Archive for December, 2008

December 31, 2008

Retrospective 2008

2008 has been quite the year for this girl. My first full year without college. My first full year at my (pseudo) Big Girl Job. Year #5 for The Boy and I, the Year I Was Supposed To Be Started Grad School But Didn’t.

Busy busy.

Taking a cue from the adorable Princess Lasertron and maybe channeling a little NieNie, here are my proudest moments of 2008:

January

I am proud that I set a reasonable New Year’s Resolution, started it right away, and it served the real purpose of an NYR, which is to modify my behavior permanently.

That resolution was: get the nationally recommended 180 minutes of cardiovascular exercise every week.

Sure, I haven’t probably met that goal in months, but the personal transformation has been remarkable. I no longer want to punch myself in the face rather than drag myself to the gym. I go. I do my 45 minutes. I go home. Like brushing my teeth.

February

I am proud that I finally ventured out beyond my Livejournal friends list and my Core Five bookmarks and ventured out into the Big Bad Blogosphere.

March

I am proud that I invited my friends over for a birthday party, and everyone had a pretty good time. Even Dorothy!

dorothy-party

Also, my boyfriend played me Happy Birthday on his trumpet. At the party. I am proud to have that kind of a boyfriend.

April

I am proud that I really put my nose to the Revising Grindstone in the month of April!

May

I am extremely proud that I successfully planned and executed a road trip that took me, The Boy, and two of our friends from Michigan to Louisville to Atlanta to New Orleans to Galveston Island to San Antonio and back.

Extremely proud.

June

I am proud that I sucked up my “You’re Too Damn Old To Vacation With Your Parents” feelings and went to visit Gramps down in the old Myrtle Beach for like, the 10th time. Never gets old.

beachybeach

July

I am proud that I started watching House.

July wasn’t much of a month for me, okay?

August

I am proud that I survived my first Summer Reading Program.

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I was ripped to shreds exhausted, but August brought time for Shelf Reading! And Book Weeding!

Even by library standards, I am dorky.

Also? I am proud that I challenged myself to finish reading every half-read book on my reading shelf, and actually succeeded, logging 11 books finished in 15 days.

September

I am proud that I started following politics and watching the news. Even if it literally kept me up some nights, it was a rollicking good election season if I do say so myself.

I am also proud that I made this shirt for my sister for her birthday, all by myself!

bears-beets

(I cribbed the excellent design from bambinamia, but Dorothy put the rest of the costume together on her own LOL)

October

I am proud that I got pretty good at riting my three morning pages this month. Maybe some day I’ll graduate to Step Two of the Artist’s Way…

November

I am proud that I wrote 37,000 words for NaNoWriMo, even if I didn’t win.

I am proud that I survived the GRE, too!

December

I am proud that I decorated a pretty sweatshirt for my sister (AGAIN channeling my inner Princess Lasertron… we just both love cupcakes so much it was hard to resist)

I am proud that I gave myself this here lovely vacation from work.

I am proud that I am going to JoAnne Fabric tomorrow, to pick out fabric for my first quilt.

I am proud that I have spent so much time with my friends and family, including but not limited to my mom, my daddy, Home-From-College Betsy, Caroline, Dorothy, The Boy, Frank Who Lives in DC But Just Happened to Be in MI, my cousins, my cousins’s two English bulldogs, Maggie and Blue, and soon, my dearest Frances, her fiance, and maybe my favorite godbaby.

Merry 2008, y’all. Tomorrow, we start it all over.

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December 29, 2008

Oh joy, it’s almost time for LOST!

Greetings from the land of limited internet!

Don’t worry. I’m still alive and kicking it. Today, in fact, I kicked it in a few lovely places, such as Flint’s hidden gem of a restaurant, Grill of India, where we were the first customers of the day. We followed our delicious buffet lunch with trips to both Barnes and Noble and Borders (which are conveniently located across the street from each other) , and then back to Lapeer where somebody graciously took a nap in the car while I scammed wireless internet off of the innocent Isola’s Bistro – a restaurant of good food and perpetually flat Diet Coke.

photo-2454

I will be here for a few days, watching this boy sleep in various places (working third shift with a 9-5, weekends only girlfriend is hard on a man), and then Jack to Backson for New Year’s Eve and on Friday, back to work.

Work. Work? Yes, I have a job, and yes, I have to return to it at some point.

Bollocks.

December 26, 2008

…happy golden days of yore…

I think I just had the merriest Christmas since 1995, the year I got my big, gray Gameboy.

Highlights included…

~ Sleeping in until 9:00 instead of 7:00… or 5:00. We’re all finally grown up!

~ A big ol’ stack of new books under the tree.

Betsy got some cool new books too.

~ SURPISE IPOD NANO! Thank you Mommy and Daddy 🙂

~ Finally finishing a little project in time for Sister Caroline to open it.

~ Caroline and Dorothy’s matching presents… with no advanced planning.

Jersey didn’t mind that her only present was a toenail grinder.

~ Traditional Christmas Breakfast = sausage gravy, homemade biscuits, grapefruit from Texas, scrambled eggs and sour cream coffee cake

~ Reading a book from cover to cover.

~ Memory foam pillow!

It’s ideal for sleepers.

~ 9:30 showing of Yes Man.

~ Sharing my Christmas with the favorite boy before bed, and remembering that I still have another Christmas at his house 🙂

~ Not having to go to work this morning in the freezing rain (I love vacations!)

Christmas 2008

P.S. Hey, did you remember that next week is 2009? I forgot. I have a lot of planning to do for the new year!

December 24, 2008

Best Reads of 2008 – Part Two

Merry Christmas Eve, everyone! Even though most of you responsible folks have already completed your Christmas shopping, maybe you’ll want to stop and pick up one of my

Top FIVE (or six because yesterday I forgot how to count) reads of 2008!

If not, then ideas for spending that Borders gift card come December 26?

6. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

Another book I should have probably read a year ago, but I’m glad I finally did. This is a memoir, a true story about a harrowing year in the life of the prodigious writer, Joan Didion. The story begins on a sad note, and it really only gets sadder. Joan’s only daughter is hospitalized, unconscious and suffering from an unknown infection, when Joan’s husband, writer John Gregory Dunne, dies of an unexpected heart attack. From there, Joan is alone with her sick daughter and her grief, and this book is her account of that time, where she found her self feeling everything and nothing, taking actions but not seeming to go anywhere. This is a book about loss, and it is a distressing read. Even though Joan is a literary celebrity, wealthy and talented, her emotions are absent of any kind of pretention. She is a wife who wants to take care of a husband who is no longer there. She wants to write, but after working alongside her husband for so many years, work is strange.

I am young enough and lucky enough not to have lost anyone close to me, so I can barely think about how my life would change if I lost my husband and stood to lose my only child. Joan Didion writes honestly and with the precision of a journalist, and yes, the horrors of her experiences simply magnify with every page. But the writing is highly readable – I felt very imersed by Joan’s experience as I read, and I know I will have to give this one a re-read sometime.

