Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Book #33: Picture Perfect

Book #33: Picture Perfect by Jodi Picoult
5/5 stars

So the last time I posted about a book in my 100 list was a few weeks ago. Since then I've read five books, but nothing really worth blogging about. This, however, was amazing and I felt the need to write about it. I realize that I'm a little behind the times by just reading Jodi Picoult starting this year; many fans of hers I know have been reading her books for years. However, I know there must be people who haven't yet discovered her amazing, wrenching novels. If my review of The Pact didn't convince you, or if it did and you haven't discovered Picture Perfect yet, you need to read this book.

The novel opens on a woman who has just woken up in a cemetery, not knowing who she is or how she got there. She is rescued by a kind, brand-new to the area policeman, Will Flying Horse, who is of Native American descent. Will brings this woman down to the station where she realizes who she is...her name is Cassie, and she is the wife of wildly famous heartthrob movie star, Alex Rivers. Even upon seeing this man, she barely remembers him. Cassie goes home with her husband to one of their three residences (he's a mega movie star) and bit by bit begins to remember things from her past. She's an anthropologist, and a great one at that. She teaches at UCLA. She met Alex in Africa while he was shooting a film, and she was working. Oh, and there's a dark secret in her marriage that no one but Cassie and Alex know about.

As Cassie remembers more and more about her seemingly "picture perfect" life as a successful anthropologist married to a handsome movie star, her life begins to seem less and less perfect. She questions how and why she left that night before she become unconscious, and whether she should have ever come back.

Just when Picoult twists the plot so that the reader can barely breathe, she switches back in time to explain how Cassie and Alex met, and how their life came to be the way it did. Though it killed me to leave the "present" of the story, Picoult provides the reader with crucial information and plays with the reader's mind even further.

This novel, like all of Picoult's I've read so far, controlled my emotions for the few days I read it. I felt strong flashes of anger and fear, and had to tear myself away from the pages to go on with my daily life. Her characters, both protagonists and antagonists, draw you in and won't let you go, even after you're done. I especially loved the Native American culture that comes in spurts throughout the book, both through Will Flying Horse, and occasional Native American legends that parallel the events of the novel. This is definitely a quick read, but a worthwhile one as well. The book poses important questions about reputation, love, and honesty that will keep you thinking for a while after you finish the story.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Guest Blog by Jessica Pyle: My Life as An Experiment

Blog Post by Jessica Pyle

My Life as an Experiment by A.J. Jacobs

Devin just got it from his brother for his birthday but Devin's currently reading another book... so it looked interesting and I started reading it. I'm over half way through and LOVE it. It's just like the title says it is. It's kinda like Morgan Spurlock's show "30 days". Where he takes an idea or a way of living and tries it for some span of time, a week, a month... he even spent a year and lived biblically following every rule of the bible as literally as possible. The bible one is a separate book though. I hope you get a chance to read My Life as an Experiment and/or The Year of Living Biblically. Let me know how it goes!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

“I love books, by the way, way more than movies. Movies tell you what to think. A good book lets you choose a few thoughts for yourself. Movies show you the pink house. A good book tells you there's a pink house and lets you paint some of the finishing touches, maybe choose the roof style,park your own car out front. My imagination has always topped anything a movie could come up with. Case in point, those darned Harry Potter movies. That was so not what that part-Veela-chick, Fleur Delacour, looked like.”  - Karen Marie Moning, Darkfever

So true! As much as I love the Harry Potter movies, Fleur didn't look anything like that in my head! Do you agree?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
5/5 stars

This isn't a book on my 100 for the year list because I read it last year, but I felt that it deserved a write up anyway. I've still been reading books toward the 100 recently but nothing I found interesting enough to blog about so I decided to write about an old favorite.

If this title sounds familiar it's because it was a popular 2009 film starring Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana. I loved the film and when I found out that it was based on a novel I had to get my hands on it. As beautiful as the film was, the book is even better and absolutely worth reading. It's guaranteed to pull at any reader's heartstrings, yet it also has many elements of humor.

