Monday, December 28, 2015

Reaching Goals

I never intended for this blog to become mostly a series of book reviews. The advent of a boyfriend (now husband), the goal to journal daily, and joining the world of Instagram fundamentally altered my writing habits. That said, it's worth noting that this year I not only reached my goal of 24 books read this year (another habit affected by my Mr. Mann) and actually read 35. I know I mentioned this once before, but as I finished my last book review of 2015, I looked back at what I read and reflected on what an amazing year it's been. I will forget later that I read some of these books this year, but I will remember certain ones - like reading "Anne's House of Dreams" as I set up my own little home as a newlywed or reading "All the Light We Cannot See" overlooking the ocean on my honeymoon. Those little details are now irrevocably tied. I love that. Reading really is a defining backdrop to my life. It's a love that fills in all the spaces of my life. But now the Christmas tree lights have just turned off (yes, my tree is still gloriously up on December 28th) and I should probably go to bed. As always, happy reading and happy living. So grateful for 2015 and cannot wait to see what 2016 holds. Good night. 

Where'd You Go, Bernadette

Where'd You Go, BernadetteWhere'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was one of the most clever books I've read. Snark and wit like I've never encountered in print form, unique characterization, wildly different story telling style - all in all, fantastic originality packaged into a bizarrely heart warming story. Read it - you won't be disappointed.

Harry Potter and Prisoner of Azkaban

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Harry Potter #3)Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For a long time this was my favorite of the Harry Potters - I can't say that I have a clear favorite anymore, but I love the cleverness of this book - the twists and character development I didn't see coming. I still am looking around for a time turner and a Marauders Map and, of course, my Hogwarts acceptance letter. If you've never read the Harry Potters, for this book alone, you really should consider giving the series ago. Happy reading!

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Harry Potter #2)Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This has always been my least favorite of the Harry Potters, but listening to it again I noticed so many nuanced details that Rowling layered into her creation of Harry's world. She really is amazing. I love that this book sets up the sixth and seventh books so well. I seriously can't get enough. Jim Dale's audio versions really are the way to go. Happy reading and happy listening!
(Dear Ron Weasley - you're adorable. The end.)

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Songs of Willow Frost

Songs of Willow FrostSongs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I bought this book merely because Jaime Ford wrote it - that's how much I loved his first novel "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" - and then after trying to get into it, I let it sit on my shelf for two years. When I finally did jump in, I found so much potential, but never quite the execution that I craved. "Orphan Train" meets "Joy Luck Club" meets a few other's a decent book with an exceptional reason for creating the story (maybe I should have started with the author's end note and then read the story??), good enough that I'll read whatever Ford writes next.

Slightly incoherent review that is one part a slightly jumbled book and one part writing when it's almost midnight. As always, happy reading!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Maus...Round 2

The Complete Maus (Maus, #1-2)The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Rereading this with my sophomores made me even more impressed with Spiegelman's story. My only complaint is that Maus isn't longer. I'd love more insights into his family's experiences surrounding the Holocaust - perhaps the details I, as a reader crave, are the ones that Artie himself was trying to pull out of his father. Happy reading!

Home and Away

Home and Away: A World War II Christmas StoryHome and Away: A World War II Christmas Story by Dean Hughes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Cheesy, but heart warming. Perfect read in front of a fire with a cup of cocoa (or on a beach in Maui) to get you in the mood for Christmas. Mostly, this just made me want to revisit Hughes' Children of the Promise series. Happy reading and happy Christmas!

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (Persepolis, #1-2)Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wanted to love this book. People use it in the same sentence as Maus, but I just didn't love it the same. I think I would like Satrapi's story as a teenager. Kids don't understand what's going on around them, so the descriptions of Iran's tumultuous history are interesting, but not quite as compelling as I would have thought. So I give three stars overall, and the fourth star is for originality and educational purpose. This book would be great for a class alongside other Middle Eastern themed literature. Happy reading and happy December--

ps. This is Hawaii book 2 of 4. Yes, I am reviewing them out of order.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Harry Potter and Sorcerer's Stone...Again

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter, #1)Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My decision to reread the Harry Potters is one of the best reading choices I've made all year. It's been a few years since I allowed myself to re-enter Rowling's magical world, and I am so happy to find myself again walking the corridors of Hogwarts and laughing alongside Ron, Hermione, and Harry. When I originally read the series, I thought the first book was good, but not as amazing as the volumes that followed. Now having read the seventh book a few times and thinking about the story arc, I am so amazed by all that Rowling created. The layers in her story telling are thorough and all encompassing, and honestly, I just keep waiting and hoping for my own Hogwarts letter to arrive. Happy reading! #swishandflick
"It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live."
~ Prof. Dumbledore

