Wednesday, December 19, 2012

The man wrote the best books of his generation.

Time to take a look back at the best books of the year. See last year's list here.

So I'm looking at last year's list and thinking, "Wow, I read some really great books in 2011." And then I'm looking at this year's list and ... well... I'm less impressed. Perhaps this is because I have an absolute stand out favorite that I am already well aware of (since I've read it twice).

I feel like I need a drum-roll.

Best Fiction Book that I read in 2012

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Best Non-Fiction Book that I read in 2012

Best Classic Literature that I read in 2012
Last year I had a much larger selection of classic literature because I was setting up my American Lit class. This year I had less, but my favorites were the Sherlock Holmes stories. 

And a list of all the books I read this year. The total number at the moment is 43, but I just finished one today, so it's really 44. 

Cutting for Stone
The Weird Sisters
The Witches of East End
The Night Circus
The Art of Racing in the Rain
In the Bleak Midwinter
The Cubicle Next Door
Elizabeth Street
Saving CeeCee Honeycutt
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
Any Bitter Thing
Once a Witch
Always a Witch
A Brewing Storm
Anna Dressed in Blood
A Study in Scarlet
Dreaming of Mr. Darcy
The Sign of Four
Unaccustomed Earth
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
The Hundred Foot Journey
The Grapes of Wrath
Frozen Heat
A Bloody Storm
A Raging Storm
Seeing Things
The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes
Thirteen Moons
Gone Girl
The Masqueraders
The Grand Sophy
Life of Pi

Same Kind of Different as Me
Driving Mr. Albert
Mao's Last Dancer
Getting Rid of It
The Money Class
The Woman Who Wasn't There
Beauty Gone Wild
Little Princes

Sunday, December 16, 2012

If I had known the world was ending, I'd have brought better books.

I haven't updated my blog in forever. Or my goodreads account, or my facebook, or anything else for that matter. It isn't just the blog. So, here's an attempt at getting back at it. And naturally the attempt is all about books. Yay for books. I love books.

A Bloody Storm by Richard Castle
Product Details

A Raging Storm by Richard Castle
Product Details

The Story:
Two new short stories in the Derrick Storm set "inspired by" the TV show Castle. We follow former CIA Derrick Storm and FBI agent April Showers around the world as they try to discover who is the head of some kind of plot.

The Review:
Seriously, how do you not love a book where the main character is called Storm and his love-interest is called April Showers? It's hilarious!
And the whole thing is just that way. I find it lovely mindless entertainment.


Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer
Product Details

The Story:
Oskar is a 9 year old boy whose father died in the World Trade Center. He is still struggling through the loss 2 years later and embarks on a "Reconnaisance Mission" to connect with his father.

The Review:
I chose this book as the most recent novel for my American Lit class. The idea of the class is "The Great American Novel" and while this can't be labeled that yet, it has a lot of very interesting things to discuss. And we had great discussions about it.

For me personally, I love Oskar's voice as the narrator. He is a thoroughly charming narrator. And I get so caught up in Oskar's story that I cried both times I read this (yeah, I read it twice already. That's what happens when you have to teach it).

Seeing Things by Patti Hill
Product Details

The Story:
Our old lady narrator Birdie is suffering from macular degeneration and falls in her home and goes to live with her son and his family to recuperate. While she is there, she starts seeing Huck Finn. So she goes through a series of adventures accompanied by her hallucinations of Huck.

The Review:
This was a totally charming story. Birdie is a fun narrator who tries to help her family, be independent, and goes on adventures with Huck Finn of all people. It's also a well-designed story. I started the semester with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in my American Lit class, so I had finished reading that just a month or so before I started this, and the author actually parallels Mark Twain's construction of Huck Finn. So Birdie, the narrator, starts off speaking to the reader in the same way that Huck starts. I found it cute and clever.

The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Product Details

The Story:
More short stories recounting Sherlock Holmes' adventures.

The Review:
I still love Sherlock Holmes stories. I actually was reading this mostly on the treadmill at the gym, and when I got to the final story, I totally teared up that Sherlock "died."

