Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Year End Contest

So I was thinking of a new contest I wanted to run to finish the year off, and realized that I never really ended the contest called "Balderdash" that I ran back in September. I know, I know, you wish you could be awesome and organized like me. There were a lot of marvelous entries, Nemesis' and CaLM Rapids' entries being the most notable. Jenny's "skint" still has me grossed out. Still, I think my favorite two were Loradona's and Chrisw's. Here they are:

1. v (transitive) when you recycle the coffee grounds for more than one pot of coffee. "Hey, this is disgusting; did you rejava the coffee?"
2. v (intransitive) The reaction to drinking recycled coffee. "That was so disgusting it made me rejava."

(plural) a pubju is the newest dog mix/hand-bag size accessory for celebrities. It's a poodle/bulldog/jack-russel/shit-zu. The only thing that exceeds their ugliness is their price tag.
It is rumored that Jessica Simpson is in negotiations to buy one since she lost her beloved maltipoo "Daisy" to a coyote.

A friend of Paris Hilton revealed that when Paris learned Jessica Simpson was getting one she was overheard as saying: "Really, I wouldn't be caught dead with one of those bitches."

When Slim won my last contest I waxed very poetic about how wonderful she is. I will attempt the same here for my current winners. I don't know Loradona very well--only through her blog. She is a committed teacher who wants to teach her students to think for themselves. I can say a little bit more about ChrisW whom I've known for many years. She is, quite simply, one of the best friends I've ever had. I've often mentioned her here, and most of my good back-in-the-day anecdotes involve her. To get an idea about how connected I am to his favorite lass, I'll tell a story from my first year of teaching.

I mostly taught sophomore biology at my first job. The school where I taught was, coincidentally, fed by the junior high where ChrisW taught. After just a few months teaching, one of my students said that I reminded her so much of her 9th grade science teacher. And yes, her teacher was ChrisW. She was my one friend who was there for me after my mission--everyone else had moved on. . . she was like a lifeline to me during a very difficult time.

But enough of that! They are the winners. Each can claim a $10 iTunes card or $10 Barnes and Noble gift card by contacting me on Hotmail at scienceteachermommy.

Now for the current contest. . .

This year I have kept track of the books I've read on a list in the right hand column of my blog. It is quite a long ways down, so I doubt most of you have actually noticed it. In an attempt to tie up some loose ends, and to give you all something to read besides my whining, I am going to do a quick review of each book of the "thumbs up" or "thumbs down" variety.

To enter the contest, you just have to give me a recommendation for next year. I will randomly choose one suggestion for every ten comments and send you an Amazon gift card so that you can choose some from my list too. This is similar to what Janssen does, but her contest is monthly. Yeah, she's awesome like that. I've included titles, but not authors or links (except to blog posts where they were already reviewed). The list is chronological for when I read them, the oldest books are at the end of the list.

