Books 14, 15 and 16

I’m no “live like you were dying” kind of person. I used to be daring–as a teenager, I went on international mission trips to third world countries without my parents, I bungee jumped from 70+ feet in the air, I loved adrenaline. But as I got older and became more aware of the dangers in the world, and now, as a parent, I’m no daredevil.

So when I stumbled upon the preview to The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch, I was intrigued. Pausch, a regular guy who happened to make his life into something great and memorable, wrote this book as he was dying of cancer. And man, it really hit me.

last lecture

I found myself working out on the elliptical with The Last Lecture perched on top of the machine, crying in the middle of the gym. Reading that this man was able to achieve so many of his childhood dreams and inspire others to do the same, reading that this man truly believed in being optimistic even while saying goodbye to his wife and small children, just gripped my heart.

So, PROS: Inspirational. Definitely made me rethink a lot of my lifestyle and thought process.

CONS: Sad at times.

FAVORITE QUOTE: “Time is all you have. And you may find one day that you have less than you think.

Next up on the list is hardly worth mentioning. I found myself in a book drought for a few weeks and came upon a recommended read: Not Quite Dating by an author I’ve never heard of, Catherine Bybee.

not quite dating

The book started off in a way that got me interested, with a single mother working overnights at an IHOP and a rich man happening upon that IHOP after realizing he no longer wanted gold-digging women in his life. The man becomes infatuated with the young woman, and pretends to be something he is not to see if she loves him for more than his money.

PROS: Eh, I mean, it’s a cute quick read. But that’s about it.

CONS: Not sure where to start here. Poorly written. Very little character development. Predictable.

FAVORITE QUOTE: … Nada.

Book 16, and the last book of the year, I am currently reading. It’s called The Round House by Louise Erdrich… and I’m enjoying it thus far! Come back and see how it turns out. If you’re looking for something to read, review my reviews or take a look at my list from 2012:

2012 Book List

January

By the Time You Read This I’ll Be Dead by Julie Anne Peters

February

Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

March

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

April

The Night Circus by Erin Morganstern

May

The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

June

I Suck at Girls by Justin Halpern
The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

July

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald (re-read)
Heartburn by Nora Ephron
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

August
The Devil in Pew Number 7
Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory

September/October
Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

November
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch

December
Not Quite Dating by Catherine Bybee
The Round House by Louise Erdrich

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August, September, October: Royal Fiction and American Epic

It’s been a while since I started my initial goal to read one book each month in 2012, and it’s been a while since I wrote about any of my recent reads. For the most part, I’ve read books that I’ve enjoyed in 2012—thanks to Kindle previews—but in August, I finally stumbled upon a dud.

I’m going to start there, and then get into the beauty that is Philippa Gregory and Margaret Mitchell.

The “dud” I began reading on a whim in August was called The Devil in Pew Number Seven. The title intrigued me, as did the synopsis, but somehow, I missed the memo that it was intended to be a chronological memoir, detailing the events of a young girl’s life as her preacher father was harassed by a sinister, rich, controlling church goer.

Boring, boring, boring. I do not like memoirs, the plot was entirely repetitive, and the ending? Trivial. Predictable. All kinds of one-second forgiveness after years of torment and the deaths of family members that I, being less than perfect, simply cannot relate to. I went ahead and looked up the family, who appeared on the Dr. Phil show, and while I appreciate what they went through, some of it just left a bad taste in my mouth.

So, let’s leave that aside and talk about the Good Reads for August, September and October.

In August, after the dud, I decided to go back to one of my favorite authors, Philippa Gregory. I selected The Lady of the Rivers because the beginning myth of Melusina interested me, and because the opening of the book contained dialogue between the main character and Joan of Arc, who has always fascinated me.PROS: Captivating plot, powerful protagonist, a beautiful love story, magic, and if you are like me and enjoy the drama and scandals that occurred in European monarchies, you’ll eat this up.

CONS: If you’re lacking in your knowledge of history, some of the terms, dates, and important people are lost.

FAVORITE QUOTE: “…great things can be achieved, that one should walk out filled with courage, even if one is a fool to hope.”