Orphan Train

Orphan TrainOrphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Shakespeare said, "Brevity is the soul of wit," and honestly, I just am feeling antsy to get back to reading. So the short version of my thoughts on Orphan Train: This book helps crystalize how critical it is for us to feel loved and safe and how devastating it is to children especially when that doesn't happen. I thoroughly enjoyed these interwoven stories, particularly the flashbacks to the midwest in the 30s and 40s. I had a couple "should have seen it coming" moments, but I was so engaged in the story that I wasn't thinking about plot or what was coming. I just was lost in the lives of these two women. Read front of a fire (or if you're like me, a youtube Yule log), with cup of cocoa and cozy blanket. 'Tis the season. Happy reading!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Green Diamonds

This past week, baseball ended and fall finally settled in. As I was listening to the last Baseball Tonight podcast of the season, they played Bart Giamatti's "The Green Fields of the Mind". I wanted to cry. This goes beyond the love of the game and speaks to how life seems to slip by. I can measure my life in baseball seasons, and as soon as every November hits, I find myself already looking towards spring when I can watch others "run home". Happy reading~

"The Green Fields of the Mind" by A. Bartlett Giamatti

It breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops. Today, October 2, a Sunday of rain and broken branches and leaf-clogged drains and slick streets, it stopped, and summer was gone.

Somehow, the summer seemed to slip by faster this time. Maybe it wasn't this summer, but all the summers that, in this my fortieth summer, slipped by so fast. There comes a time when every summer will have something of autumn about it. Whatever the reason, it seemed to me that I was investing more and more in baseball, making the game do more of the work that keeps time fat and slow and lazy. I was counting on the game's deep patterns, three strikes, three outs, three times three innings, and its deepest impulse, to go out and back, to leave and to return home, to set the order of the day and to organize the daylight. I wrote a few things this last summer, this summer that did not last, nothing grand but some things, and yet that work was just camouflage. The real activity was done with the radio--not the all-seeing, all-falsifying television--and was the playing of the game in the only place it will last, the enclosed green field of the mind. There, in that warm, bright place, what the old poet called Mutability does not so quickly come.

But out here, on Sunday, October 2, where it rains all day, Dame Mutability never loses. She was in the crowd at Fenway yesterday, a gray day full of bluster and contradiction, when the Red Sox came up in the last of the ninth trailing Baltimore 8-5, while the Yankees, rain-delayed against Detroit, only needing to win one or have Boston lose one to win it all, sat in New York washing down cold cuts with beer and watching the Boston game. Boston had won two, the Yankees had lost two, and suddenly it seemed as if the whole season might go to the last day, or beyond, except here was Boston losing 8-5, while New York sat in its family room and put its feet up. Lynn, both ankles hurting now as they had in July, hits a single down the right-field line. The crowd stirs. It is on its feet. Hobson, third baseman, former Bear Bryant quarterback, strong, quiet, over 100 RBIs, goes for three breaking balls and is out. The goddess smiles and encourages her agent, a canny journeyman named Nelson Briles.

Now comes a pinch hitter, Bernie Carbo, onetime Rookie of the Year, erratic, quick, a shade too handsome, so laid-back he is always, in his soul, stretched out in the tall grass, one arm under his head, watching the clouds and laughing; now he looks over some low stuff unworthy of him and then, uncoiling, sends one out, straight on a rising line, over the center-field wall, no cheap Fenway shot, but all of it, the physics as elegant as the arc the ball describes.

New England is on its feet, roaring. The summer will not pass. Roaring, they recall the evening, late and cold, in 1975, the sixth game of the World Series, perhaps the greatest baseball game played in the last fifty years, when Carbo, loose and easy, had uncoiled to tie the game that Fisk would win. It is 8-7, one out, and school will never start, rain will never come, sun will warm the back of your neck forever. Now Bailey, picked up from the National League recently, big arms, heavy gut, experienced, new to the league and the club; he fouls off two and then, checking, tentative, a big man off balance, he pops a soft liner to the first baseman. It is suddenly darker and later, and the announcer doing the game coast to coast, a New Yorker who works for a New York television station, sounds relieved. His little world, well-lit, hot-combed, split-second-timed, had no capacity to absorb this much gritty, grainy, contrary reality.