And I was totally thinking that next I should start reading some of the James Bond stories. But then I got distracted from that by these other books.

Thirteen Moons by Charles Frazier
Product Details

The Story:
A man, Will Cooper, recounts his life on the frontier with Native Americans.

The Review:
Yeah, I didn't finish this one. I got halfway through (250 pages) and decided that since nothing had happened up to that point, nothing was going to happen at all in the story. And I was bored, so I stopped. According to my book club friends, it was the right call.

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Product Details

The Story:
A woman disappears on her fifth wedding anniversary and her husband quickly goes from worried and grief-stricken to the prime suspect.

The Review:
Wow. This book totally had my attention from the first page. It is told in scenes from Nick, the husband, in the present and Amy, the wife, in journal entries. It moves super fast, is really smart, and had me on the edge of my seat. And I was totally taken in.

That said, the caveats to the glowing review are that it is really really really dark. And the language is really rough, which is to say more than just there are some bad words, but they are used really viciously.


The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer
Product Details
The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
Product Details

The Stories:
The Masqueraders is about a brother and sister who dress up as different people to fool everyone. And The Grand Sophy is about Sophy who comes to stay with her cousins and turns their world upside down.

The Review:
After the darkness of Gone Girl, I needed something light and fluffy and happy. So I asked a friend if I could borrow a couple books (knowing that she loves happy, cute romance novels) and she gave me these two. They were exactly what I was looking for, but they are not anything stellar. Just light fluffy entertainment set in Edwardian England.

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Product Details

I've already reviewed this book (quite at length, actually) here. But I've decided to put it here again, because I just reread it. I suggested it for my bookclub, because now that we have hit December I am willing to say that I think this book is the best book I have read this year. And I must tell you that I loved it even more the second time. The story is beautiful and told so well. I love it.


Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Product Details

The Story:
A young Indian boy is sailing to Canada with his family and the animals from their zoo when the ship sinks. Pi is thrown onto a lifeboat with an assortment of animals and winds up stranded in the lifeboat with an adult Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

The Review:
I read this book about seven years ago, but my bookclub picked it this month because the movie came out. None of them had read it before. So I picked it up and reread it. I liked it just as much. Because Pi is stranded on a lifeboat for most of the story, it is a very internal, philosophical type of story, but it is very compelling and Pi is a charming character. I totally recommend the book.

We did go see the movie as well, and I recommend that with reservations. First you must know that it is long, and philosophical, and most of it is one boy on a boat with a tiger. It gets a little long and requires thinking. But it is visually stunning and very interesting from that perspective. Oh, and it gets a little trippy. Like "Yellow Submarine" trippy. Which is weird.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Leave me alone, Derek. I've been sitting home for a week watching Oprah give away things on T.V. Oprah, Derek!

Social Jar Update!

Total since my last update = 48

As a reward for the first 25, I bought season 2 of Downton Abbey. And watched it in a weekend. Why do I have to wait until January?

Yoga Jar Update!

Total since my last update = 38

As a reward for the first 25, I bought a subscription to the magazine Yoga Journal. It was a Groupon, and I had a Groupon coupon (ha ha), so it only cost me $5!

I'm still waiting for the first magazine to arrive.

Mrs Hughes, I need to steal you for a minute. I have to check the linen books.

Ok, now for the "real" books that I've read recently.

Non-fiction first:

The Money Class: Learn to Create Your New American Dream

The Money Class by Suze Orman

The Review: This had some good tips and some things that I am working on implementing. But, like all financial books, the basic assumption is that you are in debt. Which for me isn't true. So the book fell a little flat for me there.

The Woman Who Wasn't There: The True Story of an Incredible Deception

The Woman Who Wasn't There by Robin Gaby Fisher and Angelo J. Guglielmo Jr.

The Story: As the subtitle says, this is "The true story of an incredible deception." A woman joined the 9/11 survivors' group and spun amazing lies about her experience in the Towers.

The Review: This was amazing. It was a quick read and easy to get into. And the whole time I was thinking what? why would someone do that? and how much is a lie?

I totally recommend this book.