As the film does, the story follows the relationship between Clare Abshire and Henry DeTamble over many, many years. Their relationship, while beautiful and interesting to follow, is far from normal. Henry is a time-traveler. I know this may sound way sci-fi and possibly turn people away, but the time traveling is the only out of this world thing that happens in the book. It began when he was almost killed in a car crash at a young age, but instead disappears from the accident and ends up somewhere else. He later learns that he is a time traveler. He can disappear from anywhere, at any time, and end up anywhere else at any time in the past or future. Often, he returns to places or times that are important to him, but he can never control his movements.

Through his travels, Henry meets Clare Abshire, first as a young girl in a meadow, who makes the decision to trust this strange disappearing man and become his friend. Over time, Henry visits Clare at many different ages, as she grows up at normal time. Despite the time differences and inconsistencies they face, Clare and Henry finally meet in the present. both of them at the current age they're supposed to be, and realize that they have fallen in love. They get married (it's not a spoiler, just look at the title haha) and are blissfully happy together...except for the fact that Henry is still disappearing without warning all the time. This becomes even more problematic as the two try to figure out married life and try to have children. However, Clare and Henry's love runs deeper than normal, because their relationship is anything but normal. The trust and love they have for one another is inspiring.

While the overall summary of the novel sounds exactly the same as the film, there are so many more details in the novel than in the film, as is often the case. These details make the story so much better and the love that Henry and Clare share so much more complicated, yet so much more admirable and wonderful. Any romantic will love this novel, sci fi fan or not. It's a great beach-read or anytime read, and definitely a favorite of mine. If you've seen the film, this is a chance to relive the love story while learning even more about it. If you haven't, here's a chance to discover one of the greatest modern love stories.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

“I always read. You know how sharks have to keep swimming or they die? I’m like that. If I stop reading, I die.” - Patrick Rothfuss

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Book #28 - Mad Women

Book #28: Mad Women by Jane Maas
4/5 stars

This book, my 28th so far on my journey to 100 in a year, is the first nonfiction book of the bunch. I am not normally interested in nonfiction, which is why I didn't rate this book 5/5 stars, but it was nonetheless an interesting look into the 1960s-the present in terms of the real story behind Mad Men and how women were treated during this time.

For those unfamiliar with the TV show, Mad Men is about an advertising agency in the 1960s. It may sound oh so boring, but there are a lot of behind the scenes scandals that went on at the office. Also, there are historical nuggets within the show about this time period that I find interesting, and the fashion is awesome. =) Since I'm so interested in the show, when I noticed this book at a Barnes and Noble I immediately grabbed it and read the inside cover. I just snagged a copy from my local library and finished it in a few days.

Jane Maas, the author of this novel, was actually a "Mad Woman" as you might call her. The "mad" part refers to Madison Avenue where many of the ad agencies were located, and "mad men" was a real nickname for the men who worked there. Since the TV show Mad Men has gained popularity, Maas has been asked by many people who learn that she was a part of this seemingly glamorous world, how much of what is seen on the show is true? Did people really drink that much at the office? Were women treated badly? Were the parties that wild and crazy? What was really going on behind closed doors?

Maas answers all of these questions and more in her non-fiction book about her experiences as an ad woman, moving up the chain from a lowly secretary to copywriter, to creative director, and even a short stint at owning her own ad agency. The chapters have witty, interesting titles such as: "The Three Martini Lunch and Other Vices" and "Bang Bang, You're Dead (The Creative Revolution Kills)". Maas was a career woman AND a mother (something basically unheard of at the time) and was going around the clock between her job and duties as a wife and mother. It seems that she was treated better than most women of the time, mostly because her husband was wonderful to her. However, Maas shares stories from her past and interviews done more recently about what life was really like for women. Maas had to demand respect if she wanted it, and work twice as hard as her male coworkers. For a woman to move up into such high positions of power was practically unheard of. Most women were hired at ad agencies as secretaries, and left when they got married or became pregnant. Maas describes the obstacles she encountered both in college and after graduating and joining the workforce, yet not leaving for her family.

