Sunday, May 30, 2010

The Weekly Read: 21

Lots of reading done this week as I tried to finish up some tasks for the Spring Challenge, which ends Monday!

READ: If I Stay | Gayle Forman
Wow....... Seriously, WOW. This book was so powerful and emotionally gripping. It's heartbreakingly sad and beautiful, and so, so real. It's hard to explain how amazing this book is. It's so simple in it's premise, and somehow still gentle through both it's quiet and disturbing moments. A loving, happy family leaves for a day of fun, which quickly turns disastrous. Mia, a 17-year-old girl, is left watching from above the aftermath of what could be aptly called the worst day of her life. In the end, only she can make the decision if she will stay and fight to live. I wasn't sure how this book would effect me listening to it rather than reading it, but I was crying within 20 minutes. The story and words are both so powerful, you can't help but be instantly connected to Mia's family, and share their pain, grief, and ultimate hope as the book progresses. The intricacies of life and death are handled with care and respect, and the joys of Mia's life and family are brought alive through flashbacks and reminiscences. It's the story of tragedy, true, but's also a testament to love and life. I would recommend this book to anyone. Seriously.

READ: Water For Elephants | Sara Gruen
Another winner this week! I really enjoyed reading this book, not only because the writing was excellent, but because I find the topic of circuses in the 1920s fascinating. It's such a different world, it almost seems make-believe. And yet, it is true. This book is about family, about home, about finding a place to belong. It's about the humanity we can see in animals that makes them true and loyal friends. And it's also about the demise of one of those small traveling circuses, which was entirely brought about by the ruthlessness of the management. Jacob is someone it is easy to sympathize with. He is out of his element when he finds himself in the middle of a circus, but quickly finds a place to belong, and people to belong with. He is caring and upright, and he and Marlena just belong together. I most felt for Jacob as a 90-something, though. I immediately wanted to defend him, to get after his family for abandoning him in a home, to support him in his arguments against the nursing staff. I will just say that I am happy with the way this ended up, both in his youth and old age. If there is anything I would say about this one, the characters perhaps could have been more developed, and the central theme more solidified. Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this one and had a hard time putting it down. Also, they are making a movie of it! Starring Reese Witherspoon and Robert Pattinson! So yay!

READ: The Code of the Woosters | P.B. Wodehouse
I'd been wanting to read a Wodehouse book for a while because I kept hearing how funny and clever his books are, how witty the language he uses is, and they always seems sort of like F. Scott Fitzgerald's books in my mind. Unfortunately, it just didn't live up to the hype for me, and I wanted to like it more than I actually did. I wanted to find this book hilarious. Unfortunately, the most I can call it is amusing. Maybe I wasn't in the right mood for it, and thus just felt like getting through it rather than savoring it. But still, I didn't want to savor it. I found Bertie kind of annoying, and thus, didn't really care if he went to jail or not. It is a clever story, and the writing is smart and witty. I think overall, it's just not my cup of tea. Oh well! Another one crossed off my giant list at least.

STARTED: Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln | Doris Kearns Goodwin
I first heard of this biography of Lincoln last summer, and had added it to my ever-growing to-be-read list at the time. At 975 pages, though, I kept pushing off reading it. After reading Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter earlier this year, though, I wanted to learn the truth about Lincoln, and so I checked out the audio version of this book. 42 hours. On 36 discs. Yeah, this is going to take a while to listen to. But you know what? It's really interesting so far, and I already feel like I have a new perspective on Lincoln. And it was going to take me forever if I actually read it, anyways, so I might as well listen. :)

Up next week: one final book for the spring challenge, and then jumping in to the summer one! :) Happy reading!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Weekly Read: 20

Once again, I didn't feel like I had all that much time to read this week, but somehow, it looks like a got a lot of reading does. Who knew?

