Saturday, February 23, 2013

Why do nice people choose the wrong people to date?

Data, a Love Story by Amy Webb

The Story:
My sister Carla saw Amy Webb interviewed on Good Morning America, and told me about this book. I watched the interview and was interested, so I got the book.

Webb tells about a bad break-up, being constantly set up with the wrong people, and disastrous online dating. Everything comes to a head when she goes out with a perfect-on-paper guy who tells her, half an hour into the date, that he is married. She walks out furious, calls her sister and tells her the whole story. Her sister asks if she remembers Mary Poppins and how the kids hated all their governesses and so they made a list of exactly what they wanted and Mary Poppins appeared.

So Webb sits down and makes a list. Then she decides that to really do this properly she needs to check out the competition and learn how to set up her profile so she creates fake men profiles (10 of them) and interacts with women for a month, collecting data the whole time. Finally after a month she is able to set up her own "super profile." With her "super profile" in place she begins screening the guys according to her criteria and meets her now-husband (don't worry, she tells you that in the intro, so I'm not giving anything away).

The Review:
The book was awesome. Webb is super hilarious and tells about the bad dates, and her crazy scheme, and how she kept track of it. She also included IM conversations that had me cracking up and the scene in Banana Republic is a total classic. It was seriously entertaining, and even if you aren't thinking about online dating, I recommend it just for a good read.

(Side note: I had an ... incident... recently with one of my book clubs, and so I feel compelled to say that you should only pick up this book if you are not going to get completely offended over her use of the f-word.)

The Larger Project:
I've been thinking about trying online dating for a while. I actually started a couple of times and then deleted my profile really fast.

So I've decided that with Amy Webb's tips, I can try for real and see how it works out. Here's your chance to weigh in:

1. The first step is to create the "Mary Poppins" list of what you want. What do you think should be on my list? (I'm up to 22 things already, but Webb had 72 on her list, so I've got plenty of room).

2. What are three words you would use to describe my personality/me?

3. Webb actually changes a few things about herself to make herself more attractive to her ideal guy. She quits smoking, joins a gym and loses a little weight, and buys some new clothes (after the Banana Republic scene). What do you think I need to change about myself?

Friday, February 22, 2013

And I'm sure some fool in the Donner party said the snow would stop any day now. I like to think they ate him first.

Snow Day Musings

I know I haven't blogged for real in quite a while. And perhaps my book reviews are becoming totally boring. I'm not really sure if I want to try and go back to blogging regularly or if I'll just keep this as a book review only space. (Because I like reviewing the books and looking back at what I have read). But in lieu of deciding anything on that, I'll just tell you a few stories about my snow days.

The middle has been hit with "Snowmaggedon 2013!" The news has been tracking the storm and predicting 6-10 inches of snow for my area for an entire week. They are really good a the hype.

My officemate came back to the office after her class on Monday and said, "My students came in this morning and said, 'Are we having class on Thursday?'" And she just looked at them and was like "It's Monday! What's wrong with you?"

By Wednesday, all of my coworkers had confessed they were totally praying for a snow day.

I'm signed up for the school's text alerts, so when my phone beeped on Thursday morning at 5:21 am, I rolled over and looked at it and saw that they had indeed cancelled classes. I went back to sleep. When my alarm clock went off at 6 am, I shut it off and went back to sleep. But then I thought, wait, I want to know how much snow is out there. So I rolled out of bed and went and looked out the window. I stood there for a few minutes, because I had to let my eyes adjust.

Seriously? They cancelled school? There is NO SNOW out here!

But it started snowing with half an hour, and it fell hard and fast. At 9:30 am, it was "Thundersnowing" with lightening and all. By 12:30 pm we had 10 inches. By 2 pm we had another inch, and I went out to shovel.

My funny story on facebook:
How I make decisions:
Should I go shovel my driveway now? I'll check fb first... hm... only one person said she shoveled her driveway. Nope! I'm going to read a book instead.

