Monday, December 29, 2014

Top Ten Goals/Resolutions For 2015 -- bookish, blogging or otherwise!

On this week's edition of Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and the Bookish), we are looking forward to our top ten goals/resolutions for 2015.

Here we go:

1. Get ready for the baby: Since I am four months pregnant, obviously a lot of my goals will focused around becoming a mom for the first time. Its a big transition in life and will take a lot of work.

the wee one at 10 weeks

2. Find a way to document my child's life in photographs: Growing up in a very large family, my parents did a decent job of making sure there were plenty of pictures of us growing up. From baby to adult, there are quite a few pictures of each of us.  My husband on the other-hand, has practically nothing. The youngest picture I have seen was one when he was 9, then again when he's 17, but most pictures start around age 21. I want our kid to have lots of pictures, but I am not a huge fan of sharing them online. Facebook, Instagram, and blogs are ok for the occasional pictures, but not a lot of them. Any suggestions on creative and easy ways to keep these precious memories?

my best friend and I as we get ready for prom

3. No new debt: I had this same goal last year and was able to keep it.  But with a munchkin on the way, it's about to get a whole lot more difficult. But I still want no new debt in 2015!

4. Be more outdoorsy: Growing up, I was always outside. I hiked, biked, camped, and more. Since I became an adult, life got in the way.  I want that to change. While I still camp at least once a year, I want that to increase.  I want to take more hikes as well, and play more games outside, like Frisbee golf, bocce ball, and tennis.

beach fun in Oregon with the hubby

5. Go see the Foo Fighters in concert: The Foo Fighters are by far my favorite band, but I have never seen them in concert. In September, they will actually be near me and I already have my tickets.  Now I need to make sure I make it all the way out there to see them!

6. More date nights with my husband: My husband and I have been petty good about going out on actual dates lately, but this will become a little more difficult as our family grows. But it's still important, so I definitely want to keep it up!

7. Maintain my blogging speed: I have decided that I am comfortable with 3-4 posts a week. Now I am hoping to maintain that into the new year.

8. Collect all my favorite books from my childhood: I have very fond memories of my mom and dad reading to me when I was young. Many of those books have stuck with me over the years. My goal is to collect all my favorites and pass the tradition of reading on to the next generation. Any suggestions on other good children's books?

9. Get back down to pre-baby weight after the baby: Right now, thanks to the wonderfulness (sarcasm) of morning sickness, I am still under my pre-baby weight, but I am now gaining instead of losing, and expect to go above.  I would like to be back to normal by the end of the year (and perhaps a little lower!)

10. Be more social:  This has been my goal every year since probably birth. I am terrible about being social. I am not a shut in by any means, but when I meet new people, I get very shy and usually don't talk much. It makes it hard to make new friends. It's something I would like to change as I have kids, because I would like them to be more social than I was as a kid.

my sister's and I in Kentucky with Indiana just across the river

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Making Up For Monday: Goal Rewind

 It's time for Making Up For Monday!

This week's question:
  How did you do with your reading goals for this year?

I had a few goals this year: 

1. In the next five years I need to read 50 classics, so I needed to read at least ten of them this year. Here is the list.

2. I am also working on the Pulitzer Prize Winners in the next two years.  That means at least 31 of them this year.  Here's that list.

3. On top of those challenges....I wanted to read 125 books! 
Here's how I did: 
1. I read 14 classics, making a good dent in my list and exceeding my goal!

2. I have read 17 of the Pulitzer Prize winners, which is a good number, but well below my goal of 31.  Next year I will have a lot of catch up to do! Perhaps I should make this a three year goal.

3. I only read 90 books.  Wah wah. 

My main reasons for missing my goals is that I had ten and a half weeks of severe morning sickness and didn't read a single book in that time. Considering next year I will have a wee one distracing me, I don't think I will be setting such lofty goals.

How about you? How did you do?

Friday, December 26, 2014

The Hours: 2 Stars

The Hours by Michael Cuningham

Virgina Woolfe committed suicide in 1941 by filling her pockets with rocks and throwing herself in the river. But back in 1923, she was more hopeful as she wrote the novel, Mrs. Dalloway. The book is about a woman who is happily married and preparing a party for her husband. But she harbors the secret of her true love, Sally. Virginia spends time with her sister, nieces, and nephew, knowing deep down that she will never have children and will likely let her depression consume her.