Cox swings a bat, stretches his long arms, bends his back, the rookie from Pawtucket who broke in two weeks earlier with a record six straight hits, the kid drafted ahead of Fred Lynn, rangy, smooth, cool. The count runs two and two, Briles is cagey, nothing too good, and Cox swings, the ball beginning toward the mound and then, in a jaunty, wayward dance, skipping past Briles, feinting to the right, skimming the last of the grass, finding the dirt, moving now like some small, purposeful marine creature negotiating the green deep, easily avoiding the jagged rock of second base, traveling steady and straight now out into the dark, silent recesses of center field.

The aisles are jammed, the place is on its feet, the wrappers, the programs, the Coke cups and peanut shells, the doctrines of an afternoon; the anxieties, the things that have to be done tomorrow, the regrets about yesterday, the accumulation of a summer: all forgotten, while hope, the anchor, bites and takes hold where a moment before it seemed we would be swept out with the tide. Rice is up. Rice whom Aaron had said was the only one he'd seen with the ability to break his records. Rice the best clutch hitter on the club, with the best slugging percentage in the league. Rice, so quick and strong he once checked his swing halfway through and snapped the bat in two. Rice the Hammer of God sent to scourge the Yankees, the sound was overwhelming, fathers pounded their sons on the back, cars pulled off the road, households froze, New England exulted in its blessedness, and roared its thanks for all good things, for Rice and for a summer stretching halfway through October. Briles threw, Rice swung, and it was over. One pitch, a fly to center, and it stopped. Summer died in New England and like rain sliding off a roof, the crowd slipped out of Fenway, quickly, with only a steady murmur of concern for the drive ahead remaining of the roar. Mutability had turned the seasons and translated hope to memory once again. And, once again, she had used baseball, our best invention to stay change, to bring change on.

That is why it breaks my heart, that game--not because in New York they could win because Boston lost; in that, there is a rough justice, and a reminder to the Yankees of how slight and fragile are the circumstances that exalt one group of human beings over another. It breaks my heart because it was meant to, because it was meant to foster in me again the illusion that there was something abiding, some pattern and some impulse that could come together to make a reality that would resist the corrosion; and because, after it had fostered again that most hungered-for illusion, the game was meant to stop, and betray precisely what it promised.

Of course, there are those who learn after the first few times. They grow out of sports. And there are others who were born with the wisdom to know that nothing lasts. These are the truly tough among us, the ones who can live without illusion, or without even the hope of illusion. I am not that grown-up or up-to-date. I am a simpler creature, tied to more primitive patterns and cycles. I need to think something lasts forever, and it might as well be that state of being that is a game; it might as well be that, in a green field, in the sun.

From A Great and Glorious Game: Baseball Writings of A. Bartlett
Giamatti, © 1998 by A. Bartlett Giamatti.
(Not a Giant, but still the cutest little Pirate, I've ever seen.)

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Anne's House of Dreams (and Mine)

Anne's House of Dreams (Anne of Green Gables, #5)Anne's House of Dreams by L.M. Montgomery
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm not sure it's healthy that I gush any more about how much I loved reading some of the Anne books this summer, but I could not have loved this one more. How could I not? Anne and Gilbert finally got married and moved into their first house together and Seth and I finally got married and moved into our first little apartment together. It's too perfect, so to save the gushing, here are two of my favorite quotes from the book. Can't wait to revisit this story again.

“But it was a happy and beautiful bride who came down the old, homespun, carpeted stairs that September noon - the first bride of Green Gables, slender and shining-eyed, in the mist of her maiden veil, with her arms full of roses. Gilbert, waiting for her in the hall below, looked up at her with adoring eyes. She was his at last, this evasive, long-sought Anne, won after years of patient waiting. It was to him she was coming in the sweet surrender of the bride. Was he worthy of her? Could he make her as happy as he hoped? If he failed her - if he could not measure up to her standard of manhood - then, as she held out her hand, their eyes met and all doubt was swept away in a glad certainty. They belonged to each other; and, no matter what life might hold for them, it could never alter that. Their happiness was in each other’s keeping and both were unafraid.”

“All in all, it was a never-to-be-forgotten summer — one of those summers which come seldom into any life, but leave a rich heritage of beautiful memories in their going — one of those summers which, in a fortunate combination of delightful weather, delightful friends and delightful doing, come as near to perfection as anything can come in this world.”