In September AND October (because it takes that freaking long), I decided to read one of the classics I’ve never read Gone With the Wind. I’ve never seen the movie and all I really knew was that it was an epic Civil War novel with a protagonist named Scarlett. So I went into it blindly, and loved almost every minutes.

PROS: The story just keeps you wanting more. It is breathtaking and transports you to a time of such controlled etiquette and propriety. Coming from a “Yankee” family, the Southern perspective is not one I knew much about nor did I sympathize with it. However, this book showed me the connection that many southerners had with their slaves, the good and the bad on both sides of the war lines, and the traditions of the South in the 1800s. Scarlett plays a very difficult role as the protagonist you don’t really want to like, but find yourself rooting for. The length and details created a lot of suspense for me, and I wasn’t often certain of what would happen next.

CONS: There are MANY words in this book I didn’t know. And I’m an English teacher. The vocabulary is on a higher level, and then when you add in time period and strictly Southern words, you have me using my Kindle to point and get definitions pretty often while I’m running on the treadmill. In addition, some people might be put off by the length or by the seriousness of the text. I could relate to the financial hardships, the deaths and other aspects of this novel but at points, it painted me to read. I know many who enjoy reading for pleasure and want to transport themselves into fairy tales and imagined lands where things are not as disastrous as they are in “real life.” This is not the book for those people.

EXTRAS: I will not spoil the ending, but I will say I am not a fan of cliffhangers and though this story pulled at my heart strings many times and I could relate to the difficulties the characters faced, I was not satisfied with the ending. When I finished, I was left with the thoughts of loved ones I know who have just never gotten it right. People who loved each other, but couldn’t figure out how to show it. Families who had to say goodbye to loved ones, leaving things unsaid. Parents who feel guilt for not raising their children differently. Children wishing they had stronger bonds with their parents. Regret. Torment. Broken-heartedness. Hardship. Misunderstandings. I hate misunderstandings and words left unsaid.`

FAVORITE QUOTES: “Some day I’m going to do and say everything I want to do and say, and if people don’t like it, I don’t care.”

“Sir,” she said, “you are no gentleman!”
“An apt observation,” he answered airily. “And you, Miss, are no lady.”

“Until you’ve lost your reputation, you never realize what a burden it was.”

“God did not frighten her anymore.”

“What beauty lay behind, it must remain there. No one could go forward with a load of aching memories.”

3 Months, 6 Books

I’m doing even better on my goal of one book a month for 2012 than I was the last time I posted my book reviews. I was able to complete six books that I truly enjoyed through the months of May, June and July. One of the factors contributing to my enjoyment of each of the books I’ve selected is my Kindle Fire. I never, ever, ever wanted to dabble in the whole e-book realm. It went against the old-fashioned English teacher in me. I love the feel of books. I like seeing them lined up in alphabetical order on my bookshelf. I like lending them to friends or students and hearing the opinions and reactions that follow.

But. The Kindle Fire won me over (thanks Mom!) and I’ve been using it like crazy. One of the major pros of the e-book thing is that I can download samples of every book I’m interested in before purchasing it. Earlier this month, I’m pretty sure I read 6-7 samples of books before I finally selected Heartburn by Nora Ephron. It’s a blessing when you live a busy working mom life and have a toddler in tow at the bookstore to not have to go to the bookstore, select a book that “looks good” (don’t judge a book by its cover, guys) only to get home and realize it bores you to tears.

All that being said, here are the six books I finished in the last three months, pros and cons, and my favorite quotations.

MAY: The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

PROS: This book, set in Alaska in the 1920s, really brought me into a time period and setting I had no knowledge of previously. Picturing the cabin, built by hand, and the miles and miles of snow on the mountains revived my imagination. Also, the book really pulls the heartstrings if you’re a mother. It’s about a couple, Jack and Mabel, who were never able to have children. Mabel prays for a child, and she and Jack construct a snow child one day, laughing and running about. Magically, a little girl appears. If you enjoy complex characters, like the Snow Child named Faina, folklore and magic, and powerful emotions like love and loss, you’ll enjoy this book.

CONS: Honestly, I really don’t think there were any cons. I’m sure for some, the plot could move a little slowly but it was aptly written considering the characters and setting.