Buy this for: Your mother. Your grandmother. Your dad. Your best “I actually read books” friend.

Amazon Link | NYTimes Review

5. Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer

Remember my Mormon Fever? This book was probably my favorite. I know that many people from the LDS church didn’t think his account was fair, and the church itself put out an official statement disputing many of the facts represented here, but I found the book to be both convincing and fascinating, and perhaps I am not as sensitive as a church member might be, it seemed about as well researched and documented as any book I’ve read all year.

Under the Banner of Heaven is both a historic account of the creation and rise of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a religion that has grown alongside our country. It is a truly American religion, and the founders – Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and the like – forged across the country in the mid 1800’s to find a place for their religion to thrive. Now, the church is the fourth most popular religion in the country. Jon Krakauer uses this book to show details of how the early founders made choices to protect their religious rights, defied government officials, and maintained unity despite internal rifts.

But in typical Jon Krakauer fashion, this historic telling, which is probably interesting enough to stand on its own, is a backdrop for a larger discussion about religious passion, and, as he puts it, “violent faith.” All branches of all faiths produce zealots – something Krakauer does not limit to the LDS church, for certain – and due to the fairly recent rise of the LDS church, many of these empassioned are more in the public eye. His example – a counter-story to the beginnings of the church – is a 1984 murder, where a woman and infant were murdered by two brothers, members of a small Fundamentalist Sect of the LDS church, who believed themselves ordered to kill. Krakauer spends a lot of time with these brothers, and other members of their family, discussing the personal climate that led them to the church in the first place, and then, what led them to commit a gruesome murder. Jon Krakauer doesn’t imply that their particular religion turned them into criminals, but that the same kind of qualities that lead people to fundamentalist religions – charisma, lust for power, want of money – lead people to make poor decisions, which they then justify by their religious beliefs.

Anyway. This book is killer. Very interesting, very thorough; a piece of American history they don’t teach you in school, that’s for sure

Buy This For: Amateur American historians, religious connoisseurs (or skeptics), fans of Into the Wild, or probably Into Thin Air (although I haven’t read it yet!)

Amazon Link | NY Times Review | LDS Church Response

4. The Gingerbread Series by Rachel Cohn

Not sure how I missed this trilogy for so long, but I was very glad to find it in 2008! These three books, Gingerbread, Shrimp, and Cupcake follow our leading lady, Cyd Charisse from 16 to 19. She begins as a boarding school evictee – home with her awful trophy wife of a mom, her two half siblings, and her doting stepdad. She’s attending an alternative high school, but the real action is happening at her afterschool job. She baristas at a hip coffee shop full of wet and salty surfers, including her artist boyfriend, Shrimp, and his delicious older brother, Java. However, after getting caught trying to spend a long night under the stars with Shrimp, Cyd Charisse finds herself on her parents’ shit list – grounded, forced to quit her job, and then sent off to New York City to meet her Real Dad, a man who her mother once loved, but who didn’t love her enough to leave his wife and family.

Throughout the series, Cyd Charisse faces different aspects of her extremely blended family, as well as learning how to have a relationship with the boy she loves. There are ups and downs, failures and triumphs, but what makes this series so winning is Cyd’s voice. She is tough and opinionated, not afraid to make a statement or have an opinion, and after being exiled to boarding school, she’s independent. But underneath her armor is a little girl who doesn’t know who her real parents are. Cyd still carries her ragdoll around, at 16. But at the same time, she exists in a very real, very teenaged world. It’s no secret to the reader that while at boarding school, Cyd was in over her head with sex and drugs and alcohol, and despite her rebellious nature, she doesn’t lash out at her parents for taking her away from such a party atmosphere – she lashes out because they sent her away in the first place. She is a very complicated lady, but her voice is so infectious I wanted her to be my best friend. I didn’t find the third book quite as cohesive as the first two, but once you’ve read those, I challenge you to stay away from that last chronicle 🙂

Buy this for: older teens, midwesterners who want a taste of city life in San Francisco and NYC, or pile all three together for your favorite young reader

Amazon Link | Rachel Cohn Online

3. Better by Atul Gawande

Again with the nonfiction, I know! But I’m not sure if I can adequately explain how much I enjoyed this book. I’d never read a book about medicine in my life – save for a few in high school, mostly tawdry Alex Delaware mysteries when I became strangely interested in Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy – but I have picked up a few habits in my lifetime that have drawn my attention to the field. Habits like Grey’s Anatomy (hey, I kicked that one!), Scrubs, and of course, House M.D. Besides from watching far too much television, I also knew a couple of premed kids in school, and watching them struggle through chemistry classes, anatomy exams that required 6+ items on each flash card, and studying for that MCAT, I decided that no matter how much I dislike my personal doctors, I still have respect for those in the field. Being a doctor is some of the hardest work you can do, I think, especially in a hospital. And this is the background that Atul Gawande brings when he writes his second book, Better, and talks not only about the ins and outs of medical practice, but the greater principles behind any work that you value.

The stories Atul tells are specific to his field – how malpractice suits both help and hinder medicine, the unsung importance of handwashing in hospitals, how different hospitals can produce such drastically different results for patients of cystic fibrosis – but the message behind each section can be applied to any field of work to, as the title suggests, Do Better. The first principle is Diligence – whether you’re filing paperwork or washing your hands in between patients, 99% diligence can cause you just as many problems as 95% or 90%. Next is Doing Right – which is the obviously important for medicine, but also for any other job. Ingenuity is the last principle – that driving force that makes you want to do your job better by trying something new.

The writing in this book is so clear and accessible. Nothing like those premed textbooks, but this isn’t a frothy Grey’s Anatomy view of medicine either. Medicine isn’t some magical skill that some people have. It is a field of work, a science, and one that is changing and evolving not based on new breakthroughs, but by people, like you or me, who try to be Better every day.

Buy this for: junkies of the aforementioned television series, relatives that really love their profession, or maybe even your high school aged sibling who you want to encourage to actually keep their childhood goals of becoming a doctor.

Amazon Link | NPR reading

2. Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

Okay, these last two books? These are the really good ones. The ones I loveloveloveloveLoved. And boy, did I love love love Eat Pray Love.

Elizabeth Gilbert is having a crisis. Her marriage has disintegrated. Her rebound boyfriend isn’t working out as planned. She’s on antidepressants. Things couldn’t really be much worse. Except for the part where she has enough money to go to Europe for a year, doesn’t have any kids to worry about, and oh yeah, she’s going to write a book about her travels and has some advance money to help fund her trip. I know, boo hoo, right? But Gilbert does a great job of making herself seem so human that no matter how much you might want to call her a spoiled drama queen who can’t just get a divorce and move on without jetting around the world for a year, you really can’t. She’s honest, she’s funny, and she wants to heal herself, above all.

