Monday, December 29, 2014

Top Ten of 2014

I've been reading all kinds of top ten posts for the year and decided to take a trip back through my log for the year and see what comes out on top! So, to keep this short and sweet, here are the results (in no particular order):

1. Juliet's Nurse, by Lois Leveen. Loved, loved, loved how Leveen brought Shakespeare's Nurse to life. I'm currently reading Romeo and Juliet with my students and watching them meet the Nurse for the first time in Shakespeare's play makes me appreciate Leveen's attention to detail all the more.

2. Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell. Two things about this book - its length and its complexity. I do love a big book, but this one was also a challenge. With multiple, crossing narratives covering a whole timeline of dates and places, Mitchell has created a masterpiece here with a great theme to boot.

3. The Storyteller, by Jodi Picoult. Because...Picoult and Holocaust. If neither of those makes you understand, I can't help you. You need to help yourself by reading this book.

4. The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August, by Claire North. I think I liked this one so much because it was time travel, which I enjoy as a plot. I've read it in other books, such as The Time Traveller's Wife and Life After Life, not to mention my favorite movies of all time, the "Back to the Future" trilogy. North's book impressed me because of its detail an definite direction.

5. Divergent, by Veronica Roth. Dystopian fiction, I love it. I liked the factions split by personality and felt it had the right mix of action and romance.

6. The Truest Thing About You, by David Lomas. A good book about the right place to put your identity. It affirmed things I learned the hard way...wish I'd have had the book sooner.

7. Crime and Punishment, by Fyodor Dostoevsky. This story was good, but it makes the list as much for the reason that it intimidated the crap out of me and I read through just fine!

8. The Best Yes, by Lysa TerKeurst. A good study on why and when it's good to say no, as well as how. I was happy to read this with friends, those who have this trouble like me and those who don't. All were a big help.

9. The Greatest Gift, by Ann Voskamp. I love Voskamp's writing on her blog and on her books. This book was a daily reading devotional for Advent. It really made me slow down and pay attention to the importance of the Christmas season this year.

10. Memoirs of a Geisha, by Arthur Golden. Among the last books I read in 2014, it is also one of the books that taught me the most. Enthralled by the culture and the characters, I found myself at the end more attached to them than I had realized.

So that's it. The top ten books I read this year. Have you read any of them? Any of them sound good to you?

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Begin the Week with Words - The New Year


What is it about the start of a new year that gets us excited? We tuck away the year just passing and hope for bigger and better as our clocks strike midnight and the first day of the next year begins. Logically, it doesn't make sense. January 1st is a day like any other, and yet, I sense it too. New possibilities. And so, I invite this week of New Year's, our switch from 2014 to 2015, with a book blog appropriate quote:

"For last year's words belong to last year's language
And next year's words await another voice.
And to make an end is to make a beginning."

Little Gidding, last of the Four Quartets, by T.S. Elliot

So, here's to new beginnings. A very Happy New Year to you all!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Memoirs of a Geisha

Memoirs of a Geisha is the last of my 2014 TBR Pile Challenge I will get to read, leaving me short by three books. I may go ahead and read Matched in time, also on my list, but that still leaves me with The Memory Keeper's Daughter and The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, which is a chunkster at 600 pages, so I doubt I'll get through it during a busy holiday week. At least I came close...and I'll be trying more TBR reading of my own for 2015.

What a book to end the challenge on though! Once again, a book on Asian culture taught me so much I didn't know or that I misunderstood. Memoirs of a Geisha is fiction, but author Aurthur Golden thoroughly researched the facts by visiting Japan and spending time with a woman who lived as a Geisha in the 1960s and 70s.

I found myself struggling between thinking Geishas were kind of like slaves and yet, maybe it wasn't so bad? The women were professional entertainers in many forms: music, dance, song, conversation. But it seemed they often ended up as Geisha for sad/forced reasons and there were such expectations required of them, I found myself shaking my head as I read. This is all the case of the main character, Chiyo/Sayuri. Yet, without the option, where would many of them end up? Starving on the street or as prostitutes. Definitely a list of pros and cons, depending on which part of the process Sayuri was going through.