FAVORITE QUOTES:

1. “All her life she had believed in something more, in the mystery that shape-shifted at the edge of her senses. It was the flutter of moth wings on glass and the promise of river nymphs in the dappled creek beds. It was the smell of oak trees the summer evening she fell in love, and the way dawn threw itself across the cow pond and turned the water to light. Mabel could not remember the last time she caught such a flicker.”

This quote appeals to the English teacher in me because of its powerful imagery and description personification. But more than that, it appeals to the nostalgic side of me, the one who loves nature and hopes for greater things. Mabel’s character, forlorn, wanting, but hopeful, is one I believe all women can relate to.

2. “When my hair has all turned gray,” a swoop and a twirl beside the kitchen table, “will you kiss me then and say, that you love me in December as you do in May?”

Self-explanatory. Such love and understanding between Jack and Mabel.

3. “We never know what is going to happen, do we? Life is always throwing us this way and that. That’s where the adventure is. Not knowing where you’ll end up or how you’ll fare. It’s all a mystery, and when we say any different, we’re just lying to ourselves. Tell me, when have you felt most alive?”

This quote probably affected me the most because I’m not much of an adventurer anymore, and sometimes I find it difficult to accept circumstances the way they are if I cannot change them.

JUNE #1: I Suck at Girls by Justin Halpern

 PROS: Let me say this. If you read my previous entry, this one will be totally opposite. I stumbled upon Justin Halpern and for some reason, was more intrigued by this title than by his more famous Shit My Dad Says. Pros? Absolutely positively hilarious. Hilarious. Like, I was laughing in my room so loudly by myself that my husband ran in thinking I was sobbing. The experiences Justin has had, his humorous and sarcastic way of reflecting upon them weaved in with his very matter-of-fact father’s words of wisdom made this book a fantastic read.

CONS: It is a memoir-type book, which is not always my favorite, and sometimes, it seems the “plot” isn’t going anywhere because it’s more a trail of small stories and how they turned Justin into who he is today. I appreciated that, though.

FAVORITE QUOTE:

“I called myself a writer, but so did my rat-hurling neighbor. In fact, when I’d run into him in the parking garage a few weeks before, he’d told me he was almost finished writing a comic screenplay about ‘an alien that comes to earth but people just think he’s a gay.’ If this guy could finish Gaylien (his title, not mine), I told myself, I had to be able to finish the scripts I’d been working on.”

I died when I read this. Died. You can’t make that up.

JUNE #2: The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

PROS: Victoria is an orphan who has bounced from foster home to foster home, and understandably, just wants to be left alone. She has an affinity for flowers, and uses them to communicate with people. I adored Victoria’s character, how closed off she was toward socialization, but how accurately she could choose a flower to relay an emotion. The flower language as well as the plot and twists and turns were intriguing. The reader is always, always rooting for Victoria.

CONS: The emotions go back and forth and back and forth so many times that your head is spinning while reading this book. In addition, the ending might be slightly predictable.

FAVORITE QUOTE: “Perhaps the unattached, the unwanted, the unloved, could grow to give love as lushly as anyone else.”

JULY #1: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

PROS: This book, set on Long Island, New York in the 1920s, is a classic. That’s really the only way to describe it. It’s basically a short story stretched out into a novel through the contemplations of the main character, Nick, as he tries to make sense of this mysterious affluent man, Jay Gatsby. The pros of this book are the fact that it truly transplants you to “West Egg” and “East Egg” and to Gatsby’s famous parties. You grow to like Nick and to understand how money changes a person.

CONS: I read this book in high school and adored it, probably because my favorite English teacher did and his way of analyzing it went far deeper than my 15-year-old brain could. But to me, the cons of this book are the feeling you are left with when it’s over. You realize that the world can be (and is) a depressing place, with people full of secrets.

FAVORITE QUOTE: “There must have been moments even that afternoon when Daisy tumbled short of his dreams—not through her own fault but because of the colossal vitality of his illusion. It had gone beyond her, beyond everything.”

Sometimes, we set such high expectations, or we want to believe that something in the past was better than it actually was. I can totally relate to this quote, and it was the one I highlighted and wrote about in my book when I was in 10th grade.

