Thursday, January 15, 2015

Book Review: Paper Towns, by John Green

Quentin and Margo may have gone from childhood friends riding their bikes around the neighborhood to almost-strangers passing each other in the halls of high school, but Quentin has never lost his love for the bold and quirky girl next door. So when she shows up at his window and asks/tells him to come with her on one of her adventures, he barely hesitates.

After a complicated night of pranks, Quentin goes to school the next morning and discovers that Margo has gone missing. Again. She has done this before, and always returned unharmed, and with another crazy story to tell. Everyone assumes that this is just another one of Margo's crazy escapades.

But as Quentin discovers the clues that Margo has left for him, he decides that this time is different, and that he must track her down. As he races to decipher the mystery of Margo's disappearance, he discovers that Margo herself is actually more of a mystery than he ever realized.

It's no secret that I love John Green. (See my previous reviews of Looking for Alaska and The Fault in Our Stars.) And while I didn't think this book represented his best work, I nevertheless love him still. As with his other books, he was able to suck me into the story right from the beginning, and make me care about getting to know his characters. I love that I can read the conversations that Quentin and his friends are having, and feel like I'm sitting there in the room listening to real people.

There were a couple of problems with this book that I didn't see in Green's other work. One was that the solving-the-mystery part did seem to drag on a bit, with some of the clues being chewed up and spit out too many times. (Typically his stories are much more fast-paced, and that's one of the things that I love about him.) My other problem was with the revelation, when the mystery was finally solved. Without giving anything away, I'll just say that I was kind of angry with Margo. I didn't want to be, but I was.

I've heard other people complain that John Green's characters are the same in every book. And while I can see where they get that, and can agree that there are often strong similarities (particularly between Quentin in Paper Towns and Miles in Looking for Alaska, as most people will tell you) it still wan't enough to bother me too much. If you read enough books by any given author, you will likely notice that they have a very particular writing style and somewhat standard formula for character development. I kind of feel like it's just one of those things that you have to either get over, or stop reading multiple books by the same author.

This book may not have been as emotional as the other two (and was, in fact, the first one that didn't make me cry) but it was still a compelling read. And I am still unwavering in my identification as a solid John Green fan.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

And That's How I Know It's Going to Be a Good Year

I decided last week that 2015 is going to be a good year. I had no proof, and no particular basis for that decision. It was just one of those things that popped into my head, and I decided to go with it.

And although technically the new year started almost a week ago, it didn't actually feel like the new year until yesterday. My husband was back to work, my kids were back to school, and I could settle back in to my routine of normal life. (Or, at least, "normal" life.)

It was lovely. The house was quiet. Things actually stayed clean and put away after I cleaned them and put them away. I got to go grocery shopping by myself. And I got to catch up on the two issues of Entertainment Weekly that had been sitting neglected on my side table. Like I said... lovely.

But there were two other very specific things that happened yesterday, and I decided to let them set the tone for the year.

First, I decided to step on the scales. I had been purposely avoiding that over the holidays. Because calories don't count if you don't think about them. And I knew I wasn't going to do anything about it until after the holidays anyway, so I decided that ignorance was bliss. So of course I got on the scales expecting the worst, and thinking about how much I was going to have to work to take off the extra holiday pounds.

Only... there weren't any extra holiday pounds. In fact, there were 4 pounds fewer than there had been at the beginning of December. I don't know how that happened, but I'll take it. And I'll appreciate it for the awesome way to start a year that it is.

The second thing that happened was at the end of the blissfully quiet trip to the grocery store that I mentioned. I decided to restock my fridge, and picked up a case of Redd's Strawberry Ale (because it's delicious. Trust me. You should totally try it.) Being well past the age of legally purchasing alcohol, I didn't think anything of it. Until the cashier asked for my ID.

I said "really?!" And she said "yeah!" And then she actually looked at it before approving the sale. And I know, some places require ID before any alcohol sales. (But I've been there many times, and they don't.) And I know that some cashiers always make it a habit to card everyone, regardless of their age. But I'm going to choose to believe that she really needed to see my ID because she thought I looked kind of young. Because being almost 37 and having to prove that you're over 21 will make you feel good. Every. Time.

So here's to a fantastic year, my friends. I hope yours is off to as great of a start as mine is.

Friday, January 2, 2015

A New Challenge for a New Year

Because it was so much fun last year, I've signed up to participate in the Goodreads Reading Challenge for 2015. My official goal is to read 36 books this year. My more personal goal is to actually make time to review all of them this time. We'll see how that goes.