Beauty Gone Wild! Herbal Recipes for Gorgeous Skin & Hair

Beauty Gone Wild! by Diane Kidman

The story: This is just what it sounds like. A cookbook for personal care stuff.

The review: I got it because it was free on the Kindle. And I'm a little "granola-crunchy, hippie-type." I found it interesting and when I get a little time and can locate the ingredients, I actually want to try out the moisturizer.

Little Princes: One Man's Promise to Bring Home the Lost Children of Nepal

Little Princes by Conor Grennan

The story: True story. Conor goes to volunteer at an orphanage in Nepal. He falls in love with the kids there and discovers that they are not actually orphans. They have been trafficked because of Nepal's civil war. He sets up an organization to try to reunite the kids with their parents.

The review: Great book. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Conor writes really well and is very entertaining as he tells his stories. And despite the large number of children he talks about, he manages to help you remember individuals and care about them.

I totally recommend this book. And so does the rest of my book club.

Knockout: Interviews with Doctors Who Are Curing Cancer and How To Prevent Getting it in the First Place

Knockout by Suzanne Somers

The story: Suzanne starts with her personal story of a major health scare and then interviews doctors who are curing cancer in all kinds of non-traditional ways.

The review: First it makes you absolutely furious at the medical system we have to deal with. And then it offers some practical things we can do to not get cancer. I found it a fascinating read.

And then fiction:

The Hundred-Foot Journey: A Novel

The Hundred-Foot Journey by Richard C. Morais

The Story: Hassan becomes a chef and has an amazing gift for creating food. He is eventually taken under the wing of a renowned french chef.

The Review: I thought there would be more story to this story. More action, more direction. I don't know. It left me disappointed and thinking, wait that's it? While simultaneously thinking, wow, that was so long!

The Grapes of Wrath

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

The Story: A family struggles through the Great Depression.

The Review: Steinbeck's style takes a moment to get into and it is very slow. But really for a good reason. And I hated the ending. But the fantastic news that I can now report on is my students survived this one! I'm so proud of them. -- I'm actually serious about that, it's not sarcastic at all.

Frozen Heat (Nikki Heat, #4)

Frozen Heat by Richard Castle

The Story: Nikki Heat continues her story and this time is looking to solve her mother's murder.

The Review: So I was enjoying this, and then I got sidetracked, and then the show came back on and I was disappointed with how this season began. So then I was disappointed with the book. I just felt like it was flatter than the others. Like it lost the charm and humor that I liked so much about the Castle series. So it wasn't my favorite.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

A mind needs books like a sword needs a whetstone.

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (Sherlock Holmes #3)

In my last post of book reviews, I missed one!

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Story:
This is the first collection of Sherlock Holmes short stories. It tells the story of Irene Adler and a few others that stumped Sherlock, as well as some robberies, murders, and supposedly super simple cases that turned complicated.

The Review:
Loved it. No matter what, Sherlock Holmes is always fun. And I need to read more, because I still haven't met Moriarty.

Monday, July 2, 2012

But I don't know if I should be flying or doing Swan Lake in these suits.

Some stories to share:

Shape Magazine
I get Shape magazine and was ready my copy this month. They did an interview with Kathy Griffin. She talked about some scary health challenges and how she decided to be healthy. 

But that isn't really the interesting part of the story. The article reminded me that last semester I had a student who wrote in her journal that Kathy Griffin is my twin. 

She started with the idea that everyone in the world has a twin, and then announced that Kathy Griffin must be mine, because we look a lot alike. At first, I was baffled... and not flattered at all. And then she explained that Kathy Griffin is her favorite celebrity and she loves her show. When I understood it was a compliment for her, I was more willing to go along with it. 

But really? I don't see it. 

Kathy Griffin


One of my classes this summer starts earlier than is normal for me. That means I have to be at work earlier, and that means I have to get up earlier. And because of all of this, I'm going to the gym really early most of the week. It's amazing how much difference an hour makes in who is at the gym. 

I was looking around at all the people who are at the gym at 5:30 in the morning, and found myself watching one guy in particular. You do it too. The gym is all about people watching. 