 JULY #2: Heartburn by Nora Ephron

PROS: The main character, Rachel Samstat, uses humor to cope with her husband’s infidelity while she’s pregnant. I enjoyed the humor and the fact that much of the book pokes fun at those in Washington DC, because Rachel’s husband Mark is in politics. Additionally, I liked the little spots where Rachel, a cookbook author, shares her favorite recipes.

CONS: I’m not a huge fan of weak-willed women, so I spent most of the book shouting at Rachel (in my head, of course) to punch her husband in the face and leave him to start a new life.

FAVORITE QUOTE:

“Sometimes I believe that love dies but hope springs eternal. Sometimes I believe that hope dies but love springs eternal… Sometimes I believe that love is as natural as the tides, and sometimes I believe that love is an act of will… Sometimes I believe that love is essential, and sometimes I believe that the only reason love is essential is that otherwise you spend all your time looking for it.”

JULY #3: Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

PROS: This book kept popping up on my Kindle recommendations and I kept passing it by until I just couldn’t anymore. I was too curious. It is a New York Times best-seller, my guess, because of its suspense. The author used a LOT of creativity and details, which I really liked as she wrote about the disappearance of Amy Elliott Dunne and her left-behind, stoic husband. One major point in Gillian Flynn’s favor is that she seems to have mastered the art of voice. She is able to write in three different voices and perspectives without any of them intermingling, even if two of the voices belong to the same person.

CONS: Believability. Or lack thereof. I had a hard time with the events because they just seemed entirely unrealistic. The characters seemed unreal, the conflicts seemed unreal, and the ending left me wanting.

FAVORITE QUOTE:

“I don’t know that we are actually human at this point, those of us who are like most of us, who grew up with TV and movies and now the Internet. If we are betrayed, we know the words to say; when a loved one dies, we know the words to say. If we want to play the stud or the smart-ass or the fool, we know the words to say. We are all working from the same dog-eared script.”

There it is, six books in three months that, for the most part, I would recommend. Even though Gone Girl left me hanging in the end, I very much look forward to seeing it turned into a motion picture.

Now… what should I read next?

Good Reads 2012 (Months 1-5)

I love to read and I love to write. Unfortunately, life often gets in the way and I don’t spend enough time on the things I love to do. I set a goal for myself around Christmastime 2011 to make sure, despite my work obligations, motherly goings-on and wifely duties, to finish reading at least one book each month throughout 2012. Additionally, I have begun brainstorming the best course of action for the summer when I have more free time to write. At bare minimum, I need a few hours a week to devote to writing query letters, posting blogs, researching, and finishing my young adult novel. I may attempt an hour a day, or chunk it into one 6-7 hour Starbucks sitting on a Sunday, depending on my husband’s flexibility. Either way, I have promised myself not to set unrealistic goals, but to carve out some time to do things that are just for me.

I am proud to say that I did complete my goal thus far. I haven’t even flipped the calendar page to June and I’ve already read five books (well, sort of… one I didn’t finish entirely. But I’ll get to that). In addition, I am happy to report that each of the books I read is in fact a book I would recommend to another reader. This is huge for me because often times, I do not get the hype surrounding books people around me seem to love, or I choose a book that seems interesting but slowly bores me to death and I end up putting down.

So, here is a rundown of my first five Good Reads of 2012:

JANUARY: By the Time You Read This I’ll Be Dead by Julie Anne Peters

PROS: Because I teach high school English, I often gravitate toward young adult fiction. I’m not even sure how I stumbled upon this book, but I could not put it down. It is a quick and easy read. I adore books written in first person and this story made me feel like I knew Daelyn Rice and understood her struggles.

CONS: I have not yet recommended it to any of my students because I believe the subject matter–an insecure teenager who has attempted suicide unsuccessfully multiple times and now consults a cyber support group to help her end her life–is quite mature and emotional.

FAVORITE QUOTE: “I’m sorry you don’t get it, Mom. Sometimes I don’t get why I do the things I do. I just know I wake up every morning and wish I was dead.”

This quote broke my heart. I think it was the first time I realized that my son may go through things in life that I can’t save him from, that I can’t prevent him from facing. But like this girl, I hope there are some people in my son’s life who will show him there is always a way out.

