2014 Reading Challenge: Success!

I have been a really bad blogger and haven’t posted nearly as much as I had planned to, but all that time not posting has been taken up by reading. I set out to read 50 books this year and I am proud to say that I met my goal with time to spare! The books that finished off my challenge were the following:

Insurgent by Veronica Roth
Allegiant by Veronica Roth
Four by Veronica Roth
The Son of Neptune by Rick Riordan
The Mark of Athena by Rick Riordan
Legend by Marie Lu
Confessions of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella
Shopaholic Takes Manhattan by Sophie Kinsella
Shopaholic Ties the Knot by Sophie Kinsella
Monster by Walter Dean Myers
Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding
A Mango-Shaped Space by Wendy Mass (I picked this up for 25 cents from the library on a whim and ended up loving it.)
The House of Hades by Rick Riordan

The Rick Riordan books were a bit of a struggle to get through. I loved the Percy Jackson series, but this one just doesn’t do it for me. I read them more so because they were in the house and I needed something to read, rather than because I was really interested in them. The House of Hades took me a couple of months to finish because I kept putting it down and starting something else.

The Shopaholic books were a bit of a surprise. I found them all on the used books rack at my library, so I grabbed them and figured I could fly right through them and quickly add three books to my list. I actually enjoyed them! The first one is my favorite, but the other two were cute and entertaining as well.

As I mentioned above, I bought A Mango-Shaped Space simply because there was a cat on the cover, the book was in really good condition, and it was super cheap. Even if I hated it, it was worth a quarter to find out. I had no idea what it was about, but I ended up loving it. I’m a sucker for animals, especially books about cats, and this one did not disappoint. I don’t really want to say anything about it because it is so unique and lovely, and I want you to just pick it up and read it blindly and then fall in love like I did.

I’m not setting a reading goal for 2015. I have a bunch of Sailor Moon manga that I want to read, and I felt like with all the pictures, they wouldn’t count as actual books. However, I do still plan to read as much as possible. In fact, my husband bought me FangirlAttachments, and I’ll Give You the Sun for Christmas. I’ve already started Fangirl and am having a hard time putting it down to go to sleep.

A Love/Hate Relationship with Fall

Tomorrow is October first. The leaves are starting to change and cover the ground. The sun is setting earlier and earlier with each passing day. The temperatures are dropping, resulting in needing heat in the morning, air conditioning on the drive home, then heat again at night. It’s almost time to pull out the sweaters and faux fur-lined boots! Dunkin Donuts is selling pumpkin muffins! Apples are on sale every week at the grocery store!

To me, Fall means comfy clothes and yummy food. The problem with this is that I have completely fallen off the healthy eating/Weight Watchers bandwagon. I’ve only been making a pitiful attempt to track: if I don’t know the points in something, I don’t track it. I’ve been eating as much as I want of whatever I want, whenever I want. Needless to say, I’m not feeling too hot physically or emotionally, and I can barely zip my pants (no, seriously).

I told myself at the beginning of September that I would strictly follow WW until the holidays so that I could get back on track, feel better, and then not feel horribly guilty about stuffing my face with first candy, then turkey/potatoes/mac and cheese/pie, then cookies and cakes and more candy. Not to mention the wine. The holiday season is just not complete without wine.

I bought a couple cans of pumpkin puree just to have, because you never know. And pumpkin is a vegetable, so it’s totally healthy. Then this happened:


Those are homemade pumpkin donuts coated in cinnamon sugar. They are only 5 points each, which really, is not as bad as they could be, but that’s still 5 extra points that I don’t need every day. The recipe made EIGHTEEN of these delicious wonders, which is great, except I’m the only one in the house who will eat them. To be fair, hubby did taste them and said they were good (but he wasn’t interested enough to eat an entire one). I ended up dumping most of them because I would have had to eat, like, three per day before they started to go bad.

I’m starting over tomorrow morning. I stocked up on yogurt and apples and bananas and chicken breasts and seltzer and Diet Coke. I have veggies in the freezer and plan to get in as much walking as possible before the sun starts setting at 4:30pm. I’ll clean off the elliptical and force myself to use it when it gets too dark and cold to safely go wander around outside. I will get back on the wagon and I will feel better.

Books #27 through #37 of 2014

After a little friendly encouragement from a fellow blogger, I’m back! I’ve been debating all summer whether or not I want to keep writing here. Does anyone care what I have to say? Should I really be putting myself out there for the world to see? Is it safe to do this? The world is full of weirdos, you guys.

But, I’ve come to the conclusion that (1) It doesn’t really matter if anyone cares what I have to say because I started this blog for me, not anyone else, (2) I enjoy writing and as long as I’m careful and don’t share too much personal info, I should be fine. So here I am, and I have quite a bit of catching up to do.

I’ll be honest – I have no motivation to go back through the last ten books I’ve read and write individual reviews. I looked at my reading challenge on Goodreads and there are some books on there that I couldn’t properly summarize in a real review even if I tried. Here is a quick recap:

Book #27: After You’d Gone by Maggie O’Farrell
This story is told from Alice’s point of view, at times skipping into the past to explain her relationship with a man, and then fast forwarding to the present day as she’s lying unconscious in a hospital. Was she in an accident? Did she try to kill herself? This one was dark and kind of depressing, but I also really enjoyed it. It kept me guessing the whole way through and I greatly enjoyed it overall.

