Tuesday, April 10, 2012

50 Books In A Year

I had a birthday (I'm officially OVER 30 now....sigh!). That means it's time to start another list of books. I once again fell dismally short of my 50 books goal this year. Last year I blamed a rough pregnancy, this year I'm going to blame the 3 months I was single parenting and too tired to read. I did read a LOT more pages this year, so that's something. I'll stick to my 50 books a year goal yet again, I just started a new book today and who knows what this year will bring! You can click the links for the 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008 and 2007 book lists. *all images are affiliate links to amazon.

Past Reading
2006:
30 books
8,222 pages

2007:
37 books
14,326 pages

2008:
41.5 books
15,072 pages

2009:
50 books
16,199 pages

2010:
23 books
6,843 pages

2011:
24 books
11,981 pages

Revenge of the Middle-Aged Woman by Elizabeth Buchan.  Rose is a middle aged woman with two grown kids, a steady job as a book critic and a stable marriage. Or so she thinks. In one fell swoop, the marriage and the job disintegrate. You'd think this might be a sad book, but it's not. There are some things to make you think, some humor, and plenty of page turner situations. I'm focusing on enjoyable, relaxing reads right now and this definitely fit the bill. (368 pages)

The Dirty Parts of the Bible by Sam Torode. From the title, you might think you want to steer clear of this book. Quite the opposite though, it’s light hearted and funny while also being very thought provoking. 19-year old Tobias is the son of a Baptist preacher who has become a bit jaded. Family circumstances push him to travel from Michigan, where he’s been raised, all the way to Texas where his father’s family, that he’s never met, lives. This is during the depression and sheltered, innocent Tobias has a rather interesting trip. He learns some valuable life lessons along the way, especially from the hobo named Craw he befriends and travels with. Definitely one of the more enjoyable books I’ve read lately, I highly recommend it. (276 pages)

Nature Girl by Carl Hiaasen. I picked this up in the clearance section of Half Price Books. It was an entertaining way to escape reality and pass the time. The plot line is a bit soap opera-ish. You’ve got Sammy Tigertail, a Seminole living in Florida who frequently has visits from the ghost of Wilson, a white man who died while on an airboat tour Sammy was running. There’s Honey Santana, a mentally unstable divorcee raising her 12 year old son, Fry. Perry Skinner, Honey’s ex, can’t live with her and can’t live without her. Gillian is the college girl already unsatisfied with life. Boyd Shreave and Eugenie Fonda are telemarketers in the middle of an affair, being followed by Mr. Dealey, a private investigator. And don’t forget Louis Piejack, the man with an obsession who won’t let any number of painful events stand in his way. It is impressive to see all these separate story lines woven together and then teased apart again. I’d say this one is worth borrowing or buying on sale. (304 pages)

Life's a Beach by Claire Cook. Another clearance book from Half Price Books. 41-year-old Ginger is single, childless and living over her parent's garage. She works on creating jewelry when she's not taking care of her sister's kids and wonders if she'll ever be as artistic as her boyfriend, Noah, a glass-blower. It was a rather enjoyable story right up until the very end. I didn't like the ending at all. (288 pages)

How We Do Harm by Otis Brawley, MD  This is the first full price book I've bought in quite a while.  I usually wait and get books used or borrow them from the library.  I read an interview with Dr. Brawley though and he immediately struck me as my kind of doctor.  I have long been baffled at the large percentage of the population that believes both that more medicine equals better medicine and that doctors always know the right answer.  Evidence based medicine is often hard to find and it drives me crazy that more patients don't expect informed consent (which is the only hope a lay person has of teasing out what is evidence based and what isn't) from their healthcare providers.  This book gives fabulous examples of where the U.S. fails in healthcare.  The differences between tradition, or worse: financial, based medicine and evidence based medicine are vast and this book will help you figure out the cues you need to look for to know what you're dealing with. (320 pages)