Elizabeth’s trip will take her to three locations, and she plans on living without much in mind other than enjoying the place she is in. The first three months are in Italy, the Eat portion of the show. She plans on indulging heavily on this trip. Pasta. Gelato. Wine. And maybe even a lover. It takes her awhile to leave her flat, and she finds friends instead of sex. I thought this section was a little short, but onto India, where she would spend three months at an Ashram, studying yoga and working on her devotion. Somehow, through her talented writing and gift for engaging internal monologues, she made me want to learn how to meditate. Heck, I even went out and bought a meditation book! But the most interesting section, in my opinion, was the final one – Indonesia. Bali, in specific, a small tropical island where Elizabeth met a medicine man who invited her to come and stay. Unfortunately, she hasn’t talked to him since their one meeting, and he may or may not remember her. But she befriends him anyway, and some other locals, as she tries to balance the Passion and Devotion she explored in Italy and India.

I suspect I am one of those people who would rather read about foreign countries than travel to them, but this book even made me want to hop on a plane and get away from it all. But the real fun of this book, for me, was Elizabeth’s self discovery. There are a lot of things we never bother to learn about ourselves, because we are too busy trying to fit into society’s boxes, and Eat Pray Love made me want to spend some time doing some digging, whether I’m sitting on the couch in Michigan or on a plane to the freaking South Pacific.

Buy this for: Aunts, grandmas, and Mommies. This is a good one for the lady in your life you have no idea what to buy for. It’s a bestseller, it’s a breezy read, and a real feel-good read.

Amazon Link | NY Times Review

And now, the moment you have been waiting for…

Out of all 103 books I read in 2008, my very, very favorite was…

1. Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Can we just take a moment and appreciate this book cover? This is a good cover. A finnne cover for the one book that I just CAN NOT GET OUT OF MY BRAIN.

Life As We Knew It is Miranda’s diary. She has some of the prerequisite teenaged angst – her father’s new wife is pregnant, she has a painful crush on a famous figure skater who used to train with her skating coach, and all her teachers are obsessed with the stupid lunar eclipse. But while she and the rest of her small Pennsylvania town are staying up and watching the eclipse, something unpredicted and unpredictably awful happens: the moon gets bigger. Before the TV and radios cut out, Miranda and her mother and younger brother find out that it an asteroid struck the moon, shoving it out of orbit and closer to the Earth. The damage is minor at first – everyone freaks out and ransacks the local groceries and gas prices sky rocket – but then the consquences of this natural occurence grow more and more evident. Tidal waves wipe out entire cities. Long dormant volcanos are exploding. And it seems like gas and oil supplies are just plain running out. In a matter of months, Miranda goes from average suburban teen to Survival Girl, learning to navigate the new landscape of the United States until winter hits her town HARD and leaves her and her family stranded and rationing out food.

Because of this book, I am going to demand a wood stove in any home that I buy. Because of this book, I have a new sense of appreciation for our environment and how lucky we are all that the status quo has been maintained. Because of this book, I am worried about oil running out, about the American market’s refusal to promote alternate energy sources, and the absence of community that you forget about when you don’t need anything from anyone else. But if something awful were to happen? Being friends with your neighbors could keep you alive. This book will make you think HARD, but it’s still a classic coming of age novel underneath the science and the terror. Miranda is a tender narrator, suffering like any girl her age would, unsure if she misses going to school, unsure if she should obey her mother or defy her, and worried about her older brother and father. Susan Beth Pfeffer knocked it out of the park with this one. It should be added to any American’s Must Read List.

Man, I wish YA got more R-E-S-P-E-C-T…

Buy this book for: every single person on your gift list. Haha. Just kidding. But it’s definitely a good last minute gift for teens, or fans of dystopian fiction. Or anyone who isn’t prone to nightmares.

Amazon Link | Susan Beth Pfeffer’s blog

Well thanks to everyone who’s been reading along these past few weeks! I have officially given you all my favorite books of the year, and I’ll be back after Christmas to blog about… I don’t know. Something other than books. Until I read another good one, that is 🙂 Now off to finish the other million things on my to-do list. Who has a to-do list on Christmas Eve? This girl, this girl… I wish you all an enjoyable holiday, and that you get everrrrrything you want. 🙂

December 23, 2008

tagged!

The kindly Erin, of Erin-Go-Blog has tagged me for this meme. Have I ever mentioned how much I love being tagged in memes? I really do. It makes my day. I will do stupid things, like taking awful pictures of myself, all in the name of a meme.

Just kidding, it’s not that awful.


Things to note:
~ boyfriend’s sweater
~ on the phone with boyfriend
~ how does one take a self portrait with one of these honking things?
~ inability to make myself smile
~ the delightful wallpaper in my foyer
I will now tag the following people based on my perception of their ability to take pictures quickly and post them:
Frank because I know you have a MacBook
Annie because you were a photography major
Lindsey because I think you have a MacBook too. But I don’t know why I think that. I have absolutely no evidence
Laura because you always post so many cute pictures!
Caroline because you are sitting right next to me and I know as soon as I give you my computer you will take a picture of yourself, like a reflex.
edit: oh WAIT THE RULES!
hhaahahaha oh Frank what WOULD i do without you

The rules are: take a picture of yourself, as soon as humanly possible after reading this. Post it on your blog of choice. Do not do your make-up or crank up the contrast to cover up your pimples. Do not pass go. This message will self destruct!

December 23, 2008

Best Reads of 2008 – Part One

Alright, guys and gals, we’re drawing this year’s book review marathon to a close with…

The Top Ten Books I Read All Year

in order of bestiness, starting with the least good and working toward the most magnificent.

Drumroll? Anyone?

10. Love Is A Mix Tape: Life and Loss, One Song At A Time by Rob Sheffield

I’m a big fan of mix tapes. I made my first one the summer after I turned 8, and it featured the stylings of Patty Larkin, The Four Bitchin’ Babes singing this little number , and in a move that probably frightened the neighbors when I plugged my stereo into the outdoor jack on our back patio and turned the volume up, a little Rain Dogs. I soon graduated to recording my favorite lite rock hits on my clock radio alarm clock, and, as some of you now might be victim to by now, when Napster rolled into town, I was a CD burning machine. In college, I burned CDs for all occasions – birthdays, parties, gifts – and met all sorts of friends who did the same for me.

So I picked up this book because it was kitschy. They sold it at Urban Outfitters. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy it as much as I did, or be moved as much as I was.

This is the memoir of Rob Sheffield’s young life, each chapter beginning with the tracklists of a mix tape that would become poignant during the story to come. The first mix tape was for a school dance, where the shy, geeky kid was given his first taste of the power of music – suddenly, he was controlling the songs to which kids would DANCE – he could show off his obscure but hip music tastes, orchestrate strategic slow dance opportunities, and, best of all, the prettiest girls in school were coming to Rob, asking him to please please PLEASE play his favorite song.

But this book isn’t all cute anecdotes and reverence for the rise of alternative music in the early 1990s; this book is a story of love, between Rob and his girlfriend, then wife, who would die unexpectedly from a pulmonary embolism at a tragically young age. Love of music united Renee and Rob from the beginning of thier relationship- they met at the only arena for alternative music in their rural university town, a restaurant with a music venue in the basement – and when Rob was left alone a few years later, it would be the boxes and boxes of mix tapes she left behind that would remain as his lasting connection to her. This book will probably break your heart, but Rob manages to write his story in a light, laugh-out-loud style. I listened to this book on audio, read by the author – and I wished myself more places to drive so I could finish it all the sooner.