The book was enthralling, but I didn't realize how much I was pulling for Sayuri until closer to the end. She makes a bold move to change her life and when it didn't work out quite as she intended my heart sank. With the book so close to the end at that point, I hurriedly finished to see what happened to dear Sayuri.

I highly recommend this oldie, but goodie. Especially if you like to learn about different cultures and time periods.

Anyone see the movie? I was told it doesn't measure up...

Monday, December 22, 2014

Student Spotlight: Alleya W.

Hey everyone! Hope your holiday is coming along nicely as we head into Christmas this week and New Year the week after. My ninth grade students finished reading The Killer Angels in November and we've been working on Romeo and Juliet for December. Ringing in the New Year with a little Shakespeare!

The Killer Angels proved to be a challenge for both the students and me. It was not what any of us expected when we thought of a war story. The book made us think beyond the history lessons we've been taught and the generalizations that time has created. Even if it wasn't always enjoyable to read, the perspective was priceless. For this month's Student Spotlight, we have Alleya W. here on the blog to tell us about conflict within The Killer Angels and the impact it plays in the story.

Welcome Alleya!

Taking the Blame

Conflict is the different or opposing drives of the characters or forces in the book, which makes The Killer Angels, by Michael Shaara, more interesting to read.  It may occur in the character’s mind or externally, which usually includes a protagonist. In this book, there are many different conflicts. There are man vs. society, man vs. self, man vs. nature, and of course man vs. man. However, man vs. self seems to be the point of The Killer Angels.
Man vs. self is most profound conflict in this novel. It happens within almost all the men mentioned in the novel. In many cases it changes the way the character thinks, which in return changes his actions or decisions. There are many examples, but the two I have chosen are Longstreet and Chamberlain because they both change from possible or past deaths in their personal lives.
Longstreet is a perfect example of man vs. self. Longstreet no longer takes part in playing poker, even though he was a legendary poker player. He hasn’t played since the death of his children and wife. Ever since then, he has sat by a tree in the darkness, “passing the time silently,” and watched (Shaara 49). It had changed his decision making because “what he had left was the army,”(127). After the war is over he has no family to go home to. He keeps having uncontrollable flashbacks to the day his first son died. He’s powerless to stop the visions or the way they died, which was scarlet fever.
Longstreet might have been powerless to stop their death but Chamberlain does anything he can to keep Tom, his little brother, safe. He always takes responsibility for Tom. When in the middle of battle there is a hole in the front line, he unconsciously puts Tom to fill it. Once he realizes what he’s done he starts questioning himself and doesn’t pay attention to what is going on around him. He knows “it was not right, not right at all.” He asks himself , “What would I tell mother if something happen to him?”(224).

The Killer Angels has many examples of man vs. self conflict. Many of these including the character blaming himself or changing his mind set because of something that happened in the past. Man vs. self made this novel much more interesting because it takes a look at the minds of the characters, which is not the expected focus in a Civil War story.

What do you think readers? What do you expect from a war story?

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Begin the Week with Words: Christmas

Christmas. A holiday of peace and love. A holiday of good deeds and cheer. A holiday that holds deep meaning for many. Is this the message of Christmas? In part, because they are all a part of the true message.

"The message of Christmas is not that we can make peace. Or that we can make love, make light, make gifts, or make this world save itself.

The message of Christmas is that this world's a mess and we can never save ourselves from ourselves and we need a Messiah.

For unto us a Child is born." The Greatest Gift, Ann Voskamp

A very Merry Christmas to you all.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

TBRs I Own Challenge

I've decided to not officially join any reading challenges for 2015, except for setting the goal of a number of books to read in the year, as I do on Goodreads every year. However, I am going to set my own goal, which I am calling the "TBRs I Own Challenge." I am going to see how long I can read books I already own before I break down and buy a new book. If you are a true bibliophile, you know this is much more challenging than it sounds. Adding a new book to my shelf satisfies me as much as reading one.