Happy reading--

You're not awkward...I'm awkward...

I know my blog is overly full of book reviews. I'm really obsessed with books right now, and writing about books is just as enjoyable...I'm also even more obsessed (as you already know) with Seth, but writing about Seth isn't quite as much fun as being with Seth, we are.

I just thought I would acknowledge the awkward title of my last book review "Between Shades of Grey". Who knew historical fiction could be so awkward? I'm sure the author also wishes she could have a redo because her important literary work gets thrown in the same conversation as books that are wildly inappropriate. Oops.

ps. I reached my goal this year of reading at least 24 books. I know that's not a lot compared to some and way more than others, but this really isn't about other people. I just really wanted to read more this year, and I did it..and I'm happier for it. As always, happy reading and happy living.

Between Shades of Grey

Between Shades of GreyBetween Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Some stories deserve to be told more than others. This is one of those stories. The Lithuanian experiences of World War II and beyond are not as well known as those from western Europe. Stalin's grip on eastern Europe and Russian was crushing - more than 20 million of his own people were killed during his reign. 20 million - we can't even conceive of numbers like that. Coupled with the Hitler's devastation, it's hard to believe that people were able to go on after their collective experiences.

"Between Shades of Grey" follows fifteen-year-old Lina and her family through their nightmare - being torn from their home, from each other, and from their dreams to ultimately ending up in Siberian prison camps. The subtle details that Sepetys layers into her story are beautiful. I only wish that the shades of grey (definitely not the same as James' 50 shades) that Sepetys crafted into Lina's art were visually rendered as part of the story. It would bring the story to life just the same way that the deftly included artwork did in "The Book Thief" or "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close". Either way - this is a great book worthy of your time. It's truly a 4.5 star, but I can't help but round up for such an important story.

Happy reading--

All Quiet on the Western Front...Round 2

All Quiet on the Western FrontAll Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I did it. I read all of All Quiet on the Western Front, and finally I get it. I get the subtle beauty, the tragedy, the disillusioned heartbreak. True to classic literature, it is not an easy read, It is not a book I would recommend to many, but Remarque spoke for a generation that lost their voice and their possibility. It's a great predecessor to Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried", and I am finally glad for the chance to teach it.

Happy reading--

Before I Fall

Before I FallBefore I Fall by Lauren Oliver
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of my favorite book reviewers said, "Can't really decide what to think of this book." And I don't really know either.

I hate the "Mean Girl" mentality of the main characters.
I love the inner dialogue of how fragile mean girls really are.
I hate the profanity and the triviality of the things teenagers (and let's be honest, adults too) are obsessed with.
I love Kent. He's the kind of guy every girl should fall in love with, rather than the silly boys we crush on in high school.

This could go on for a long time, and so let's boil it down to three things:
1) I love teen fiction.
2) I love the concept of Groundhog's Day, so a book that follows that format resonates with me.
3) I could not put it down. I started carrying it with me on the off chance that I could find a minute to read it.

So despite my reservations and distaste for some of the behaviors and mindsets, I gladly read Before I Fall and was SO frustrated by it. I don't know who to recommend it to because it's the type of book that teenagers would love, but also would seemingly get bad ideas from it. Adults who read it might be too put off by the attitude and triviality of the teens, but will have a much clearer understanding of what it's like to be on the other side of be an adolescence...and see now the big picture that we so often miss when we're young.

I would give this book 3.5 stars, but I can't because despite my constant writing about it, the Goodreads gods haven't made it happen. So I'm giving it 4 stars because it's well written and haunting.

Read it, don't read it. Ambivalence all the way, but as always, happy reading--

The Selection

The Selection (The Selection, #1)The Selection by Kiera Cass
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I chose my past three books based on student recommendations - dangerous path to follow, I know. However, I wanted to be able to bond with my new batch of kiddos over their love of reading, and YA fiction is much easier to wade through once my grading stacks start growing.

Let me say first - The Selection is not a great book. It's a Dystopian version of The Bachelor that's aimed at angsty teenage girls. {Why didn't I think of that?} We love to devour bad reality television. It's like that cheap Halloween candy that you'll stash in a drawer and pretend not to have (oh, wait - is that just me?) for the next month. There's something ridiculously satisfying about it, and I'm not sorry to have read it (or eaten it for that matter). I know there's no literary merit, and sometimes the plot twists are contrived, but I enjoyed it. Just like I'll enjoy the next one, and I 100% understand why my freshmen girls cannot get enough of this story. It's first kisses, forbidden love, drama, princes, fancy dresses, and dreams. So pass me the Butterfingers and book two. I'm ready.