She also discusses different experiences with clients, both successful and horribly unfortunate. Fans of Mad Men will be somewhat familiar with the processes Maas and her team go through to get ads made. She also compares the TV show to real life, and clarifies what was real and what was not, though overall she is impressed with the accuracy of the hit show.

I enjoyed reading this book by Jane Maas. I've never been a huge non-fiction fan, mostly because this genre does not normally include books that keep you coming back for more and more until you devour it, as fiction does for me. However, Maas is a great storyteller and branches out in all directions to discuss many different areas of her life and what it was like mostly in the 60s and 70s, but eventually going all the way up to the present. I liked the perspective that the older Jane had looking back on her life from years ago. She tells her stories with brutal honesty, yet with the wisdom of someone who has learned a lot from her own life.

Friday, June 8, 2012

“A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.” - C.S. Lewis

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Book #27 - Divergent

Book #27: Divergent by Veronica Roth
5/5 stars

I seem to be on a Young Adult novel kick lately, so if you're not interested in them I apologize! The next book I'm going to read is an adult non-fiction book so it will be a change of pace. =)

I read this book for a book club at my town library that will be meeting next week. If you do happen to get your hands on the book and read it by the 14th, message me for details about the club, and come talk about it with me and the other members! It is a book club where adults read YA books, seeing as popularity for doing such has grown since the Hunger Games trilogy. This will be my first meeting with the club and I'm excited to discuss such an amazing book!

Divergent actually reminded me of the Hunger Games a bit. It takes place presumably in the future, and the country is divided into groups, as in HG, though the groups are called "factions" instead of "districts", and there are five instead of twelve. The factions all have names and specific kinds of people who live there. Dauntless is for the brave. Abnegation is for the selfless. The peaceful live in Amity. The intelligent live in Erudite. And in Candor are the honest. A person is born into whatever faction his or his parents live in, and will live there and learn the faction's ways until he or she is 16. One day a year (which reminds me of the Reaping Day in HG), all of the 16-year olds of every faction must attend a Choosing Ceremony, attended by practically everyone. A few days prior to this, they must all undergo a simulated test that indicates to which faction they truly belong. How the teens react to the simulated situations shows what they value, and therefore, which faction they would do best in. The test results are not binding; if someone doesn't like the results they get, they may choose a different faction. However, the test is the most truthful representation of the person's real self. The decision to remain in the faction into which you have been born and raised, or to switch to another, is not to be taken lightly. Your faction becomes your family. In fact, the saying "faction before blood" crops up several times throughout the novel. If someone chooses to leave their original faction for another, they are shunned and viewed as a traitor by their hometown and family.

So, the novel opens a few days before the Choosing Ceremony, and Beatrice Prior is freaking out. She has grown up in Abnegation for 16 years, along with her brother of the same age. Abnegation values selflessness above all else. It's taken very seriously; they may only wear grey, and no adornments of any kind, such as jewelry, because it draws attention to one's self. They can rarely look in mirrors, and spend their lives helping others, and never putting themselves first. Children who have not yet gone through the Choosing Ceremony cannot even ask questions at the dinner table. Beatrice has tried for 16 years to fit in and be selfless, but she doesn't feel that it's who she truly is. Her simulated test results show that she is not cut out to only be Abnegation, or any other faction. She is Divergent, meaning she is equal parts of more than one faction. Apparently, she is told, this is very dangerous, and she should not share this information with anyone, though why, she knows not. When it comes to the Choosing Ceremony, Beatrice is unsure whether she should stay in Abnegation with her family, or become a "traitor" for choosing her own path. After her choice, comes a brutally challenging initiation into the faction, that not every "initiate" will be able to make it through. Throughout these challenges, Beatrice must keep her true Divergent identity a secret, for reasons she doesn't understand, as she tries to find out which of her fellow initiates she can trust.

