couldn't find the cord for my camera, dagnabit!)

I was excited the moment I opened it.  I mean, look at all these goodies!

The card even had a pretty cool Hagrid sticker.  

 Look at this stash!  I am embarrassed to admit how quickly those Swedish Fish disappear.

How cool is this? I love me some Shakespeare! 

And a great magnet for my fridge!  (I've never been to Michigan!)
 And of course, the best part.  Look at these books!  I am so excited!  Which should I read first?

And of course, a big shout out to Matilda, All Grown Up, who is indeed my Secret Santa!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read In 2013

Its time again for the Top Ten Tuesday, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.

This week's theme is Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read In 2013.

This was an easy list for me.  So far, I have read 108 books this year.  So that is a lot of new authors.  Here's my top ten:

1. Matthew Quick: I adored Silver Lining's Playbook. I have read a couple of his other books: one I enjoyed and one I didn't, but I am still very happy with Silver Lining's Playbook.

2. J. K. Rowling: Yes, before 2013 I hadn't read ANY of her books. Now I have read all of the Harry Potter series.

3. Kazuo Ishiguro: I had never even heard of this author before I read Never Let Me Go.

4. David McCullough: Why did I not read him before?  He makes non-fiction so fascinating! I have always been fascinated with the founding of this country. This may because my mother is OBSESSED with the 4th of July and Red, White, and Blue.  We grew up with an American flag in our yard, with a light on it at night. I guess some of that rubbed off. :)

5. David Baldacci: This was a recommendation from my dad.  Baldacci has some marvelous characters in his books. This isn't just a typical crime novel. The main character is basically homeless. Its very unique.

6. Jeff Lindsay: The Dexter series is what I need for my serial killer fix.  His character is fascinating!

7. Kurt Vonnegut: This man has an interesting way of writing.  He can get you laughing about some terrible stuff that he went though. This isn't in a horrible way, but in a way that shows humor is how he coped. That's talent.

8. George Orwell:  What a great writer who doesn't hold back from how he really feels.

9. Joseph Heller: This book is pure brilliance! Seriously, I can't describe it. 

10. Erik Larson: If you haven't read him yet I have one question, ""Why not?!"

Are there any new authors I need to start reading?

Making Up For Monday: Didn't Live Up

 Its time for Making Up For Monday!

Question: What book did someone recommend to you as "amazing" that you thought was anything but amazing?

For me, there were quite a few of these.  The one I can think of off the top of my head is Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

I read the back of this book and thought this is exactly the kind of book I would love. Its all about a dark circus that always shows up unexpectedly at night.  It draw people in, without them really understanding why.  Then comes the dueling magicians.

But I didn't feel like that was the book I got.  I got a very boring love story.  Blah!  I felt like the writer wasted the atmosphere of this book.  I wanted so much more than just a love story from this book, but I really felt like that was the main focus.  I got very very bored.

I wish I could have said I understand everyone's love for this book, but I think I missed it.

Check out more from Making Up For Monday!