Buy this for: the last person for whom you made a mix CD, for your girlfriend (maybe with a mix, if you want to impress her with your devotion to her), or perhaps a companion for one of these nifty gifties?

Amazon Link | Baby Got Books Interview with the author

P.S. If you like themed mixes as much as I do, or maybe even a small percentage as much as I do, because I do like them a lot, then check out what my good buddy, and #1 mix CD sharing pardner, Frank is up to. His new blog, My Mixed Up Week, launches in the 2009, and he will be posting themed mixes on a WEEKLY BASIS, and might even send you a personal copy? It’s gonna be fun. I can sense it.

9. The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Thirteen years after I first threw my classroom copy of The Sign of the Beaver to the floor with disgust and said “Please give me back my Alice book, kthnx,” I have finally, finally FINALLY grown to appreciate historic fiction. And this book had a great part in this miracle, let me tell you.

Edna Pontellier is a turn of the century wife and mother, living among the wealthy elite in New Orleans after her marriage to a successful businessman. The book begins by detailing the Pontellier family’s extended holiday in the resort area of Grand Isle. Days are spent dining and socializing with the right kind of people, people who Edna doesn’t always like, while the children are tended to by nannies and the husbands either talk business or take the ferry back to the city to do business. With all this free time, Edna has the opportunity to make new friends, including Robert LeBrun, a much younger man who shows her attention and affection that she can’t help but accept. By the time the holiday draws to a close, Edna realizes that she is falling for him, but Robert is leaving for a business trip that will take him out of the country for an indeterminate amount of time. Returning to New Orleans, Edna liberates herself from her home, her responsibilities, and finally lets herself live the life that traditional laws of the wealthy Creole culture don’t want her to live.

Not to say that The Awakening is historical fiction. The book was published in 1899, for heaven’s sake. But although this is a piece of classic literature, I didn’t find myself tripping over the language or, alternately, rolling around in it. I didn’t read with any particular interest in who the narrator, Edna, would end up with. I read it as commentary on being female, both in Upper Class New Orleans for housewives, but in the Now for Me. Edna takes steps in this book that put her outside the norm, and she is alternately rewarded and punished for those choices. And while the choices and options for women in American have grown and grown and grown, there are still times when I feel like Edna, boxed into expectations that I can’t understand, and even like some of the other female characters, like Adele Ratignolle, who is a portrayed as content to tend her brood and serve her husband.

After reading Chains, The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, and The Awakening, I am now very interested in history. It’s more than learning how to tie knots from an Indian in the woods. It’s about how society has grown and evolved, how the mistakes we made will travel through generations, and gosh darn it, I want to know more.

Buy this for: your favorite feminist, or pair it with the most excellent, National Book Award nominated The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, which I read twice this year, but haven’t mentioned on these here lists because, oh, last year I gave it first billing. A great look at early roots of feminism and how those same principles play out today, for teenagers.

Amazon Link | Um, a full text version of the book online? Oh technology…

8. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Finally got around to reading this book that Every. Body. Loved. and duh… I loved it.

Liesel is the daughter of a Communist. However, since she lived in Germany during Hitler’s reign, she was separated from her mother (who was probably “taken care of” shortly after) before she even knew what a Communist was. On the trainride to her new home, she watched her younger brother die, and stole her first book: The Grave Digger’s Handbook. When she is left with the Hubermanns, this book is all she has left of the family she once knew, and she doesn’t even know how to read.

But what really makes this book unique is that there is someone watching Liesel – it is her story, for certain, but she is not the narrator. The narrator is Death himself, the carrier of souls from one world to the next, who met Liesel for the first time and was the only witness to that first theft. Death meets with Liesel again and again as she grows up in Germany during the Holocaust amidst a cast of idiosyncratic neighbors, family, and friends, watching over her life as he goes about his very strenuous work during this time of great violence.

I can’t really explain more of the details of this book without giving anything away, but this really is one you need to read to understand. Death narrates the story with the exhausted sorrow of any human faced with death day after day, the sympathetic humor, and an eye for details. Liesel grows from scared, lost girl to a strong young woman, and it is evident that it isn’t just Liesel’s merit that helps her do so, it is the power of the community of people who, despite obvious differences and dislike for one another, have a common respect for each other that defies some of the awfulness that is happening around them.

I’d put this on the shelf next to Everything Is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer. If you enjoyed that one, you’ll definitely appreciate The Book Thief. In terms of YA, this book does have a lot of violence, but it’s about as clean as the driven snow. My 15-year-old sister is reading it for English next trimester. It’s a Big Honking Book, but if you’re up for a challenge, do try to muscle through this one. Markus Zusak is doing some amazing things with the young adult novel. I probably don’t need to tell you this, but he’s one to look out for.

Buy this for: Those who cry over Schindler’s List, teens who aren’t afraid of a Big, Bad Book, or pair it with Everything Is Illuminated.

Amazon Link | Markus Zusak

7. Fat Kid Rules The World by K.L. Going

This was the absolute first book I read in 2008, and as I listened to the kind of amazing audio recording by Matthew Lillard (yeah, that Matthew Lillard), I knew it would be one of the best books I read all year. Perhaps of all time. Please don’t ask me to list my favorite books of all time.

Troy Billings has just about given up. He’s a 296 pound teenager. His father, retired military, can’t stand him, and neither can his athlete little brother. He doesn’t have any friends, no girls give him a second look. Ever. He’s standing on the edge of the subway platform, trying to decide if splattering himself would be funny. Everything about a fat kid is funny, he’s learned, and if he’s going to commit suicide, it shouldn’t be funny. But someone interrupts his contemplations and that someone is Curt McCrae. Curt is a legend at his school, and has that aire of mystery that comes with celebrity. Most people hadn’t even met Curt, just heard about him. Heard he was playing with a new band that might open for KingPin. Heard he was homeless. Heard he was dead. And Curt walks right up to Troy on the other side of the yellow line and completely rocks his life. Troy goes from friendless to having a constant, smelly, drugged out companion, one who insists that Troy, who has never picked up a drumstick, is going to be his new drummer at his upcoming gig at one of the hippest underground clubs in the city.

The best part of this book is the voice. Troy, despite his physical failings, has got something to say. And when Curt enters his life, he wavers between clinging to the first real friend he’s ever had to running screaming from his wild, unpredictable behaviors. But the transformation of Troy’s life is equally Curt’s influence and Troy’s reaction to Curt. He learns to relate to his father and his brother, and all sorts of other touchy-feely things, but the world is pure lower-middle class NYC, and in Curt’s case, that place where some teenagers end up between school and the real world that can be pretty scary. This setting makes the choices in Troy’s and Curt’s lives more important, more life or death. In Troy’s world, there’s always room for sarcasm, for humor, but for anger and defeat as well. Jeez, after 12 days of this nonsense, I think I’ve lost my ability to say anything smart about books, but take my word for it: this is one you’ll laugh and cry with, and probably wish there was a sequel.