Happy reading and happy fall--

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

What I Know For Sure

What I Know for SureWhat I Know for Sure by Oprah Winfrey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am a fool for many things - Anne of Green Gables (you know this if you've read my recent reviews), fall leaves, my husband's smile when he's genuinely amused by something, and books that teach life lessons. While Oprah may not be the greatest philosopher or scholar, she is one of the most well connected people on the planet. Over the course of her career, she has encountered some of the most brilliant and inspiring men and women. And so here are some of the lessons she has learned. For better or worse, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and found myself hurriedly noting one liners that resonated with ideas and ideals I had already been pondering. Sometimes I need books like this - life affirming truths that make me want to be better and even more importantly see the hope and possibility in the world around me. You can judge the messenger, you can judge me as the reader, but really, if it makes me a little kinder or a little more willing to step out of my comfort zone, you can't judge that.

Happy reading and happy reaching-- Life's too short to not aspire for more.

Anne of the Island

Anne of the Island (Anne of Green Gables #3)Anne of the Island by L.M. Montgomery
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Who knew that Anne actually got to go to Redmond College after all? Okay, everyone who didn't grow up on the Anne of Avonlea movie knew, but I was so surprised when I started reading this book and found out that Kingsport Ladies' College and Morgan Harris are made up (at least in the sequence that I know them...still haven't gotten to book four). Instead it is the handsome Royal Gardner that woos Anne while she attends college. All the while Gilbert is studying hard and loving Anne from a distance - not sure why pining or unrequited longing is so romantic in books when it's actually miserable in real life, but how I love Gilbert for always loving his Anne girl.

I loved this book - not as much as the first two, but I found myself unconsciously grinning or sighing as Anne spoke (unhealthy obsession levels here). I just love her. That said, her friends are frustrating. If I could shake them by the shoulders and say "get a grip" or "please stop talking", I would. For Anne and Gil though, I'd endure just about anything. Happy reading---

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Anne of Avonlea

Anne of Avonlea (Anne of Green Gables, #2)Anne of Avonlea by L.M. Montgomery
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As a lover of words, I would like to think that I am capable of forming my own forms of expression - that the way I speak is unique to me and not an amalgamation of other people's style...but then I watch Rory and Lorelai speak in quick succession back and forth on Gilmore Girls or hear the cast of Friends banter back and forth and I hear phrases that I adopted as my own. Reading Anne of Avonlea was no different. I had thought Lucy Maud Montgomery to be entirely too over-dramatic and florid in her descriptions when I had read Emily of New Moon, but when Anne says those same type over-dramatic speeches, I feel everything she says...and I love her all the more for it...

The short version of this view is that my Anne and Gilbert obsession is rekindled. I'm so happy to have spent time on Prince Edward Island with some of my favorite characters. It had been far too long. Happy reading!

Monday, September 14, 2015

Anne of Green Gables

Anne of Green GablesAnne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've never loved any character as much as I love Anne Shirley. It took me until this summer to finally finish Anne of Green Gables, but I am so happy to have finally read this book. Anne helped shape the woman I am today, and so as I read I was eight and eighteen and thirty-one and every age in-between. I've tried a half dozen different ways to phrase what reading this book meant and what I thought about it, but I can't separate the nostalgia from the critique. It's too personal and too defining. The character that Lucy Maud Montgomery created is a part of me in a way that only a few stories and characters have. I wish I could thank Montgomery for giving voice to a part of me I didn't know how to express as a child. Like I said before, I love Anne Shirley. When I wasn't pretending to be Jo March or Laura Ingalls Wilder, it was Anne that I most wanted to be. And in some way, I'd like to think I am like her - teaching and writing and living with my sweetheart in our own little house of dreams. What a happy life it is.