Girls in Trucks by Katie Crouch. Modern day debutante not sure what to do with her life.  That about sums up this book.  I kept waiting for the really good part, but it never appeared.  Good enough to borrow from a friend and read on the beach, but not really my type of book.  (272 pages)

Prophet's Prey by Sam Brower. This book chronicles the author's experiences with the FLDS.  He is a private investigator that was involved with several legal cases against various members of the FLDS church prior to and during the YFZ ranch investigation in Texas.  Basically, he's kind of become the go-to expert on the FLDS.  As such, the book is a really interesting read because it provides more of the back story about Warren Jeffs and his time as leader of the FLDS.  I felt like I had to take it all with a grain of salt though (which I kind of resented, I don't want to have any reason to give the FLDS any wiggle room).  Brower's obvious reverence of Jon Krakauer, whom I do not respect or trust, was my first problem.  The second was the pains he went to to justify his own membership in the mainstream LDS church and how it is different from the FLDS (I disagree with him strongly on some points).  And lastly, he comes across as quite the bully in his own book.  Much of it is likely justified and necessary in dealing with the FLDS, but the scene where he chases a truck from his house, follows it down the road, blocks it in, and physically confronts the occupants was beyond over the top.  Perhaps he felt direct confrontation (rather than calling the police) was necessary to prove he would fight back and to keep his family safe.  It's not a scene I would've chosen to brag about in a book though and it made him seem more vigilante than the "good guy law abiding investigator" he tries to portray himself to be. (336 pages)

Fifty Shades of Grey by EL James.  Who hasn't heard of this book by now?  A friend had it, so I figured I'd read it.  The whole BDSM debate over this book is over the top, there's not really anything major in it.  What is in it portrays the main characters working together towards a happy, healthy, long-term relationship (over the course of the 3 book series).  It is definitely a typical, cheesy, bodice-ripper romance though.  Plenty of NC-17 language and scenes, so if that specifically is offensive to you, stay away.  (528 pages)

Fifty Shades Darker by EL James. Continuation of the series and it becomes more mystery page turner and less bodice ripper through the last two books.  Still NC-17 though (544 pages)

Fifty Shades Freed by EL James.  (592 pages)

Nurture Shock by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman.  A friend recommended this book a a while back and I tried to get it from the library, but they didn't have it.  I recently realized the library DID have it, the title was just listed as one word in the catalog.  So I picked it up and really enjoyed reading.  It's basically Freakonomics for parenting.  Everything from why it's good if you teens argue with you to the fallacy of determining which children are gifted in elementary school to why kids lie and why they speak when they do.  There are some very interesting things in here that make a lot of sense and the book is well referenced with research studies.  The one word of caution I would lend though is to pay attention to how "we used to think.......but NOW we know........" is implied in the book.  I would venture a guess that in 20 years there will be just as much sentiment debunking half the things in this book.  It's an enlightening read, a lot of it makes a lot of sense, but as with all books of this type, take it with a grain of salt.  (352 pages)

An Abundance of Katherines by John Green.  Book club pick.  This is a young adult book, meant for high school age, I believe.  Colin has been dumped for the 19th time by girl named Katherine.  He's a child prodigy who's done with high school and shows no signs of long term genius.  He's adrift in the world with no idea of what he should be doing and a desire to be great and find a Katherine who will make him happy.  He and his best friend (only friend), Hassan, take off on a road trip and end up in Gutshot, Tennessee, where they go through the typical coming of age, learning about themselves transformation.  Enjoyable beach read.  (272 pages)

Sisterhood Everlasting by Ann Brashares.  I enjoyed the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series, so I was excited to find out this update existed.  The friends are now 30 years old, with very separate lives.  Much like real life, the problems of the 30 year old friends are much more serious than what they faced as teenagers.  Life and death enters the story line.  It's a difficult read.  Very well written plot that draws you in to turning the pages, but difficult to read.  It's not mindless chick lit, it will weigh heavy on your heart even while instilling hope. (384 pages)

