2014 in Books-October

In October, I was only able to get through one 1,000+ page book, the long-awaited Edge of Eternity, the final book in the Century trilogy by Ken Follett.

The first two books were also 1,000+ pages, but I tore through them quickly. I have been anxiously awaiting the release of this last book.

Follett chronicles the lives of families from America, Russia, Germany and England through World War I & II. In the final installment of the trilogy, we find out what happens to the families through The Civil Rights Movement, The Vietnam War, The Cold War, Watergate, etc.

Follett once again, brilliantly intertwines historical events with fictional drama. I was so eager to find out what happened to the characters I found a connection with in the first two books.

It was very emotionally charged to read how characters I have been following through the series viewed or interacted in very historical events such as; the assassination of President Kennedy, riots during The Civil Rights movement, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., etc.

I did feel that a chunk of more recent history was left out. I would have liked to see some of the events of the last decade included in the story and where the characters would have found their place in more modern times.

Overall, I loved this series. Follet finishes the story off nicely and brings some resolution to conflicts that were occurring over the series. I look forward to reading more of his works.

What did you read in October?

Winter 2014 Book Challenge

Megan of Semi-Charmed Kind of Life is hosting a Winter Book Challenge. Nothing goes better than winter to me, than a good book, a warm cup of tea and my hello kitty blanket! I am posting the rules below and the books I am thinking to use, for each prompt. I still need some help in thinking of books for some of the categories, so any feedback is appreciated!

General rules:

  • The challenge will run from November 1, 2014, to February 28, 2015. No books that are started before 12 a.m. on November 1 or finished after 11:59 p.m. on February 28 will count.
  • Each book must be at least 200 pages long. Audiobooks are fine, as long as the print versions meet the page requirements. Large-print books are also acceptable, as long as the regular-print version exceeds 200 pages in length.
  • A book can only be used for one category, and each category can only be completed once. If you want to switch the category of a book during a later check-in, that’s fine, just be sure to account for that in your point total.
  • Rereads can be used for a maximum of three books in the challenge. This rule is meant to encourage you to try new books while still allowing you to revisit books from your childhood or young adulthood that you might get more out of now. Please reread the entire book within the timeframe of the challenge in order to count it; no simply finishing old books or partial rereads (unless the category explicitly states otherwise, of course)!
  • The highest possible total is 200 points, and the first five people who finish the challenge will be invited to contribute a category for the next challenge. Good luck!

Which brings us to the exciting part—the challenge categories!

The books I am considering are in BOLD.

5 points: Freebie! Read any book that fits the general rules. The Silkworm

10 points: Read a book written by an author who has published at least 10 books. — Submitted by Megan. Pillars of the Earth, because I cannot get enough of Ken Follett, lately.

10 points: Read a book of short stories. — Submitted by Meredith. Couldn’t Keep it to Myself, stories gathered by Wally Lamb.

10 points: Read a book with a food (not a drink!) in the title. — Submitted by Megan. Tortilla Curtain, because it has been sitting in my to-read pile for too long!

15 points: Read the first book in a series that is new to you (so no rereads for this one!). — Submitted by Crystal. A Discovery of Witches, because I have really been wanting to read this!

15 points: Read a book that was originally written in a language that is not your native language. — Submitted by Belle. I still need help with choosing a book for this category.

15 points: Read a book written by a local author (either an author from your state if you live in the United States, or in your country if you live somewhere else—note: author must be from where you currently live). — Submitted by KatelynI still need help with choosing a book for this category.

20 points: Read a “bookish book” (in which books play an important role, e.g. the setting involves a bookstore or library, a major character is an author, or a book that celebrates reading and books. Examples: The Book ThiefThe Shadow of the WindThe Thirteenth Tale, etc.) — Submitted by Jen. The Uncommon Reader

20 points: Read a book with a direction in the title (e.g. north, south, east, west or any combination of those). — Submitted by Donna Eastern Body Western Mind, because I have heard such great things about it!

25 points: Read a book from a genre you don’t usually read. — Submitted by JennI still need help with choosing a book for this category.

