Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016: My Year in Reading

Oh, 2016. You were a record-breaking year for me. I have been tracking the books I've read since 2011, and my old record was 109 books in one year. This year, I completed 111. 

I also competed in a reading challenge with my good friend Ingrid over at Getting Lost in the Stacks. Ingrid set up a very challenging 2016 list of book topics. Click here to see the topic list. Obviously, Ingrid set it up to light my hair on fire. I'm happy to report that at this moment, I've completed 111 books this year. Crazy, I know, but I have. However, I have NOT completed the challenge-I still have three topics left to complete...and they are NOT going to be finished in the next two days. I'm okay with that. I started December with 19 books left to read, so I put a decent dent into my goal. :)

Here's my list of books read for the challenge: 

READING CHALLENGE 2016
LIGHT: 13
Non-fiction about scienceThe Story of the Human Body
That someone told you “changed their life”Becoming Marta
Published in 2016Girl Waits with Gun
A food memoirAnimal, Vegetable, Miracle
A playPygmalion
Over 100 years oldThe Awakening
Over 500 pagesAll the Light We Cannot See
With a main character with a mental illness The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Written by a comedianModern Romance
Originally published the year you were bornThe BFG
Non-fiction about a religion not your ownIslam, A Short History
Less than 100 pagesThe Old Man and the Sea
With a one word titleGeorge
AVID: 13
A BIOGRAPHY OR AUTOBIOGRAPHYWhy Not Me?
A MYSTERYCareer of Evil
BASED ON A NON "WESTERNIZED" FAIRY TALEBeauty
WRITTEN BY AN AFRICANPurple Hibiscus
A GRAPHIC NOVELNimona
ABOUT A ROAD TRIPpaper towns
SET IN A COUNTRY NOT YOUR OWNA Kiss at Midnight
SET IN YOUR HOME STATEA Rogue in Texas
WITH A WOMAN’S NAME IN THE TITLEEsperanza Rising
WITH A CHARACTER WHO HAS YOUR NAMEDancing with the Devil and Other Stories from Beyond
ABOUT AN ANIMALFour Fish
SET IN AUSTRALIAThree Wishes
A NATIONAL BOOK AWARD WINNERWaiting
COMMITTED: 26
About music or a musicianLife, by Keith Richards
A dystopian novelThe Maze Runner
A current New York Times BestsellerThe Martian
A satireCatch 22
A collection of poemsA night without armor
With an ugly coverThe Dude Abides: The Gospel According to the Coen Brothers
Translated to English1Q84
Targeted at the opposite genderEverything Bad Is Good For You
By or about a Greek philosopherMeditations
Takes place in a desertThe Heretic Queen
An epistolary novelLast Days of Summer
That makes you sadThe Boy in the Striped Pajamas
That changed your opinion on a topicHow to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk
With bad reviewsSlaughterhouse-Five
With a number in the titleSize 12 Is Not Fat
Set in a place you’ve always wanted to visitThe Other Daughter
One you started but never finishedDarwin's Devices
A Pulitzer Prize winnerOlive Kitteridge
With non-human characterAftermath
Self-publishedEulalia's Story
Set during a holidayLabor Day
Film or tv tie inHarry Potter and the Cursed Child
You pretend you’ve read it (but haven’t)Catcher in the Rye
From the libraryThe Thirteenth Earl
Time travelThe Time Machine
Political memoirI Am Malala
OBSESSED: 49
WRITTEN BY A RUSSIANDoctor Zhivago
ABOUT A MARTYRBonhoeffer
RECOMMENDED BY A PARENTThe Bible
TAKES PLACE DURING WINTERThe Call of the Wild
BIOGRAPHY OF A WORLD LEADERLong Walk to Freedom
SELF-IMPROVEMENTThe 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
THAT REMINDS YOU OF HOMEBrownsville
ABOUT A COWBOYThe Emmitt Zone
AN AUDIOBOOKThe Resurrection Casket
A BANNED BOOKMein Kampf
WRITTEN BY AN ACTORLove Life
BY OR ABOUT SHAKESPEAREThe Lodger Shakespeare
WITH A PROTAGONIST WHO HAS YOUR OCCUPATIONEmily and Einstein
ABOUT A CULTURE YOU’RE UNFAMILIAR WITHA Passage to India
WRITTEN FROM THE LOSING SIDE’S PERSPECTIVEAll's Quiet on the Western Front
WITH A BEAUTIFUL COVERThe Nest
SOMETHING “EVERYONE” HAS READ BUT YOUA Knight of the Seven Kingdoms
TOLD FROM A CHILD’S PERSPECTIVEPigeon English
WITH MULTIPLE TIMELINESThe Mapmaker's Children
WRITTEN BY A CRIMINALCatch Me If You Can
WRITTEN BY A ‘LOCAL’ AUTHOROld Creole Days
MODERN RETELLING OF A CLASSICGREAT
NARRATED BY THE ‘BAD GUY’The Picture of Dorian Gray
AN ALTERNATE HISTORYThe Man in the High Castle
EROTIC NOVELMy American Duchess
SCIENTIFICALLY ACCURATE COMICVampirella
A NOVEL WITH RECIPES IN ITCream Puff Murder
ABOUT A TOPIC YOU’RE AFRAID OFTwelve years a slave
BY OR ABOUT A WORLD EXPLORERSchooner to the Southern Oceans
ABOUT A CONTROVERSIAL TOPICSandrine's Letter to Tomorrow
BASED ON A GAMEThe Force Unleashed II
CONTAINING BULLYINGCity of Mirrors
WRITTEN BY A FICTIONAL CHARACTERFlowers from the Storm
ABOUT A PLAGUEThe Years of Rice and Salt
A TRILOGY THAT HASN’T BECOME A MOVIE OR TV SHOWPotent Pleasures, Midnight Pleasures, Enchanting Pleasures
WRITTEN BY SOMEONE UNDER 20 YEARS OLDHow to Talk to Girls
NON-FICTION ABOUT ALCOHOLWine & War
WRITTEN BY SOMEONE OVER 65Still Foolin' 'Em: Where I've Been, Where I'm Going, and Where the Hell Are My Keys
SET PREDOMINANTLY UNDERGROUND OR UNDERWATERThe War Below
TAKES PLACE IN ASIAThe Good Earth
A MICROHISTORYHillbilly Elegy
SET IN A STEAMPUNK UNIVERSEManners and Mutiny
A BOOK WITHOUT CHAPTERSWe Need to Talk About Kevin
THAT YOU ORIGINALLY READ IN MIDDLE SCHOOLThe Raven
AbOUT AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLEBury My Heart at Wounded Knee
A COLLECTION OF ESSAYSGumbo Tales
WITH MAGICDemon Mistress
ABOUT A CURRENT HUMANITARIAN CONCERNThe Book of Unknown Americans
WRITTEN BY A FIRST TIME AUTHORThe Bookstore