READ: Haroun and the Sea of Stories | Salman Rushdie
I've been wanting to read this book since I saw Desmond reading it on the plane during the first flash-sideways of season 6 of Lost. I found it enchanting, delightful, full of fun and intrigue. Haroun is a boy who finds his way to Kahani and the Ocean of the Streams of Story, where all of the world's stories comes from. There he not only saves the Ocean and all the stories, but his father, mother, town, and self from sadness. There were so many wonderful parts to this book: the P2C2E (aren't many things that way?), Mr. Butt and Iff, the blending and renewal of stories in the ocean. It is a fascinating narrative, full of a sort-of-dream, of the Alice-in-Wonderland did it or didn't it happen variety. I felt like this was quite similar to Alice in many ways, except the writing was more engaging and the characters more sympathetic and relatable. I enjoyed this much more than Alice, and am so happy to have read it. Since the season finale of Lost is tonight, I'll have to think more about how this book relates to show once I've seen it. It seems like it has been signifiant so far this season, and I can only imagine that it will continue to be so.

READ: The Truth About Forever | Sarah Dessen
This is the book people are talking about when they say how amazing Sarah Dessen is as a writer. This book is full of great characters to love and sympathize with, and despite the feeling of sadness that floats along in the book, it really was a joy to read. Macy's journey throughout the book is both brave and heartbreaking, and the changes in both her, her family, and her friends at the end is so happy and necessary. Wes and Macy's relationship grows naturally and organically, and we see it all unfold. Not only do they belong together, but they need one another - they understand and help each other like no one else could. I was sad when this one came to an end, because I could use more imperfect happiness in my life. :)

READ: Someone Like You | Sarah Dessen
After reading The Truth About Forever, this book felt more like an after-school special or movie of the week. Don't get me wrong - it was enjoyable to read, but it can't be termed fun in any way. To be honest, I wanted this to be more about Halley and Scarlet's friendship than it was. Sure, Halley was always there for Scarlet, and you could tell they cared about each other, but much of the book was taken up by Halley's relationship with Macon, and her subsequent growing up. We never have any resolution over Michael or Macon - did they really love Scarlet and Halley? With Michael, there is no way to know - once he died, there was no going back, and there were always people around, hinting around. But maybe that was just Elizabeth being mean-spirited and jealous, unhappy with her own life. I wish they had concluded Halley's story with Macon more, though - did he really love her? Did he deserve her forgiveness? Could she forgive him? Did they belong or end up together? So many questions, not many answers. And in the end, there is Halley by herself, talking to a baby. Overall, it was well written and a good story, but definitely not my favorite from Sarah Dessen.

READ: Early Bird: A Memoir of Premature Retirement | Rodney Rothman
I originally added this book to my to-be-read list because Nick Hornby seemed to like it in one of his columns. I'm not sure I can trust Nick Hornby anymore, though, after our fight. I found this book funny and facinating at times. Rothman decided to take a break from his normal life and get an early glimpse of retired life. For the most part, Rothman's observations are witty and wry. Unfortunately, they are mostly anecdotal - a string of unrelated stories that, while amusing, don't really provide one with a narrative. Clearly learning something from his experiences wasn't Rothman's goal - he says so himself - but I think the book lacks a unifying theme, something we can all take away from it. I would say that the point is that you can find common ground with people of any age, become friends with them and stay friends, and I think Rothman's epilogue testifies to that, despite his assertations that he regularly got sick of spending day after day with old people. In the end, I just wish this had dug a little deeper. The whole situation seemed rather artificially set up, and I wanted to feel more sincerity from him.

STARTED: If I Stay | Gayle Forman
This book made me cry. During the first 20 minutes of listening to it. I had a hunch picking it up that it would, just based on the premise, and the fact that I cry rather easily. I was only uncertain as to whether I would be so emotionally affected while listening to it being read rather than reading the words myself. Yeah, that's not a problem. This book is heartbreakingly sad and beautiful already, and I'm barely in to it. I can't imagine how it will end, but am hopeful. Sigh. So far, the only thing I don't like is the blurb on the cover: "Will appeal to fans of Stephenie Meyer's Twilight." Ugh. It's nothing like Twilight - it is much more sweet and real and meaningful.

