Sunday, June 29, 2014

Happier at Home

Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday LifeHappier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life by Gretchen Rubin
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I started this book ages ago, but in approaching my summer decided it was time to finally finish. Rubin's ideas speak to me. I know some of them aren't relatable to my day-to-day life, but the idea of setting themes and goals for a month matches my style of wanting to be more but often having a short attention span or so many goals I can't just pick one. The first Happiness Project probably deserved a 4.5 star rating from me and then one a 3.5, but Goodreads doesn't do half stars and this book's ideas stay with me. I love that. I love that at random moments I think about who I want to be and get inspired by Rubin's writing even when I haven't picked up the actual book. Her main idea is simple - we can be happier. We just have to actively seek that happiness. There's no pill or magic bullet to get us there. Happiness often takes work or doing things that are unsettling, but in the end, we feel more satisfied, more at peace, and ultimately more happy.

I originally borrowed this book from my friend Megan, and just couldn't bring myself to send it back. I want to reread it and Rubin's first book whenever I need reminding that it is up to me to create the life I want for myself. And let's be honest, how can I resist encouragement to kiss more, to aside time for the things I'm passionate about, and to be more organized?!

Happy reading and happy living!

To All The Boys I've Loved Before

To All the Boys I've Loved Before (To All the Boys I've Loved Before, #1)To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I really wanted to like this book partially because a friend who doesn't often recommend books to me suggested it, because it has a great title, and because the narrator was Asian-American - perhaps that seems like an odd distinction, but so few protagonists in teen fiction are minorities and my student body is mostly made up of minorities. Unfortunately the drama was too contrived and a couple of the "twists" were so obvious from the beginning that the seemingly intelligent Lara Jean would have figured them out much sooner. Perhaps I'm less in love too with this book because I liked a different boy for this infamous Song girl, but I am proud of a book for portraying culture in an authentic way - not calling out and saying "hey I have Korean pride", but instead including those little details that would make up the day-to-day life of Korean-American teenager.

I can't say I would recommend this book to my peers, but I would consider recommending it to my quieter freshmen and sophomore girls. I think they would identify with the unrequited love story lines and the simple wish to be seen.

As always, happy reading!

Saturday, June 21, 2014


Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History (Maus, #1)Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History by Art Spiegelman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Every once in a while a book comes along and does something no book has done before. Maus is like that for me. Perhaps it's because it's only my second graphic novel. Or perhaps it's because I had low expectations because I didn't expect a book told in graphic form could illicit the type of emotion that comes from prose. Either way, Spielgman's Maus tells a story of the Holocaust in a way that is relatable and poignant. The choice to make the Jews mice and the Nazis cats while also choosing to have story be delivered in a narrative from a father to a son made it eerily like a horrifying bedtime story - the type where you are hoping there is a happy ending that is coming rather than a perpetual unfolding of despair and tragedy. Alas, there are no happy endings when millions were killed simply for clinging to faith or for being born with characteristics they had no control over. This is storytelling at its finest.

Style & Simplicity: An A to Z Guide to Living a More Beautiful Life

Simple Decor, Extravagant Living: The Watson Kennedy A to Z Guide to a More Beautiful LifeSimple Decor, Extravagant Living: The Watson Kennedy A to Z Guide to a More Beautiful Life by Ted Kennedy Watson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Four years ago I walked into Watson Kennedy in Seattle and fell in love - it was everything a store should be. Vintage sheet music, gorgeously bound books, delicate trinkets, letter pressed stationary, etc. Jewels and I were so enamored that we went to both locations of the store every day that we were in town on that trip. I did the same a year later with Katie. And just a couple months ago I revisited Seattle and there was Watson Kennedy in book form - something that I could take home and pour over. I could be inspired by the store owner's vision of what a home could be. It is not a "how to" book, but rather an A to Z collection of things that Ted Watson Kennedy views as details that can make life that much more beautiful. From fresh flowers to ephemera to lit candles, Ted takes us through a world that seems to glow with that perfect light of dusk on a summer night - where you can hear laughter from a dinner party and smell faintly the barbecue coals or bonfire that is being set up for roasting s'mores and telling stories.

I am sure that part of my love for this book has to do with nostalgia and visiting this store with the type of relish that most would say is a bit odd when directed at a store, but I am so happy to have this have talked to Ted Watson Kennedy about it as my parents and I shopped in the Pike Place Watson Kennedy. Either way this book is a perfect addition to my new apartment as I aim to make life that much more beautiful and worth remembering.