  • The Pilot's Wife--I only started this book last night. I'm not sure what I think of it yet, and so far it seems to be more of a character sketch of what extreme grief is like. The jacket cover hints at some kind of mystery which sounds interesting.
  • Life of Pi--This was my second reading of this book, and I loved it even more the second time around. It is a fascinating mix of religion and science, and has something for everyone. Besides being a fantastic adventure story, it is just dang funny. If your book group hasn't done this one, you really should.
  • Eragon--This was also a second reading, but I did not like this book nearly as well this time. His characters are in constant motion, literally, and it is so clearly a first installment that it almost seems incomplete. An excellent first novel effort, particularly for an author so young, but really not great. Paolini's created world is wonderfully imaginative and exciting, but too much of the book reads like exposition instead of plot.
  • The Memory Keeper's Daughter-- Blech. I'd heard so much about this book and had high hopes. I just really didn't like any of the characters. The mother in this story is characterized in such a way that makes me think she would have allowed her marriage to self-destruct regardless of her husband's behavior, particularly with the stress of caring for a child with a disability. Worth a pass.
  • Heart of Darkness--I actually listened to a free Librovox recording of this one. It was exceptional. I have such a love for this book. I once read that it was also the Unibomber's favorite book. I have no idea what that says about me, if anything. After reading it, several friends and I had a hilarious, memory-lane interaction on Facebook about reading this back in AP Lit in 1992. If you attempt this (most amazing English) novel (ever) then you should do so with notes in hand, or a group of friends to talk about it with. Worth every painful minute and sifting every symbol. Just, wow.
  • Tuck Everlasting--This was another book I'd heard about from children's lit aficionados and looked forward to reading. It is a quick read, but really so obtuse. Almost too obtuse for the reading level, I think. There was some symbolism with the frog involved, I'm certain of it, but I never quite grasped it. The author creates some very likeable characters, but doesn't really resolve their story at all.
  • Prince Caspian--I insisted that we do a read aloud of this book before I let the kids watch the movie. It was harder for them to follow than The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I like that CS Lewis doesn't talk down to kids in his books, but some of the verbage just lost the Jedi. The screenplays for both this story and the "first" are just brilliant. Whomever did them took the original simple, stories and emphasized the adventure aspects while adding elements of the effects of the Second World War on these kids. I especially love the movie's characterization of Peter and his juxtaposition to Caspian. Oh, right, it's a book review. Sorry.
  • Madam Secretary: A Memoir by Madeline Albright--I'm still in the middle of this 800 page behemoth. My non-fiction selections always seem to be on-going, and read while I'm tearing through novels. This book is wonderful. Secretary Albright has been witness to every shaping event in modern history. Her story sheds light on many things, and whether her politics are your taste or not, her story is remarkably compelling.
  • Sense and Sensibility--Awesome. Of course. As are both movie adaptations. This time around I listened to it from a free iTunes download. This time, the download was done through a company called LoudLit.org and their readers are just volunteers, so each reader didn't do more than a chapter or two before switching to somebody else. Many of the readers were excellent and even properly accented. But there were others . . . oh dear, they were just so bad.
  • The Number One Ladies Detective Agency--I just discovered this book series this fall when this was a book group pick. It was just wonderful. Another book with something for everyone in it. I would like to read more in the series.
  • Mansfield Park--I enjoyed this book, as it is impossible not to enjoy Austen. However, I would add that if you are looking to intro yourself to actual Austen (and not just films attempting Austen), this is not your best bet. Go with Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility instead, they are both just perfect.
  • Invasive Procedures--Orson Scott Card and some other guy wrote this book. I think it was meant to be a screenplay first, and it is actually easier for me to think of this book as a movie. It would probably be fairly entertaining. Mediocre novel. An interesting side note, however: the "other guy" thanked an ex-roommate in his foreword with a rather unusual name. It was somebody I had known in high school before he moved to Panama. I facebooked him (yes, it is a verb) and found out it was the same guy. It was fun to catch up and have a gee whiz, small world moment.
  • The Scarlet Letter--I also listened to this one for free. The same reader did the entire novel, and was very good. This is such a great American novel, and on a short list of books that really helped to both shape and define a culture. I know the Puritans had to come to the US in order to gain religious freedom, but within their own communities they sure had low tolerance for anyone different. What this book says about sin and redemption is just fascinating.
  • The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe--I also read this to the kids. They really loved it, this time around anyway. I had attempted a few years ago but they were too young. My eight year-old especially enjoyed it.
  • The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands--Yeah, I think enough has been said here. Those early commenters to the linked post, however, may want to go back and look. We ended up with a whopping 32 comments, some of which were adamant defenders of this book, and another who credited her husband's belief in the Laura-philosophy for ending her marriage. Good stuff.
  • Domina--This fascinating book was a look at the difficulty of a woman becoming a doctor in the late 1800's. It was also a horrific analysis of women's health issues at the same time that women's rights in general were being brought to the forefront. This novel shed a bright light on that time period for me. I gained a lot of understanding regarding the history of abortion and contraception. In my dear grandmother's words, "The only thing about the good old days is that they are over." Strictly from a novel standpoint, however, there were problems. There were a lot of anachronisms as well as her protagonist adopting a lot of feminist movement sensibilities and free-love values that seemed almost out-of-sync with both her character and the time period. Interesting, but not amazing.
  • The Foundling--If you are like Austen and are looking for something along the same lines, try Georgette Hyer. She can't match Austen's subtlety and wit, but she comes in as a fairly close second. This book is one of my favorites of hers, but you might also try Arabella and Sylvester.
  • Sandition--Good grief, I would love to do a screenplay for this novel. I think it would be a lovely and hilarious Austen adaptation. I loaned my copy out and didn't get it back, but I just found another at the Goodwill last week. One man's trash . . .