This book was absolutely incredible. I devoured the almost 500 pages in 2 days. This book reminds me a lot of the Hunger Games, but it also stands on its own as an amazing new novel. The second book in the trilogy, Insurgent just came out last month, and there's one more coming presumably sometime next year, so here's another series to get hooked on if you've finished HG and are waiting impatiently for Catching Fire to come out in film version.

The world of this novel was so interesting to me. I found myself wondering which faction I identified with the most, and the least, and what my worst fears are. I wondered how the world could get to this point, where it would be divided into these five groups that each value only one honorable trait, rather than trying to combine all of them - honesty, bravery, peacefulness, selflessness and intelligence. What would be the benefit of dividing all of these? Why would being Divergent (having strong traces of two or more of these traits) be so dangerous? Divergent answered as many questions as it left me with, and I can't wait to read Insurgent, book two in the trilogy. I have become quite attached to Beatrice, or Tris as she renames herself, and I am interested in following her throughout the next two books. This series will probably appeal obviously to any Hunger Games lover, but also to those interested in politics, psychology, and even romance. Yes there are hints of romance in this story, but I won't say any more than that. I guess you'll just have to read the book and find out for yourself what happens. =)

Happy reading!

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Book #26 - Looking for Alaska

“Have you really read all those books in your room?”
Alaska laughing- “Oh God no. I’ve maybe read a third of ‘em. But I’m going to read them all. I call it my Life’s Library. Every summer since I was little, I’ve gone to garage sales and bought all the books that looked interesting. So I always have something to read.” - John Green, Looking For Alaska

When I reached this part I loved it! I wish I had thought to do the same sooner, but just this year I've started ransacking garage sales and used book sales and finding treasures. I highly suggest it, you never know what you'll find. =)

BOOK #26: Looking for Alaska by John Green
5/5 stars

No, not Alaska the state, Alaska a character. =) I overheard some friends on campus talking about John Green and this book in particular and became interested. Green is the author of Young Adult novels, and I was not sure that I wanted to read any of his work, but my friends are both English majors and readers like me, yet they seemed excited about Green's work, especially this, his debut novel. Through reading a few Young Adult novels lately, I have come to realize that basically what constitutes a Young Adult novel is that it is written about young people and their experiences; but why does that mean that adults can't read these books? I have become very interested in well-written Young Adult novels by great authors. I don't suggest limiting yourself to only these novels, whether you are a young or older reader, because expanding your reading horizons make you a better reader and thinker. However, I have recently discovered the merit of reading the works of wonderful writers like John Green. Just because he and other authors write about young people, it does not make these books any less relateable or interesting for older readers.

Looking for Alaska was truly an amazing book, for readers of any age. It is divided into two parts: "Before" and "After." Before and after what? You'll just have to read and find out! =) The novel takes place at Culver Creek school - a boarding school in Alabama. The novel's main character, Miles, starts at this school in his junior year, looking for "The Great Perhaps" that he has read about. What I love about Miles is that his hobby is looking up famous people's last words. It was interesting to hear what some political figures and other famous people of the past had said just before they died. He meets his roommate who calls himself "The Colonel" and who ironically nicknames skinny Miles "Pudge". The Colonel introduces Pudge to Alaska (that's her real name, not a nickname), a wild, beautiful young woman with whom Pudge becomes enamored. Together, the three troublemakers go through their junior year, filled with all the drama and memories of high school. However, they are different from your cliche, partying, rich boarding school kids. Alaska and the Colonel are there on scholarships, and they wage war against their snotty, rich classmates. The three friends are also quite intelligent. They're not super nerdy, but I found them hilarious and awesome because of the intellectual subjects they argue about.

