My Kind of Girls

So, I LOVE the Gilmore Girls!  It’s one of my favorite shows EVER!  For years, I’ve been working on Rory’s Recommended reading list, but somehow, last year, I missed The Gilmore Girls Challenge, but I’d definitely joining this year. I’m going to be brave and join at the Rory level (10 books) which I haven’t picked yet, but I’ll post my list when I do.  Yay!  Gilmore Girls!

Something New

What’s in a Name 4 is a new challenge for me. This past year, my first year of joining any challenges, I stuck to pretty general challenges with loads of freedom as I thought I’d have more success, but it sounds fun to try to expand my horizons and explore some books that might be out of the ordinary for me.

One More Time….

So, last year, I signed up for just a few Reading Challenges thinking I’d be able to meet them no problem as I was pretty selective only signing up for four with some pretty significant overlap.  Alas, the best laid plans and all that.  I am proud of the number of books I read, but I really didn’t do well with the TBR 2010.  In fact, I’m pretty sure my students would call it an epic fail: I only read 3 (I’m finishing 3 as we speak) of the 12.  So, I feel that I really HAVE to try this one more time: surely I can decide on 12 books at the beginning of the year and finish them by the end!  So, my second challenge shall again be TBR 2011 (the original, but I did consider the Lite version).

I Should be Grading

I definitely should be grading.  In fact, I had totally planned to grade while I watched the Packers game, but then I got sucked in to looking at Reading Challenges for 2011.  I didn’t do great with the actual challenges this year (I think I’ll finish 2), but by New Year’s Eve, I will have read over 70 books which is more than I’ve read in years, so I’m happy.  So, I just signed up for my first challenge for the new year!  I love the 2010 Reading Challenge, so I’m going to do the 2011 Challenge this year!  Can’t wait to get started, but I have to finish the 2010 Challenge first!

What Reading Challenges are you joining?

Summer Reading

“Summertime, and the livin’ is easy….”  At least, that’s the theory.  Unfortunately for me, my summertime was filled with a number of things other than reading, so I didn’t get to do as much reading as I wanted, and I definitely didn’t do as much blogging as I intended, but I guess that’s life, and when it comes down to it, I’d always rather lay in the hammock and read. :-)  Unfortunately, that means another catch up post, but I guess it gets the job done.  Tonight, I’m only doing fiction, and as usual, I’ll be grouping some and skipping some, but that too is life.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians series by Rick Riordan

Genre: Teen, Adventure Fantasy

I loved this series!  In the first book, Percy discovers that he is a demi-god, son of his mortal mother and Greek god father.  In each book, Percy, with his friends Annabeth and Grover, must successfully complete quests in order to, ultimately, save the world.  The books follow a pretty typical hero cycle, but are creative in the reinvention, explanation, and reference to many different aspects of Greek Mythology which, according to the books, shifts in physical proximity with the shifting of power in the world, so Mt. Olympus is now above the Empire State Building, Hades is under LA, and the labyrinth passages meander under all of America. The author also uses pretty typical American landmarks in creative ways which keeps you wondering.

Rating: 4/5

Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah

Genre: Modern, Character

Chronicling the life of two girls who meet and become best friends in 7th grade, this book really does go through the ups and downs of life that these girls face as they grow up and take different paths in life.  The book follows these friends through the decades as they experience high school, college, first jobs, career and family.  These women really travel the hard road of life together and, literally, drop everything when the other is in need.  At times, it is doubtful that the relationship will survive, but, ultimately, when it comes to it, they are “best friends forever.”

This is definitely a book that I had a love/hate relationship with.  I loved the authentic feel of the relationship between these two and resonated with the ups and downs of their friendship.  The hate relationship with the book came at the end.  It’s sad–really, really, really sad.  So sad, in fact that I thought about it for days and started crying every time I thought about it or talked about it.  I’d definitely recommend it, but be prepared for tears….

Rating: 4/5

Nightwalker series by Jocelynn Drake

Genre: Vampire Fantasy

Mira has everything she wants: a pretty solitary lifestyle and control of her beloved city.  That is, she has everything she wants until a vampire slayer tracks her to tell her that her worst enemies, the naturi, are working to break the seal and release their queen from the prison she’s been in for the past centuries.  As little as she likes working with one who has killed so many nightwalkers, she abhors the naturi and will do anything to stop them.  In the process, Mira uncovers plots and schemes, kills her share of naturi, and discovers more about herself than she ever wanted to know.