Buy this for: Teenaged boys (so hard to buy for…), or teenaged boys (or girls) who think that the more obscure their music is, the better.

Amazon Link | K.L. Going Online

Alright, the rest on the morrow. The grand conclusion. Exciting, I know!

December 22, 2008

Favorite Non-Fiction Reads of 2008

So I never really read much nonfiction before, besides the chapters I actually bothered to read of my expensive, boring textbooks, but I can safely say I’ve caught the bug. Not addicted yet, but definitely on a kick. A non-fiction spree, if you will. Can I think of any more cliches that adequately describe my relationship to a section of my library? No? Okay, then. Moving on.

I. The Four Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss

If my father had spotted me reading this book, way back in January, he probably would have tried to hide it, just like he did with my Barack Obama book. This book is the manifesto of those people who don’t actually like work, and would prefer to do something else – anything else – as much as possible while still pulling in the big bucks.

I’m not going to lie and tell you this book changed my life and I’m now fully prepared to take my working-existence by the horns and weasle my way into taking months long “mini-retirements” in Rio de Janeiro to learn how to bull fight and flamenc dance. But this book is valuable for young people, like me, who have yet to build any longterm stakes in their path of employment. It’s nice to know that there are options out there; that working the 9-5 until you turn 60 (or 65, or 70 these days) isn’t the only way to make money out there.

Timothy Ferriss’s book is one part memoir, where he discusses his various experiments with the principles he espouses. His bread and butter, it turns out, is an online vitamin supplement store, which he splits wide open for the reader, showing how he slowly outsourced more and more of his responsibilities and allowed the money to make itself. We also follow him on his various jaunts across the globe, taking advantage of currency rates to live on pennies (literally) in some of the more exotic and beautiful places on the globe. This book is also one part motivational, self-helpy kind of stuff. For Timothy, he wanted his time and money free to invest in his education. While flitting across the globe, he took the time to do the things that were important to him: learning new languages and new skills. For other people, this time might be better spent working on art, writing a novel, or raising a family, but the message to take your focus off your job and put on your values and interests is so important for everyone. He also includes little tidbits on how to be more comfortable taking the leap of faith to a new lifestyle, giving worksheets and mini-activities to boost your confidence. I thought they were fun. The last part of the book is the nitty-gritty of how you too can start an online business and automate it like Ferriss did. This part could be useful for some people, but it just made my head spin. As a whole, though, this book is an eye-opener, and even if business is your last goal, you can still learn different ways to free up your time for the more important things in life.

Buy this for: new college grads, family or friends who have been the victim of the latest wave of layoffs, or your cousin who keeps talking about moving to Fiji for a year but hasn’t actually figured out how to go yet.

Timothy Ferriss Online | Lifestyle Blog | Amazon Link

II. & III. Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller and Grace, Eventually by Anne Lamott

How to talk about this book without talking too much about religion… hmmmm…. Well. That’s impossible. I should probably just dive in. Blue Like Jazz is a book that I feel like I am the last one of my friends to read. Granted, a great deal of my friends are a little more churchy than I, and probably more spiritually in tune, but after seeing this title standing alone on everybody and their brothers “Favorite Books” section on Facebook, I decided to give it a go.

This book is probably more memoir than nonfic, but we’re going strictly by call number here. Donald Miller’s life wasn’t different from any typical suburban youth. He grew up feeling a lot of guilt, as many of us do, for the great gifts he received without any provocation, and for the deliberate wrongs he did people without punishment. This guilt turned him to embrace his Christianity, and this book is mostly his journey to find both his place in the world and how his faith helped him to get there. His life brings him to Portland, Oregon, which is one of my most liberal cities in the country, and specifically, to Reed College, an institution known for both an innovative curriculum and a tolerance for drug-use among students. When the religious Miller arrives on campus, it seems that God has left the building, but he struggles to find a church with which he identifys, to meet students of his own mindset, and to be clever about spreading The Good News around campus.

Similarly, Grace, Eventually is yet another highly personal count of one person’s spiritual journey through essays and vignettes. The books tackle a similar goal, but they couldn’t really be more different. Donald Miller is an earnest young man who nurses infatuations with Emily Dickinson and can’t decide if he’s ready to find a wife. He has been religious since his youth and struggles to keep the faith, so to speak. Anne Lamott is a middle-aged single mother of a teenaged son who struggles with her church activities, with hating a President who has been elected to lead her country, with inane laws that mandate her dog be leashed from the wildnerness of her home in the San Francsico area. She grew up in an atheist home, but found Christianity late in life, after years of alcoholism and other such pitfalls. Their journeys are different, yes, but the tender tone their essays take are similar. They aren’t writing to preach about one faith or another, but just to talk about God, about church, about faith and grace and prayer and growing into your religion, no matter what age you are. I enjoyed them both about equally, and I recommend them to the most tenuous or steadfast of believers.

Buy these for: your college kid who you really wish would just go back to church already, for your mother or father, or anyone who you think could just use a little peace of mind.

Donald Miller Online | Amazon Link | Powells Interview with Anne Lamott | Amazon Link

IV. The Nine by Jeffrey Toobin

Dorky fact #345 about Jessica: she’s a pretty big Supreme Court lover. It’s my favorite governmental institution. I mean, what’s not to love? Supreme Court Justices get to shift policy, almost single-handedly, they wear sweet robes, they have lifetime job security… it’s a pretty sweet gig. Anyway, so pardon me while I dork out and tell you about this really cool book that dips as far into the very privacy-oriented court as is probably humanly possible.

In particular, this book takes on the various undertakings of the Rehnquist court, The Nine to which he refers, and delves into both their personal histories and their political and career successes and failures. This book hits on most of the major Supreme Court decisions of my lifetime – the Clinton Impeachment, Bush vs. Gore, Terry Schiavo, the University of Michigan affirmative action cases – and not only discusses the political climate of the world at the time and of the Presidents who named each of the nine Justices, but the delicate balance of personalities and how extremely personal the act of decision making becomes. While the Court is much more guarded and individual an undertaking than say, the Presidency, there are still a lot of personality games at play. In particular, Sandra Day O’Connor takes on the role as a protagonist throughout much of the book because, for much of the Rehnquist court’s history, there were four strict, conservative and Judicial Originalists on one side of her and four more liberal or moderate judges. She literally, held the court in her own hands for many years, and the ways in which each Justice had to lobby and argue for their position is similar to what goes on in most administrative meetings all around the globe. And that is ulitmately the message of this book, I thought: that even though the Supreme Court is supposed to be this bastion of justice, unbiased in its interpretation and beholden to no man, there is an importance mainly in who nominates these Justices, and more particularly, what their opinons and interests are. Even though Sandra Day O’Connor often disappointed the party of her Presidential apointer – Ronald Reagan – she still held onto her job longer than she should have, with her husband falling quickly into the throes of Alzheimers, just so her position could be filled by another Republican president.