While the "Before" half of the novel is an entertaining depiction of high school with all of its drama, it is the second half of the book that makes it so worth reading for adults. I wish I could say more than that but I guess you'll just have to read and find out why. =)

I look forward to reading more by John Green. He has a gift for writing that anyone of any age can appreciate. I loved hearing about last words, which Green says he has always been interested in. His characters were dynamic - not just flat, one-sided high school kids. Overall, I loved the book and can't believe that Green's first novel was so incredible. I can only imagine how well-written his others must be. I can't wait to find out!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Book #15 - The Pact

BOOK #15: The Pact by Jodi Picoult
5/5 stars

I read this novel in mid-April, and I was hooked soon after I began it. I had read a few of Picoult's books before, including Salem Falls, a favorite. I was originally very against reading anything by Picoult because the first book of her's that I had heard about was My Sister's Keeper. My older sister described it to me, and not only did the plot sound depressing but it hit way too close to home, and I swore that I'd never read her novels. However, after I was convinced to read Salem Falls because of my love for the history surrounding the Salem Witch Trials, I fell in love with Jodi Picoult's storytelling skills and her courtroom drama. I still refuse to read My Sister's Keeper (sorry Kate haha) but after reading The Pact, I was eager to read more by this author.

The Pact is about a teenaged couple, Chris and Emily, who have known one another basically since before they were born. They grew up together, fell in love, and became inseparable. Their families were delighted, as the parents were all friends. Everything seemed perfect, until the illusion was shattered by a gunshot. Seventeen-year-old Emily is rushed to the hospital after being shot in the head, and dies of complications. (Don't worry this is not a spoiler! It happens right in the beginning!) Chris is the only known witness to his girlfriend, Emily's, death, making him the top suspect. His story is that the two lovers had formed a suicide pact, detailing that they both wanted to die and so they would die together. However, since Chris is left alive, not everyone believes his story. The aftermath of this tragedy tears families apart as they question how well they knew Chris and Emily, and if either of them were capable of taking a life.

This novel was absolutely wrenching but so incredible. I was drawn into the story: the flashbacks to  before that fateful night, and the aftermath of Emily's tragic death. Picoult crafted a beautiful narrative about how people deal with grief, and the secrets that people of all ages keep from those they love most. As she does with all of her novels, Picoult leaves the reader in suspense up until the very last page, and one cannot help but continue to think about it long after. I remember the day I finished this book, I sat and read it hungrily as I ate breakfast, tore myself away from the pages long enough to run to the gym for a Zumba class, then raced back home to sit for almost two more hours until I finished the book. I just had to know what happened. Surely, this is a sign of a book worth reading.
''It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all.'' - JK Rowling

J.K. Rowling is my hero.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The Hunger Games Series

BOOK #1: The Hunger Games
BOOK #2: Catching Fire
BOOK #3: Mockingjay
All 5/5 stars 

So I read the entire Hunger Games series by Suzanne Collins before I started my 100 book count, but they are so amazing that I felt that they deserved a spot on the blog! I know pretty much everyone has read the series, but there are still a few who haven't, and maybe I can persuade them to! Otherwise, if anyone wants to comment and talk about how they feel about the series or which of the trilogy is their favorite, feel free!

For anyone who has been living under a rock for the last year or so, here's a quick Hunger Games refresher: The books are YA Science Fiction, but do NOT let this scare you away. I am not normally a Sci Fi fan, and after the insane Twilight craze I was shying away from YA cult series. However, when a few trustworthy friends highly recommended the series, I decided to try it. I practically inhaled the first book. It takes place in post-apocalyptic North America, renamed "Panem". The country was divided into 13 Districts and ruled over by an oppressive Capitol, until the Districts tried to revolt. District 13 was annihilated in order to scare everyone else, and the remaining 12 Districts went back to their "normal" lives, which meant different levels of poverty and oppression in each District, with the most privileged people living in the Capitol. In addition to destroying District 13, the Capitol created the Hunger Games, which is a punishment masked as a celebration. Each District must offer up a boy and girl aged 12-18 to fight the others to the death in a televised battle. However, the Games are about more than just kill or be killed. It is interesting to examine the psychology of these children as they fight to stay alive in the Games, and also must use survival skills in the "arena" in which they are placed. One winner comes out, and gains fame and fortune for their District. The first novel, The Hunger Games, follows the poorest District, 12's, "tribute", Katniss Everdeen. She is a 16-year-old girl who goes into the Games an underdog, and must fight to stay alive, not only for herself, but for her family. There is also an interesting dynamic between Katniss and the male tribute from 12, Peeta.