STARTED: Water for Elephants | Sara Gruen
If there is one book that almost all of my friends on Goodreads have read, it is this one. Perhaps that is why I have felt resistant to read it over the past year - if I never read it, it always has the potential to be amazing. What if I read it, and I don't like it nearly as much as my friends? In the end, you have to get passed that, trust in your friends' opinions, and give it a shot. 30 pages in, and so far, so good. Here's hoping the next 300 are just as intriguing!

Next week, I'm planning on finishing If I Stay and Water for Elephants, then finishing off the rest of the tasks I have in progress for the Spring Challenge by reading Mr. Darcy, Vampyre (also our next book club read!) and The Code of the Woosters, and starting the epic audiobook of Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln. :) Yay!

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Weekly Read: 19

I've been staying at my sister-in-law's for the last few weeks as my brother is out of town, so I haven't had an overwhelming amount of time to read. Luckily, there is always listening in the car and at work, plus the ones I actually read were pretty short. ;)

READ: Whip It | Shauna Cross
I enjoyed this quick, fun book just as much as I enjoyed the movie it spawned. It's not so surprising that the book feels a lot like the movie, as apparently the author adapted the screenplay herself. The story flows well and the characters are entertaining and engaging. If anything, they are a little shallow, especially the other roller girls - we don't really get to know any of them as well as we do Bliss. The movie does a better job of introducing us to the girls and making us feel invested in their lives. Pash is much more likable in the movie as well, mostly because we get to know her more. Overall, though, I really enjoyed reading it, and I'm sure other fans of the movie will, too.

READ: The Vampire Diaries: The Fury | L.J. Smith
This is the third book in the Vampire Diaries trilogy, and much like the first two, it is difficult to review on it's own. I can only say that it is just as fun as the first two, with a side of angst and sadness. I think this was originally going to be the end of the series, as it doesn't particularly have a cliff-hanger ending like the others, but if I remember right, the fourth one in the series was written pretty quickly after. The main thing I am not fond of from this particular volume is the sudden flopping Elena makes between Damon and Stephen once she "remembers" who she is. If you're going to like the bad boy, just like the bad boy! I love that Katherine is reintroduced, and I'd love to see something similar in the show. I also like how in the show, they weave Alaric into the story in a somewhat similar role, but tweaked to fit their storyline better. Overall, it doesn't necessarily have a happy ending, but the ending is fitting.

READ: The Vampire Diaries: Dark Reunion | L.J. Smith
I decided to review this fourth book in the series separate from the third because I truly feel she should have ended the series at the third. The book has an entirely different tone with Bonnie as the narrator, and I really missed Elena. It was a little slow in parts, and there was definitely too much Tyler and not enough Damon. Overall, though, it's pretty similar to the first three in the series and it is a fun little adventure, even if its not quite as fun as where the tv show has gone. :) Apparently there is a recently written fifth book in the series. I'm sure I'll read it eventually, but I am not inspired, as I heard it was pretty bad. We'll see.

READ: Tender Morsels | Margo Lanagan
This one is probably the deepest book I read this week, and definitely didn't turn out the way I expected. Tender Morsels is a rich and complex reimagining of the classic story of Snow White and Rose Red. Throughout this book, I was in turns sadden and disheartened by the unimaginable cruelty and enchanted and surprised by the twisting of fate as it first separated Liga and her family from the real world and then suddenly brought her back. And then, finally, I was begrudgingly happy-ish but actually heartbroken by the ending. This book is full of rich imagery and a world that is so utterly unlike my own that it felt magical. The characters, especially Liga and her daughters, were deep and full of strong emotions. Liga's struggle throughout the book was with both her haunting and terrifying past and her disbelief that she could possibly deserve some sort of happiness. The fact that she actually begins to feel she might build a happy, true life for herself makes it even more devastating when her hopes are dashed, and she is suddenly back to only existing to support her daughters. And for some reason, I can't bring myself to forgive Margo Lanagan for doing this to Liga, for building her dreams and expectations up along with my own, and then crushing them again, perhaps beyond repair. And we never know if she opens up again, because suddenly, shockingly, anti-climatically, the book is finished. There are many things to love in this book: it's creative, well-written, full of thought-provoking ideas on a wide range of topics such as gender equality, ethics, and the importance of Truth. The characters are special and enjoyable. I would recommend it to many to read. But I don't think it's one I could read again, as enjoyable as it was. I am strangely and irrationally drive by emotions. Oh well. :)