The yellow highlighted books are the ones I haven't read. I'm currently working on The Years of Rice and Salt. I'm only one chapter in, though, so I doubt I'll get it done before year's end.

Also, a disclaimer: Several of the books were audiobooks. I spend about an hour in traffic every day, so I listened to books instead of the radio. A great side effect of listening to audiobooks is that it helps you stop messing with your phone while driving. :)

Yes, some of the books were very easy. (I'm looking at you, How to Talk to Girls and The BFG.) There were some I despised (Demon Mistress and A Knight of the Seven Kingdoms, which I'm only picking on because I want the next book in the Song of Fire and Ice series). There were sad ones (We Need to Talk About Kevin), funny ones (Modern Romance), and books full of hope (Esperanza Rising). Of course, there were many that I absolutely loved: Hillbilly Elegy, Wine and War, The Martian, The Picture of Dorian Gray, and The Story of the Human Body). 

Overall, I'm very glad I participated in this challenge. I read things I never would have considered, and I opened my eyes a bit to new genres. I discovered I'm actually rather fond of autobiographies, particularly when they're read by the authors. I also like history much more than I thought I did. Read any of the non-fiction on my list. They're well worth the time.

So, thank you, 2016. It was a great year for reading. I look forward to next year's challenge: whittle down my current reading list to less than 20 books. It's currently at about 60, so it should be doable. Buuuut...I think Ingrid has another challenge up her sleeve, and though I swore to myself I wouldn't do another complicated challenge, I probably will. Just because I love books.

Batgirl at Super Hero High


Title: Batgirl at Super Hero High
Author: Lisa Yee
Genre: DC Comics, Super Hero, Audiobook

We listened to this book during a two-day, twelve hour road trip, and we LOVED it. The narrator did a great job keeping us (all female, ages 34, 9, 8, and 6) engaged. At certain points in the story, we paused it and discussed what was going on and what we thought would happen. 