Happy reading and happy living!


Insurgent (Divergent, #2)Insurgent by Veronica Roth
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a book that I should have reviewed closer to when I actually finished it, so that I could more accurately articulate my initial reactions. The short version if that I am conflicted by these books. On some level I am so fascinated by the world that Roth has created. I like that Tris is another one of those bad-ass females who refuses to do things just because someone tells her too. I like Four - he's everything a love interest in young adult fiction should be. But there's just something missing. Lack of cohesion in the plot? Not enough depth to justify character actions/decisions? I don't know. What I do know is that I voluntarily read this and was hurrying through it to see what happened next. What I also know though is that I will gladly put this book in my classroom, a sign that I never intend to pick this up again. Either way, I'll be reading Allegiant and eagerly awaiting the film version of Insurgent - whatever that's supposed to mean?! :)

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Nesting Place

The Nesting Place: It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to Be BeautifulThe Nesting Place: It Doesn't Have to Be Perfect to Be Beautiful by Myquillyn Smith
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

"The Nesting Place" is a first for me. I've never sat down and read an entire book devoted to decorating and making your space your own. I thoroughly enjoyed this book for it's honesty and for it's suggestions that I could implement right away. I read a chapter that talked about being happy with what you have now and not waiting to hang pictures until you had the perfect wall set up or whatever holds us back - I decided not to be afraid of nail holes, to abandon the illusion of perfection, and to do things that made sense to me even if they wouldn't necessarily make sense to someone else. This book was a perfect housewarming gift from Katie as I moved into my first apartment that was just mine.

I would highly recommend this to you if you are trying to figure out how to decorate your space or how to feel more comfortable in the home you have - whether you own it or are renting. Smith has spent most of her married life in rentals and offers great suggestions to those of us who have less autonomy with the space we're living in.

Happy reading and happy nesting!

A Midsummer Night's Dream - Round 6, 7, & 8

A Midsummer Night's DreamA Midsummer Night's Dream by William Shakespeare
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Teaching Midsummer this year was so much fun. Three more times through the play and I was left entranced by whether it matters that the lovers do not know if they were dreaming. I also thought a lot about why "Dead Poets Society" choose Midsummer as the play that Neil acts in. They only show us two sets of Midsummer lines - one where Puck, played by Neil, identifies himself as the mischief maker, the sprite that everyone talks about and the final speech delivered to the audience where Puck says that he will amends for anyone who might be offended. I never appreciated before how well chosen those lines are for both Midsummer and for Neil's character. I love the way that art compliments art. Shakespeare seems to apply everywhere.

Mary Coin

Mary CoinMary Coin by Marisa Silver
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Historical fiction books are always tricky. Choose an era that you're really fascinated by and hope that the book does justice to the time that they are trying to describe. Silver does justice to the 1930s Depression era in Mary Coin - I appreciate the lives of migrant workers in a way that I did not before reading this book. That said, I did not love Silver's story. Her characters were missing key pieces in their development and the way Silver wove the characters together seemed too convenient. Perhaps I wasn't willing to suspend reality since this book was said to fill in the gaps behind the famous migrant mother photo taken by Dorthea Lange. For all my dissatisfaction, I have to admit that there were beautiful lines about the scars, both literal and figurative, that we carry as well as the questions we fail to ask when trying to ascertain this thing called life.

I would actually give this book 2.5 stars, but because I genuinely learned new things while reading it, it gets the ever elusive bump that my students crave on their grades. If you read a great deal then I would recommend this book. If you do not, I would still choose Steinbeck as the voice of the Depression. Nothing is better than East of Eden.

Happy reading!

An Abundance of Katherines

An Abundance of KatherinesAn Abundance of Katherines by John Green
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I bought An Abundance of Katherines simply because John Green wrote it. I would gladly read anything John Green has to write simply because he describes the world in a way that my linear brain simply cannot do on its own. Green also manages still to capture teenagers as the complicated, dramatic, intelligent, hilarious, petty, etc. creatures that they are. They are not stock characters in Green's novels - they are seem to be living, breathing kids that could populate any one of my classes.

Katherines is not my favorite of Green's books, but I would still recommend it as a good summer read. The one liners are classic, and the subtle details fantastic. The main character, Colin, seems to me like he's on the spectrum, so he can get frustrating, but his best friend, Hassan, makes it all worthwhile and the girl they meet along their road trip is the one I most identified with.  I'm glad to have read another one of Green's stories - he always manages to take me somewhere I haven't been before.

Happy Reading!