Two inspirations behind this personal challenge. My husband is job searching and I really shouldn't be buying any new books when I already own plenty to read, plus the library. Second, I keep looking at stacks of books by my bed, thinking I'll get around to them soon. The three at the bottom of the stack have been there a year-and-a-half! I have other books on shelves that I've owned for ten years, but haven't read. I want to take down my TBR pile in 2015!

A couple rules for myself:
1. E-books and physical books I pay for count against me as buying a book, obviously, but not if someone else gives them to me as a gift. (Who in their right mind would turn down free books?)

2. Library books do not count against me, but must be two year or older publications I've been meaning to read.

3. Newer books I get for free (from publishers or as prizes) do not count against me. I must still take advantage of great offers from publishers. But I will limit these big time.

4. Wishlist answers from paperbackswap do not count against me. They are all TBRs, some on the list for years now, and the credits I have are already paid for through previous trades.

5. Every book I already own counts as an option.

6. The challenge begins January 1st.

If I make it for any length of time, then the blog will be a mishmash of older publications, but maybe there will be something you all missed previously? Nothing like going back and finding a gem. I think I've set myself up with a fun little challenge to start the New Year. Anyone is welcome to try it as well. Maybe if I like it and work out some bugs, it'll become "a thing."

Anyone else determined to take down their TBR pile this year? 
Any other rules I should apply to my challenge?

Monday, December 15, 2014

Christmas Book Joy: Holiday Guest Post at I'm Lost in Books

Hi there! Today I am guest posting for Becca's Holiday Extravaganza over at I'm Lost in Books. It's been a huge gathering of books bloggers and their holidays thoughts. Fun things to read every day and I'm honored to join in the fun! 

So head on over (my guest post here) and see how I plan on spending my Christmas gift cards...hint,'s books!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Begin the Week with Words

I came across some quotes from a book I read five years ago. One of the most inspirational and life giving books I've ever read: The Last Lecture, by Randy Pausch. If you aren't familiar with his story, Randy was a professor at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, PA who was given a terminal diagnosis from pancreatic cancer in 2007. Randy used his remaining time to pass on everything he had learned about life in a speech he gave called The Last Lecture: Really Achieving Your Childhood Dreams. It went from his original audience, to YouTube, to a published book before his death in July of 2008. The Last Lecture is a gem - an absolute tribute to one man's legacy of goodness and optimism for life. If you haven't read it, you are missing out.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Ship of Brides

The Ship of Brides, by Jojo Moyes
Publisher: Penguin Books
Publication date: October 28, 2014
Category: Historical fiction
Source: I received this e-galley from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

I read my first Jojo Moyes, Me Before You, this past summer (my review). I enjoyed it and knew I'd read another of Moyes's books when one came across my path. Sure enough, I soon found The Ship of Brides on NetGalley and here we are.

The Ship of Brides is historical fiction about a topic on which I've read very little: women who married soldiers during WWII and later left their homes to join their husbands on foreign soil. Goodreads has a concise summary: The year is 1946, and all over the world, young women are crossing the seas in the thousands en route to the men they married in wartime - and an unknown future. In Sydney, Australia, four women join 650 other brides on an extraordinary voyage to England, aboard the HMS Victoria, which also carries not just arms and aircraft but 1,000 naval officers and men. Rules of honor, duty, and separation are strictly enforced, from the aircraft carrier's captain down to the lowliest young stoker. But the men and the brides will find their lives intertwined in ways the Navy could never have imagined.

The story follows four women making this journey to their husbands. They come from different walks of life - the farmer girl, the socialite, the unruly sixteen-year-old, and mysterious war nurse - and don't always mesh well. I cannot imagine traveling six+ weeks in such living conditions as the aircraft carrier Moyes describes! I would be freaking out the first day on board. Besides the confines of the ship, there are so many issues that arise to knock the brides' lives off course. Husbands who change their minds, rival brides, and checkered pasts all make an already challenging situation nearly impossible.

I have to say, I found the two books surprisingly different. Me Before You was a good story that seemed like just that, a good story with a touch of romance, which I had no problem with. The Ship of Brides seems more literary. I'm sure the true-to-life setting impacts the tone and mood greatly. As different as I felt they were, I enjoyed both books. If I had to pick a favorite of the two, I'd say The Ship of Brides; however, be aware that the literary feel (historical fiction genre) sways me.