Up next week: More Sarah Dessen on audio, plus finishing up some books for the Spring Reading Challenge.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Weekly Read: 18

Another good week for reading, helped along by a couple of re-reads and a book on CD. I'm happy to say I am back on track for my 100-book goal.

READ: The Vampire Diaries: The Awakening | L.J. Smith
READ: The Vampire Diaries: The Struggle | L.J. Smith
It makes more sense to talk about these two together rather than apart. Not only are the from the same series, they don't really stand by themselves as novels, to be honest - each one is connected to the next with lovely cliffhangers. I first read these books multiple times as a teenager, when L.J. Smith was one of my favorite authors. I then read them again about 2 years ago, when the vampire craze hit and they were reissued with hip covers and packaged in sets of 2. I recently decided to read them again because I have been slightly obsessed with the TV show that has been adapted from them. I remembered that events in the book didn't quite happen the way they were in the TV show, but to be honest, the TV show is completely different from the books. Pretty much the only things they have in common are the names of the main characters and their basic relationships: human girl, torn between two vampire brothers. However different they are, there are things to like in both the show and the books, and I enjoy them both. Elena is a strong and competent girl, and Stephen is brooding and self-sacrificing. There is a lot of tension in the book between Stephen and Damon, even more so than in the show. Damon is hard to like, but also hard to not like - we feel all of the magnetism that Elena does pulling as towards him, and don't really have the connection with Stephen to stop us. It's hard to resist a bad boy, because you can't help but want him to change. :) The main difference between the first and second book is that we get to know Damon much better through the second one - and we actually start to get glimpses toward the end of it that maybe he isn't as bad as we always thought. Yay! Also, the end of the 2nd book takes us someplace I'm pretty sure the TV show will never go. Since these books always end in such cliffhangers, I really need to find the 3rd and 4th ones in the series, so I can finish my refresher course. And of course, I can't wait for the end of the season of the Vampire Diaries TV show. :P

READ: Lock and Key | Sarah Dessen
As I mentioned in last week's Weekly Read, I previously felt very resistant to reading anything by Sarah Dessen, but only because it was something I would have picked when I was in my teen-fiction-reading-rut. It was more of a mental block than anything, and I'm happy to have busted out of that, because how silly! This is a book about family. What Ruby learns throughout the book is true: family means different things to different people; family is ever-changing, and we have many throughout our lives; sometimes a family is flesh and blood, people you've spent your whole life with. But sometimes a family is the people who support you, who appreciate you for who you are and love you unconditionally. This book is also about learning to trust people when all you've ever know is hurt, loss, and abandonment. It's about the importance of friends, whether you think you need them or not. And it's about trusting and believing in yourself, and never selling yourself short. Ruby is a hard person to get to know, both as a person and a character, but the further along the novel gets, the more Ruby opens up both to her family and friends and to us, the readers. It doesn't take long until you love her so much, you just want her to be happy. Nate is not just a nice guy, but a guy who is still nice, despite having a surprisingly crappy life. The rest of the characters are just as real and lovable, and they become a family you just want to belong to. I'm not ashamed to admit I was crying while listening to this on my way to work one day. I'll just say this - it was when Cora was talking to Ruby about her wedding. Yeah. Overall, I really liked it. I'm wondering if maybe I would have loved it even more if I had read it instead of listening, but we'll never know I suppose. Also, since it was taking too long to listen to in the car, I brought it in to work and listened while I worked Thursday and Friday, which made it go by almost too fast! But it worked out really well, actually.