25 points: Read a book with a song lyric in the title. Be sure to tell us the song name and artist as well! — Submitted by Daire, who was kind enough to provide several example books, as this challenge is quite tricky! A few possibilities include: Pop Goes the Weasel by James Patterson (English nursery rhyme of the same name), The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes (“Girl You Left Behind,” Pixie Lott), or Somewhere Only We Know by Cheyanne Young (“Somewhere Only We Know,” Keane). I still need help with choosing a book for this category.

30 points: Read two books with a different meal in each title (e.g. breakfast, lunch, dinner, supper, brunch; update: meals like feast, banquet, picnic will also count, but try not to get too “creative” with your meal words!). — Submitted by AmberI still need help with choosing a book for this category.

 

Any help for the categories that I am stumped on is appreciated! Head over to Megan’s post if you would like to join the challenge.

2014 in Books: September, the Rainbow Rowell Edition

September was an excellent, but also bittersweet month of reading. I read three Rainbow Rowell books, and now feel despondent that there are no other books left of hers that I have not read.

Rainbow has quickly become one of my favorite authors. I read Eleanor & Park back in April and was struck by how realistic her writing was and how accurately she described the complexities of a relationship between teenagers with varying issues.

The same rang true for the rest of her books. I was impressed that no books were very much alike. She definitely has a witty writing style, yet the plots of her books are all so diverse and unpredictable. I also appreciate the manner in which she writes about love and relationships, without giving into predictable cliches and gag inducing romance.

I read the remaining books in the following order:

1. Attachments: I ordered this book off Paperback Swap shortly after finish Eleanor & Park. However, it got lost in my ever-growing (and slightly shameful) to-read pile, only to be discovered this month and quickly ravaged.

I could not put this book down. It is about an IT guy (Lincoln) who develops a crush on a co-worker (Beth), by reading the emails between Beth and her friend (Jennifer).

I absolutely loved all three main characters. Lincoln is an adorable, likable nerd and I would love to have a friend like either Jennifer or Beth. Their email interactions were hilarious and reminded me of many emails that got me through some tough days, with good friends. (I miss those, by the way. Girls, if you are reading, I could use more!)

I cannot recommend this book highly enough!

2. Landline: I still argue with myself about which Rainbow’s books are my favorites (I seriously have spent quite a bit of time lost in this thought), and Landline is definitely one of the top contenders. Just. Wow.

Georgie and Neal are a married couple who have a far from perfect relationship, but lots of love between them. Events transpire that prompt Georgie to reflect on choices she has made throughout their relationship and bring a new perspective to the current day.

I just loved how real the issues in this book are and how Rainbow is able to essentially create a love story that is realistic in today’s society of goal achieving, child rearing and loss of perspective.

3. Fangirl: This book is about a set of twins setting off to their first year of college. They are authors of fan fiction and face the trials of moving away from home, dealing with difficult parents and finding identity individually.

I absolutely loved the fan fiction premise. I am definitely one to obsess over my latest interests and can certainly understand being pulled into a reality that is seemingly better than your own.

I loved how Rainbow describes that oh, so difficult, but exciting time of transition from adolescence to early adulthood. She, once again, does a fantastic job of realistically portraying those awkward, cringe-worthy moments that develop into lessons.

I obviously love Rainbow Rowell and look forward to anything she publishes in the future. Check out her super cute website!

Have you read any Rainbow Rowell books?

2014 in Books-August

August brought the end of my wonderful summer and sent me back to work. I know I have nothing to complain about though, I had an amazing vacation and I have a job I truly enjoy and was even a little excited to return to.

Adjusting back to work and my hectic schedule definitely put a damper on my reading, and I only got through two books.

1. The Cuckoo’s Calling-Well, this book took me most of the month of August to get through. Partly because of my busy schedule, and partly because of some hang ups I just could not shake.

For starters this book was written by the almighty J.K. Rowling, under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith, which was just….odd. I am not sure why the pseudonym was used, especially because it even says on the back cover that the book is written by Rowling, under the pseudonym.

I am (obvs) a huge fan of hers (who isn’t? No, seriously.) The Harry Potter series is a huge part of my life and I was ecstatic to read her first post Potter novel The Casual Vacancy. I did not expect a HP book for adults, and I was not disappointed, I was pleased to see her range and scope as an author.