Book #28: The Giver by Lois Lowry
I was beyond excited to read this, because I felt like it was a book most of my peers had read in school at some point. I felt like I was missing out. Plus, it was short and I figured it would be a fast read, thus bumping up my read count. Turns out this wasn’t the book that everyone had read – I was thinking of Bread Givers. Oops. That’s ok, though, because this was a delightful read. I didn’t know what to expect, really, and I was pleasantly surprised to learn about Jonas’ world and his experiences. I don’t really know how to describe this one, but I would recommend it to anyone. My only complaint is the ending, which I won’t spoil. Let’s just say that I interpreted the ending one way and then after researching the book, I was disappointed.

Book #29: Finding Me by Michelle Knight
I can remember sitting at work and seeing the breaking news alert on my computer that several young women had been rescued from a “house of horrors” in Cleveland. I had never even heard their names before, let alone their story, but I was immediately drawn in and wanted to learn more about them. When I discovered that Michelle Knight was writing a book, I knew I had to read it. She spared no details, which meant that certain excerpts were difficult to read. It pained me to read about what she experienced, not just during her time held captive, but in her earlier life as well. Although at times it read a bit child-like, I appreciated the simple approach and her down-to-earth writing style.

Book #30: Every Day by David Levithan
A is a disembodied entity (soul? spirit?) who wakes up every morning in a different body. S/he takes over a different person’s life every morning and has to function as that person for 24 hours without causing too much permanent disruption. This proves difficult when s/he wakes up in a family who speaks a different language, or if s/he can’t access the person’s memories quickly enough to respond correctly in a conversation. One day A meets a girl and breaks all his/her rules about how involved to be. A unique and fun concept, the only problem I had with this book is that you have to suspend all belief in science and reality, and allow yourself to believe whatever the author tells you.

Book #31: Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
When her daughter, Amelia, mysteriously dies at school after falling from the roof, Kate begins to investigate what actually happened. She doesn’t believe the theory that Amelia got caught cheating and then killed herself – she knows there is more to the story. We get to hear from multiple characters and the story flashes back between the recent past and the present to reconstruct what exactly happened to Amelia and what led her to the roof that fateful day.

Book #32: The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey
This turned out to be one of my favorite recent reads. It took me over a month to finish, including some overdue fines at the library because I brought it on vacation with me. It wasn’t especially difficult to get through, so I’m not entirely sure what took me so long, other than I was completely engrossed in Gemma’s life and I wanted to really read every word. It follows Gemma from the time she is a little girl up until she is a young adult. We experience her parents’ death, her move to Scotland to live with her uncle, his death and her expulsion from his house, her adventures in boarding school and as a nanny. I felt like I was watching a movie as I was reading. This was well-written with just enough drama to make it interesting, but not so much as to make it unbelievable.

Book #33: The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
This was another one on my must-read list because I never read it in school. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. I won’t bother with a summary since it’s such a well-known book and movie, but I just could not connect to these characters or care about them at all. Perhaps the worst part for me was the dialogue – it felt so uncomfortable. The movie actually came on TV the day after I finished reading it, and I thought maybe that would help me appreciate it more. My husband was excited and told me it was one of his favorite movies of all time. It did nothing for me. I am glad I gave it a chance, though, because now at least I have my own opinion of it.

Book #34: Every You, Every Me by David Levithan
I was excited about the concept of this book: that it is impossible for anyone to truly know every side of a person. Everyone has secrets and everyone projects a certain personality depending on who they’re with and what the situation is. However, the book really fell short of my expectations. I learned that the author would receive a photo from a colleague and then write the story around the photo. This really showed in the finished product because the whole thing felt forced and disconnected, and well, just plain strange.

Book #35: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
My husband is really into comic books and he had heard that this graphic novel was supposed to be very good. He’s wanted it forever and he’s been trying to convince me to give it a try. I ended up buying volumes one and two for him for our anniversary, and I picked it up because I was out of books and jonesing for something to read. I can’t tell you how pleasantly surprised I was. It’s based on the author’s life growing up in Iran, and it spans the time form when she was a very young girl until she was a teenager. I loved hearing about the wars and fighting from a child’s perspective. She had a basic understanding of what was going on, but she also just wanted to hang out with her friends and have fun. I highly, highly recommend this.

Book #36: Persepolis 2 by Marjane Satrapi
Naturally, since I enjoyed the first volume so much, I was excited to continue reading about Marjane’s experiences. I don’t know if my expectations were too high, or if I just didn’t care for it, but this one was a struggle to get through. The author came across as somewhat whiny, and I couldn’t relate to her life choices at all. I found myself rolling my eyes and judging her a lot, even though I didn’t mean to. Whereas the first one made me smile, laugh, and even cry, this one made me just want to hurry up and finish it so I could move on to something else.