My Conservative Father found this book to be politically biased. I tend to disagree. But then again, what don’t I tend to disagree when it comes to that man?

Buy this for: your favorite political arguing buddy, be it your Dad, your girlfriend, or your great-grandma.

Jeffrey Toobin Online | Amazon Link

V. The Thing About Life Is That Someday You’ll Be Dead by David Shields

Is it possible for a book to be both depressing and uplifting? Why yes, yes it is. David Shields uses a conglomerate of information to discuss that which we would rather not discuss: his own experience as an aging man, and that of his father, who seemed not to age at all until he turned 90,  discusses famous texts on dying, and even dips into anatomy textbooks that describe exactly why it is that your hair turns gray. Yes, this book is about DEATH. But not neccesarily in a bad way.

First of all, the stories that David Shields chooses to paint a picture of his life and his perception of his father are so very well written and just as well executed as any poignant, father-son memoir would be. David’s father is one of those characters that you don’t think really exists – the spry old man who positively refuses to age, much to the pain of his immediate family – and how David handles this shifting perception as age finally catches up to the old man is very touching. But this book isn’t just about 95-year-olds, who seem to have a much closer relationship to death than most people. This book is also about aging – how David watches his own body disappoint him, his knees giving out when he runs, his hair falling out – and with the running anatomical commentary (the first few pages, while discussing the beginning of life, also describes some of the various ways that pregnancy and birth can end a life before it even begins), the message is that this is dying. Aging is dying. Every second of every day, we are all dying.

I’ll wait for everyone to stop cursing the world, crying, or shaking your fists at God.

Anyway. As I mentioned, somehow, David Shields turns this message into one of hope. There is nothing wrong with aging, because that is just what our body is doing. As humans, we have far outlived our expected lifespan, and the wrinkles, the propensity for cancer, the dementia are all just bits of your body giving up. And in the end, that’s what everyone has to do. Resign yourself and let life go on without you.

Oh my God, I totally did not make this book sound like it is a pleasant reading experience at all! Please at least pick it up and read the first few pages before you listen to my completely inept and morbid opinions. This one is a good one. I promise.

Buy this for: Oooh… this is a tough one. You probably don’t want to buy it for any family members over the age of 40, as they may just take offense and throw some unkind words your way in front of our family as they gather around the tree. Buy this for an English major. Or a Pre-Med. Or take a chance and give it to your not-as-old-as-they-think parents.

Amazon Link | Salon Interview

December 21, 2008

Best YA Books of 2008

Okay, enough messing around. I’m glad to bring you my favorite Young Adult reads of the year! YA is my favorite genre, my genre of writing choice, my favorite section of my library, etc, etc. So here are my five favorite YA reads of 2008, in order:

# 5 Suite Scarlett by Maureen Johnson

The thing about Maureen Johnson’s  books is that they tend to lack, in my completely meaningless opinion, that kind of HOOK that makes you jump up and down in anticipation of opening that first page. It’s not that her conflicts aren’t interesting… it’s just that they kind of seem limp in theory. However, after every book of hers (and I think I have read them all now), I keep drooling over the talent that MoJo just throws all over the page. The characters (oh, the characters), the settings, the effortless third-person narration that never feels too narrate-y… she’s got skillz.  And I think this was my favorite of the whole Johnson bunch.

Scarlett is now 15, and in the Martin family, that means Happy Birthday! You now have some responsibility in the family business. In particular, Scarlett has a suite to take care of – to maintain, to clean, and maybe even a guest or two to keep happy. However, the Hopewell Hotel has certainly seen better days. And so has the Martin family. Struggling to keep their jewel-box of a hotel open, Scarlett’s parents are overdrawn. Lola Martin is working full time and dating the most perfect guy, who might not be perfect for her. Spencer Martin is skipping college for a year, trying to make it as a stage actor, but it looks like he might have to give up the dream and go to culinary school instead. And little Maureen? She’s busy being an obnoxious poster-child for juvenile cancer remission. In comparison, Scarlett’s problems – a somewhat deranged, and awfully demanding long-term guest lodging in her suite, and how to earn enough spending money for the next school year – are small. But like any family, the problems of her family members become problems of her own – specifically, Spencer’s. The story takes a dramatic turn (HAHA! oh my god I crack myself up) toward the theatrical. Spencer’s last chance at an acting career is an off-off Broadway production of Hamlet that is suddenly going under. And who better than Scarlett to pull it out of the muck?

Obviously, Suite Scarlett isn’t just about a girl and her parents’ falling-down hotel. It’s more about theater. Learning to handle responsibility. And family. Love it.

MJ online | MJ’s amazing blog

#4 Chasing Taillights by Patrick Jones

I know, I read this book forever ago, and I even posted about it then I liked it so much. However, I A) did enjoy it very much B) have spent much more time in the area of Flint, Michigan where this book takes place and therefore have a greater appreciation/understanding for it, and C) have yet to dismiss it from my memory. So here’s my pitch again:

After the death of her father and the imprisonment of her brother Robert, Christy’s world has become dangerously unbalanced. Robert left behind a young daughter, and Christy is the only one who takes the time to raise her, her brother Ryan is ruling the household with an iron fist, bringing in most of the money and demanding that Christy help support the “family business” by selling dime bags to her friends at school. School has always been an escape for Christy, and she sometimes thinks of college, but when trouble at home starts keeping her up nights, she can’t muster the energy or motivation to even try. Everywhere she goes, even to her best friend’s house, she’s seen as an undesirable, and for the first time in her life, she’s lost her desire to right herself and her reputation.

I’ll admit, this book is fourteen shades of grim. But after spending some time with people who grew up in similar circumstances, I’d be willing to bet that many, many children are growing up feeling like Christy, whether or not their utter hopelessness is cast in such a negative light as Christy’s. However, the ultimate message of this book is that anyone can change their situation, and that hope hides in unlikely places. I was rooting for Christy throughout this book, and was hoping she would take the steps necessary to get the hell out of the mess she was born into. It takes a lot of courage to turn your back on everything you’ve grown up with, and I hope that the right teenagers find this book and take it to heart.

Patrick Jones Online

#3 Lock and Key by Sarah Dessen

Oh, Sarah Dessen. You write books, I keep reading them, and I’m rarely left dissatisfied. I’ll admit, I didn’t quite think this one lived up to her most previous book, but I’m in the midst of a re-read, and I’m starting to appreciate it more. Ruby is a tough character to write, and I’ll give Sarah props for doing her justice.

Ruby’s mother has always raised her to be self-sufficient. And after her much older sister, Cora, leaves for college, Ruby’s on her own. Her mother starts skipping work, then goes missing for days at a time. Ruby handles the nosy landlord and the bills, but after a long disappearance, the jig is up – social services visits Ruby at school, and three days later she’s living with the sister she hasn’t spoken to in almost ten years and her new husband. Ruby goes from washing her clothes in the bathroom sink (since the washing machine long since busted) to living in a million dollar mansion, and goes from her public school to the ritzy private one where all the rich kids go. It’s obvious that she’s a fish out of water here, so Ruby starts plotting to leave – run away, maybe find her mom, or do anything to escape this situation until she turns 18, in three months. However, she slowly starts to accumulate a life for herself, even with other people taking care of her every step she takes, and even finds the strength to help a new friend find his way out of his own problems.