My eldest is not good with "regular" reading, but listening to this Batgirl book really gripped her attention, and she not only retained more than normal, she also truly understood everything that was going on (unlike in "regular" books). This was definitely an eye-opening opportunity to me...I'll make sure she has access to audiobooks as well as text copies of books. Maybe that will help encourage her reading.

Back to the book: The plot moved quickly, and the audiobook was about 4.5 hours long. We mixed up the trip with "regular" reading, a movie, creative time (drawing, coloring, Play-Doh), and listening. My nine-year-old was the one who wanted to listen to the story the most. She nailed the plot and made good hypotheses about the outcome of the story. I was entertained even though I'd brought my own audiobook for listening during the trip. I saved my book for the "other" times during the driving. 

Overall, we look forward to following the Super Hero ladies through the rest of their adventures. Enjoy this title as an audiobook on your next roadtrip.

***Disclaimer: I obtained this audiobook from Blogging for Books in order to publish a review.***

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Travelers



Title: The Travelers
Author: Chris Pavone
Genre: Fiction, Spy, Thriller

The Travelers was as quick, involved read. The fast pace kept my interest, and I enjoyed "traveling" with Will as he worked to untangle all the messes he got himself into. Sometimes, the plot was a little too incredible, but this is a spy story-it's not supposed to be 100% believable. I imagined Jeremy Renner as Will, and that made the movie in my head even more interesting. :) Definitely worth a read. 


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Waiting


Title: Waiting
Author: Ha Jin
Genre: Fiction, China

I really don't know why I do it to myself. Chinese novels (and many of their movies) are lovely and breath-taking, but they always leave me feeling mildly morose. On the bright side, I bounce back by realizing just how blessed I am to leave in America, where being positive is practically a national sport. I also remember to be grateful for my many, many freedoms here. This novel, set in 70s and 80s China, provided a stark reminder of just how wonderful freedom is.

Waiting is about a man, Lin Kong, who spends his life -you guessed it- waiting for things to happen. He is passive and allows everything to more or less bowl him over. Once he realizes how good the things he let go of were, it's far too late to recover them. He is a pitiable man, one who doesn't know his own self well enough to help himself in any way.

I was far more interested in the woman of the story: Shuyu, Lin's wife, and Manna, Lin's girlfriend. They are so polarly opposite and yet so very, very strong. They work, and they wait, and they live in a way Lin cannot.

I read this book for my reading challenge's topic "A National Book Award Winner". It was Jin did a lovely job crafting this novel, fleshing his characters well and giving us intriguing landscapes and settings to consider. I recommend this, but it's not a light read. It'll take some time and thought to truly absorb.


The Book of Unknown Americans


Title: The Book of Unknown Americans
Author: Cristina Henríquez
Genre: Fiction, Immigration

Oh. My. Goodness. Can I tell you how much I loved this book? My parents came here from Mexico before I was born. Our story is much different from those of the characters in this book because technically, my dad was an American born in Mexico. However, they settled in a border city because being too far from Mexico just left them both unsettled. Go to a border town-they truly are different worlds. But I digress. This book gave me just a little peek at what my mom (who was a "full-fledged" Mexican until 2001, when she became a naturalized citizen) must have gone through when she arrived here in the States. Even in border towns, where there is more sympathy and acceptance for recent arrivals, people can still be awful to one another.

In this particular book, Henríquez weaves together a tale of many families or people who have come to the U.S. from Latin American countries for a variety of reasons. It's set in a run-down apartment building in Delaware, of all places. Their voices are real, and they're full of life, hope, and pain. I am NOT a cry-baby (though if you ask my older brother, he'd probably bring up all kinds of stories to the contrary), but this book had me crying from laughter and crying from sadness.

Henríquez is a brilliant author, bringing her characters to life with such tenderness and true-to-life experiences. Their voices shine beautifully through their words, and really, I just wanted to give so many of them the hugs they desperately needed.

My recommendation: If books move you, have a box of tissues nearby. Otherwise, you'll have to use your shirt or your bedspread (which was not greatly appreciated by anyone who jumped into mama's bed that night). Definitely a book to add to your reading list for the year.


Four Fish


Title: Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food
Author: Paul Greenberg
Genre: Non-fiction, awareness

Ah, stories of why we do things and how we can improve. I read this for my book challenge's "Story about an animal" category. Four Fish tells all about how humans came to focus on cod, salmon, bass, and tuna...and how we're depleting our sources by pretending the ocean will never run out of fish.