  • Jackaroo--This is a good YA fantasy novel, and a very quick read. The premise is interesting, and the characters very human. Maybe a bit forgettable.
  • Sundays At Tiffany's--The worst book I read this year. Hands down. Maybe the worst book I read this decade.
  • Goose Girl--I really enjoy this book, and it always makes me very hopeful about getting published. I think I could write something this good.
  • The Appeal--Hm . . . I remember liking this the way I've liked nearly every Grisham book. But for the life of me, the plot of this one escapes me though it has just been six months since I read it. So, skip this one and read "The Testment" or "Street Lawyer" instead. Oh! Wait! Election rigging! That's right. I really did like this one. I think if your politics are on the conservative side, however, it will probably make you crazy.
  • A Year Down Yonder--This book is just so wonderful and completely worthy of its Newberry nod. I actually like everything I've ever read by this author.
  • A Long Way From Chicago--A companion to the one above. Either one is a good stand-alone, but they are even better together. These books chronicle time spent in the country during the Depression with a crazy (in a good way) grandmother. This one is from a boy's perspective, the other from his sister. Read them to yourself, your kids, the neighbor's kids, the dogs . . . heck, just read them!
  • Peace Like A River--If you only read one book this year (other than the scriptures, duh!) you MUST read this book. If you hate novels and only read biographies, you still must read this book. My book group is doing this next month and I'm really looking forward to it. I read this kind of novel and think, "Who am I kidding that I would ever get published?" because it is just in a different league entirely. Peace Like a River is the definition of literary fiction and a modern classic. Can I be plainer? GO READ THIS BOOK!
  • Reading Lolita in Tehran--This memoir took some time for me to get through, but it was worth it.
  • On the Banks of Plum Creek--I read several of the Little House books to my kids this year and bought the series, used and cheap, on Amazon. We lost a little bit of steam on them. I had a friend just the other day, however, tell me that Farmer Boy was the best of the series. It is actually the one I've never read. Maybe it is time to try these again.
  • Angels and Demons--I liked this novel even better than The DaVinci Code. I think the whole science fiction element was really enjoyable. Also, The DaVinci Code reinforces a secret society's existence that is widely thought to be mythical, whereas Angels and Demons debunks the secret society. While preserved in the movie, the Carmelengo's science "vs." religion speech he make to the college of Cardinals, the full length in the book is so much better. I liked the speech so much that it made me really hate the latter plot twist.
  • Ethan Frome--Another great American novel that makes a very short list of MUST READS. Also a story that is best when studied in conjunction with critical notes of some kind or with a group of friends. In less than 150 pages, Wharton creates something perfect.
  • Boxcar Children Volume #1--This was a read aloud for the kids. It was this book that really turned Jedi Knight onto chapter books and helped us get over the hump of "aw-Mom-reading-is-just-too-hard" stuff. The kids in these books just have such good manners, and it is so sweet how they look out for each other.
  • The Scarlet Pimpernel--Mediocre. The movie done in the mid-eighties with Dr. Quinn (what is her actual name?) is MUCH better. Different, but better. The writers of the film must have created a composite from the Pimpernel books to write their story. Too much action takes place "off stage" in the book and, the reader is merely told what happened, not shown. Still, it is very interesting to think about this book in light of the dual-identitied archetype in our society. The Scarlet Pimpernel is the original Batman. Hubba. Hubba.
  • New Moon--Oh. I think I have said enough. More than enough. And yet, you are welcome to point out that I DID re-read it this year. *sigh*
  • The Other Boleyn Girl--Trashy. And without enough redeeming value to justify the trashiness. Yes, you are more than welcome to remind me about the cockroach in the ice cream Mormonad. Though, truthfully, this book was more like a pile of cockroaches feeding on dead mice with a scoop of ice cream on top of that. A small scoop.
  • Twilight--Uh. See New Moon notes. And yes, I re-read this too.
  • Little House in the Big Woods--See notes for "On the Banks of Plum Creek."
  • Classic Cases in Medical Ethics--This is a textbook. From college. A wonderful textbook. And oh, yes, I am a complete and total geek. I'll own it.
  • Little House on the Prairie--See notes for "On the Banks of Plum Creek." And don't you just love the illustrations in this delightful story?
  • The Blue Sword--I love this book, and its prequel "Hero and the Crown." If you have a daughter aged 12 to 15 (roughly), you should definitely add it to her reading list. These novels are fantasy at its best.
  • The Well of Shades--This is the third in a series of books by Juliet Murrilier called the "Bridei Chronicles." I read the first two late last year. She is a very good fantasy writer, though I don't find this collection nearly as good as the Sevenwaters books. These are told more from a male perspective and just more graphic in every respect. Still, when the next comes to paperback, I'll probably read it too. The first in this series is still my favorite.
  • Left To Tell--This incredible memoir recounts the story of a Rwandan Tutsi who spent months on the floor of a bathroom sized four feet by three feet with SIX other women to survive the genocide in her country. The details are shocking, but it is her forgiveness of her enemies and her incredible faith that is the real story. Between this and Albright's book, I have gained a much better sense of the horrors inflicted in Rwanda such a short time ago. We tell stories so we don't forget.
  • Mrs. Mike--I love this little book so much. I always wonder how much is fiction and where the "real" story is. I first read this book as a teenager and became convinced that if Mr. Darcy wasn't available, then I'd be just as happy married to a Canadian Mounty. Yeah, that is totally normal.
  • Out of the Dust--A great coming of age novel about the Depression. The story is told in free verse poetic form and is only about 100 pages, but if you read too quickly, you really miss a lot. The story is great, but there are layers upon layers of symbols in it too. A treasure.
  • Harry Potter (all 7 volumes)--Awesome. Of course. I reviewed all of these right after volume 7 came out. This time around, I read them all in about three weeks last January. Then, in the summer, I read the first three to my older boys out loud. We are taking a break for a while, because I know that as we read each book, they will want to see the movies too. Maybe next summer. But the 30 second trailer that just came out on the Deathly Hallows has me itching to re-read Year 7 again though it hasn't even been a year.
Whew! I think that totals 48 books? That is actually kind of a slow year for me, but life has a way of getting in the way. I think my first year of retirement will be spent reading. Every day. All day. I wonder if it would get old?