The reason I love this series so much is that is hooks you from the first few pages. You root for the protagonists and feel their emotions in a way that only a great writer can make you feel them. Everyone who has read these novels has read them in an obscenely short amount of time, because you literally cannot put them down. If you have been holding off from reading them, don't. I resisted it for a long time and I couldn't believe I had once I began reading them. There are so many interesting aspects to consider when reading these books, especially for adults. The levels of politics and psychology discussed are not only entertaining to read, but can make you really think. Especially since the first movie has been released, there has been a lot of talk about reality TV and how the Games are not so different from the direction it's heading in. So basically, if you've read the books, as most of you probably have, I'd love to hear your thoughts about what this series means to you and why you like/dislike it. If you haven't, what are you waiting for? =)
"Let us read and let us dance - two amusements that will never do any harm to the world." - Voltaire

This quote was written for me. Seriously =)

Friday, June 1, 2012

Book # 22 - Sold

BOOK #22: Sold by Patricia McCormick
5/5 stars

This novel was insane, in an amazing way. I began reading it on May 16th, and finished it on May 16th. That was not a typo. I'm not bragging about having finished the book in one day; it is a short Young Adult book written in a series of vignettes, some less than a page long. However, even if this novel was much longer I feel that I probably would have read it just as quickly because of the content.

One might think that by reading YA books I'm "cheating" because they're shorter, or that I'm not challenging myself intellectually enough. This couldn't be more wrong. More and more adults are reading YA literature these days. The Harry Potter series are considered "children's" books. The ever popular Hunger Games trilogy is YA literature. I have even recently joined a book club at my town library for adults who enjoy reading Young Adult books. Authors of these books take risks, and tackle controversial subject matters in new, interesting ways. This novel is an example of that.

For more about YA books and authors check out a NY Times article by McCormick herself about YA Lit:

Sold by Patricia McCormick is a YA novel about a 13-year-old girl from Nepal named Lakshmi. She has lived a happy life for her first few years, aside from money issues within her family, mostly stemming from his stepfather's gambling addiction. She expects to marry a young man from her village whom she and her parents like. However, as money becomes tighter, Lakshmi is offered a job in the city, which she believes to be as a cleaning woman. She is excited about sending money home for her family, and takes a long journey to "The Happiness House", which she comes to find out is actually a brothel. The owner of the brothel will not let Lakshmi leave, and forces her to become a prostitute to work off her family's "debt."

This novel was so interesting and terrifying because it stems from truth. McCormick did lots of research in the Middle East, speaking with women who had escaped the sex trade, those who were still a part of it, and even a few who had bought or sold women without remorse. The truth that resides in her novel is as shocking as it is awakening.

The novel is absolutely a sad one, but don't let that stop you from reading it. I grew to care deeply for Lakshmi and wanted to see her make it through her ordeals. If the book was simply depressing, I would not recommend it. However, Lakshmi describes the differences between her hometown and this new, scary place, the people she encounters, and the other women who work there and how they act. The stories of these women haunted me, and provoked strong emotions as only good writing can. This was a beautiful story, and I almost forgot that it was a Young Adult book, because the writing was not at an obnoxiously basic level. It was well-crafted, yet easy to understand. Overall, I was quite impressed with the novel and am excited to get my hands on more YA novels, especially anything written by Patricia McCormick.