Happy reading--

Monday, August 31, 2015

Distracted by Love

I had all these plans to write a few posts about being newlyweds. We are ridiculously happy and loving our new life together...but if the chance to write or the chance to spend an extra hour laughing in bed on a Saturday morning, I choose bed. These moments with Seth the last two months have exceeded all expectations I had of what it would be like to be married. Can't wait to see what else our lovely life holds. More later...maybe. :)

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Chance You Won't Return

The Chance You Won't ReturnThe Chance You Won't Return by Annie Cardi
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

If we're honest, I picked this book up on a whim because I was scanning my friend Kerri's library displays at work, and I liked the cover. It was the last day of school, and I was anxious to be sitting by a pool indulging in all things trivial instead of organizing my classroom....a book that handles mental health is not exactly trivial, so I'm grateful that this was a young adult take on such a timely topic. Cardi's approach to a teenage girl grappling with her mother's dissociative personality (the mother things she's Amelia Earhart) was smart and unsettling, which is absolutely reminiscent of how the main character is feeling throughout the novel. The references to Earhart and use of her actual writing was clever and poignant since just as Earhart disappeared, Alex's mother seemed to get further and further away. I just wish there had been more resolution to Alex's issues at home and less cliche resolutions to Alex's issues at school.

All that said, I liked this book. It's a 3.5 and worth the read if the topic intrigues you. Happy summer and happy reading!

Monday, August 3, 2015


Focused: Staying on Track, One Choice at a TimeFocused: Staying on Track, One Choice at a Time by Noelle Pikus Pace
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I love Noelle Pikus Pace. I love her tenacity. I love her optimism. I love her faith. Like a fifteen-year-old fan girl, I picked up her book simply because I had enjoyed her story so much during the 2014 Olympics. I practically burst out of my own seat when she jumped in the stands to hug her family after winning her medal. And honestly, I really did enjoy this book. It's just not a great book. It would make a fantastic devotional or EFY talk or be a great set of themes for a girls' camp. I still love her, but I would recommend this book to teenage girls who are trying to figure out who they are (an interest in sports wouldn't hurt either). Happy reading!

ps. I'm starting to love the name Noelle - perhaps as a middle name for a future baby girl.
pps. No, I'm not pregnant.
ppps. Stay focused. :)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Help...Round 3

The HelpThe Help by Kathryn Stockett
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I started rereading The Help right as I started reading Harper Lee's new book. I knew I would need a story I loved about 1960s Southern living to counterbalance how unfulfilled I was going to be by the new version of Maycomb. The Help did not disappoint. Without a doubt, this is one of my favorite books. Rereading The Help is like revisiting old friends. I love Skeeter, Celia, Abileen, and Minny. Stockett created women whose lives and stories seem to walk off the pages, and I find myself standing next to Minny cooking a caramel cake and friend chicken or writing prayers with Abileen. I even find myself giggling with Celia as she tries to make a home for her sweet husband Johnny. Mostly I find myself feverishly typing with Skeeter, and my heart is happy. Life may not be perfect, but it is worth living with passion and ideals. If you still haven't read this book, it's a must. Happy reading!

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying UpThe Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I thoroughly enjoy books that inspire me to be a better version of myself, whether the book helps motivate me to try voice lessons or to purge items from my closet. Kondo's writing style may be overly flowery, but her principles are sound. The idea that all of our possessions should spark joy has really stuck with me - why own things that make us feel badly about ourselves, our past, or the space we live in. I also appreciate the idea that things we own have a true shelf life - things, just as phases in life, are not always meant to last forever. We should grateful for purpose the item served and then move on. Honestly, I'm not willing to go through the full KonMari tidying method right now, but reading this book helped me let go of things I've been saving forever...this is essential since Seth moved in a few weeks ago and I had to give him half the closet and dresser. Happy reading and happy tidying!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Dear Harper--

Go Set a WatchmanGo Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Dear Harper--

I anticipated the release of your book almost more than any other book that I have read. In fact, I preordered it just to ensure that it appeared on my doorstep the very day it came out. The only other book I have preordered is Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, and everyone knows how much I love Harry Potter. Go Set a Watchman makes me both happy and sad. I'm so grateful for the chance to have walked the streets of Maycomb again with Scout, but I am disappointed by how unfinished this book is. With what little detail we know about your writing, it's been said you wrote this book before the heralded To Kill a Mockingbird, and despite how unfinished and unrefined it is, the concepts are powerful and the issues worth debating. I just wish your publishers had wanted to release this book when you were younger and more interested in telling the story. I truly hope that you were not taken advantage of in your advancing years just so they could make a splash and sell a few more books.

All that said, you are still one of the greatest writers I have ever read. Your chapter about how Scout feels about her dad is so incredible that I have thought of it every day since I read it. That chapter may have been tucked in the middle of the book with little to no plot advancement, but the words resonated with my soul and I knew, yet again, why To Kill a Mockingbird touched so many hearts. Your writing profoundly affected our American identity, not to mention your writing's affect on the literary world. I can't thank you enough.

