Sunday, May 4, 2008

50 books in a year

Time to start a new year's post! I'm behind and already have several books to add! Keeping the same goal---50 books from April 9, 2008 to April 9, 2009

Past Reading
30 books
8,222 pages

37 books
14,326 pages

1) Songs of the Humpback Whale by Jodi Picoult: Yes, still reading this author. She really is extremely good. This was her first book and you can definitely tell she's gotten better with time. This book walks a very fine line between good fiction and trashy romance novel and every once in a while fails miserably at staying on the "good fiction" side. Still a good book though. (343 pages)

2) My Sister's Keeper by Jodi Picoult: Still a great author! In this one, a toddler is diagnosed with lukemia and her parents do IVF, but genetically test the embryos and only implant the one that will be a perfect match for the other daughter. The subsequent child spends her life being a donor for her sister. The book focuses on her suing for medical emancipation so she wont' be forced to be the donor any longer (432 pages)

3) The Pact by Jodi Picoult: This one follows the aftermath of two teenagers found--one shot in the head, the other fainted and still alive, one bullet left in the gun. The living teenager says it was a suicide pact, but he is charged with murder. (512 pages)

4) The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion: I listened to this one on CD while driving to Houston and back, so I'll give myself credit for the book, but not for any pages read. This is a memoir type thing about what would have been for me "the year from hell". Ms. Didion's daughter is hospitalized at christmas with the flu, which turns into pneumonia, which turns into sepsis from a vancomycin resistant bug (which puts her in the ICU in a coma). By New Year's, her husband (John Gregory Dunne) has died suddenly over dinner of a massive heart attack. Weeks after this, her daughter is well enough to go on a "relaxing vacation" only to suffer a traumatizing brain bleed (apparently from the pressure changes of the air flight) that puts her back in the ICU (thousands of miles from home) and then a rehabilitation center. As the book repeatedly states, this brings home the point that, "Life changes fast. Life changes in the instant. You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends." Definitely opt for *reading* this book--the reader on the CD is awful! (0 pages)

5)Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman's Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert. Loved it loved it loved it! Aside from the confidence to travel independently, this is my kind of woman. I saw an awful lot of myself in this book--from the love affair insanity, to the religious views, to the relationship with Felipe. A lot of this struck a cord with me. Big thanks to whoever was responsible for picking this one for book club! (352 pages)

6)Mercy by Jodi Picoult. Woman dying of cancer begs husband to kill her, he does, court drama follows. Another good Jodi Picoult book! (416 pages)

7)Vanishing Actsby Jodi Picoult. Grown woman finds out her dad kidnapped her from her mom during a custody battle when she was a toddler. Dad arrested, woman meets mom. Yet another good Jodi Picoult book ;-) (448 pages)

8)Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the Westby Gregory Maguire. Really really good book. This guy takes classic fairy tales and re-writes them from the point of view of the bad guy. So, we follow the wicked witch of the west (Elphaba---b/c the author of The Wizard of Oz's initials are LFB) from birth through to her murder by Dorothy. Lots of things about political instability in munchkinland, etc... great read! (406 pages)

9)The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possibleby A.J. Jacobs. This was a great read!!! My standard retort for someone who cares to ask me if I've read the bible is, "yes, I have. Have you?" I would bet there are several passages mentioned in this book that would shock some church-going folks. All in all, the guy gives a reasonably balanced account---praises the good, condemns the bad. He is culturally Jewish and religiously agnostic. He seems to walk away from the year maintaining his agnosticism, but acknowledging the existence of sacredness in this world. Along the way he introduces you to ideas from all over the spectrum of bible religions---conservative Jews, fanatical Christians, red-letter Christians, creationists, snake handlers, etc.... (332 pages)