READ: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls | Steve Hockensmith
When I read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies last year, the first book in this "series", I was really disappointed. My hopes were high, and perhaps there was no way it could have ever matched them, but regardless of that eventually, the book fell surprisingly short. When I heard about the plan for this "prequel", however, I was intrigued by the possibilities of learning how Elizabeth and her sisters turned into zombie slayers, about the motivation behind their training and about the rise of the zombies. This book definitely benefits from the fact that there are no actual words for the book to be based off of, and is thus more unique than the first one. It was interesting, fast-paced, fun, and throughly enjoyable to read. The style as accurate as could be when combining Austen's world with that of zombies. My only complaint is that the new characters - Lord Lumpley, Master Hawksworth, and Dr. Keckilpenny in particular - were pretty one-dimensional and unrealistic. I had a hard time imagining either Elizabeth or Jane being truly interested in them, even if they were 4 years younger than in the original Pride and Prejudice. They were just too overly comedic and quite ridiculously obvious. Other than that, I would recommend it as a quick, fun read, for both fans of Austen and zombies alike.

STARTED: Tender Morsels | Margo Lanagan
I picked this one up while browsing the audio shelves at the library last week, but it's actually been on my to-be-read list for almost a year. I am a sucker for fairy tale retellings, and the reviews I heard of this one were excellent: a deep and dark reimagining of the classic Snow White and Rose Red. So far, it was been more of a challenge listening to this one than the previous audio books I've listened to. Add together narrators with accents, characters who speak an old english sort of slang, and a point of view that hops around, and you have a confused Rachel, sitting in her car, trying to figure out what's going on. After a few discs, though, the narrative sort-of settled down, and I was able to keep track of the characters and the action. And it's starting to get exciting! There's a bear! Who's really a man! And he's made friends with the girls! Anyways, I am quite looking forward to my commute and working this week, because it means I get to listen more. :)

STARTED: Whip It | Shauna Cross
Earlier this year, I finally got from Netflix the movie Whip It, which I had been meaning to watch for a while. I really enjoyed both the action and story and ended up watching it quite a few times, mostly while sewing and doing stuff on the computer (and by stuff, I mean mostly playing games on Facebook, with a side of editing photos). I remember reading when the movie first came out that it was based on a book, so after actually seeing the movie, I looked the book up and got it from the library. So far, it is a fun, quick-moving read, and has pretty much the same feeling as the movie. That's not so surprising, as apparently the author adapted the screenplay herself. Regardless, I am enjoying reading it, and should probably finish it up tomorrow.

That's it for this week! Up on deck next week: finishing up the Vampire Diaries series by reading The Fury and Dark Reunion, and then Haroun and the Sea of Stories, which is due back to the library sometime soon. Also, listening to more Sarah Dessen books! :) Happy reading, whether it be with your eyes or your ears.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Lauren pitching

My niece got to pitch at her softball game Friday night, and she did a fantastic job! She struck out 2 batters, and they ended up winning 17 to 7. Here's a video of her pitching, then fielding a ball hit right to her and throwing the runner out at first.

Also, please excuse my very loud yelling. :)

Tuesday, May 4, 2010



There is something about an instant camera that is just so delicious! It's hard to know how it's going to come out, true. And frustrating when it doesn't go your way. But when it does, OH! The perfection! I have been resisting getting a Instax Mini for a while now, and right before I went to California a few weeks ago, I decided I could resist no longer! :) Here are a few of my first shots!

iconcamera nerd

Sunday, May 2, 2010

The Weekly Read: 17

This week, I continue my newfound obsession with audio books. Also, bookclub!