How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown.  Maybe you have to be a bit of a science nerd, but I really thought this book was interesting.  You wouldn't really expect an astronomer to write a book that is both enlightening and engaging, but Mike Brown has managed just that.  I found it fascinating to read about how new objects are discovered in space (much less time watching the sky, and much more time hunched over a computer than I expected).  The arguments as to why Pluto does not qualify as a planet are also convincing (and I needed convincing).   (288 pages)

Drop Dead Healthy by AJ Jacobs.  I already posted about this book a little bit on the blog. This is a typical A.J. Jacobs book, fun to read, tidbits of useful information, but a realistic "come on, who's really going to do this" when it's needed. (416 pages)

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff.  Historical fiction often irritates me quite a bit as I try to sort fact from fiction.  I had the same problem with this book.  It is a well written account of two parallel stories.  First is the story of Ann Eliza Young, wife of Brigham Young, leave the LDS church and becoming an outspoken opponent of polygamy.  This is heavily based on history, but was woven into a fictional account of a modern day BYU student researching Ann Eliza's story.  Interspersed in these chapters is a more fictional murder mystery set in a modern day Utah.  Jordan is a "lost boy" from the "First Latter-Day Saints" (highly similar to real life FLDS).  It has been several years since his mom dropped him off on a stretch of highway with nothing but $17.  He learns from the news that his mother has been arrested for murdering his father.  He returns to the FLDS compound to prove her innocence. The two separate stories are interesting, but it feels like they are truly parallel, and never woven together, which makes the whole book feel disjointed.  I would have enjoyed reading each one separately, but the alternating chapters was frustrating.  (514 pages)

Charlotte Figg Takes Over Paradise by Joyce Magnin.  Charlotte Figg has lived under the thumb for her husband, Herman for too many years when he suddenly drops dead of a heart attack one morning.  Charlotte is looking for a change in life and she impulsively sells the house, buys a trailer sight-unseen in a trailer park named "Paradise" and moves away.  Paradise turns out to be less than she expected, to say the least.  On the surface, anyway.  Pretty soon she gets to know the people and learns paradise may be where you least expect it.  The characters are really well developed and you can't help but keep turning pages to find out where each of them have been and where they're going.  I wish there was a sequel.  (400 pages)

Latitude 38 by Ron Hutchison.  Set in the not so distant future, the book explores a United States that has been divided along the 38th parallel.  The setting of the book is south of the 38th parallel, where extreme conservatism has taken over.  A rag tag group gathers to make an illegal crossing of the border.  They all have different reasons for wanting to enter the USSA, United Secular States of America.  The scene south of the border is certainly depressing.  We follow the characters through their travels and several mishaps as they make their way to the border crossing.  We don't get to know much of what life is actually like in the USSA.  Much like the characters in the book, the reader only gets a hazy idea of what life might be like on the other side.  (273 pages)

Ice Journey by Dave Morgan.  This is one man's memoir of dealing with post-Vietnam PTSD by isolating himself as much as possible.  He has a dream of working at Casey station in Antartica, but it's hard to tell if the isolation appeals to him because of the PTSD or if he's overcoming the PTSD to achieve of the dream.  The stories are interesting and as someone who likes to read adventure stories, it was enjoyable to read his accounts of life in Antartica.  He comes across as very selfish, however, which is hard to get past. There is very much a sense of  "I'm following MY dream and my family can wait", which just isn't a level of self-focus I'm comfortable with.   (304 pages)

The Boyfriend Bylaws by Susan Hatler.  This one isn't even worth reading if it's free.  Reads like something written by a middle schooler.  Moves way too fast, very simplified plot, and an ending that sounds like the author just got tired of writing and decided to stop.  The premise is that a girl who has fallen in love with love makes a deal with her best friend to follow a set of rules the friend makes up.  The rules will keep the girl from thinking every first date is "the one".  Of course, this wraps up a week later with her finding "the one".  (130 pages)