I enjoyed these books as a nice diversion and some light reading, but I didn’t find them to be much more than that.

Rating: 2.5/5

The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen by Syrie James

Genre: Spin off

In an old house where Jane Austen once lived, the long awaited, long anticipated memoirs have been found. At least, that is the guise under which James writes her novel.  Weaving in details from Austen’s books, James explains how Austen’s life inspired much of her writing as she tells the elusive story of Austen’s life.

I enjoyed this book.  I loved recognizing the bits and pieces of each of Austen’s novels, and I loved James’ telling of how Austen became the author I love.

Rating: 4/5

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Genre: Classic

Fanny Price, not a typical Austen heroine, is the daughter of a poor sister who married for love.  To help her poor Sister Price, Fanny’s Aunt concocts a plan for Fanny to come live with their third sister and husband, to be raised at Mansfield Park, to be given advantages that Fanny could never hope to have in her home.  The story follows Fanny as she grows up, falls in love, receives a proposal from the wrong man, comforts her family at Mansfield Park, and eventually, begins the life she’s always wanted with the man she loves.

I love Jane Austen. Period. The end.  That being said, this isn’t my favorite of her books.  Fanny is too perfect, and her aunts are too despicable.  Add to that a love story that is so subtle it’s easy to miss, and you get my less than favorite Austen, but it’s okay because it’s still Austen, and I still love her stories!

Rating: 4/5

At Home in Mitford by Jan Karon

Genre: Modern Romance

Following the life of Father Tim, the rector of the local Episcopal church, the story covers the trials and troubles of a small town shepherd. Father Tim must contend with everything from raising a boy, praying for a heart transplant, helping a neighbor, and discovering a jewel thief to taking a vacation, perhaps the most difficult of his trials.

I read this book because my mom has, for some time, been a fan.  I liked it and thought it was sweet, but it was a little too sweet, too perfect; I didn’t find enough realistic humanity to make the characters or stories believable.

Rating: 2/5

School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister

Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Character

Lillian’s is a fantastic restaurant, but one Monday night each month, Lillian offers a cooking class, and each class lasts for several months giving the students and teacher an opportunity to really know one another.  While this cooking class is about food, it is about much more than food simply tasting good: it is about food evoking memories and dreams.  Interspersed between each class, each character takes center stage as we come to know the memories and dreams of a lifetime.

Initially, I was a little hesitant about this book, but as I began to really understand and connect to the characters, I began to see how truly beautiful this book is.  As cheesy as it sounds, I really did laugh and cry with these characters as I got glimpses of their lives and loves.  With essentially no traditional plot, the entire focus is on the memories and dreams of the beautiful characters.

Rating: 4/5

Sookie Stackhouse Novels

As per usual, the end of school has me reading mostly mindless, fun, engaging novels.  This year, I’ve turned to Sookie Stackhouse to fill the void.  So far, I’ve read the first four novels and have mostly enjoyed the quirky main character and the crazy predicaments she seems to get herself into.

Dead until Dark, Living Dead in Dallas, Club Dead, and Dead to the World by Charlaine Harris

Genre: Fantasy

Each of the novels is based on the life of Sookie Stackhouse, a barmaid at a local bar in Bon Temps, Louisiana.  While some might think the life of a simple barmaid would be pretty ordinary, Sookie’s life is anything but ordinary.  To begin, Sookie can read the minds of other humans which has always made others keep their distance.  Add to that Sookie’s entrance into the world of Vampires and other supernaturals, and you get some crazy adventures. From murders in her small town, to a missing vampire in TX, the disappearance of her vampire boyfriend, to an amnesiac vampire running down her road, you never really know what will happen in Sookie’s life next.

I’ve enjoyed these books.  They are very engaging and light which is exactly what I need right now as my brain is so fried from finishing up end of the year things at school.  At points they are predictable, but I find I don’t even mind that as there are definite moment of surprise as well.  The character of Sookie is fantastic.  She’s a strong, independent woman who sometimes wishes she didn’t have to be so strong and independent; in that, she is very real.   I’ve enjoyed these and will continue to enjoy them.

Rating: 3.5/5

Another Catch-up Post

I seem to always fall sadly behind in posting about the books I’m reading.  I’m pleased with the progress I’ve made on my reading challenges and really have been happily reading away. Below are my thoughts on some of the books I’ve read so far this year.