This guy looks like Chris Evans in Fantastic Four.

I decided after a few days that he needed a code name. So I call him "Hawk Eye." And I laugh every time. 

Another gym story. 

I may have mentioned before that I like to listen to Jillian Michaels' podcast while I'm at the gym. 

(Just as a side note: She's very different on the podcast than she was on The Biggest Loser)

The podcast is set up in different segments and between each segment, the sound engineer plays a song. One day he chose to play "I Believe I Can Fly."

On the next episode, Jillian threw a fit! She started, "I was listening to the podcast. What the h--- were you thinking picking that?!" It was hilarious. She went on and on. And didn't fire the sound engineer, so it's all ok. 

Last week, I was listening to her latest episode. In between the first and second segments the sound engineer played "Call Me Maybe."

I busted out laughing, on the treadmill, at the gym. I could totally see how mad Jillian would be. I can't wait for the next episode. 

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Bats may be, but even for billionaire playboys, three o'clock is pushing it. The price of leading a double life, I fear. Your theatrics made an impression.

A Rock-in-the-Jar update. 

My last update was on May 13. And looked like this:
Social life = 48
Yoga = 45

On June 9th, I counted everything up and the totals were:
Social life = 53
Yoga = 54

That means that I hit another reward point for both areas. I still haven't gotten the reward for them. 

And at the same time, I discovered that the jars were full enough that 1 rock wasn't making a noticeable difference, and I was getting disappointed with the lack of movement. So I dumped out 50 rocks from both jars. 

Today's totals:
Social life = 17 (Grand total since January 28 = 67)
Yoga = 14 (Grand total since January 28 = 64)

I need to plan a few more social events. Anyone want to hang out with me?

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Have you seen the new library? There's-there's-there's nothing but computers. There's not a book to be seen.

Book Reviews!

I feel like I haven't been reading much this summer. I am teaching two classes this semester, which makes it way busier than last summer. And I have a couple other projects that I am working on. But reading still makes me happy, so I still am making some time for it.

A Study in Scarlet

A Study in Scarlet by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I've mentioned before that I love the BBC show Sherlock.

Seriously, love it. And I found that almost all the Sherlock Holmes books are free on the Kindle. I downloaded a bunch before we went to Italy, and then started reading them after we got back.

The Story:
A Study in Scarlet is the first Sherlock Holmes novel. In it, we are introduced to Dr. John Watson and he meets and becomes roommates with Sherlock Holmes. Holmes is asked to consult on two murders and he gets Watson completely involved as well.

The Review:
Everyone knows Sherlock Holmes, but it is amazing to see how the characters actually got started. The murder is intriguing, but we get the entire story of Sherlock solving the crime, and then the story jumps to America and a totally bizarre tale of Mormon settlers who threaten and kill the people who disobey. It was a very weird shift and kind of surprising how it tied back to Sherlock's mystery.

Great, enjoyable book, but with a super bizarre twist.


Dreaming of Mr. Darcy (Austen Addicts #2)

Dreaming of Mr. Darcy by Victoria Connelly

The Story:
Chick-lit. A girl comes into some money and decides to open a Bed and Breakfast in ... uh... wherever Jane Austen's Persuasion takes place. (And that is how memorable the story was). A film cast and crew are filming Persuasion and descend upon her B&B. Romance is in the air, but the lines of romance get crossed and muddled, and then sorted out.

The Review:
It started off kind of cute, then got annoying, then was completely forgettable. I don't even remember the characters' names. Why is chick-lit all so predictable? And why are the "heroines" so annoying?


The Sign of Four

The Sign of Four by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

The Story:
The second Sherlock Holmes novel. Once again, Sherlock is consulted in a mystery. It begins as a treasure hunt and ends as a murder.

The Review:
Again, a great story. This one takes us back to India, rather than America for the twist. And the twist seems to work a whole lot better. Good book.


Unaccustomed Earth

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Story:
A series of short stories about Indians who immigrate to America and the challenges that they face both in adjusting to a new country and as they settle into life and their children become Americans.