Laura Brown is preparing a cake for her husband, and is reading Mrs. Dalloway in 1949. As she in the kitchen preparing, she shares a kiss with Kitty, who she secretly loves as more than a friend. Consumed with the need to be alone, she leaves the house and ends up in a hotel room to read. While she does eventually return home, suicide keeps coming back to her mind. What seems to hold her back from it throughout the day is that it would sadden her husband and son and kill the child she is carrying.

Clarissa Vaughn is preparing for a party in honor of a poet friend, Richard, who is dying of AIDS in 1999. He is Laura's son. She lives with her partner, Sally. She is like the modern day Mrs. Dalloway.  Clarissa reflects upon her life and those she has been in relationships with in the past, mainly Richard.

I wanted to like this book far more than I actually did. In fact, for the first few chapters, I thought, "I must recommend this book to everyone I know!". However, by the end of the book, all I could think was, "How did this win a Pulitzer Prize?"

While the books seems beautifully written, the words don't flow well. The book comes off more like a pretentious author who wants to show of how eloquent he can be, rather than telling a story. I found myself rolling my eyes several times at the way the novel was written and wish the author had set his ego aside for a bit while he wrote.

One of the issues I had with the book was the language used in Clarissa's tale. Now, swearing doesn't bother me at all in books, unless it seems forced and out of place. This was exactly the case with Clarissa. She rarely swears, but uses the word "fuck" often. The word comes off out of place and forced, like a cheap attempt to remind us that Clarissa is in modern times. His writing is done well enough that the reminder is not needed. If he had used language throughout the whole book and more than just the one word, it wouldn't have felt so forced or out of place.

I also struggled with all of the characters.  They were unlikable and this made it difficult to care what happened to them. While I can see that Cunningham was trying to show the change of social acceptance of lesbianism over the decades and the effect this would have on women who are arguably lesbians, he failed to make the characters sympathetic. I was truly disappointed.

Rating: R

Recommended for those who enjoy: modern tales of classics, LGBT, and mental issues.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas Came Early: Secret Santa

Last year I participated in The Broke and The Bookish's Secret Santa and had a blast, so I decided to play along again. The idea is that you send in your information to them and they send it to someone in the world who will send you a gift. Then you get information on someone else and go shopping for them. I was able to send my gift out just before the deadline (talk about procrastination) and then, just after I left for a business trip, my package arrived. I finally got home and was able to open it.  I was NOT disappointed! 

Look at all the stuff I got!!!!

 I am a HUGE fan of hot chocolate and how cool is this mug?  It has books on it, making it the PERFECT reading mug.

 Plus I got chocolate (which I love), a Star Wars bookmark (which is now in my current book), plus a calendar and post it notes (which are perfect for someone who works from home)!

And finally, the good stuff!  Where The Sidewalk Ends was the #1 book I wanted this year and I was thrilled that it was included. I LOVED reading Catch-22, but still didn't own a copy of it.  And I have met Mary Roach and read quite a few of her books. Gulp is the newest one that I hadn't been able to get my hands on yet...until now. 

Seriously, my Secret Santa did and AMAZING job!  
Thank you!!!! 
Thank you!!!! 
Thank you!!!!!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Top Ten Books I Wouldn't Mind Santa Bringing This Year

 It's time for Top Ten Tuesday!

This week's theme is fitting for the upcoming holiday.

 Top Ten Books I Wouldn't Mind Santa Bringing This Year

1. Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand: I have heard great things about this book but every time I go to buy it, the size intimidates me and I give up on it. Perhaps if someone else got it for me, it would give me the spurring I need to go ahead and start reading it!

2. American Gods by Neil Gaiman: I have heard wonderful things about this book, and Gaiman is a newly discovered author for me so I am ready to dive into more of his work.

3. Fight Club by Chuck Palahnuik: This book has been on me to-read list for far too long!

4. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith: My sister-in-law read this and loved it and we have fairly similar taste in books so I want to read it too!

5. Stardust by Neil Gaiman: Here is another one by Gaiman. I loved the movie and as we all know, the book is always better!

6. Where The Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein: Well, the secret is out.  I am four months pregnant.  My dad read this to me as a little girl and I would love to read it to my little peanut!

7. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller:  I adored this book and would love to add it to my library.

8.  Gulp by Mary Roach.  I love her books and this one sounds fascinating.

9. The World's Strongest Librarian by Josh Hanagarne: I love libraries and librarians.  I still remember my elementary school librarian and how great she was at introducing me to new books.

10. Neil Patrick Harris's Choose Your Own Adventure Autobiography:  I love NPH and am so curious how this book works.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Making Up For Monday: Christmas Wishes

 It's time for Making Up For Monday!