Wake, Fade, and Gone by Lisa McMann

Genre: Teen Fiction, Fantasy

This trilogy is about Janie, a high school student, who falls into other people’s dreams.  Through her life, Janie has had much to deal with: an alcoholic mother and absent father are just the beginning.  Add to that Janie’s constant trips into others’ dreams, and we have an interesting main character who is simply trying to have a normal life.  As Janie learns to control her ability, she must make difficult decisions which will affect her and Cabel, her boyfriend and partner, for the rest of their lives.

I enjoyed this series.  It was a really quick read with an interesting premise.  However, were the books much longer, I’m not sure I would have made it through as I didn’t find the writing to be great or the story/characters to be all that complex.  Of course, the target audience is pre-teens.

Rating: 2.5/5 stars

The Betrayal of the Blood Lily by Lauren Willig

Genre: Historical Romance

Miss Penelope Deveraux has ignored everyone’s warnings about keeping her honor intact and has, therefore, had to become Lady Frederick Staines and move to India with her new husband.  Like all of Willig’s fantastic heroines, Lady Staines has a mind of her own and uncovers treachery at the station while dealing with the insufferable Alex Reid.

Although this book was quite different from the rest of Willig’s Pink Carnation books, I enjoyed it.  I found Penelope a fascinating and fun character, and Willig’s storyline and details definitely kept me guessing.  As I’ve been reading the Pink Carnation series since the beginning, I’ve also really enjoyed seeing Willig’s writing style grow.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

The Goose Girl,  Princess Academy, Book of a Thousand Days, and Enna Burning by Shannon Hale

Genre: Teen Fiction, Fairytale/Fantasy

All about princesses, these books combine problems princesses have with a bit of fantasy as each of the princesses have a different ability: talking to animals and wind and fire, healing through song, communicating through memory.  In each book, the princess finds love and saves the day with her ability.

I first heard of Shannon Hale when I read Austenland. Since I enjoyed that, I decided to pick up some of her other works. I enjoyed these, especially as books to listen to.  The stories are unique, yet familiar as they follow a fairytale type structure with some unique elements like the abilities each of the girls have.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Vanity and Vexation by Kate Fenton

Genre: Romance

Following the shooting of a new Pride and Prejudice miniseries, this story takes place in a small, undisturbed town in England.  As the star of the show falls in love with a local and the director tries not to fall in love with his best friend, a story similar to Pride and Prejudice ensues.

Generally, I really like stories that take their inspiration from Pride and Prejudice. However, I found this one to be flat.  I didn’t ever really get into the characters and I found lots of gaps in the story.

Rating: 1/5 stars

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

A story about women in the South in the 1960s, this isn’t a typical book about racial prejudice and intolerance.  It is a book that deals with these topics in more everyday ways: not with organized protests but with a view of the women who worked in the houses of the “Southern women” with the power.

This was an amazing book, partly because it’s written well, but mostly because it deals with very serious themes in unique ways. I think we often think of Civil Rights in terms of the big events, but there were also amazing women dealing with these issues every day as they were working in the homes of some powerful Southern women.

Rating: 5/5

The Sugar Queen and Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

Genre: Fantasy Romance

Both romances with a splash of fantasy, these books deal with strong women who must find themselves before they can find love.  The Sugar Queen is about  a woman who replaces real relationships with sugar until a woman shows up in her closet who need help.  By looking outside herself and helping this woman, the main character finds her own strength to live her own life.  Garden Spells is about two sisters who must overcome their own issues to reach out to each other and to others.  Their garden is something of a town mystery with its magical apples and edible flowers that encourage specific actions.

I really liked these books.  They were well-written, sweet, and magical.  I enjoyed reading the characters’ journeys as they overcame their issues and found themselves and love.  I found I wanted each of these stories to continue much longer than they did.

Rating: 4/5

Prada and Prejudice by Mandy Hubbard

Genre: Teen Fiction

Always an outcast among those at her high school, the main character decided to take a school trip to London.  While there, she buys a pair of Prada shoes which are sure to change her status.  When she trips on the way out of the store, she finds herself in Jane Austen’s England.  While there, she finds love and learns what is really important in life, and it isn’t the opinion of the popular kids back home.