Do you have a preference when it comes to "the feel" a book gives you (such as literary, etc.)?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Begin the Week with Words

Spent Thanksgiving in North Carolina this year and had a Gatsby moment. Having read The Great Gatsby so many times, teaching and discussing it over so many years, I get excited to see the connections to real life.

The top floor of our beach house was nothing but a little reading nook with big windows. The whole house, and every other house on the street, was nothing but big windows on the top floors (living room and kitchen). And as I sat looking out and practically into the windows of neighboring houses, listening to the conversation and games of my family in my own house, I felt what Nick Carraway explained during the crazy party in Myrtle's New York City apartment:

"Yet high over the city our line of yellow windows must have contributed their share of human secrecy to the casual watcher in the darkening streets, and I was him too, looking up and wondering. I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life."
                                                 Nick Carraway in The Great Gatsby

Yea, I totally took a picture of the neighbor's house.
 I made sure no one was in the windows first! It was
truly crazy how well you could see into other houses!

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Personal Thanksgiving Read-a-thon (aka Vacation)

My husband, kids, and I on the beach.
I'm a homebody. The person who likes vacation time, but is just as happy spending it at home. There's a word for it now...staycation. It's about time! I mean, I can read anywhere, so I might as well read in the convenience of my family and home, right? There's more to it than that I'm sure, and I don't know why, but it's just the way I am. Homebody for life.

But when the holidays roll around, I can't help but notice people traveling...usually visiting family or going to a beach. Only once have I ever spent a holiday away from home. In high school my band marched in the Detroit Thanksgiving Day Parade - we were even on National TV! Besides that, I've NEVER spent a major holiday away from home, but I've always been curious. What would it feel like to take a trip mid year? (We're talking teacher year here people, August to July.)

Well, my question was answered this Thanksgiving, as my parents, siblings, husband, kids, and I (and even our dogs) made a trip to Avon, North Carolina, a town within OBX, for the Thanksgiving week. We stayed in a beautiful beach front beach house that was plenty big for our family. The purpose: a most relaxing trip, just to spend time with family and be thankful for some really big things my family came through this year. Of course, this also meant reading for me. I took the last of my TBR Challenge books, thinking realistically maybe I'd get to two - Memoirs of a Geisha and The Memory Keeper's Daughter.

To die for book nook all on its own at the top of the stairs.
As luck would have it, our beach house came with its own personal reading nook. At the very top of a fourth flight of stairs sits this one little space with two chairs and chandelier displaying windows that overlook the neighborhood. On a beautiful day with the windows open or a cold day wrapped in a fleece blanket (I experienced both), that reading nook was a dream come true! I napped there daily too! My little dog was by my side every single minute! She loved it as much as I did.

Samoa, my cuddly bookworm buddy.

As usually happens, I didn't read as much as I thought I would. Vacations typically consist of a fair amount of down time, but we spent it eating, playing cards, napping, watching Thanksgiving specials, shopping, walking the beach, and playing with the dogs. The dogs were quite little dachshund didn't want to be near any other dog or person except for me, and routinely barked and growled at my siblings' dogs, which was quite unexpected. She's usually so friendly and knows all of my family well. (Meanwhile, my typically high maintenance dog, Chloe, was at my in-laws being an angel. Go figure.)

When I did read, it was Memoirs of a Geisha. Although I didn't finish it, I definitely had enough time to get myself invested in the story and hungry to finish it! My TBR Pile Challenge 2014 is going to be a close call, if I make it!

Oh and of course, I bought a book on my trip. I picked up a secondhand copy of Case Histories by Kate Atkinson at an Indie bookstore called Buxton Village Books in the next town over. It was one of my first experiences with locally owned booksellers. The secondhand section was full of big names and titles, so selection was not a problem.There were so many books to look through, I figured I'd go with an author I'd read and liked before.  My daughter picked up a handmade wool hat and my husband bought a beautiful nautical journal for our son. It was a cozy little place with some unique gifts.

Any lovely ways in which you've spent favorite holidays?