This week's question:
What book would you like most for Christmas and why?

My choice is the classic children's poetry book, Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein. 

Guess who's four month pregnant?????  This girl!!

My dad read this to me A LOT when I was a little girl and I would love to carry on the tradition and read it my my child. It gave me very fond memories and helped increase my love of books and reading. That is something I definitely want to give this kid!

What about you? What book tops your list?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Walk: 4 Stars

The Walk by Richard Paul Evans

Alan Christoffersen is living the life in Seattle. He's happily married to the woman of his dreams, he just bought a beautiful home, and he runs a business with his best friend. But when his wife falls ill, Alan heads down a path in which he loses it all.

Widowed, jobless, and homeless, Alan decides to head off on a walk: a walk across the country.

This was an amazing story of a man in mourning who decided that he was ready for something new. Not sure of where to go or what to do, Alan decides to make a journey to find himself. Along the way, he sees a world he's seemed to have missed before. He meets people and enjoys the journey for the most part.  He runs into several obstacles along the way, each teaching him something new.

The Walk ends in Spokane, where I live, so that is kind of fun. But that's not were Alan's journey ends. The series of books takes him across the rest of the country.

I enjoyed this book because it was one man who faced the worst possible situation in his life and decided to do something rather than shut down. It wasn't necessarily just picking back up and starting over, but his was his way of coping and hoping to find peace somewhere along the way. Will he find what's he searches for?  I guess I need to read the rest of the series!

Rating: PG

Recommended for those who enjoy: coping, journeys, and thought-provoking books.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Top Ten Books I Read In 2014

So far this year, I have read 90 books. This meant that I had quite a few to choose from for this particular week's meme, hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.

Here is my top ten of 2014:

1. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides: This book is all about a hermaphrodite and the world they grow up in. It is fascinating and wonderful. 

 2. The Road by Cormac McCarthy: The majority of the population has been wiped out and a young boy and his father face the world that remains. Its a kill or be killed kind of world and you see the misery the father feels at knowing the joys and comfort his son will never really know. 

3. The Lord of the Flies by William Golding: I have heard several people over the years talk about how horrible this books is, and I figured it was time I found out for myself. Turns out, I really liked it. It was well written, captivating, and the imagery was phenomenal. No, the story isn't exactly uplifting, but does it have to be to make a book good?

4. Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery: This is a very cute, light-hearted story about a spunky girl who always tries to see the bright side of things. I loved it!

5. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman: This is the first book I have read by either man and now I am eager to read more by both. The book was witty and macabre. I haven't yet read a book like this and was pleasantly surprised.

6. Its Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini:  Having suffered from depression all my life, this book hit the nail on the head as far as describing it. It was very relate-able and the end was filled with such hope. Its sad the author ended up caving to his depression.

7. A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan: I didn't expect to like this book, and was surprised when it captivated me. Sometimes the grass isn't always greener on the other side.

8. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: This book was extremely well written and full of surprises.  As much as I enjoyed it, I am not sure I can handle another Flynn novel.  She's pretty intense!

9. The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon:  Having read and loved Shadow of the Wind, I found myself disenchanted with the author when the sequel did not live up to expectations. I put off reading this book for so long, that I thought I might skip it all together. While not as good as the first book, the book is still wonderfully written and am very glad I decided to read it.

10. The Thousand Dollar Tan Line by Rob Thomas and Jennifer Graham: I loved the show Veronica Mars and when the movie came back to right all the wrongs (goodbye Piz!), I was thrilled but longed for more of her adventures.  I am happy that Rob Thomas felt the same and decided to start a book series.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Making Up For Monday: Shocking Deaths

It's time for Making Up For Monday!

This week's question:
What character’s death came as a massive shock to you?

I guess I should have written SPOILER ALERT on this week's question since usually, if a character's death is a surprise, then it is probably a huge spoiler.  So.....


I would have to answer this one with a big whoppie Fred Weasley!

I didn't even start the Harry Potter series until about two years ago, so I knew about the majority of the deaths and the plot twists.  However, I was not expecting, nor was I happy, when Fred Weasley died.  George and Fred were two of my favorite characters in the series and knowing that George would now be without his lifelong best friend is just devastating. 

What about you?  Any deaths shock you?

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Prisoner of Heaven: 4 Stars

The Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I could have sworn I had written this review months ago but I can't seem to find it. So better late than never!