I'd like to invite you to participate with me. Because, really, what's not to love about anything that encourages you to read more?

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014 Reading Challenge Recap (Part 2)

And here we continue with my reading list for the 2014 Goodreads Reading Challenge. (If you missed Part 1, you can find it here. If you missed the explanation of the challenge, you can find it here.)

Here are the books that I read during the second half of last year:

The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak

This is an excellent book, but don't pick it up if you're looking for a quick read. You definitely want to take your time and savor it.

There's a Boy in the Girl's Bathroom, by Louis Sachar

This was a fun book to read with the kids. Sachar is not my favorite author of all time, but he is an entertaining story teller. (My main problem with him is that his writing style is a bit awkward at times. I found myself spontaneously editing from time to time, just to make the dialogue flow more comfortably.) But it definitely wasn't enough of a problem to keep me from reading more of his books.

No Talking, by Andrew Clements

This was another fun read with the kids, and I instantly became a big fan of Andrew Clements. He has a very realistic style that is easy to read, and he has the ability to tell a good story with a good lesson without being heavy-handed about it.

The Whole Truth, by David Baldacci

This wasn't my favorite Baldacci book ever, nor was it particularly memorable. It was fast-paced and entertaining, though, like his books usually are, so if you like him you'll probably enjoy it.

King and Maxwell, by David Baldacci

This is the 6th book in the King/Maxwell series. I haven't read all of them yet, but I have read several, and always enjoy them. I like the characters, and the way they interact. It always makes for a fun read.

Legend, by Marie Lu

I like YA novels, and I like dystopian novels, so I was bound to enjoy this one. And it definitely didn't disappoint. I found myself completely immersed in the story, and not wanting to let the characters go. I'm looking forward to reading the rest of the series.

Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn

I loved this book. It completely sucked me it to the story, and was very hard to put down. I spent the first part of the book alternating between "no way, he couldn't have" and "yeah, it's always the husband." The second part was mostly "wait - what?!!" and the third part was a bit of "wow, that's messed up." (On a side note, the movie was also very well done. I recommend both.)

Sideways Stories from Wayside School, by Louis Sachar

Another good one to read with the kids. It's in the same old slightly-awkward Sachar style, but other than that we all enjoyed it. The stories are silly, obviously, but it was always fun to watch the kids make the connections, and figure out why the silliness was important.

Wayside School is Falling Down, by Louis Sachar

Fortunately I bought these as a set, because the kids were ready to go right into the next one as soon as we finished the first.

Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger, by Louis Sachar

Not necessarily as good as the first two, but still fun. The kids really enjoyed all three of them.

Someday, Someday, Maybe, by Lauren Graham

Like many people, I picked this up because I was a fan of Lauren Graham as an actress, and I was curious to see if she could write too. And also like many people, I wasn't disappointed. It's a really cute story (nothing earth-shattering or life-changing, necessarily, but cute.) The characters are likable, which makes their stories compelling. And there is plenty of the wit and whimsy that you would expect from someone like Graham.

Loser, by Jerry Spinelli

I immediately fell in love with the main character, and enjoyed every bit of his story (and instantly became a Jerry Spinelli fan.) The kids loved the story too, and often found the adventures laugh-out-loud funny. It was a great book to read with the kids, and made for some really interesting/thought-provoking discussions.

Holes, by Louis Sachar

This was probably my favorite of all the Sachar books we read this year. Setting my problems with his writing style aside, it was a really good story (for kids and adults.) I'm kind of sad that it took me so long to get around to reading it.

The Mouse and the Motorcycle, by Beverly Cleary

I loved it as a kid, and loved it just as much when I read it again with my kids. This was another time when it was a good thing that I picked up the whole set, because as soon as we finished this my kids were begging to move on to the next one. (We're in the middle of it right now.) I'm so glad that books like this are still around, and still just as popular as they were when I was a kid.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky

Loved it. Loved it. Loved it. It was beautifully written, with such wonderfully flawed and real characters that I couldn't help getting completely lost in their story (and didn't even mind the emotional roller coaster that it took me on.) This was a fantastic way to end the year, and I'm so glad that I finally got to read it.

And there we have it - my 2014 reading list. Please feel free to share your own thoughts. And remember that it's okay to disagree with my opinions. We all have our own tastes, and that's what makes life interesting. :)

2014 Reading Challenge Recap (Part 1)

As you may recall, this past year I committed to the Goodreads Reading Challenge, with a conservative goal of reading 26 books in 2014. I'm happy to say that I met - and exceeded - my goal, ending up with a total of 33 books. (Go me!)