Contest time. Write down your pick you think I can't live without. Enter twice if you like, but only one pick per comment. Or, to get an entry, you are welcome to tell me how much you loved or hated one of the books I mini-reviewed.


Melanie said...

Wow, all of that reading with three kids! I agree with many of the things you said: getting through nonfiction always takes me longer and the movie version of The Scarlet Pimpernel was leaps and bounds better than the book. I too started reading The Other Boleyn Girl and decided to stop. I'm interested to hear your thoughts on sex in novels. There was sex in 19th century novels, but it was usually alluded to. Now, however, its there and descriptive. Some of the books I've picked up recently--Love in the Time of Cholera, Atonement, Snow Falling on Cedars - are captivating, the writing is excellent, but there is just a little too much description for my comfort.

My recommendation for next year: The Poisonwood Bible.

Scully said...

The book I can read over and over again is Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt. The sheer density and virtuosity of the book is amazing. I am so jealous of Byatt's skill in crafting this book, which is part of my enjoyment of it. The story is engaging, and then (as a wannabe writer) I get caught up in what Byatt managed to do. For sheer thrills, I recommend The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson is a slow and thoughtful read, but I liked the ideas and thoughts expressed in it. And I will stop now. Also, I ADORE Sanditon and would love to see your screenplay when you have finished it.

Sherry said...

I have lots of suggestions. But my pick for you is The Fortune Cookie Chronicles by Jennifer 8 Lee. It is about the history of Chinese food in America, and it is really interesting. It's incredibly well-told, and is all around-great. It was the most entertaining of all the non-fiction books I read this year (roughly 20). It's not life-changing or anything, but it was really great.

Sunnie said...

The Fablehaven Series. The books have progressively gotten better as the series has unfolded. They are so fun to read! They are for young readers so super easy, but still really great.

Janssen said...

I absolutely loved "These is My Words."

And I love you for rereading Twilight and New Moon.

Scully said...

I realize I already made a few suggestions, but I wanted to second Sherry's suggestion about The Fortune Cookie Chronicles. So fascinating! Another book, from the same publishing company, is The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner. It is fun, funny, and a nice, odd little mix of the informational and inspirational.

FoxyJ said...

How can I only recommend one or two? So many good things out there to choose from :)

I'll second Possession, it's one of my favorites. For next year I would recommend either Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros or Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather. If you want a good nonfiction book, Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer is pretty awesome.