I had high hopes for The Cuckoo’s Calling, but one hang up that is still getting to me is the front cover. This book is about a beautiful model who seemingly commits suicide, yet her death becomes investigated as a murder and the story begins to unfold. The model in the book is half African and half white. Maybe it’s just me, but I would never get that sense from the cover. I read a great blog post (that I could not find the link to) about the lack of diversity in book covers. This particular cover seemed to tone down the ethnicity of the main character and I wondered how it would have been perceived, if a more ethnic model was portrayed. I may be reading too much into this, but it was a feeling I could not shake, each time I looked at the cover.

The story itself draaaaaaaged. The main character is actually the detective who is investigating the model’s death. He is a complex, interesting character and I enjoyed getting to know his story. However, I felt the investigation itself was tedious. I felt like I was hearing the same details over and over again from various witnesses. It did not feel like the story picked up till about the last 100 pages and it also felt like everything fell into place a little too easily and *boom*, mystery solved.

I know there is another novel, about the same detective that was recently released, The Silkworm. I am currently debating back and forth whether or not to read it….

cuckoos 2. All Men Are Brothers-This was a short, but complex read. It was excerpts from Gandhi on some of the topics he lived, fought and died for. There was some amazing quotes that I still do not think I have quite digested. It will be a book I will need to re-read again and again throughout my life.

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Have you read The Cuckoo’s Calling? What did you think of it?

 

2014 in Books-July

1. Shantaram– My husband read this book about one year ago, and said it was one of the best books he ever read. He is much more particular about books that interest him, than I am, so I knew I definitely wanted to read Shantaram. However, it’s nearly 1,000 pages long, and I had a hard time deciding when to make the time commitment to it.

I started this book on the plane back from Europe, and was quickly caught up in the windy story of an Australian escaped prisoner, who begins making a life for himself, in Bombay, India. The story takes so many twists and turns that it quickly captivates the reader. It also gives a pretty amazing tour of Indian and outsider analysis of the culture, that I found very interesting.

The novel is based on a true story. The author did in fact, escape from prison and spend time in India. Much criticism about the book lays in the embellishment of the story and facts. You can read an interesting response the author wrote here.

Embellished, exaggerated or made up, Shantaram still makes for a unique and interesting story. I highly recommend it if you have any interest in the Indian culture.

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2. Poser: My Life in 23 Yoga Poses-This was this month’s pick for my book club. The author goes about telling her life story by choosing a yoga pose, each chapter and relating it to a particular time in her life. Sometimes…that was a little bit of a stretch (poor yoga pun, intended). Every once in awhile you wonder how in the heck this anecdote relates to that certain pose.

The author really started off annoying me. She seemed whiny and approached yoga too goal-oriented and for aesthetics sake. However, eventually, she did begin to approach yoga from a more practical and even spiritual perspective, and the manner in which she describes some of her struggles with anxiety and the need to be perfect, definitely resonated with me, and how yoga has helped me address these issues.

poser 3. The Green and The Red (Le Vert Le Rouge)-This book was sent to me by Ashland Creek Press for FREE for review. This book was about a vegetarian restaurant owner who begins to date a distributor of pork products, and all the drama that can potentially ensue.

The book definitely threw in all the possible cliches that can be heard about vegetarian and vegans, but it was interesting to see them addressed and how the characters dealt with these conflicts. It also brings up the lingering question of should a vegetarian/vegan date a omnivore, and takes the reader through the potentially disastrous scenarios.

I also liked that the book addressed the vegetarian v. vegan conflict. It puts all these taboos out on the table and they are finally worked out in a respectable manner.

This book was a fast read, and overall, very charming. It was nice to read a novel where the main character was a vegetarian.

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2014 in Books: June, books read in Europe

The following books were all downloaded onto my Kindle, (which I officially love) and where read on plane, train, bus and car rides, through Europe.