10)Change of Heartby Jodi Picoult. I'm soooo disappointed! Looks like this is the end of the Jodi Picoult books for me. This is her newest one and in my opinion, it was a cheap, transparent rip off of The Green Mile. There's even a reference to the book in there, when one of the inmates calls the death row prisoner "green mile". There's also a character with the last name Dufresne who is serving a life sentence after being convicted of a "crime of passion" (a la Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption). So, the details, the "flesh", of the story is totally different, but the "bones" of the story are the exact same--a slow guy sentenced to death for molesting and murdering a little girl, miracles start to happen in the jail, he brings creatures back to life, yada, yada, yada. It's a good story, but the idea is not at all unique. She's written so many other good books, I just don't get why she had to steal the idea for this one. Also, if you're familiar with The Green Mile, the book is completely predictable, much unlike her others. Ugh. I think what irks me the most is her reference to green mile, and the fact that she's wearing all green in the cover photo, but there is nothing (admittedly, I could have missed it) in her acknowledgements or notes about the book she got this idea from. I wonder how many of her other books are so completely unoriginal and I just haven't read enough to know that. (447 pages)

11)The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World by A.J. Jacobs. This was a quick, interesting, and funny read. The Year of Living Biblically was better, so if you're gonna pick one book to read, read that one. This book was written first and the author undertakes the task of reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica so that he will be the smartest person in the world. At first glance, you're worried this is just a clif's notes version of the encyclopedia b/c there is a chapter for each letter and "entries" on certain topics. He branches out more than that though and throws in plenty of stories about how his knowledge helps him (cilantro and corriander--same thing people), or doesn't (how does one read through the encyclopedia and not pick up that erythrocyte is a red blood cell? At least to pick up that eryth- means "red" or that -cyte means "cell" in medical terms??). Anyways, worth reading if you're bored. (400 pages)

12)Heretic's Heart: A Journey Through Spirit & Revolution by Margot Adler. Wow. Not at all what I was expecting. Not. At. All. Picked this up for two bucks on a clearance cart and judging from the back cover, I thought it would be about Vietnam war protesting and her letters to a GI who was serving in Vietnam. And yes, that's included (in about 1/4-1/3 of the book). The rest is mostly an autobiography that gets WAY personal. I knew she was a liberal, but never paid enough attention to know she was a radical. Each topic in the book alone wouldn't creep me out too much, but rolling them all into one person's life and then coupling that with way too much information is pretty creepy. We go from Berkeley Free Speech Movement protests to civil rights work in the south to vietnam protests to writing to this GI to paganism to orgies to self-esteem issues to self awareness lessons (in the form of a bunch of nudists discussing politics) to jail time in Oakland to illegally traveling to Cuba to help with the communist revolution there to starting her radio work. It's just a bit much. I'm afraid I will never be able to think about "Justice Talking" quite the same again. (309 pages)

13)A Tree Grows in Brooklynby Betty Smith. I know I read this in high school and enjoyed it, but being older and having kids now made it so much more interesting. There's really not a whole lot of plot, it's just about a girl living in New York in the early 1900's. In a world where people can have anything they can't afford as long as they can get a credit card, it's humbling to read about the days when the money would run out and there was literally no food in the house. You'd think it'd be a depressing book, but there's a lot of hope in it. Definitely a must read. ETA: Looking through the reviews at Amazon and I find it really interesting that all of the one star reviews come from high school (college?) kids that were "forced" to read it. Not sure if that's a maturity thing or just the tragedy that some of our children have learned contempt for reading instead of loving the wealth of free knowledge at their fingertips. (528 pages)

14)Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace...One School at a Timeby Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin. Unless you're interested in rock climbing/mountaineering, the beginning of this book will probably be a little difficult to get into, but especially the second half has useful information about Pakistan/Afghanistan and what is going on there and how it relates to the US. The book definitely could have been better written, but the information is good. (368 pages)

15)When Alzheimer's Hits Homeby Jo Danna. I thought this was a really useful and easy read. Finished it in one day. The first half of the book is a very abridged journal of the author's experience caring for her mother with Alzheimer's. She includes little sidebars about how she might have handled certain situations differently. The second half of the book is chock full of resources for families dealing with Alzheimer's. (192 pages)

16)The Wednesday Lettersby Jason Wright. Eh. It was a super quick read that's fine if you're just looking for something to kill time, but I wasn't super impressed. (288 pages)