The Review:
The first story in the set was my favorite. It is about a young woman who just had a baby and is trying to cope with the death of her mother. Her father comes to visit her for a week, and she begins to see how her father is dealing with her mother's death and how she is. I thought that the characters were developed and there was a resolution, even in the short story form.

The rest of the stories really fell flat for me. I was disappointed in how underdeveloped they were. My friends in book club made the same comment, and said it was just because they are short stories. I agree with that, but only to a point. Even short stories can be better than these.


Getting Rid Of It: The step by step guide for eliminating the clutter in your life

Getting Rid of It by Betsy and Warren Talbot

The "Story":
The Talbots live a minimalist lifestyle and explain how they do it and why.

The Review:
The Talbots are really clear with explaining what they do and why. I really liked the idea of getting rid of the clutter that surrounds you so that you can be mentally free of clutter. They talked about how they made money, and I wish I felt like I could actually make money, but I did feel inspired to clean some stuff out. Anyone want to buy some of my clutter?

Update/Comment: I said it didn't feel like I'm reading much, but I just checked my Goodreads list (come be my friend on Goodreads!) and I've read 25 books so far this year, and we are 26 weeks into the year. That means I'm not far from the "one book per week" goal. 

Thursday, May 31, 2012

I will talk no more of books or the long war / But walk by the dry thorn until I have found/ Some beggar sheltering from the wind, and there

Book Reviews! I'd say they are summer-time book reviews, but I've gotten behind, so the first couple are from April.

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman

The Story:
A young girl loses her mother and is sent to live with her great-aunt in Savannah, Georgia. In Savannah, she is surrounded by a bunch of strong old women.

The Review:
This was a cute, light read. My book club picked it and I finished it in a day. The characters were engaging and I was rooting for CeeCee to adjust to a normal life and really be happy. It was a satisfying ending in that way. The one thing that bothered me a little bit was it got a little man-hater. There were only 2 men characters in the entire novel and they were both horrible. It just gave a skewed vibe.

But the story was good and cute, and I would recommend it.


Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

The Background:
I chose this for my American Lit class in the Fall. I wanted something really recent that deals with our recent big issues that impact the entire nation.

The Story:
A young boy loses his father on 9/11, and now, two years later, he is still struggling with his loss. He finds things that make him believe that his dad left a message, so he goes all over New York City meeting people that he thinks can help him solve the message.

The Review:
I cried. Which means that this was a great book. I loved Oskar as the narrator, he has a quirky, unusual voice and was just charming from the beginning. The story is a little jumpy, but it really works. Obviously the story is rather heavy, but it moved quickly and was really good.

I totally recommend it.


Mao's Last Dancer

Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin

The Story:
This is a true story of Cunxin who is chosen to be trained as a ballet dancer in communist China.

The Review:
True confession -- I didn't actually finish this book. It was really rough. Obviously his story is amazing and overcoming odds and all of that, but the writing was horrible. I tried really hard to be understanding about a Chinese person writing in English and all of that, but it was really difficult to read. The writing was really flat and unexciting. I kept hoping that something would happen, and it didn't.

Since I didn't finish it, I obviously can't discourage reading it, but I can't recommend it.

Any Bitter Thing

Any Bitter Thing by Monica Wood

The Story:
A young girl loses her parents and is raised by her Catholic priest uncle. (Are you sensing a theme? I swear I don't just pick books about orphans). Her uncle is accused of molesting her and she is sent away. As an adult, she is still dealing with her past.

The Review:
I liked this one. The story-line is a little unusual and not really what I was expecting. But the writing was good and clear and it was a good story. I felt interested in the characters and was very satisfied with how their stories went.

I recommend this one.

Once a Witch (Witch, #1)

Once a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough

The Story:
A teenage girl was raised in a family of witches, but doesn't have any powers of her own. She is an outcast in her family and trying to figure out how to live her life. Then she meets a stranger and her whole life changes.

The Review:
This was a good story. The magic was approached in an interesting way. It was a quick, easy read. I recommend it.