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. This was our latest book club pick.  I read this in high school and remember that I liked it, but I didn't really remember the plot at all.  Looking back, I'm not sure I actually understood it when I read it in high school.  I was only in 9th grade and this may have been an instance of my life experience not being far enough along to truly understand the books I was technically capable of reading.  Obviously a classic, set among the wealthy and locally famous in the roaring '20's.  Drunkeness, all night parties, rampant infidelity, an inability to look forward to the consequences of your actions.  And people think 21st century society is so much worse off than it ever has been. I imagine my great-great grandparents had plenty of grumbling to do about "those people" in the 20's.  (180 pages)

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros.  I'm surprised the reviews on this book are so mixed.  I loved it.  I will be adding it to Sierra's reading list in a few years.  This is a series of vignettes describing a young girl's life growing up in a run down neighborhood.  I've read criticism saying the book has an immature view point.  Well, of course, it's written from the view point of a child/teen.  It's not meant to explore the adults' daily life.  I was immediately taken with the writing style.  Some reviews claim that the author tries to hard and it reads like a high school student's essay.  I disagree.  The goal of an author is to transport the reader into the book.  Not to just explain the surroundings, but to make the reader feel as if they are actually there.  Ms. Cisneros' descriptions do exactly that.   (110 pages).

The Candymakers by Wendy Mass.  Sierra was reading this book for school, so I read it also so I could discuss it with her and check her comprehension.  Four children are participating in a candy making contest and you experience events through each of their points of view.  They are all unusual in their own way, and their histories and outlooks on life each have a lesson to teach.  Enjoyable, but not outstanding.  (480 pages)

Matched by Ally Condie.  Dystopian novel set in the future.  Everything is controlled.  What you eat, what you wear, where you work, the objects you are allowed to possess.  People are studied and evaluated their entire lives, then optimal matches are made for marriages.  Cassia is pleasantly surprised to be matched with her long time best friends, Xander.  But then Ky's face flashes on the screen for an instant and for the first time, she begins to question what's really in her best for her. (384 pages)

When She Woke by Hillary Jordan. More dystopian future!  This time, rather than paying for jails, the government changes the color of criminal's to match their crime.  In Hannah Payne's case, she has been marked as a red for having an abortion.  The father is a famous figure, who she refuses to name.  The story line is a futuristic re-writing of The Scarlet Letter and well worth reading.  (352 pages)

Crossed by Ally Condie.  The second book in the Matched series.  This time alternating chapters show us how Cassia and Ky are holding up in the Outer Provinces, while Cassia searches for Ky.(367 pages)

The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt.  Definitely an interesting, if biased, read.  The author's premise is that we are guided by moral intuitions.  We have a gut reaction to what's right or wrong and we justify with logic afterwards.  We bend logic to the gut instinct, rather than actually using logic to make the call in the first place.  Then he lays out the 6 moral foundations we use: care/harm, fairness/cheating, loyalty/betrayal, authority/subversion, sanctity/degradation, liberty/oppression.   The different weight people put on each of these foundations determines their political leanings.  Reading with an open mind, but a grain of salt, offers quite a few insights into why good people can come to two radically different conclusions about what's "right". (448 pages)

Stolen Innocence by Elissa Wall.  Elissa Wall is the former FLDS woman who testified against Warren Jeffs about her underage marriage to her cousin.  The time frame of this book overlaps quite a bit with Prophet's Prey, so after seeing the timeline of events from an outsider's view, it's very interesting to read how things were from the inside.  (464 pages)

You've Gone Too Far This Time, Sir! by Danny Bent.  Danny Bent is an elementary teacher in England when he decides he is going to go teach at a village school in India.  The idea to to make the world smaller for his students and introduce to them to other parts of the world.  Until his students ask how he going to get there.  As he has just taught about environmental impacts of travel, including air travel, the only (in?)sane response is to go by bike.  He does indeed make the trip by bike.  He does a fabulous job of telling the story of his trip through Europe, Russia, Pakistan, China and India.  This book will definitely keep you laughing and turning pages. (240 pages)