1. One More Thing BJ Novak is pretty damn clever, and he knows it. This collection of short stories is witty, with a dry sense of humor. It does come across as a wee bit pretentious, with a hipster sort of “you won’t get it, unless you get it” quality. I definitely appreciated the originality and the times it literally made me LOL. one more thing 2. Hell-Bent. I read a book review for this on Candace’s blog and was curious about it’s look into Bikram yoga. I used to practice Bikram yoga, a few years back. I personally found it was not necessarily my style, but I never thought anything negative about it. I never realized there was such a thing as competitive yoga, and this book gives a good account of what those competitions look like, but focuses mainly on Bikram yoga classes and teacher trainings. Although it is a one sided account, I was blown away my how un-yoga like some of the philosophies appeared to be. It definitely gave me a different perspective in the yoga world, and how it can be translated into something that (I believe) it was never intended to be. hell bent   3. Battle Hymn of The Tiger Mom. This book is definitely controversial, but I found it absolutely fascinating and I could not put it down. Amy Chua writes about what it is like to be a “Tiger Mom.” She generalizes this to be the “stereotypical” Chinese mother, who pushes their kids to achieve at all costs. I found myself horrified at some parts in the book, as she pushes and pushes her daughters to practice music and study, with no time to “be kids.” However, I was equally horrified by how much I found myself agreeing with her philosophy (but maybe not always tactics), and wishing more parents would hold their children to the standards she described. 9780143120582_BattleHymnOf_CVF.indd   4. Be the Pack Leader. We definitely have our work cut out for us. We have been doing so many things incorrectly, according to Cesar, but it makes sense why we have the issues we do, when we go for walks or take our dogs to the dog park. This book gave me a much better understanding about our pack, and how to be a better leader. We have been incorporating some of the methods already, and it is working. It is definitely going to take some time to break habits (for both us and the dogs), but we are committed to improving everyone’s behavior and making walks much more enjoyable. (PS, these methods work really great on 9 year olds, too. I’m only kidding,….but not really.)pack-leader   What did you read in June?

2014 in Books: May

If all has gone well, I am currently in Rome. With all the talk about juice cleansing last week, I realized I forgot to post the books I read in May.

1. How to Be Vegan: I was a fan of Elizabeth Castoria from her days as a writer for VegNews. I was excited when I heard she was coming out with a book to help people transition to veganism.

This book is easy to read and breaks down the transition to veganism in accessible and simple terms. Castoria’s writing style is fun, witty and makes you feel like you are hearing from a friend. I really enjoyed the section on what is available for vegans at international stores.

I will definitely be loaning this book out many times to anyone who is interested in veganism and needs a non-confrontational, accessible approach to making simple changes.

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I was fortunate enough to meet Castoria (and fellow former VegNews writer Jennifer Chen) at LA Vegan Beer Fest. They were both incredibly nice, down to earth and all around, good people.

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2. Charmed Thirds-I went back to re-reading the Jessica Darling series, because this was something that was long overdue.

The third book in the installment is my favorite. It chronicles Jessica’s undergrad years at Columbia University. McCafferty does an amazing job of capturing those turbulent years of early adulthood. They are times of painful lessons and cringeworthy mistakes. I definitely remember being so similar to Jessica and making decisions that I would feel like a complete moron about later on, but needing to make those choices to learn the hard way.

Jessica is such a relatable character. She is flawed, but so hard not to love.

3. Fourth Comings-When I first read the series, this was my least favorite book, but I found a new appreciation for it the second time around. The book takes place over a short period of time, but really examines the relationship that Jessica has had with her long-time/sometimes boyfriend, Marcus.

McCafferty gives a brilliant examination of their relationship and her realistic analysis of the ups and downs and outgrowing of relationships was incredibly relatable, without overly romanticizing.

4. Perfect Fifths-The last book wraps the series up nicely, without selling out to cliches. There are so many details in this book that readers of the entire series will love.

What did you read in May?

2014 in Books-April

1. Eleanor & Park– This was probably one of the best books I have read in long time. It is about two mismatched teenagers who fall in love and try to make it work against the odds. I know this sounds like your typical YA book, but trust me, it isn’t. That’s what I loved about it!

Rowell creates SUCH realistic characters. Eleanor is a girl who comes from a pretty troubled background and the way she deals with her relationship is so spot on. Rowell truly captured the voice and struggle of a teenage girl who is trying to make things work, even when she does not know how and has so many other issues to deal.

I truly appreciated how REAL this book was and will definitely be recommending it to some of my students.

2. Sloppy Firsts– After reading Eleanor & Park, I was craving good YA, but did not know what to read next. Then it clicked that I should do something I have been wanting to do for a while, re-read the Jessica Darling series.

Re-reading Sloppy Firsts re-introduced me to the amazing mind of Jessica Darling, who literally makes me LOL at various points in the book. Hearing her voice again was like re-connecting with an old friend.