A Girl Who Still Loves Atticus

View all my reviews

All the Light We Cannot See

All the Light We Cannot SeeAll the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You know a book is good when you're so invested in the characters and story that you have to close the pages and just take a moment to absorb what is happening. "All the Light We Cannot See" is wonderful, and I, over and over again, had to close it to take a breath and steel myself for what was to come. The story is tragic and beautiful and full of simple, vivid detail that suck you in so deeply that you want to sit alongside Werner and his sister as they listen in rapt attention to the Frenchman's stories on the radio or hold Marie-Laure's as she walks over cobblestoned streets to make sure she doesn't fall on her way to the bakery.

I, like many others, did not love the ending, but I loved the book overall. I read this overlooking the ocean on my honeymoon in Maui. I kept looking to my new husband and whispering my concerns about what was about to happen in the story. "The Nazi's are about to march into Paris." "I think they're going to make Werner a soldier...." He'd smile and listen to his overly invested wife and try to remind me that the characters weren't real. Then repeatedly my hushed voice would rise and say something to the effect of "but there were people like them and it's just so sad...." We'd return quickly to "I love you's and "I'm so glad I married you", but I realized when I finished the book how good it had been simply because it had held my attention so completely even with my handsome new husband by my side. Read it - definitely the best book I have read this year. As always, happy reading!

I Feel Bad about My Neck

I Feel Bad about My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a WomanI Feel Bad about My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman by Nora Ephron
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Nora Ephron makes my heart happy. As the brilliant and witty woman behind some of my very favorite movies (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, Julie & Julia, You've Got Mail, etc.), I was happy to slip into Ephron's musings on aging, cooking, and finding an apartment in New York. Her wit and candor help make her genius more subtle - in the little details you realize how talented she must have been to gain such a strong foothold in the movie world as a woman in the 80s and 90s. This book isn't for everyone. Ephron doesn't tackle major life issues except as she closes her book, but that doesn't make her writing any less interesting for me. I love her and made sure to watch When Harry Met Sally the day after I finished reading.

*Disclaimer: This book may suffer from over-rating: a condition known to affect its sufferers when they have read a book in extremely happy times aka sitting by a pool overlooking the ocean a few days after getting married. The over-rater may not even notice they are suffering from the condition and what's worse, they may not care. Happy reading just the same.

Kitchen Confidential

Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary UnderbellyKitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly by Anthony Bourdain
My rating: 3 of 5 stars (Technically, a 2.5, but no half stars on Goodreads)

Anthony Bourdain is an ass. There's no other way to say it. He relishes in the salacious, over-dramatic, shock factor details of his work in a way that seems to be trying to make up for the fact that he grew up in a "silver spoon, spend your summers in the south of France" kind of family. But he's a chef, a really good one. And he wrote a book that an app on my phone let me listen to for free. And, despite the fact that I wanted to quit listening to Bourdain because he seems like such a punk, I couldn't stop. I wanted to hear about the sauces, the knives, and the perfectly crafted dinner service. I wouldn't recommend this book to most people. You really have to love the food world and be able to get past ego - major ego. Either way, happy reading and, of course, happy eating.

The Great Gatsby...Again

The Great GatsbyThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You know you're an English teacher when you start to miss books taught at the levels you haven't taught in a while. For the first time I listened to Gatsby with Jake Gyllenhaal reading. While his female voices were a little special, his portrayal of Wilson was haunting. I love this book and am so glad to have stared at the green light once again.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

how to surprise a girl who pays attention to everything

Step 1: Talk about marriage and kids, but never give any specific timeline.
Step 2: Go ring shopping. Identify Jaclyn’s favorite ring, but then remind her not to get too attached to one ring.
Step 3: Don’t bring up rings again for a long time. If Jaclyn brings them up, say you haven’t had time to look into it. She knows how thorough you like your research to be.
Step 4: When Jaclyn brings up getting engaged, don’t reply with any specific details.
Step 5: Send Jaclyn to a jeweler and let her keep ring shopping.
Step 6: All the while, be making plans and buy Jaclyn’s favorite ring. Wait for over seven weeks for the perfect diamond to be cut in India, sent to Hawaii for initial inspection, then appraised in New York, be sent back to Hawaii to finally make the ring, and pick it up in California.
Step 7: Ask Jaclyn’s dad without Jaclyn catching on that you are going to see him.
Step 8: Ask Jaclyn if she wants to go to lunch in Carmel and plan to tour Robinson Jeffers’ house.
Step 9: Keep Jaclyn from leaning against your coat pocket and from noticing that silly tour guide winking so often at you.
Step 10: Ask that once-in-a-lifetime question and watch Jaclyn make that face that apparently all girls make when they are being proposed to. 