Photo: How I make decisions:
 Should I go shovel my driveway now? I'll check fb first... hm... only one person said she shoveled her driveway. Nope! I'm going to read a book instead. Happy snow day!

It took me two hours to shovel my driveway.

And here are the funny stories from that:
1. My neighbor.
Apparently my neighbor did not spend the night at her house. So at 2 pm, right as I was coming outside to begin shoveling, she drove up to her house. The street had been slightly plowed (very slightly) but as she turned to go up her driveway she got stuck. Yes, a tiny Saturn against 11 inches of snow. That's exactly what is going to happen. So she backed up and tried again. She got stuck going both ways. So she parked her car and left it IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD! Then she got out, walked to her house and went inside.

As I said, I spent 2 hours outside shoveling my driveway. She never came back outside.

At 6 pm, I was on the phone with my sister, and looked outside. Neighbor lady came back outside with a snowblower. Me: "Are you kidding me? She owns a snowblower and just left her car in the road all afternoon?!" She starts blowing snow at the garage door. In the next hour, she gets about two to three feet in front of the garage door cleared, and then she goes back inside. Leaving her car IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD.

Yes, it's still in the middle of the road.


2. How I entertain myself while shoveling snow.
Shoveling, shoveling, shoveling. Singing. Shoveling. Singing.

Thinking: You know, it's a good thing I'm not a math teacher. I would come up with horrible math word problems like:
Emily lives in a house with an 18 ft long driveway. If it snows 11 inches, and Emily has to shovel the entire driveway by herself, how much snow (in cubic inches) does she have to move?
And if she has to shovel an additional 5 ft into the road how much did she shovel?
And if snow weighs .23 lbs/cubic inch, how many pounds of snow did Emily move?

Bwah hahaha, they would hate me.

It's a good thing instead that I teach English and just get to come up with writing prompts like:
What is the biggest storm you remember?
What was your favorite thing to do when you had snow days as a child?
How did you spend your snow day?
How do you prepare for big forecasted storms? Did you prepare adequately?

Saturday, February 16, 2013

That's right. When I was your age, television was called books.

I'm so lucky I get to read such good books.

Ok, so I already explained in my last book post that I was sick in January and read all kinds of ... fluffy unserious books. So I was still working through some of those series and some of the books along those lines that I had picked up. And I suddenly was feeling bleh and thinking "I so need to read something good." And I did!

So here are the still fluffy ones:

Touched by Corrine Jackson

The Story:
A girl has power to heal illnesses and injuries. She spends years caring for her mother when her mother is beat up over and over again by her abusive husband (not the girl's father). After a particularly brutal attack, the girl's father comes and takes her to live with him. The girl (can you tell I don't remember her name?) begins to settle in to her father's home and life in his family, but discovers a mysterious guy in the town. They are inexplicably drawn to each other and ... yeah, this should sound familiar enough that you know how it ends.

The Review:
Honestly it was pretty Twilight-y. That's not a compliment.

So I don't remember any of the characters' names, which should tell you how memorable they ... weren't. But for a moment at the beginning I thought, hey this girl is cool enough, has her own special power, is used to taking care of herself, she could be a good female character. And then it devolved in to an angsty teenage "love" story, all about I'll-die-if-you-die and never-leave-me-because-I-can't-live-without-you. So gross.

Breathe by Sarah Crossan

The Story:
Dystopian young adult novel. Sometime in the future, the people cut down all the Earth's trees in order to have farmland to grow enough food to feed the world's population. Without trees the oxygen in the atmosphere plummets to a mere 4%. This is called "The Shift." The only way to survive is to get a spot in one of the Pods built by the company "Breathe." The pods set up their government and have a strict social hierarchy that controls the ability to access oxygen. There is a rebel movement to replant the Earth with trees, and two normal kids discover the truth.

The Review:
If you want dystopian, read The Hunger Games or The Running Man. Skip this, please.