First, I was fascinated by a concept Greenberg introduced. Humanity, particularly the western peoples, has boiled all the potential meat food sources to four animals from each of the major groups. For fish, see previous paragraph. Land animals: cows, goats, pigs, and sheep. Fowl: chicken, duck, turkey, and...Shucks, I can't remember, and I already returned the book to my library. But still, isn't that crazy? I'd never noticed that about my diet. Moving along.

While my undergrad degree is in oceanography, I'm not particularly keen on fishing. I like to look at fish in aquariums and eat them, but other than that, they don't interest me. I'm more into how the currents affect the way they swim and where they go and all that other dorky stuff. So this book was a bit of a stretch for me, but this year's reading challenge is all about stretching those wings.

Naturally, I was fascinated. Greenberg does an excellent job of engaging his audience and drawing us in. I felt the plight of the poor, overfished tuna and of the salmon who can no longer make their runs because of dams a little too deeply. What I liked best is that Greenberg did NOT spend his book complaining. He explained, he described, and he offered solutions. Thanks to him, I'm going to be trying out a whole bunch of new, sustainable fish (if I can find them). Vote with your dollars and your plates, folks!

This book is for you if you:
a.) need a reference on the plight of overfishing,
b.) care for the environment, particularly that of the ocean and its critters, or
c.) want to learn more about why you eat what you do.

What do you think about this fish tale?


The Mapmaker's Children



Title: The Mapmaker's Children
Author: Sarah McCoy
Genre: Fiction, Historical (Civil War)

I really enjoyed this book, which surprised me. Typically, I'm not a huge fan of Civil War novels: they're bloody, they're heartbreaking, and they fill me with immense national shame. "Slavery is WRONG," I want to yell at everyone. I'm so glad we're done with slavery. Now on to equal rights! We're still working on that, but the fact that we're working is positive, and I pray we can see a day where our children will look at all people and say, "They're people, and we're all different, and it's cool because their moms cook awesome food and their accents are fun to listen to." Or something like that. But before I start on my "everyone is awesome so get over the differences" rant, let's talk about The Mapmaker's Children

Typically, I'm not a fan of John Brown. I admire his pluck and courage, but I do not support the violent actions he took at Harper's Ferry. Talk about the wrong way to start a rebellion. If you're going to do something that drastic, be sure it's going to succeed! Anyhow, our Civil War era protagonist is Sarah Brown, John's daughter. I like her a lot. She is everything you'd want a forward-looking young lady to be: not hung up on love, devoted to a cause, brave, and willing to speak out on her beliefs. She is an active participant in the Underground Railroad, working hard to get concealed maps to conductors and slaves during the turbulent 1850s and 1860s era. Read the book; I'm not going to spoil her story here. 

Since this book shifts between 1859-1864 and 2014, our modern-era protagonist is Eden. I did not care for her at first. She definitely had to grow on me. The supporting ensemble of characters were much more interesting and less whiny. Of course, we have a lot to learn about Eden, so there's plenty of opportunity to figure out why she's whining. Eden's stake in this novel starts with her moving into an historic home and discovering a bizarre doll head in her cellar. It turns out her home was part of the Underground Railroad, and the more Eden learns about her house, the more she learns about herself.

This book was a quick read for me. I hope you'll enjoy it. Post a comment and let me know what you thought!


***DISCLAIMER***
A publishing company sent me this book for an honest review. All opinions are, quite naturally, my own.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

King Spa


Place: King Spa
Location: Chicago, IL

My husband and I got a Groupon for this AWESOME place when we saw it advertised on Facebook. We'd never realized that it was less than a mile from our home, and we regret it so much! We're getting ready to move (again) in just a few weeks, so we can't take advantage of it too many more times. It's a shame because there are year-long subscriptions, and we would have jumped on that in a heartbeat.

Oh, well. Suffice to say, we LOVED this place. There are eight steam rooms, and the whole point of the place is to relax. We sat and enjoyed letting the hours slip by while breathing the warm, moist air. It worked wonders on my sore throat. I went home almost completely healed. Hooray!

The tubs (separated by gender) were very relaxing. It was a little awkward stripping down to my birthday suit with so many strangers, but I got over it pretty quickly. There were three temperatures of tubs: HOT, warm, and ICY. I jumped from one to the other in intervals and followed it up by sitting in the steam room. Then I showered and did it all over again.