16.5)Wrath of Angels: The American Abortion Warby James Risen and Judy Thomas. Okay, there's a lot of history in here about different groups involved on both the pro-life and pro-choice sides of the debate. There is a big focus on extremism, which I think (and hope) does not cover the majority of the people who are interested in this debate. What really irked me though (and why I couldn't finish the book) is that they kept telling me what someone was thinking when they did a certain thing or wrote a certain letter. Hmmm......really? If you're gonna tell me what someone else was thinking, you need to frame it in the form of a quote or make clear your information comes from a direct interview with them, otherwise I just think you're drawing your own (very questionable) conclusions. (137 pages)

17.5)Son of a Witchby Gregory Maguire. I was really excited to read this. It's the follow up to Wicked, which I really liked. Son of a Witch is interesting, but it just isn't as fun of a read. There's some information in the beginning and then one long flashback, which just annoyed me b/c I kept waiting to see what had really happened in the beginning. The end of the book started to pick up and was much more interesting to read. I am beginning to wonder what the author's personal life is like since he seems to have an interest in writing about bi-sexual, polyamorous male characters. Whatever floats your boat, I guess, but it seemed pretty out of left field in the context of the story (in both Wicked and Son of a Witch). (352 pages)

18.5)A Yellow Raft in Blue Waterby Michael Dorris. This was a book club book. It was okay, but I didn't love it. The beginning was REALLY slow to get into. It wasn't interesting to read until after page 100, so I don't think I would have finished it if it wasn't a book club choice. It was an interesting story and I get the symbolism of the braid and all that at the end (the book is in three sections---one from a girl's point of view, then her mom's, then her grandmother's), but there was no conclusion to the story. Each section leaves you hanging and the other sections never pick up the pieces, it's just like a whole new book. It feels like the author just said, "eh, I'm tired of writing about this chick now" and just stopped one day. It could be a useful book in helping high school kids learn to look for symbolism and think of the bigger picture, but it's not a real entertaining book. (372 pages)

19.5)The 36 Hour Day: A Family Guide to Caring for people with Alzheimer Disease, Other Dementias, and Memory Loss in Later Lifeby Nancy Mace and Peter Rabins. This book is a caregiver's guide to dementia. They really talk about dementia in general, but it seems geared toward Alzheimer's and multi-infarct dementia. It's an excellent book if you are dealing with anyone that has these illnesses. They cover everything from little daily living tips to the heavier medical stuff. I'd say it's a must read for caregivers. If you aren't a caregiver, you should read so you have a better idea of what the main caregiver is going through (and what is and isn't supportive for them). This also gave me more confidence in how to handle a family member with Alzheimer's--I am much more comfortable with interaction now and feel better prepared to keep the person for short periods of time. Great, great book. (352 pages)

20.5)Skipping Christmasby John Grisham. This was our book club pick to read as we were all busy prepping for the holidays. I can't really say what I thought of the book without giving a spoiler, so I'll just leave it at...ehh, it was so, so. I wouldn't go spend full price on it, but if you find it on the clearance shelf at Half Price Books, it's worth it. It's a very, very quick read (2 hours or less) and just a fun holiday time book. (227 pages)

21.5)Twilightby Stephenie Meyer. Yes, I finally read Twilight. I had to know what everyone was talking about. I'm not super impressed. It was a fun read, but definitely not earth shattering. I'm interested in reading the next book, but not rushing out to get it. I was very disappointed that it took 60 pages to even get interesting (as in, I had to force myself to keep picking it up for those 60 pages). For the next 300 pages it Worth reading, but very easy to put down. Page 350 (which happened about 10:30 at night...oh so inconveniently) is where it FINALLY got interesting enough that I didn't want to stop reading. Way to *not* pull in the reader. I can completely understand why 15/16/17 year old girls find this interesting---perfect book for them. I'm a married grown up though, been there, done that, got the baby...uh, I mean t-shirt. The vampire aspect is interesting, but totally not used well until the end of the book. When the action picked up, it really got worth reading. (544 pages)

22)Midnight Sun by Stephenie Meyer. I'll only give myself half credit here because this is the partial draft available on her website. The version from Edward's point of view, was much more interesting that from Bella's point of view. Maybe that's because I've already read Twilight though? Haven't seen the movie, wondering if they used Midnight Sun to fill in some of the gaps from Twilight? (264 pages)