Ok, to be slightly more serious, or at least more detailed in my review: This has all the common elements of dystopian fiction. It fails in execution because it does not create likable or even interesting characters. Part of the problem with the character development is that Crossan switches narrators at every single chapter between the three main characters. This worked beautifully for The Help, but here it is a total fail because the character's voices aren't different at all. I found myself flipping back to the beginning of the chapter to figure out who was talking, which I never had to do with Aibileen. The result in Breathe is that I just did not care about the characters or what happened to them at all.

The other fail in the novel is that it took a totally didactic condescending tone. Crossan's point in writing it was to call attention to the dramatic problems of deforestation. But she was so condescending and extreme that it fell flat.

Faefever by Karen Marie Moning

The Story:
This is the third in the series about Mac, the blonde southern belle, who travels to Ireland to find out more about her older sister's murder and discovers a world of the Fae which she never knew existed.

The Review:
I said at the end of Book 2 that I wasn't sure if I would continue the series. But I had put a whole through the library on this next book, so when it came, I read it. And... I'm done. It was a super-dramatic cliffhanger ending, and I just don't care. So what happened? It was extremely dark and Mac continues to change into a dark, driven by the wrong things character and I felt, in this novel, completed lost the charming, bright, southern belle that made her interesting.

So I'm done.

And I moved on to good books! Yay for good, well-written, interesting books!

The Yard by Alex Grecian

The Story:
London is still reeling from Jack the Ripper's reign of terror. At Scotland Yard, twelve detectives have been appointed to the Murder Squad and Walter Day is a new detective in their ranks. He is first on the scene at the discovery of a body and is assigned to investigate that death, which happens to be the death of a fellow policeman on the Murder Squad.

The Review:
Really good murder-mystery. Walter Day is only one of the main characters whose perspective we get as the action moves to them. Also included are some of the other detectives on the murder squad, two constables, Dr. Kingsley (a surgeon who assists the Yard -- slightly Sherlock Holmes-ish), and Day's wife. The characters are well developed and interesting, each with their own backstory that influences them as they try to catch the killers who seem to be taking over London. The plot is detailed and tangled with unexpected connections and turns. It's a compelling read.

The flaw is in the ending. It wraps up extremely fast, almost like Grecian was told "No more than 400 pages" and when he got to that point he was like, "Crap! I've got to end this! Ok... um, alright, character 1 do this. Done. Character 2 do this. Done." Etc. All the loose ends did get wrapped up, but without the emotional connection that I was expecting.

The Postmistress by Sarah Blake

The Story:
Hm... how do I sum this up? Let me start here: It is a World War II novel about the connections between people, how we share our experiences, and the stories we can't tell.

So in one area, we have Iris James who is the Postmaster in a small town in Massachusetts. Her job is to deliver the mail and she is very efficient at it. But as she watches the lives of the people in her small town, a letter arrives that she can't deliver. In another area, we have Emma Fitch, the new bride of the small town's doctor, struggling to find her place and be supportive of her husband. And in London, we have Frankie Bard, an American journalist who is broadcasting the Blitz on the radio. She wants to tell the truth, to help Americans see what is happening in the war.

The Review:
This novel was beautiful. As we follow Frankie Bard, she reflects on what it takes to tell a story, how to get the truth past the censors, and Blake includes some of her broadcasts. They are just beautiful. She creates amazing images that stay with me, even after finishing the book. I was so invested in this book that I was tearing up as I read at the gym (yes, crying while reading a book while running on a treadmill is a feat and indicates a magnificent piece of writing).

Besides the beautiful writing, the novel is an examination of what war is and an examination of story-telling. I found both explorations turned up really interesting material.

Fantastic book, go read it.

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

The Story:
As the story begins, Victoria Jones has just been emancipated as a ward of the state. The novel switches back-and-forth between Victoria's present -- as she tries to live in a group home, deals with homelessness, and finds a job with a florist, and her past -- when she was 10 years old and was placed in the home of Elizabeth. Elizabeth taught Victoria the language of flowers from the Victorian era, and in the present Victoria uses it to change the lives of customers at the flower shop.