Always a Witch (Witch, #2)

Always a Witch by Carolyn MacCullough

The Story:
The second installment of Once a Witch.

The Review:
I liked the second installment just a much. I did get a little frustrated with how Tam made decisions. It was the typical "let me rush off and do something crazy without the people who could actually help me" and I am always like "ugh!" Which I think is how the author wants you to feel ... maybe. But I recommend it.

A Brewing Storm (Derrick Storm, #1)

A Brewing Storm by Richard Castle

The Story:
A short-story installment of Derrick Storm -- Castle's character before he started working with Beckett.

The Review:
As always Castle's books are fun. I liked that this was a short story, it was a little cliff-hanger-ish, but the main case was solved.

Anna Dressed in Blood (Anna, #1)

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

The Story:
A young man, Cas, is a ghost hunter. He finds and "kills" ghosts that are murdering living humans. He gets a tip about a particularly horrendous ghost named Anna Dressed in Blood and goes to find and dispatch her.

The Review:
I liked this. I read it during my crazy-long layover in the Charlotte airport. It was quick and easy. I liked Cas's voice, he was quirky and cute. But I found the plot a little bizarre. I obviously can't really explain this without giving away the plot, but it was a little odd.

I'd still recommend the book, as long as you are willing to suspend belief.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Just so you know you sound like a fortune cookie.

I know you've all been waiting anxiously for an update.

But a quick recap: Remember the fortune cookie? Yeah, the one that said "Remember three months from this date. Good things are in store for you."

Well, the day -- May 11 -- has come and gone. The highlight of May 11 was I finished all my grading and got final grades together for all of my classes. So theoretically I'm finished with the semester! (Technically I still have to go in on Mon, Tues, and Wed to give students back their projects. And Thurs for graduation). But I'm done! Woo hoo! That means that I am done with Year 4. (My senior year is feeling somewhat anti-climatic since my little sisters all graduated early, even though we started at the same time).

I don't know what I was waiting for, but being done with this year is a pretty good feeling.

Just for fun. Although it feels like that sometimes.

For other updates:
I have officially run out of stones for my "Rock-in-the-Jar" projects. I've moved on to small plastic beads. They are 1/16th the size of the rocks, so it is very unsatisfying.

My Social Life jar has 48 in it. Go me!
My Yoga jar has 45 in it. Woo hoo!

Monday, April 2, 2012

You poked the bear!

I was super productive this weekend. I replaced the flapper in one of my toilets.

(Oh, the toilets. It is never-ending).

And then I cleaned out the drain in my bathroom sink.

All I could think of was this episode from Modern Family.

Later, when the girls are actually cleaning, they say, "Dad, we're hungry."
And Phil yells, "You won't be in a minute! Get started on that drain."

Yeah, grossest thing in the world.

If you like, you can review my daily log of social interactions.

Time for an update on the Social Life Jar.

I am now up to 33 rocks. 

A few weeks ago, I was at 22 and I had said I would get myself a reward when I hit 25. And then I couldn't figure out what to get as a reward. 

I asked for some recommendations. 

Kim said I should get a Camaro.

That seemed a little unrealistic. 

Several people said ice cream. But since I don't actually eat ice cream these days. That didn't really work. 

Carla said she gets things that she wouldn't ever buy herself normally. And that she loves getting TV on DVD. 

That sounded like a really good idea. So I ordered myself season 1 of the BBC's Sherlock. 

I can't wait for it to get here!

Yeah, you don't mind kicking ass when you have to, but otherwise you'd rather be hanging out with your sisters, baking cookies, or knitting booties.

My mom sent me a pattern for baby booties. It is a super cute pattern. But it was really hard. First, I haven't made a lot of things with shapes, and second, these boots are tiny. So the hook was tiny, and the books were tiny.

So here's my process.

I started. And messed up pretty bad.

Then I pulled it apart, and did it again. Then I gave up.

I found some simpler patterns, and made them with cheap yarn.

Then I tried the hard pattern again. With cheap yarn, and a larger hook.

And then I tried again. With the smaller hook and the nicer yarn.

It turned out really cute, right?