The Prisoner of Heaven is the final book in the Cemetery of Forgotten Books trilogy. The first book, The Shadow of the Wind, immediately became one of my all time favorite books. The story is captivating.  The characters are brilliantly written. And the author shows a mastery for the written language, especially considering that I read a translated version. I was so in love with this book.  Then I read the second book, The Angels Game, and I was terribly disappointed. It wasn't a horrible book, but when compared to the first, it just couldn't stand up. So I was very very reluctant to even attempt the final book. But I finally bit the bullet and read it.

Taking place after The Shadow of the Wind, The Prisoner of Heaven opens us to a world where Daniel and Bea are happily married with their young son Julian. Fermin is preparing for his own wedding when the past comes back to haunt him. No stranger to the mysteries that surround Fermin, Daniel immediately begins to help his friend in a dangerous game that opens us up to Fermin's past. 

After The Angels Game, which was confusing and a little too supernatural, The Prisoner of Heaven was a breathe of fresh air. It helped explain all that took place in the second book (which is chronologically first in the series). The book also dove head first into my favorite character, Fermin. He was mysterious and illusive in the first book, and it was fun to see where he came from and what happened to him to make him so quirky. I really enjoyed being able to embrace the characters I loved so much once again.

The book was not nearly as strong as The Shadow of the Wind, which is by far the best book in the trilogy. But it did bring me make to my love of Zafon and his mastery of the written language.

Rating: PG-13

Recommended for those who enjoy: bookstores, mysteries, and suspense.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read In 2014

It's time for another rendition of Top Ten Tuesday.  This is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week's theme a is "wrapping up the year" type theme.  It's Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read In 2014. My new-to-me authors list is rather long this year, so it took some work to get it down to ten, but I succeeded. Here we go:

1. John Steinbeck: That's right, before this year, I had never read John Steinbeck. I heard so many people talk about how awful he is, but I actually really liked Of Mice and Men. Is it sad? Well, yes, duh, but it was good.

2. Jane Austen: Yep, this was the first year I have ever read Jane Austen. I only read Pride and Prejudice. I anticipate that some day I will read more.

3. Jeffrey Eugenides: I had heard a lot about Middlesex, but it didn't seem like my kind of book.  But I am reading my way through the Pulitzer Prize winners, so I figured I'd check it out. I actually really liked it. It was fascinating.

4.  JRR Tolkien: Ok, so here's another very famous author I finally read this year. Will I read more?  I am still on the fence. While I enjoyed The Hobbit, I feel like The Lord of the Rings is just too complex for me.  I also read The Silmarillion which was well written and really shows off Tolkien's talent, but was just way too much information for me. I don't know.  We will see where the future leads. 

5. Cormac McCarthy:  The Road was my first go at a McCarthy book.  I really enjoyed it. I know he also wrote No Country for Old Men, but I saw the movie and am not sure the book is for me. One thing is for sure, McCarthy doesn't feel the need to end his book happily!

6. William Golding: Here is another famous author that I can now say I have read.  I loved The Lord of the Flies.  It was captivating and so realistic. I think he did a phenomenal job and I really like the imagery of the book.

7. Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman:  I list these two authors together because I have only read a collaboration by them. I full intentions of reading each author separately as well now, because Good Omens was a very good book that made me chuckle out loud.

8. Jennifer Egans: This year I read Jennifer Egans as well.  I don't think she has many other books, so I am not sure I will read her again (unless she writes something new) but I did think A Visit From the Goon Squad was unique and interesting.

9. Gillian Flynn: I also read my first Gillian Flynn book. I was insanely good, but so dark and so pure evil. I am not sure I can handle another one, despite the amazingness of the first book. I don't know. I am still on the fence.

10. Rob Thomas and  Jennifer Graham: I will definitely read more of these books, because I love Veronica Mars! 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Making Up For Monday: Movie Time

It's time for Making Up For Monday!

This week's question:
Name one book/series you would love to be adapted into a movie or TV show (in a perfect world).

My answer is an easy one: The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I LOVE this book!  The story is captivating and the writing is brilliant and beautiful. I do stress that this would need to be in a perfect world, since so many books are butchered when turned into movies.  I think a TV mini series might be best for this book.  It would be so hard to cover as much time as this book does in a two hour movie.

What about you?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Gray Mountain: 3 Stars

Gray Mountain by John Grisham

I finally got around to reading the new novel by John Grisham.  And by finally, I mean it was released about two months ago and I have had a hold on it at the library and I finally got to the top of the list. Grisham is one of my favorite authors. His characters are in-depth and imperfect and he knows how to capture your attention.