The Review:
Loved it. Victoria is a character who has been deeply hurt, but she blames herself so she pushes everyone away. The only way she connects to people is through flowers and the messages that they give. The descriptions of the flowers are beautiful (I love flowers. I don't know if I've ever mentioned this, but I worked for a time during grad school at a nursery/garden center. It was a small family-run business, and I still consider it one of my favorite places on Earth), and it is interesting to see Victoria open herself and make connections to people through flowers.

I definitely recommend this one.

Friday, February 1, 2013

I miss my books and my armchair and my garden. See that's where I belong. That's home.

Book Reviews.

A friend asked me last night what I've been reading lately. I laughed guiltily. So here's my one and only defense... I was sick. In my extreme exhaustion, I couldn't even be bothered to change channels on the TV and focus on the constantly moving images. So I read a whole bunch of short, fluffy, not-serious novels.

If this list looks really confusing now that you have read that caveat, it is because it includes books that I read while I was hanging out at my parents' house over the Christmas holiday as well. Don't worry, you'll be able to tell the difference.

Ransomed Dreams: 1 (Side Roads)
Ransomed Dreams by Sally John

The Story:
Sheridan is an ambassador's wife who is now living in a remote village in Mexico after she and her husband were attacked. She still suffers PTSD and he was seriously wounded and is disabled in addition to the PTSD. She has to travel back to Chicago because her father is dying and her carefully built world and safe haven crumble.

The Review:
I liked this story. It was an easy read, the characters were interesting, it's got a good plotline. But it was just lacking a little something. Like the author could have done more and just didn't. It was an enjoyable read, but not one that I emphatically recommend.

The Chicagoland Vampire Series

Product Details
Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neill

Product Details
Friday Night Bites by Chloe Neill

Product Details
Twice Bitten by Chloe Neill

Product Details
Hard Bitten by Chloe Neill

Product Details
Drink Deep by Chloe Neill

The Story:
Merit is a graduate student in English Literature when she is turned into a vampire. In this "vampire reality," the vampires in Chicago have come out of the closet and told the humans about their existence. With that awareness, the vampires have some really strict rules, including that someone has to give permission to be turned, which Merit didn't. So she struggles with her new vampire status, but joins one of Chicago's three vampire Houses -- Cadogan House and it's Master Ethan Sullivan. She is named Sentinel, a guard for the House, and spends each novel fighting to protect the House and the vampires in it. 

The Review:
I read the first two when my flight home for Christmas was cancelled. And then I read the other three when I was sick last week. While I'm not big into the whole Twilight/vampire crazy -- ok, not at all into -- I liked these books. They have a vibe like the Dresden Files, perhaps because they are set in Chicago or just the kind of irreverent way they deal with the supernatural. 

In addition to the good tone, Merit is a good heroine. She's hardcore, not whiny or afraid or subservient. She's an enjoyable character to read and root for. 

All that said, I do just have to say, seriously? How many love triangles can a girl be a part of? For real. And also ... ok, I can't figure out how to say that one without major plot spoilers. So ... I'll leave it. 

Besides those issues, my major problem with the series is that it feels like Neill is writing just to keep the series going. It has felt like there are books where nothing has happened. And I think that is one of the huge flaws with a series in general. If they are like Harry Potter and each book can have a distinct, fully-contained plot that functions as part of the larger good-versus-evil plot, series can be amazing. But when some books are just to set up the action that is coming in a later book, it gets a little frustrating. 

I'd recommend these if you like good heroines and the supernatural. 


Falling for Mr. Darcy
Falling for Mr. Darcy by KaraLynne Mackrory

The Story:
A rewrite of Pride and Prejudice. Instead of spinning their preconceptions and misunderstandings out until they cause major damage, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy have a few moments early on to come to an understanding.

The Review:
I enjoyed this book. It did a good job of keeping the characters who they were while seeing what would have happened if the situation had been changed. Of course, changing the situation means that they missed the entire point of Pride and Prejudice, but it was still a fun read.