Book #37: The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan
I absolutely loved the Percy Jackson series of books. I can remember starting to read this one several years ago, but then I think Hurricane Irene happened and our life got turned upside down and this book got lost in a box somewhere for quite awhile. I decided to pick it back up and start from the beginning since I couldn’t remember anything about it. It’s no Percy Jackson, but it was fun and entertaining. It did connect to Percy because you do get to revisit Camp Half Blood and some of the original characters. I felt kind of lukewarm about it while I was reading, but then the ending completely left me hanging and wanting to continue the series.

And now I’m working on Insurgent, which I’m loving, although not as much as Divergent. I’ve heard that a lot of people were disappointed with this one and the last installment, but I’m trying not to let that cloud my judgement.

Book #26 of 2014: Nineteen Minutes

Not long ago, there was a lot of controversy going around on Facebook about Nineteen Minutes. People were enraged because it was a reading list book for high schoolers and they felt that the “graphic” sex scene in it was inappropriate for this age group. I was intrigued and wanted to see what everyone was so up in arms about.

Nineteen Minutes chronicles the lives of several people and how they are affected by a school shooting in their sleepy small town. The story shifts between various points of view: Josie, one of the victims and former friend of the shooter; Alex, Josie’s mother; Peter, the shooter; and Peter’s parents and attorney. The book explores the idea that bullying can lead to someone eventually snapping and entering a dissociative state, specifically one in which the victim fights back against those people who have wronged him or her.

I feel odd saying that I enjoyed this book because of the subject matter, but it did start out on a good note. As I read on, I felt like there was a lot of dragging and I skimmed a lot of parts. I feel like a good hundred pages could have been cut out. There was an excess of rambling by Peter’s mother about how guilty she felt for somehow failing him and having him turn out to be a murderer. I know the point was to humanize the shooter, to see him as a real person instead of just a killer, but it just went on and on and on. And the “graphic” sex scene that everyone is so concerned about? Really, people? It lasted for about a paragraph and wasn’t any worse than any other similar scenes I’ve read in other books.

Overall, this one was OK. I was glad when it was over because I got tired of it pretty quickly. I felt awkward the entire time, especially during Peter’s parts, because I wanted to feel bad for him about what he endured, but I could only feel for him so much. I mean, he murdered people, some of whom had never done a thing to him in his entire life. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Book #25 of 2014: Divergent

I was a little resistant to read Divergent, only because everyone has had such high praise for it and I was afraid of being let down. People have likened it to The Hunger Games, and after reading it I have to say that I agree. I haven’t seen the movie yet, but I have obviously seen the reviews so I had a hard time not picturing the actors in my head as I went along through the story.

In the author’s imagined world, society is broken down into five groups: Abnegation, Candor, Dauntless, Erudite, and Amity. On one day each year, all sixteen year olds must take a test which determines their rightful place in the world and then they have to decide whether to follow the test results or break away into a group of their choosing. Beatrice was born into a Abnegation family and has lived by their rules for the past sixteen years, but she can’t help but feel that maybe she truly belongs elsewhere. Her choice will affect not only her, but her family, and even society as a whole.

This was definitely a page-turner. I had a hard time finding stopping points late at night when I knew I had to go to sleep if I had any hope of functioning at work the next day. Often I had to just force myself to stop, and then I would pick it up at lunch the next day or as soon as I got home from work. I thought the premise was original and the storyline unfolded at a good pace. There were a lot of cliffhangers and surprises, some of which were easy to figure out in advance, but that didn’t detract from the overall story. The characters were well written and likable — for the most part.

I enjoyed this book so much that instead of borrowing the sequels from the library, I’m just going to purchase the set. I have been told by various people that the last book is disappointing, but I’m ok with that. This is definitely a series to own.

Book #24 of 2014: Looking for Alaska

Looking for Alaska is basically the exact same book as Paper Towns, except in a different setting and the characters have different names. That being said, I actually enjoyed this book – until the very end and John Green’s need to ruin a good thing with lots of forced depth and introspection. Also, did we have to read such detailed accounts of the kids smoking every couple of pages? Lame.

Miles “Pudge” Halter decides that he wants to go away to boarding school to find the Great Perhaps. What he actually finds are a roommate nicknamed The Colonel and the completely-unattainable-yet-tragically-flawed girl down the hall, Alaska Young. Of course she has a boyfriend, and of course Pudge falls for her and thinks he may actually have a chance with her. All of the characters are unrealistic in that super-intellectual-beyond-their-years Dawson’s Creek way, except less charming and less likable. Long story short, Alaska dies and Pudge and his friends spend the rest of the book playing detective to try and figure out whether it was an accident or a suicide.

The saving grace was that I felt like I could relate to Alaska – not that I am anything like her, aside from the fact that I understood her guilt and anger and emptiness. That part of her character was very well-written and believable. The rest of her was annoying and snotty and entitled, which I suppose was the author’s attempt to make her more true to life. Sure, she’s gorgeous and everyone likes her, but she’s not perfect. She’s mean and uses people and doesn’t really care about anyone except for herself.