Participating in the challenge was a lot of fun, and I discovered some really great books. I was even good about writing reviews of what I read... for a while.

But then August came, and my kids went back to school. And between my duties as room mom, and art teacher, and library volunteer, and PTO board member, and Girl Scout leader... I got a bit busy, and failed to make time for writing. I have to admit that I'm kind of disappointed with myself for that. But we have to deal with things and move on, so here we go.

Here is a quick recap of the books I read during the first half of the year (when I was still making time to write about them.) You can follow the links if you're interested in the full reviews.

Playing Nice, by Rebekah Crane

Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut

Looking for Alaska, by John Green

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, by Douglas Adams

Innocence, by Dean Koontz

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green

Accidents & Incidents, by Riley Graham

Hounded, by Kevin Hearne

The Lost Symbol, by Dan Brown

Divergent, by Veronica Roth

The 21-Day Sugar Detox, by Diane Sanfilippo

The Mighty Miss Malone, by Christoper Paul Curtis

Stuart Little, by E.B. White

The Dragonslayers, Volume One, by Matthew Maynard

Aspen, by Rebekah Crane

Insurgent, by Veronica Roth

Allegiant, by Veronica Roth

The Tale of Despereaux, by Kate DiCamillo

And there you have the first half (or so) of the year. If you'd like to see my book list for the rest of the year, visit Part 2 of my recap here.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Celebrating Mocksgiving

A few years ago I had strep throat during the third week of November. So rather than try to put together a Thanksgiving feast while running a high fever, I decided (with full support from my family) to push our celebration back a week, and just pretend that it was Thanksgiving once I was feeling better. Thus the term "Mocksgiving" was born.

And if you know me at all, then it should come as no surprise that our postponed celebration was just as festive and happy as it would have been had it been celebrated on the "right" day. Because my family has always subscribed to the "it doesn't matter what the calendar says; we can celebrate whenever we want to" philosophy. And it has served us well over the years.

Once again we found ourselves ignoring the calendar this year. Because of the way that our schedule is going to work out, the kids and I decided to have Grandma over for dinner this past weekend and give thanks a little early. And even though it was kind of a last-minute decision, it still worked out just fine. We were just as happy, we had just as much fun, and we were just as thankful as we would have been if we had waited until Thursday.

In fact, I got so into the celebration that I even suspended my "no Christmas music until after Thanksgiving dinner" rule and turned it on while I made breakfast. An impromptu dance party quickly ensued.

Dinner that evening was fairly simple (as my family tends to prefer.) And the kids got to help, of course.

We made most of our traditional Thanksgiving foods. Including the baked chicken in place of a turkey. Because that's what I do.

Because it's easier. And tastes just as good. And once you get it on the plate you can't really tell anyway.

And the result was exactly what I was going for. Because these two little smiling faces make everything worthwhile.

In the end, it never matters what the calendar says. We can be joyous and happy, no matter the time or the reason. And for that, I am incredibly thankful.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Yellow Butterflies and Funky Music

Yes, friends, it's Monday. And once again that means it's time to reflect on the things that made us happy over the past week. And of course now is also the perfect time to set the tone for a great week to come! 

If you missed my take on LML, you can find it here. If you missed the explanation of LML Monday, you can catch up here.

An Abundance of Butterflies
We have to deal with some unpleasant things here in the Sonoran Desert... scorpions, spiders, and snakes, just to name a few of the worst. But there is another far more pleasant thing that we get to see a lot of this time of year.


 I'm not an expert, but from what I could learn, I believe they are cloudless sulphur butterflies.

I don't know if there are more of them this year, or if I just didn't notice them as much in years past. But lately I have been seeing these happy little yellow butterflies everywhere.

Okay. To be fair, I don't know for sure that they're happy. But I like to believe that they are. At least they always give me a smile

Play That Funky Music
I freely admit that I am not much of a singer, and I have no rhythm for dancing. But for some reason, when I'm driving alone, none of that matters. I can turn up the music, sing along as loudly as I want, and do some awesomely terrible dancing in my seat. I'm sure I look like a crazy person while I'm doing it, but it makes me feel better, so I continue unashamed.

The music varies, and I always enjoy a wide variety. But lately I've discovered that it is absolutely impossible for me to be in anything less than a fantastic mood when I'm singing along to this song:

Ok. I shared mine - now it's your turn! Please leave me a comment and share some of your recent LML moments. 

Focus on the happy thoughts, and let's all have a great week!