Hydration-wise: There were several water fountains and water coolers. You will not dehydrate unless you don't pay attention to your body.

Food-wise, there was a Korean restaurant inside. We had delicious meals that were light but filling.

King Spa is also located in Dallas. If you're anywhere near one, GO THERE! You'll probably find a Groupon or Living Social coupon somewhere, and it's well worth the experience. Enjoy!

Islam: A Short History


Title: Islam: A Short History
Author: Karen Armstrong
Genre: Non-Fiction, Religion

Karen Armstrong is an excellent author if you want to learn a complicated subject. She breaks things down into simple parts and explains them thoroughly without making the reader feel dumb. She handles the history of Islam in a handful of chapters, going through each major period with minor sub-titular breaks.

Islam has long been a subject I wanted to know more about, but all the books I tried were just a little too involved or a little too dry. Now that I've got this one in my brain, I'll probably be able to handle the more complicated ones. Thanks, Karen Armstrong!

Pygmalion

Title: Pygmalion
Author: George Bernard Shaw
Genre: Play

Oh, George Bernard Shaw. I just love reading his plays. They're snappy and witty and fun.

This, of course, is the play on which My Fair Lady is based. It is really fun. Reading Shaw's intended accents for Eliza sort of turned my mind in loops-it's such a strong, harsh language!

And the ending is much different. Shaw wrote it much differently than the movie had it. There will be no spoilers here, so read it and discover Eliza in her true sharp glory.

All the Light We Cannot See


Title: All the Light We Cannot See
Author: Anthony Doerr
Genre: Fiction, World War II

I finally figured out why everyone's been talking about this book. Wow, is it fantastic! I loved every minute of it. There are two points of view we read this from: a German soldier's and a blind French girl's. Doerr handles the transitions flawlessly, moving you from one mindset to another, always cleverly weaving the story like Charlotte did her webs.

I especially loved Doerr's attention to details. It was so easy for me to picture the buildings, the cities, and the people themselves. The scent of the bakery and the sea of the coast of St. Malo drifted into my mind as though I was there. This was definitely a highly sensory book, and I loved it.

Enjoy this one!

Twelve Years a Slave


Title: Twelve Years a Slave
Author: Solomon Northup
Genre: Non-fiction, Biography

Oh. My. Goodness. I read this on the heels of watching Amazing Grace (completely unplanned). I truly don't know how anyone would have read this in the 1850s and still thought slavery was an acceptable thing. Mr. Northup wrote this beautifully: he includes the joys of his life despite the wicked cruelty surrounding him in the Louisiana antebellum period. I sobbed during several chapters, hurting for him, wishing I could step into the book and cart him away to his family in New York. Definitely moving, powerful, and eye-opening. 

I am so thankful slavery is no longer permissible here in the States and look forward to a day when there is no longer any slavery anywhere. Read this slowly, with purpose and compassion. Learn the horrors and work to prevent them!

The Thirteenth Earl


Book: The Thirteenth Earl
Author: Evelyn Pryce
Genre: Romance, Mystery

This was a really quick, really easy read. This is a typical romance in that the characters weren't too deep, there was a lot of "romantic angst", and the plot sped along. For me, this was a "finish in two sittings" type of read, and although it was fairly shallow, I still enjoyed it. 

There were some fun historical references to the Spiritualism movement in England that I didn't know about. Consequently, I spent some time on Wikipedia learning more about it, so hey-this book got me to learn something new! 

I liked how the heroine wasn't the typical simpering lass, but she had too many "woe is me" moments for my sensibilities. Overall, the three female leads were good blends of strong and weak, and they allowed me to get through the book. The three male leads were typical of this genre: focused on one thing and good-looking.

Figuring out the plot was fun. The "cursed" earl tries to drown himself in alcohol in order to escape his sad existence. The spunky heroine falls for him against her better judgment, especially because she's been engaged to his cousin for nearly a decade. Mysterious accidents and events occur, and the heroine sets out to prove her love isn't cursed by anything other than a dastardly human.

If you're not into sex scenes, there are some pages you'll need to skip. If you are, they're rather decent-just enough to stimulate the brain, not too much that leaves you thinking "enough already".

If you're in need of some easy on the brain entertainment, The Thirteenth Earl fits the bill.