Jessica was in high school around the same time I was, so hearing her philosophies and rants on various pop cultural phenomena’s of that time, is incredibly nostalgic and hilarious. I don’t know what took me so long, to re-read this series.

2. Second Helpings- This book definitely gets you more hooked on the storyline and deepens the connection with various characters. I thoroughly enjoyed living Jessica’s senior year of high school with her, and it was a great reminder to my 30-year-old self, how hectic that time in your life can be.

LA Times Festival of Books

This weekend I attended the LA Times Festival of Books, why this is the first time I have attended is still perplexing to me. There were a slew of authors I wanted to meet and hear speak. It was impossible to catch each and every one, but I was fortunate to see a few of my favorites.

When I first arrived, I was overwhelmed and in awe of all the book-related amazingness around me. I spent a good amount of time perusing the incredibly affordable books for sale, and brought home one or two…or more.

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The first author I saw was Alicia Silverstone, who was there to promote her new book, The Kind Mama. I have Alicia’s book, The Kind Diet and enjoy many of the recipes and tips she shares in the book.

Alicia gave a great interview on the book and proudly promoted a vegan lifestyle. She graciously answered audience Clueless related questions, and my own question about what book helped her in her transitioning to veganism (The Food Revolution, by John Robbins).

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13819374434_e53a0d21c6_oAfter getting my book signed, I rushed over to the incredible line for the John Green signing. I really wanted to hear him speak, but when I went to get in line for his interview, it was already packed and my hopes were dashed. However, I was told that he would be signing each and every book after his talk.

The line to meet him was insane. It was packed with teenagers and I knew I would be waiting for a few hours. Although it was a test in patience, I was happy to see so many kids exciting about meeting an author and reading books in line (!!!).

I waited in line for 3 hours! My husband was awesome and went to get provisions. The festival had a great selection of vegan options! This helped sustain me through the wait. 

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Although my chat with him was short, I was struck by what a genuinely nice guy John Green was. He looked tired (who wouldn’t, after signing books for 3 hours?!), but committed to sign each and every book there. He was apologetic about the wait time and thanked me when I told him I loaned my book out to my students all the time.

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I missed Ruth Ozeki’s interview, but I made it over to her tent, just in time to get my book signed. This picture came out awfully blurry, but it was great to meet her.

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I walked around the festival a little bit more, but was pretty wiped out and the events were winding down. We refueled at The Veggie Grill (so necessary), before heading home.

Santa Fe "Chicken" Sandwich

Santa Fe “Chicken” Sandwich

Buffalo Bomber

Buffalo Bomber

This was such an amazing event and I am still baffled that it was FREE! Now that I am not a newbie anymore, I will have a better plan for next year and be more strategic about meeting and seeing more authors. It was such an amazing experience and I will definitely return next year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

2014 in Books-March

1. Lipstick Jihad

lipstick jihad

This has been in my to-read pile for about two years now, and I was interested to read about the perspective of an Iranian American who moved back to Iran. This book took me about two weeks to get through, there were parts I really enjoyed and parts that seemed to drag.

It’s obvious that is a journalist and would often describe Iran in a journalistic manner. I was more interested in hearing a personal perspective of her move and the journalistic tone threw me off. However, at times, she did give more of her personal account and reflected thoughtfully and emotionally about the identity shift, and how that related to when she lived in California and when she lived in Iran. Those parts I loved and learned from. I wish the whole book came from that personal perspective.

2. Waking

waking

This book is a memoir by a paraplegic man who was in an accident when he was a teenager and became a yoga instructor as an adult. This is the current selection for my book club and I was very interested in the subject matter. This book was amazing. I was hoping it would not be a typical, “inspirational” memoir and it wasn’t, it was thoughtful, honest and such an interesting perspective about yoga. I found it fascinating to read about how someone who could not feel half of their physical body was still able to connect with it, and still able to guide other people into a deeper connection with their whole body. I highly recommend this book.

3. Don’t Believe Everything You Think

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This book gave an explanation and analysis of the Thirty-Seven Practices of Bodhisatvas, by Togmay Zangp0, it also contained personal excerpts from various people who had examples of how they had applied the principles to their life. I love the explanations given by Chodron. She breaks things down very simply, but poignant. It helped changed my perspective on how to view people who treat us badly, and helped me think a little deeper about attachment.

What did you read in March?