"Will you marry me?"

This story doesn’t really end with the question of “Will you marry me?” – instead that feels like the beginning, the beginning of an adventure that I have dreamed of for a very long time. But for the sake of containing this in one entry, let’s back up just a little bit….

Seth and I were on our way down to San Luis Obispo for a quick weekend trip to watch my friend Maria run a marathon. Maria and I have run half marathons together over the past few years, and while I had no intention of joining her in twice the insanity, we wanted to cheer her on as she took on the infamous 26.2 miles in one of our favorite places. Seth asked a couple weeks before we were supposed to go down to SLO if I would like to get lunch in Carmel on the way down.  Of course the answer was yes, and since we had stopped off in Carmel on previous trips down the coast, I didn’t think anything of it.

Seth had picked out this adorable French bakery called Lafayette. We ate simple baguette sandwiches that had just a little ham and butter on them. We sampled delicious French pastries, bought a few extra things for the road, and were on our way. As we were driving through Carmel, I noticed Seth’s’ GPS was set for a local destination. Surprised since I thought we were getting back on our way to San Luis, I asked him where we were going. “Oh, did I not tell you?” he says. “We’re going to tour Tor House.” Grinning hugely, he apologized and said that things had been so busy at work he had forgotten to tell me and that we didn’t have to go if I didn’t want to (what if I had said I didn’t want to? J). I naturally said that we could do that. He had planted the idea of the house weeks before, and since my sweetheart is an architect, and we both love Carmel, touring a nice home in the area seemed like a fun excursion.

We pulled up to Robinson Jeffers’ Tor House on the edge of Scenic Drive overlooking the ocean, and my first comment was that it looked like England. Seth had chosen the location for exactly that reason, and he was inwardly thrilled that the house delighted me without even going in. Seth also chose the house because the Jeffers owned a beautiful Steinway piano that famous musicians like George and Ira Gershwin played and also because Jeffers is a famous American poet…that ironically I had never heard of. Still the effort and attention to detail was not lost on me. That said, as we started touring the home and beautiful grounds overlooking the crashing waves, I was still blithely unaware of why we were there.

The real reason this property is so well known is a 40+-foot tower that sits beside the Jeffers’ home. Jeffers’ wife loved the towers she had seen in the British Isles, and so Jeffers built her one, painstakingly placing each stone himself. There were two top levels that people on the tour could climb to. I suggested we let a few of the other tour members go ahead of us not knowing how large the topmost lookout would be. We clambered up after them clinging a bit too tightly to the precarious stones and chain "railing". The second we got up there I took out my phone and hurriedly took pictures of the grounds below and pulled Seth in for a quick photo, since we were expressly told that we were not allowed to take photos on the tour. The view was breathtaking. It was hard to imagine that the Jeffers family had once owned, not just the two parcels of land that their home now sits on, but thirty-two parcels of the stunning Carmel coastline.

When we came back down, the tour guide asked, “anything special up there?” Again, completely unaware, I replied, “Yes – so beautiful.” I thought her comment was a little bit strange, but didn’t think of it again (clearly she was aware of why we were there). She finished her short commentary on the tower and the home, and then Seth asked if we could go back up for a minute. I thought he wanted to take another picture since our first attempt wasn’t great. When we got to the top, we stood there a moment looking out over the view. Seth with his arm around me looked at me and said some really sweet things, the most important of which included a heartfelt “I love you”, and gave me one of those kisses that makes you inwardly sigh because you’re just so happy.

And then my sweet Mr. Mann knelt down, pulled out and opened a ring box, and said, “I have another question for you.” He hadn’t asked a first question, but I finally saw where this was going. I said, “Are you kidding me?” not so much because I thought it was a joke, but because I was so surprised. Seth said he’d like to spend time and eternity with me. I said yes before he’d even gotten to the question. I repeated that yes, when Seth asked, “Will you marry me?” And I will continue saying yes every day forever.
April 25, 2015