This book is full of truly loveable characters – Just like the reserved Cora, I wanted to run out and marry the next free-wheeling Jamie I could find. Ruby’s employer, Harriet, is a caffeine-addled bird brain and her carpool buddy is a twelve-year-old child prodigy who can’t decide if he hates Ruby or wants to marry her. And these characters, I think, are what truly bring Ruby into herself. This story is Ruby’s ascension, and it is the magic of her new found family that keeps her from running away from a good thing.

#2. You Know Where To Find Me by Rachel Cohn

This is one of those books that you pick up and read the back cover copy and open it with a certain set of expectations… and one page in you’re trying to figure out if you’re reading the right book. Rachel Cohn is known for her energetic, bouncy stories (see the Gingerbread series and her co-writes with David Levithan), and this book is, as the cover might imply, is a bit darker and slower paced. However, the prose is not, and her narrator, Miles, is one of the more entertaining and empathetic characters I have yet encountered in the genre.

Miles and Laura grew up inseperable cousins, brought together by a set of confusing circumstances, both for the reader and for Miles. But even though Laura is the bright, popular, successful to Miles’s underacheiving, overweight, and lazy, Miles is content with her role, even if Laura lives in her father’s Big House while Miles lives with her mother in the carriage house. But this arrangement is foiled when Laura commits suicide. Miles’s world is turned upside down, and every last one of her meager dreams starts to dissolve.

I’m not sure that any synopsis that I could give can really give justice to what’s going on in this book – there certainly is a lot going on! Depression is a big one, and drug use vs. drug abuse. Washington D.C. statehood is a hot-button issue (see, I told you I can’t do this book justice) as well as whether or not your family defines you or you define your family. And, as I mentioned, Miles is an affable narrator, despite all of her foibles, and you’ll be wondering how exactly she will come out of this tragedy ahead.

#1. Paper Towns by John Green

You win again, Mr. Green. Perhaps it was the intense anticipation after watching Brotherhood 2.0 for the year while you wrote/revised this book, but it was really everything I hoped for.

Quentin is an average high school senior – on the nerdy side of the social scale but not without a gaggle of amusing friends, and in awe of but not completely removed from his long-time crush, Margo Roth-Speigelman. They haven’t talked much since she became both beautiful and popular, but they share a strange bit of history – as children, they chanced upon a man in the park who had apparently committed suicide. This event, however, did not serve to scar either Q or Margot, but when Margo climbs into Q’s window on a random school night ten years later, that feeling of shared history returns. With Q’s help, Margo sets out to rectify a social wrong that has been perpetrated upon her by pranking nearly every person in town, leaving spray painted messages on walls, dead fish under car seats, and taking inappropriate Polaroids. Q goes to bed feeling exhausted and exhilarated, and certain that his relationship with Margo has reached a new level. But the next day, Margo is gone. And doesn’t seem to be returning. Q is left to either muddle over her disappearance, or try to find her. And what he does end up finding will change the way he looks at the world forever.

This book has the soul of Looking for Alaska but the breezy feel of An Abundance of Katherines, and, in my opinion, takes a step that neither of his previous books have to bring culture and thought into the text. Somehow this book is equal parts fun romp, complete with funny characters and charmingly unrealistic in that Juno kind of way, and thought provoking, allusion bearing, literary powerhouse. Kudos to Mr. Green for another hit. I’m curious to see if his name will appear on yet another one of those important award lists in the 09.

Tomorrow, my new favorite genre, Adult Nonfiction, and then my Top 10 Books of 2008. Just in time for some absolute last minute shopping, right? 🙂

December 20, 2008

Fun Re-Reads of 2008

Tardy again. Much too busy enjoying my winter vacation. Which today entailed a lot of this and a lot of this.

But today, I would like to share with you some books I enjoyed the second (or third… or okay, seventh time around) this year.

I. Prom by Laurie Halse Anderson.

The Pitch: Lower middle class Ashley is equipped to handle every crisis – helping raise her large family of siblings, working long hours at a Chuckee Cheeze-like restaurant, and picking up the slack for her drop-out boyfriend, and all she wants to do is graduate and get the hell out of dodge. But when her English teacher steals the Senior Prom kitty, her best friends talk her into reconstructing the dance, which she wasn’t even planning on attending, from scratch.

Second Time Around… I realized that while this is probably the most unsung of LHA’s books, it is still A) masterfully plotted (writer-speak for “it’ll keep you on your toes”) and B) so so so funny. If this one slipped under your radar, come back, come back!

II. Naomi and Ely’s No Kiss List by Rachel Cohn and David Levithan

The Pitch: Naomi and Ely grew up next door neighbors and best friends. But when Naomi can’t get over her dream that one day Ely will go straight for her, and Ely kisses Naomi’s boyfriend, all hell breaks loose. Told from multiple perspectives, this book is all about the relationships.

Second Time Around… this book lacks the manic energy of Nick and Norah’s Playlist, but it brings charm in other ways. I felt more attached to some of the minor characters, and I appreciated the playful ways Rachel Cohn and David Levithan tell the story, piece by piece until by the end you have a portrait of rough moment in the relationship between Naomi and Ely. It’s very real, and very fun.

III. The Wonder Spot by Melissa Bank

The Pitch: Sophie Applebaum is almost the source of the archetypal Chick Lit Heroine – all the awkward moments, the insecurity, the bad luck with boyfriends, but without the Annoying Factor that many books of the genre seem to exude. Sophie’s story is played out in vignettes of varying lengths, as Sophie transitions from girl to woman and learns to handle love, her career, and her complex family.

Second Time Around… I began my hunt for More Books Like This One. I love the connected short story format and Sophie’s sincerity. Besides Curtis Sittenfeld’s Man of My Dreams, I can’t find any more. Boo hoo!

IV. This Lullaby by Sarah Dessen

The Pitch: Remy just graduated from college, she’s about to break up with her boyfriend in time to find a summer romance, and once she pulls off the last details of her mother’s fifth wedding, she’ll be free and clear and off to Stanford. But a chance encounter with a guy so Anti-Remy, a guy in a BAND of all things, turns her summer upside down.

Second Time Around…. this book still remains my favorite Dessen book. And by second, I did mean sixth time. At least.

V. The Agony of Alice by Phyllis Reynold Naylor

The Pitch: Sixth grade is hard enough… but for Alice, she can’t even see in a straight line. Is she growing forwards or backwards? Is there someone out there who can teach her the things her mother did not survive to teach her? How can she make friends, get the pretty teacher instead of the dumpy one, and what the heck should she do about the boy at school who she walked in on in the dressing room at the Gap?