23)Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier. I'm shocked to say this, but I really, really liked this book. It's an historical fiction book that focuses on a painting done by Vermeer. Sort of along the lines of pride and prejudice or sense and sensibility, which is completely NOT what I usually like to read. My book club did a white elephant book exchange for Christmas and this is the book I walked away with. So glad I stepped outside my usual box and read it! (233 pages)

24)New Moon by Stephenie Meyer. Eh. At this point I'm reading because it's easy to read and I still don't understand all the Twilight flair on facebook. The books are a good, mindless read, I guess, but that's it. This one was completely predictable from about 20 pages in. The prologue didn't just foreshadow, it knocked you upside the head with a brick. And again, the book didn't enter "don't want to put it down" territory until about page 300...way too late. I'll keep on with the third book, but have no interest in spending my money to buy it---I'll have to find someone to borrow from. (563 pages)

25)The Kite Runner by Kahled Hosseini. This is another book that took until the halfway point to get interesting. I'm beginning to wonder if it's just my attention span that's to blame for these boring first halves. I sat down to finish this one just b/c I needed to take it back to the library and the end did get much more interesting, but not enough for me to want to read A Thousand Splendid Suns. This book was an interesting pre/post-Taliban Afghanistan picture, but I'd rather get that from a non-fiction book. (400 pages)

26)Eclipse by Stephenie Meyer. I'd say this is the best book so far, there was more suspense and action. I happened across a review on Amazon of the Twilight books that perfectly sums up my opinion (aside from buying the 4th book....I'll borrow it for free from the library) of the series. (629 pages)

27)Waiter Rant by The Waiter (Steve Dublanica). HILARIOUS!!!!!!!! This was a great read. I've had several friends who waited tables and had plenty of funny stories to share. I once went on a date where I was absolutely mortified that the guy didn't tip *anything* even though nothing was wrong with the service (note to guys: that was the LAST date). The Waiter sums up life as a waiter quite nicely. The book is interesting from page one, it's written well and the content makes you thankful for whatever messed up situations you face at your own workplace. (302 pages)

28)Abram's Daughters Book 1: The Covenant by Beverly Lewis. Chick lit with an Amish twist!! I found this book incredibly interesting from the get go. Probably because I'm so interested in the Amish lifestyle (minus the religion, thank you very much). This was a really fun read and I can't wait to get started on the next book in the series. (336 pages)

29)Abram's Daughters Book 2: The Betrayal by Beverly Lewis. I hear these series all start to sound the same after awhile, but I'm really enjoying this one. Hard to give much info without giving the story away, but so far we're following the Ebersol sisters through their courting years and my oh my is there some (very prim and proper) drama going on! (320 pages)

30)Abram's Daughters Book 3: The Sacrifice by Beverly Lewis. This book started to get a little preachy towards the end (towards a Born Again slant, oddly enough), but still a very good story. We're now on to the the Ebersol girls all grown up with kids of their own. Reserved the 4th book at the library today! (352 pages)

31)Abram's Daughters Book 4: The Prodigal by Beverly Lewis. Blah. This book was only barely readable there was so much blatant, relentless evangelizing in it. I realize some is integral to a story about an Amish family, but this was a "I'm going to beat you over the head with my Born Again beliefs" slant to the detriment of the plot line. ick. (352 pages)

32)Abram's Daughters Book 5: The Revelation by Beverly Lewis. Since I was so close to being done, I had to finish the series. This book was much better than book four. Overall, a good series. Easy read and worth the time. (343 pages)

33)Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer. The 4th book in this series was also good. It's just a shame the other books weren't so interesting from the beginning. (768 pages)

34)A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines. This was February's book club pick. It was a really good book all the way through, but I didn't feel like the end wrapped things up well enough. I can't quite put my finger on what I was looking for, and it was very realistic without too much sappiness or "deus ex machina" type stuff, but something missing... Or maybe that's the point. (256 pages)