READ: Fly on the Wall: How One Girl Saw Everything | E. Lockhart
After listening to Abraham Lincoln in my car for over 2 weeks, once it was over, it felt strange to switch back to music. So, when dropping that one off at the library, I went in and picked a couple others to listen to. This is the first! This was a quick, fun story about a girl getting to hear what goes on behind closed doors of the boys locker room. Believe it or not, she ends up realizing that her life isn't as horrible as she thought it was, and everyone else isn't as perfect as she thought they were. Gretchen is a sympathetic character who is likable despite having a woe-is-me attitude in the beginning. Her life isn't perfect, but neither is anyone else's. What's important is you go for what you want and stay open to change. The slang the kids used was kind of annoying and unrealistic, but you get used to it. I was surprised at how graphic it got for a teen novel. I do wish there had been a little more resolution to some of the storylines - whatever happened with Gunther? Did he get in trouble for beating up Carlo and his friend? Who knows. In the end, I thought there were some realistic and honest moments, and it was a fun read - or rather, listen.

READ: The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks | E. Lockhart
After listening to Fly on the Wall, I went back to the library AGAIN and hit the teen section of audiobooks. Luckily, they had another one by Lockhart. This one was longer, and harder to listen to if only for the fact that I kept wanting to know what happened next! I got through about half the discs, and then had some free time on Thursday, so I went to the bookstore and just read the rest. :) One of the reasons I like fluffy teen fiction is that the books generally have happy endings, like fairy tales in a way. I can say this is one of those books, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. I expected this to be one of those books where the girl stands up for gender equality, stands up for what's right, and gets everything she wants in the end. I revelled in Frankie's masterful behind-the-scenes takeover of her boyfriend's all-boy society because I believed, like Frankie herself did, that when they found out, they would applaused and accept her, impressed with her cleverness. But this book is more honest and true-to-life, and I was as surprised and hurt as Frankie when the boys ignored her, and Matthew rejected her. It doesn't seem fair, but thus is life, I suppose. I loved Frankie as a character, as well as Alpha, even though he was a jerk a lot of the time. What is it about those bad boys that is so attractive - at least in fiction? Overall, I liked the book, but I still wish Frankie had gotten her happy ending.

READ: The Lost Symbol | Dan Brown
This was our book club pick for this month, and I had been looking forward to reading it for months. I can pretty much sum my feelings up for this book in one sentence: "It was ok, but I liked it better when it was called National Treasure." For the most part, I liked this book, but I felt a little let down after reading it. It seems like the secret history of Masons was pretty well covered by those movies. Maybe it's just that I didn't find the mystery or storyline as compelling. So, the world is going to end if the secret mysteries of the Masons get out? Seriously, it's a matter of national security? I don't buy that. The history and information about the capital was interesting, but it felt too spread out - I wanted more! It's true, the plot was secondary to the history info, but I was ok with that because, to be honest, it was way more interesting. So maybe what I really wanted was a more interesting plot? I would have loved to hear more about the Smithsonian, and taking courses from either Robert Langdon or Peter Solomon would be awesome. :) I'm glad I read it, but it didn't live up to Angels and Demons for me.

STARTED: Lock and Key | Sarah Dessen
I've been hearing about what a great writer Sarah Dessen is ever since I joined Goodreads, but had never really jumped on the bandwagon before. Not for any particular reason, mostly because I've been trying to diversify my reading, and it seemed like something I would have picked while browsing the YA section as I used to do. Luckily, I came across this one while picking through the audiobook section of the library, and have been listening to it while driving since Thursday (aka, the day I couldn't wait to finish The Disreputable History and went to the bookstore). So far, it's good! Already I'm fighting myself not to find a copy and read it through. We'll see how far I get before it comes to that. :)

Coming up next week: I need to read a few library books that I have to return in a few weeks - Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: Dawn of the Dreadfuls and Haroun and the Sea of Stories. But I'll probably sneak in a Vampire Diaries re-read, too. :)