Lone Survivor by Marcus Lutterell.  A recounting of Operation Red Wings, where 4 US Navy SEALs were ambushed by Taliban forces and only one man survived after a long ordeal in enemy territory.  If you can get through the first 100 pages of egotistical chest thumping, this is a halfway decent read.  I was a bit tired of the "we're so honorable and we don't take individual credit, but *someone* was honor man of my class!" nonsense by the time I got there though.  There were enough red flags early on that I was prompted to google "lone survivor accuracy".  Surprise, surprise, there is a fair bit of debate on the accuracy of the story.  Which is a damn shame.  The base story is amazing enough.  Embellishments or white lies serve no purpose other than to make me question other things that may well be facts.  At the end of the day, the only person who knows what really happened up there is Marcus Lutterell.  He could be telling the gospel truth, or he may have changed to story to better suit him.  We'll never know.   (464 pages)

The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal, PhD.  Full review available here (272 pages)

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart.  A prequel to the Mysterious Benedict Society.  If you liked the earlier books, this one is a fun read.  Not as good as the original books though.  (480 pages)

Reached by Ally Condie. I was disappointed by the last book in the Matched trilogy.  We meet up with Cassia, Ky, Xander, and Indie as the Rising and Society face off against each other.  The entire book is very predictable.  I found it was still a page turner because I was hoping there was a twist coming.  The twist never materialized though, everything I predicted turned out to be true and I finished the book with a definitely feeling of "meh". (384 pages)

How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen so Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.  I've read this book several times and it has a lot of good information about how to handle kids.  When I remember to use the techniques, they work.  Then I get frustrated and impatient and stop using the techniques and I have to read the book again for a refresher course.  (368 pages)

There's a Seal in my Sleeping Bag by Lyn Hancock. Autobiography about life with a biologist.  Written by and told from the wife's point of view.  The husband comes across as selfish, but it seems they got along well and there were certainly many adventures, starting with the decision to get married on their first date.  This book chronicles many trips to study and collect wildlife along the west coast of the U.S. (292 pages)

Old Before My Time: Hayley Okines' Life with Progeria by Hayley and Kerry Okines.  As the title says, this is an biography/autobiography about a girl with progeria, the disease that causes kids to age too fast.  Part of the book is written by the mom and part is written by the daughter.  I wish it had all be written by Hayley.  The parts written by her mom left a bad taste in my mouth.  I can't quite put my finger on why, something along the lines of "attention seeking", but that phrase is a little more harsh than what I'd like to convey.  (224 pages)

The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick.  This was a book club pick.  Pat Peoples has recently been checked out of a mental health facility by his mother.  He's not sure why he was there or how long he was there, but he's on a mission to be reunited with his wife.  Then he meets Tiffany, a woman with some mental health challenges of her own and Pat has step away from his delusional optimism and take on reality. (304 pages)

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver.  I tried to read The Poisonwood Bible years ago and wasn't interested.  I couldn't get past the first 50 pages.  This time around, it was a real page turner and I couldn't put it down.  Nathan, an evangelical baptist, moves his wife and 4 daughters to the Belgian Congo in the late 1950's to run a mission.  Nothing is as they expected, but Nathan insists on changing the Congo to his ways rather than adapting to the challenges in front of them.  The family is torn apart and rebuilt based on the things they see and the things they have to do. (576 pages)

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. We read this for book club before going to see the movie. Having never read the book before, I have to say I was terribly disappointed. I had no idea it was so simplistic and written in such basic language. I was going to have Sierra read it (8 years old, but an advanced reader), but it was way too easy for her, I don't think it'd hold her interest or be enjoyable. For what it's worth, the new movie was disappointing to, it was more about cramming as many special effects as possible into the show rather than telling a story. (240 pages)


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