35)The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America by James Bamford. Put on your tinfoil hat!!!!! No, really, this is an extremely interesting read. It took a while to get through it just because there is soooo much specific information here. I have to say I'm not terribly surprised at the things in the book, but I am surprised by the extent things have gone to. Even if you choose not to follow along with Bamford's string of conclusions, there is an overabundance of well documented facts surrounding the history of the NSA and the warrantless wiretapping program. I also learned quite a bit about how the internet actually works. The timeline of the 9/11 hijackers in the beginning will make your blood boil (especially the part about American CIA operatives being aware that al-qaeda operatives--who went on to lead teams of plane hijackers--had obtained US Visas and tickets to fly into the country, yet withheld this information from the FBI and did not follow the men once they entered the country). The book seems to demonize and praise people on both sides of the party line, but it does come down especially hard on Cheney (like that's hard to do...), including highlighting some of his actions during previous administrations. (345 pages)

36)The Red Tent:A Novel by Anita Diamant. This was this month's book club selection. The beginning was hard for me to get into, but the middle/end when all the midwifery stuff comes up was extremely interesting to me. Mainly because it largely describes the experiences I was looking for in my own deliveries. The stories about birth really resonated with me. This is the first book that's managed to explain the biggest benefit to unmedicated birth---it's not fun, it's not easy, it IS incredibly empowering. Delivering in my own "tent" (at home), attended by a midwife and drawing strength from the group of women I chose to surround myself with very closely resembled the emotions described in this book. (336 pages)

37)The Complete Idiot's Guide to Geocachingby Jack W. Peters. A friend loaned this to us after we went on our first geocaching hunt last weekend. A lot of this was stuff I already knew, but it is a good primer for someone getting out with a GPS for the first time and there was information about map reading and navigation skills that I'm not really familiar with. Surely there's a "complete idiot's guide to orienteering"? That's the book I need to read. (336 pages)

38)The Royal Nonesuch: Or, What Will I Do When I Grow Up?by Glasgow Phillips. Ummm....interesting. There's not really a good way to sum up this book. Think of it as the underdogs of Hollywood--kinda. A funny book, one of those memoirs that gets so outrageous that you almost start to think it must all be fiction after all, except that the craziest character (Timmy the Woodsman) sounds an awful lot like a Timmy we used to know. (384 pages)

38.5)Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Pre-School Yearsby Elizabeth Hainstock. I'm only giving myself half credit because there wasn't a lot of reading here. Once I got past the beginning (which could be a tad heavy handed at times), the actual "what to do" part was a run down of exactly what Sierra does in school now. Down to a "t". I need to go back to the library and get the next book, The School Years. I still wanted to list this book here though because if you are interested in homeschooling and in Montessori, this is a really good list of what materials and activities to set up for a 2-5 year old. (50 pages)

39.5)Getting Started on Home Learning: How and Why to Teach Your Kids at Homeby Rebecca Rupp. If you're thinking about homeschooling or want to know more about homeschooling, this one is a MUST READ. I highly recommend it to build your confidence and give you some things to think about. There is also a wonderfully thorough list of resources at the end of each chapter to help you. (208 pages)

40.5)Massacre at Mountain Meadowsby Walker, Turley and Leonard. Interesting little piece of history. Given the authors' backgrounds, you'd expect this book to be biased and I think it was, but not as much as I was expecting. There is a little too much focus on justification for why the mormons would want to attack the wagon train and too little focus on it being flat out wrong. Like I've read in other places though, there are lots of massacres in American history and it seems odd for some people to be so fixated on this one. John D. Lee is set up to be much too much of a scapegoat without a fair shake down of others involved. All in all though, and interesting read even if I don't agree with all of the conclusions. Warning: the description of the actual massacre is quite disturbing....small children watching their parents and siblings murdered at close range, then being taken to town, split up, and sent to live with different families (some of whom participated in the massacre) is upsetting to think about. (231 pages)

41.5)This Stubborn Soil by William Owens. The first half of this book drug on for-ev-er. The last half was really interesting. This is a basic memoir of an early 1900's Texas farm boy and his quest to help his family grow enough crops to make it through the winter. As he gets older, he is focused on getting educated and bettering himself (quite difficult when you're pulled out of school every year for planting and harvesting). I think there's a good lesson in the fact that at the end his minimal education is holding him back, but his voracious reading (all by library card) gets him the education he's looking for. And he went all the way to become a professor at Columbia University. Also, there's a country saying mentioned, "thunder in February, Frost in April".......with our latest wacky weather, makes me want to look back and February's weather and see if it lines up! (307 pages)

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