The Storyteller's Daughter: A Retelling of "The Arabian Nights" (Once Upon a Time (Simon Pulse))
The Storyteller's Daughter by Cameron Dokey

The Story:
A retelling of the Arabian Nights -- well, a retelling of the frame story of the Arabian Nights. Why she decides to marry the king who will kill all his brides and how she tells him stories.

The Review:
This was a good read. Young Adult fiction, so simpler, but entertaining.

Room: A Novel
Room by Emma Donoghue

The Story:
The narrator, Jack, is a five-year-old boy who lives inside a shed with his mom who was kidnapped when she was 19. He is the result of her abuse by her kidnapper and he is her reason for living.

The Review:
This was complex and layered, it was dark and also beautifully loving. And that is just how conflicted I still feel about it. It's a stirring story of a mother's love, and hope, and overcoming. But I was disturbed by the five-year-old narrator and his experiences.

I absolutely recommend this book.

This Is How You Lose Her
This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz

The Story:
Yunior tells about the women in his life and how he lost them.

The Review:
Book club pick. And I hated it.

Yunior is Dominican and has the machismo attitude of a player who treats women as completely disposable. And it's really annoying. And then he is destroyed by a woman who dumps him when she finds he has cheated. I just had a really hard time getting interested in such a jerk of a character. He had no redeeming qualities, and I just couldn't find any reason to be interested.

I don't recommend this book.

Radical Forgiveness: A Revolutionary Five-Stage Process to Heal Relationships, Let Go of Anger and Blame, Find Peace in Any Situation
Radical Forgiveness by Colin Tipping

The Idea:
The s--- we carry around happens in patterns and causes a whole host of problems as we continue to lug the baggage. Here's a way to release it.

The Review:
Love the concept. Tipping does a good job of keeping the explanation interesting by including real stories of real people, including his sister. Definitely recommend it.

Firespell (Dark Elite, Book 1)
Firespell by Chloe Neill

Product Details
Hexbound by Chloe Neill

The Story:
Lily is packed off to an all-girl boarding school in Chicago. As soon as she arrives she realizes that her roommate Scout is up to something weird. She follows and gets tangled in a battle between Adepts -- those who have magic, but practice it only until they are 25, and the Dark Elite -- who suck the life out of people in order to keep practicing magic.

The Review:
After I finished Book 5 of the Chicagoland Vampires, I realized that the online library doesn't have any more of that series that I can check out for free and read on my Kindle. Seriously disappointing. So I moved to this other series by the same author.

This series is intended for a younger teen (preteen?) audience, so it is more about the struggles of the high school popularity contest and what you do when the cute boy looks at you (because of course there is an all-boys boarding school nearby). That said it was cute. But it still has the same issues of being a multiple-book series. I finished each of these books and thought, was there a plot? Did something really happen? Because it felt like mostly set up.

Maybe I'll just recommend it for younger readers.

Darkfever (Fever Series, Book 1)
Darkfever by Karen Marie Moning

Product Details
Bloodfever by Karen Marie Moning

The Story:
Mac (short for MacKayla) has just learned her sister was murdered in an alley while she was studying abroad in Dublin. When the police close her case with no leads after 3 weeks, Mac flies to Ireland and discovers a whole world of the Fae that she never knew existed.

The Review:
I just finished the second book in the series, and I am kind of conflicted. First, I do like the books, they are entertaining. Mac is proving to be an interesting character with more redeeming qualities than the first image of her would lead you to assume. However, it is really dark. Much darker in tone that either the Chicagoland Vampires or the Firespell. And dark and scary are really not the reason I read books like this (is that surprising or weird?). Yeah, I'm really in it for light-hearted escapism. And the other reason I am conflicted is because the ending of the second book took a turn that I am really not sure I like and I am not sure I am interested in how it will play out for the rest of the series.

I can't fully recommend until I've read more of them. So this is just on hold until I can get more from the online library.

Product Details
Turned by Morgan Rice

The Story:
A girl discovers new powers.

The Review:
This was so bad that I read 100 pages and quit. When I got to about page 100, the girl (yeah, don't remember her name) had just ripped open an opera singer's throat. So so not interested.