Second Time Around…. I think I’m finally outgrowing these earlier Alice books, but they also ignited some things I forget about when I read. When I was 10, 11, 12 (13, 14, 15 too), there wasn’t anything I wanted from a book other than to find something to love. A character who felt the things I felt. A story that I could hold onto. Maybe some kids are just looking for a Harry Potter, Vampire Romance bit of escapism, but this early coming of age story is classic.

VI. Summer Sisters by Judy Blume

The Pitch: Vix isn’t expecting the mysterious and popular Caitlin to invite her along to Martha’s Vineyard for the summer, and she wasn’t expecting her struggling parents to say yes. But she did, and they did, and from that moment on, Vix’s world is blown wide open. Follow the complicated friendship of Vix and Caitlin and their families from that first summer until they are both grown women.

Second Time Around….. I continue to love this book no matter how many times I read it. It’s a little risque and the ending is so, so open-ended, but it’s one of those coming of age tales that makes you wish you hadn’t had your first kiss, your first boyfriend, your first Big Love.

VII. Looking For Alaska by John Green

The Pitch: Miles arrives at Culver Creek looking for The Great Perhaps, like the last words of Francois Rabelais. What he finds is a reincarnation for a nobody like himself: friends who respect him, teachers who challenge him, and of course, a girl. Alaska Young is mysterious and smart and gorgeous and has a boyfriend, but that doesn’t stop Miles from trying. But when tragedy strikes down Miles’s nascent version of perfection, he’s left to start all over once again.

Second Time Around… was even more heartbreaking than the first. This book is so very well written and so, so SO charged with emotion. I read a bit every night before bed for awhile, but eventually I just started getting less and less sleep. Read this. Puh-lease read this book.

VIII. The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Volume I – The Pox Party by M.T. Anderson

The Pitch: Octavian lives a life of luxury in Revolutionary Era Boston, but to the outsider, and the reader, something is strongly amiss. He receives the finest classical education, living with his beautiful mother and a gaggle of philosophers and scientists who prefer that Octavian refer to them by number rather than name. But as he grows older, Octavian begins to notice the strange behavior of these scientists, as well as the secrets they are hiding.

Second Time Around… WOW this book deserves a second read. A careful second read. Maybe even a third read. This book is not for the weak of constitution – it is written in authentic 18th Century language, which is almost undecipherable at times, but the historic and social implications of this story are so, SO important – especially in these polarized political times – that I really think everyone should at least give it a chance. Still have yet to tackle the 2nd volume, but it’s on my list for 2009, fo sho.

December 20, 2008

Most Suprising Reads of 2008

I’ve finally got a moment to sit down and do today’s reviews! Yay! This 12 Days of Christmas sure is a lot of work. Why can’t there just be 6? I mean, if ABC Family can change it to 25 days of Christmas, I can totally change it to six. Oh how I look forward to posting things that aren’t about books… and that’s saying a lot, coming from me.

Anyway. Things were busy around the domicile today because of this:

Oh. And this too:

I didn’t have to go to work (YAY!) but I did get to watch four episodes of LOST and dig two cars out of 12+ inches of snow today!

Anyway, now on with what I found to be….

The Most Surpising Reads of 2008!

I. The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World by E.L. Konigsburg

Who knew…

….that books about kids and for kids would be so…. adult? And not in a dirty way. Or a good way. Not to say that Ms. Konigsburg isn’t a literary force. I just found this book a little too subtle, a little too adult-centric, and not nearly exciting enough for the target age range.

II. Marley & Me by John Grogan

Who knew….

…. that I would actually enjoy a cheesy, commercial book about a flipping dog? It was cute. Probably not optimal for gift-giving, since everybody and their second-cousin Joe has already read it. But it is, indeed, cute. And I kinda want to see the movie. Shhhh…. don’t tell…. I mostly picked this one up because the author happens to be a fellow alumni from my dear alma mater 🙂 See? Jennifer Aniston is wearing the same shorts all my roommates bought for ridiculous prices at the school store!

III. Spanking Shakespeare by Jake Wizner

Who knew….

…. that I could find a young adult book raunchy enough to shock me? I am not particularly weak of constitution or prudish of spirit, but this one? Wow. Are teenaged boys really that sex-obsessed? Probably, but this was the first young adult book I’ve read that I kind of didn’t want to read the funny bits out loud to my 15-year-old sister. Yes, it is funny. But don’t buy it for your 13-year-old cousin accidentally and offend your close relatives.

IV. Fugitives and Refugees by Chuck Palahniuk

Who knew….

…. that I secretly want to live in Portland, Oregon? I hadn’t given the town a second thought until I picked up this little book, which I chanced upon because it was the only Palahniuk book checked into the library on whatever particular day I was looking. Luckily, one of my bestest friends is married to a NorthWestie and there’s a high probability she will be moving there at some point, in which case I will visit and visit often! This is a fun little series of books, especially for travellers. Mostly personal essays about the author’s relationship with the city, with a few off the beaten path type attractions thrown in. I also read the New Orleans one, and enjoyed it greatly.

V. The Off Season by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

Who knew…

…. that I would continue to judge a book by its cover and avoid Catherine Gilbert Murdock’s books, even though when I eventually got around to ready Dairy Queen and thought it was fantastic? This isn’t a sports book, this isn’t a book about girl athletes… it’s a book about a dysfunctional family and a broken teenaged relationship, and it’s ROLL ON THE GROUND HILARIOUS. Perfect choice for any teenaged girl. From what I recall, there isn’t even any debauchery. You could buy your grandma this book. Maybe. Don’t quote me on that one. But you can quote me on this one: when the book ended, I objected. Heartily. Go on, book! I said. Keep going! P.S. Read this one yet? Catherine is Elizabeth’s sister! Talent runs thick in that family.

VI. The House on First Street by Julia Reed

Who knew…

…. that the first book I chose to read about New Orleans and Hurricane Katrina would be possibly the worst choice? It wasn’t poorly written, and it was a mildly engaging story. Julia Reed’s life is certainly interesting, but when she ordered dinner for rescue workers – dinner for 200+ – I realized that our narrator wasn’t being as forthcoming about her financial situation as she should have been. I ceased feeling any sympathy for this lady, nor any respect for her personal hardships or even her observations.

VII. Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Who knew….

…. that I would pick up a classic novel without being bribed or forced, and would enjoy it? This book has every bit the drama and intrigue of a modern romance-type novel. Think Nora Roberts, but with something to say about something. Those who know me personally will attest that me enjoying a classic is like a cat enjoying a good sponge bath, so this was a good one.

VIII. Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman

Who knew….

…. that A) I would like a book by Neil Gaiman, who strikes me as this decidedly Masculine type writer (the boy read American Gods and his descriptions made me say “ehhhhh”, and B) I would be reading a book recommended to me by my boyfriend, instead of the other way around? I loved Gaiman’s characters, his playful storytelling and commentary on the nature of said stories, and since I had an audio version, the narrator’s hilarious voices.

In other late breaking news, who knew that I was currently Pancakes and Frenchfries‘s Blog Crush? Holy flattery, Batman! If you haven’t stopped by, you should do so post haste. I think you’ll like what you find.