FEBRUARY: Last Child in the Woods by Richard Louv

PROS: I had been following a few mommy blogs and saw someone post a review of this book. I am not an outdoorsy person by any means, but my husband and I have often discussed that we want to make sure our son actively participates in life rather than standing on the sidelines as a spectator. I take my son for walks, we go outside in the rain to play barefoot in puddles, and I hope we make many more memories (sans spiders, I hope) in the great outdoors. This book not only encourages people to get outside, but also proves that a lack of interaction with nature can cause physical, emotional and mental trauma to a person. Louv even argues that the resurgence in mental illness is directly connected to the increase in sedentary behavior in more technologically advanced nations. A real eye-opener.

CONS: I’m not a fan of nonfiction. I admit it. I did not finish this entire book. I read quite a bit, then began skimming chapters and highlighting key points. It started to feel like a school research book because of all the statistics and percentages and citations and that’s not my style.

FAVORITE QUOTE: “Nature inspires creativity in a child by demanding visualization and the full use of the senses.”

MARCH: The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater

PROS: A former student recommended this book to me. If I have a student who likes to read and enjoys a book, I’m all about it. It is another young adult fiction tale with a female protagonist, but it is incredibly unique. The author intertwines the personalities, motivations, hopes and tragedies of two characters–Kate Connelly and Sean Kendrick–while describing the island of Thisby, where men ride on man-eating water horses to entertain tourists and win money. I adore the characters, setting, and plot. Even the connections the characters made with the horses, the constant imagery of the sea and the sky, and the tales of magic were intriguing. A must-read.

CONS: There really aren’t any cons to this book except my only personal issues. For some reason, it took me a few tries to really delve into this book. I firmly believe that there is a time for everything, even reading. I picked this book up in December, found the beginning to be somewhat dry, and put it down. Picked it up again in January, and put it down. In March, I was hooked. Give it time.

FAVORITE QUOTES (I have many… I loved this main character):

1. “I’m quite happy for that smile, because Dad told me once you should be grateful for the gifts that are the rarest.”

2. “It’s easy to convince men to love you… All you have to do is be a mountain they have to climb or a poem they don’t understand.”

3. “Boys,” she says, “just aren’t very good at being afraid.”

APRIL: The Night Circus by Eric Morganstern

PROS: A friend recommended this to me and I’m so so SO glad she did. This is the most descriptive, most creative work of fiction I have ever read. Two magicians (and I use that term loosely because they were so much more than that) train students to battle each other in a vague challenge surrounding a black-and-white mysterious circus that operates internationally from sundown to sunrise. The types of illusions created in this novel–ice gardens, a boat made of pages floating on a sea of ink–are ones I couldn’t have even dreamed–and I dream some strange dreams. It appeals to all the senses and pulls on the heartstrings, as well.

CONS: It may get difficult to keep the dates and characters in check because the book shifts around a lot. I actually didn’t realize the dates were going ahead in time and then back in time until I was already a little confused.

FAVORITE QUOTE: “You may tell a tale that takes up residence in someone’s soul, becomes their blood and self and purpose. That tale will move them and drive them and who knows that they might do because of it, because of your words.”

MAY: The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

PROS: decided I needed a shorter, lighter read for May because I was running out of time to complete my goal of one book a month. The Old Man and the Sea is a classic, and I love classic literature. Additionally, our school approved this novella as one of the summer reading selections for freshman English students. I decided I should get ahead on the game and read it before the students.

The Old Man and the Sea is quintessential Ernest Hemingway. It’s simple. It’s straight to the point. It’s not flowery. And although it is in every way the polar opposite of The Night Circus, I still enjoyed it. It is a tale of strength, optimism, and courage. An old fisherman battles an 18-foot marlin for three days after an 84-day dry spell with no good fishing. Sounds boring, but it was a worthwhile quick read if you are able to absorb the symbolism and moral surrounding the story.

CONS: Really, if you’re not into simplicity, that’ll be the sticky point for you. There’s really no lead-up, no follow-up, no real character analysis to be done. It’s a simple tale that teaches a universal lesson. No real cons, just maybe not for everyone.

FAVORITE QUOTE: “But a man is not made for defeat. A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”

There you have it! 5 books in 5 months, all of which I would recommend!