I like this book.  It was a quick, fun read as it transported the main character and the reader back to a very different time in London’s history.  It’s interesting to see the main character’s modern sensibilities and habits in light of Victorian conventions, and it’s interesting to see the main character learn some lessons that transcend time.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars

Murder at Longbourn by Tracy Kiely

Having just found her boyfriend cheating, the main character, Elizabeth, decides to go to visit her favorite Aunt and help with Aunt Winnie’s New Year’s Eve party.  When the New Year’s Eve Murder Mystery dinner turns deadly for one guest, Elizabeth sets out to find the murderer and clear her Aunt’s name.

I loved this book.  It was absolutely one of my favorite Jane Austen adaptations.  Rather than follow the story of Pride and Prejudice, the author takes the characters from the story and weaves each character into this story in a new and unique way.  Add to that a great mystery which kept me guessing to the very end as well as a smidge of romance and some wonderful wit and allusion to other literature, and you’ve got a great read.

Rating: 4.5/5

Jane Bites Back by Michael Thomas Ford

What if Jane Austen, Lord Byron, and Charlotte Bronte had never died?  In that question, you have the premise of this book.  Jane, a bookshop owner and vampire, has finally gotten her latest manuscript published after only 116 rejections over the last century.  Jane finds that publishing a book this time is a bit different than it was in the 1800s, especially with Lord Byron and Charlotte Bronte to complicate matters.

While not a real deep read, this was engaging and definitely fun.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Soulless: An Alexia Tarabotti Novel by Gail Carrige

Genre: Fantasy, Historical, Romance

Alexia has never been a typical young woman.  In fact, with her dark skin, independent mind, and soulless existence all inherited from her Italian father, Alexia isn’t anything like her sisters or any other single in society.  With some scientists experimenting on roving vampires, Alexia and Lord Maccon, alpha of the local werewolf pack, find themselves in some interesting predicaments as they get to the bottom of the experiments.

An interesting view of what life might be like if vampires and werewolves were simply part of society, I enjoyed the mystery and uniqueness of the story as well as the characters.  However, I did find it a bit predictable in places.

Rating: 3/5 stars

Weekly Geeks: Libraries

What’s your earliest memory of a library? What was it like for you? Were you more likely to hang out in the gym or the library when you were in school?

How’s the health of the library system in your community? How do you support your local library? How often do you check out books from the library vs. buying books? Tell us what your favorite library is like and include some photos if you can.

When I was a little girl, my mom was the head librarian at our small town library.  While my older brother would go off to school, I would go to the library and play under my mother’s desk or in the stacks, or at the amazing tables that were just my size. I also loved “helping” which involved me being more in the way, I’m sure, but mom and the other librarians always let me feel like I was part of things.

As I grew up, mom quit working, but the library was still a huge part of my life.  I would jump on my bike and wander through the stacks looking for books that looked interesting and then fill my bike basket full of books that I would read and exchange in under a week.  When we came to Colorado to visit family on the farm, we would go to the bookmobile and check out a big box of books to keep us busy when we weren’t helping move pipe or feed the calves.  In high school, I still loved the library and would wander the stacks (this time the adult fiction) looking for books to transport me to new worlds, but it also became a place where I could sit for hours and find all I needed to become an “expert” to write that dratted research paper.

After college, I started buying more and more books rather than frequenting the library.  However, in the last few years, I’ve returned to the joy of libraries.  While I don’t have the time to browse through the stacks as I once did, I do almost always have something checked out from the library and have, for the last few years, been an active part of my library’s adult reading program.

I am so grateful for libraries and the education and entertainment they offer for so little, and each time I read a book from the library, I can’t help but think about the stories and circumstances of the other readings of the book.

Finally, Spring Break

My reading goals for this year are to 1. structure my reading more through the Reading Challenges, and 2. be better about blogging about my reading.  While I’ve still got room to improve, I think I’m getting better at both: I’ve been good about logging what books I’ve read, and so far each has fit into a challenge AND I semi-blogged in January which is already better than last year. :-)

Today, I find myself sitting in an adorable house in New Mexico.  I’ve brought no papers to grade, no planning to do; I’ve only brought books to read, and it’s wonderful!  I just finished Vanity and Vexation by Kate Fenton–a cute modern day adaptation of Pride and Prejudice.  While it took me more than half the book to decide if I really liked it, I, ultimately, came around in the end.  Now, I’m off to start The Help by Kathryn Stockett which my mother recommended.

I’ll do more blogging before my reading time in Santa Fe is over, but for now let me say that everyone should get to do a reading vacation at least once a year.  This is my first, and I’m pretty sure I’ll need another one next week.

Stories are the stuff of life….