Jessica said...

i completely agree with your reviews of both the memory keeper's daughter and peace like a river -- which by the way is just as good the 2nd and 3rd time it is read. i also second that you should read farmer boy -- it is one of my favorites of the series along with these happy golden years. (those are not my suggestions, though).

i have a few suggestions of books i really liked, which i think you would like based on our similarity in opinions on the books you reviewed from this year.

the hunger games. this is actually the first in a trilogy and the last one comes out next summer. i LOVED these books. i thought they were extremely well-written and thought-provoking.

the guernsey literary and potato peel pie society. i really, really liked this one and thought it was interesting and heart-warming.

east of eden by john steinbeck. epic and sweeping, this book is one of my favorites. i've read it a few times, and each time i do, i am amazed by its scope.

to kill a mockingbird. i'm sure you've probably read it already, but in my opinion this is the best book ever written, and with each reading i am caught up just in the sheer beauty of the writing, let alone the depths and layers of meaning.

the kite runner. a novel of redemption and hope and ultimately triumph of the human spirit.

princess academy. if you enjoyed goose girl, i think you would also like this one. i think it's a wonderful story of female empowerment for the pre-teen set. i would have loved this book as a kid.

outliers by malcom gladwell. super interesting read and a quick one at that.

and finally, three cups of tea. this was one of the best books i read for book club last year. i love the message.

alright that's all. don't worry about entering me for the drawing, i just like getting suggestions for books myself, and figured you would like the same. :)

Desmama said...

That other guy who wrote with Orson Scott Card was a good friend of mine from BYU. Aaron Johnston's his name. He's hilarious. That's all.

Jenny said...

right up there for me, is Jessica's suggestion of
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
I felt like I made some lifelong friends.

Jenny said...

Also, 48 books was a slow year?
My goal this year was 12, and I'm giddy that I surpassed it. I'm having a hard time narrowing down my second choice, but I'm going to go with Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verguese. Fascinating. The Science Teacher in you might like this...

Genjunky said...

How do you find time to read so much? Probably when I am watching TV!!


The Necklace: Thirteen Women and the Experiment That Transformed Their Lives by Cheryl Jarvis

A very interesting non-fiction story similar to the Travelling Pants- which was an interesting idea, but this is for real and grown-up. I liked this enough to recommend it to my mom! It tells the story of how the necklace came to be and the stories of each of the thirteen women included. As a democrat I think you might find some of it intriguing in a different way than I did. And, yes sex is mentioned, but not in a disgusting, graphic, discrepsectful way that i remember.

mstanger said...

Best thing I've read in the past couple of years, by far, is The Brothers K, by David James Duncan (not to be confused with The Brothers Karamazov, which I am still slugging through).

For something a little more light, I dug Michael Frayn's Headlong, although if you're not into art history it may not be as fun.

For laugh out loud caricature, A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole, is hard to beat.

A String in the Harp, by Nancy Bond, made for some fun bedtime reading for the girls (if you like the Welsh mythology of Susan Cooper's The Dark is Rising series, this is nicely complementary, and in some places more fleshed out).

We also have loved Trenton Lee Stewart's Mysterious Benedict Society books for bedtime.

Guess I violated the rules of the contest. Consider me disqualified.

emandtrev said...

I love a lot of these recommendations. Have you read The Book Thief by Markus Zusak? I loved it. Loooved.

The Wednesday Wars by Gary Schmidt is also a fun, fast, and most excellent read.

Yankee Girl said...

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Yankee Girl said...

Are you on Goodreads.com? Because I would like you to be on.

Also I would suggest The Help by Kathryn Stockett

tamathy said...

One of my favorites ever is "Housekeeping" by Marilynne Robinson, but I think I remember you saying you've read it. Two I read this year and loved are "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" by Susanna Clarke and "The City and The City" by China Mieville.

Desmama said...

Have you read anything by Bill Bryson? My very favorite is "I'm a Stranger Here Myself." Puts me in a giddy mood whenever I read it. You might like his "A Short History of Nearly Everything."

chris w said...

I was recently sent this book out of the blue and was excited to read it because I am teaching the Old Testament in Primary this year.

"The Hidden Christ" by James Ferrell shows how the Old Testament becomes more enjoyable when you realize every story is a type of Christ. I have been loving it. I think it would be a great addition for anyone as we study OT this year in Sunday School.

PS: You're not supposed to make your winners cry. ;) I'm so excited though!! Thanks so much - I will definitely email you.

Paul A Drockton III said...

this is a great site about the new mystery religion! http://www.moneyteachers.org/Egyptian%20Religions.htm