Samantha Kofer is three years out of law school and working her way up the corporate ladder at her law firm when the economy dips. Like many lawyers at her firm and others, she is left jobless. With little chance of finding another job like the one she had, Samantha accepts the year long furlough from her employer and begins to seek out a non-profit lawyer gig. But considering every other law firm in New York has done the same to a thousand others, the non-profit jobs in New York have all disappeared. Samantha begins her search outside of the city she loves.

In the Appalachian mountains, there is a small legal aid clinic where Samantha tries her hand.  On the way to the interview, she is arrested for exceeding the speed limit by a southern, backwoods deputy who clearly is on a power trip. Frustrated and confused, she is rescued by local lawyer, Donavon Gray. Now the place that looked the worst, suddenly has a bright spot, and Samantha eventually agrees to work at the clinic, conveniently owned by Donavon's aunt. If you think you know where this story is headed, you are wrong.

Unlike most of his novels, Gray Mountain has a female protagonist (I have heard Pelican Brief does as well, but I have yet to read that one so I can't say one way or the other). My biggest complaint with this is that she was rather unlikable. She was self absorbed and, even in the wake of tragedy, finds ways to make it all about her. The stories outside of her were compelling and interesting enough without adding the drama of an attention hog.

My other complaint about her character was that so much of her character revolved around her romantic relationships. I felt like her every move in life revolved around men, even men who she barely knew and never had a romantic relationship with.  An indication of a possible relationship was enough to make her change her life plans. This is not so with Grisham's other lead characters in books, and I wonder if he did that simply because she was a woman. While I am not calling the author sexist is any way, the description of her was too sterotypical and obnoxious.

Aside from my complaints about the main character, I loved the story. Just when I thought I knew exactly where the story was headed, everything I knew was shattered and the story took a completely different approach. The side characters were well developed and engaging. He kept me completely intrigued all the way to the end.

Rating: PG

Recommended for those who enjoy: Legal drama, female leads, and mysteries.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

A Confederacy of Dunces: 4 Stars

A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

This Pulitzer Prize winning novel was written by a man I had never heard of. I did a quick search on him to see if I knew any of his other books before I  read this one. What I found was nothing short of tragic. At the young age of 31, Toole took his own life. He was unpublished. His mother found the manuscript for The Confederacy of Dunces, which had already been rejected by publishers and began to try and get it published. It wasn't easy, but she eventually succeeded and the book won a Pulitzer Prize. His mother was able to publish another book by him that was made into a movie. It is just so tragic that Toole did not live to see his own success. 

In A Confederacy of Dunces, we join Ignatius J. Reilly in his life. Ignatius is a self-centered, lazy man who lives with and relies upon his mother. He is self-important, cocky, and arrogant. After a run-in with the police, he and his mother end up in a run down bar called Night of Joy, where they soon learn they are not welcome. Upon leaving, they end up in a car accident. With high bills to pay, Mrs. Reilly puts her foot down and makes Ignatius go find a job. 

Meanwhile, a cop, who had had an unfortunate run in with Ignatius earlier, was being tormented by his boss and was forced to dress in a different ridiculous outfits. When he told his Sargent about the Joy of Night club, the boss then made him sit in a bus stop bathroom stall for eight hours a day. 

Ignatius eventually found a job at the Levy factory.  But it didn't take long for him to cause an uprising that ended in mutiny. The main reason for the uprising is because Ignatius was out to impress an ex-girlfriend by being involved in a social cause. Unsuccessful, he was out to find a new job. 

Somehow he gets a job as a hot dog vendor, even though he eats far more than he sales. But, while out trying to sell hot dogs, dressed as a pirate, Ignatius meets a flamboyant homosexual and has a new idea. He and his new friend are going to infiltrate the armies and war leaders with homosexuals. This way, instead of promoting war, they will just have orgies, meaning there will be peace.  (How can this logic be flawed?)

This book was filled with humor and politically incorrect wit. From beginning to end, this book doesn't let up.  My favorite character was Angelo Mancuso, the patrolman who had numerous unfortunate encounter with Ignatius and, therefore, got into more and more trouble.

Ignatius is a genius who is too arrogant and self-centered to ever be of value to anyone, including himself. His sits on his fat butt day after day talking about how much better he is than everyone and how beneath him people are, and then whines to mommy when he's hungry. He wreaks havoc at every turn and is just a disaster. In the meantime, I am laughing hysterically at each blunder!

Rating: PG-13

Recommended for those who enjoy: offbeat humor, farces, and political incorrestness.