Friday, January 16, 2015

2015 Reading Goal

Reading. It's something I've loved since before I ever loved a single boy. I also believe I've loved more books than I've loved boys...but I'd have to count. Anyway, the point of this post is that I'm accepting a challenge to read 26 Books in 2015. Each book needs to meet a certain requirement. It's like book bingo! So fabulous!

This post has been updated to track my progress. I completed the challenge on June 17, 2015.

Join me in the challenge!

26 Books in 2015

1. A book you own, but haven't read

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan Philipp Sendker, 4 Stars on 1.15.2015.

Julia travels from New York CIty to a remote village in Burma in the hopes of solving the mystery behind her successful father's mysterious disappearance. The touching love story she hears does not at all sound like the man she knew.

I found it interesting how the Burmese culture of respecting the wishes of elders and taking care of ones parents dramatically changed the course of the character's lives. There were a few things that bothered me with the story, but overall it kept me engaged.

2. A book that was made into a movie

Lone Survivor: The Eyewitness Account of Operation Redwing and the Lost Heroes of SEAL Team 10
Lone Survivor by Marcus Luttrell, 5 Stars on 1.21.2015. I also considered going in the opposite direction with The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks

This impressive book exemplifies the exceptional skill, bravery, and tenacity of Navy SEALS. Marcus Luttrell writes about about the Afghan battle that took the lives of several other SEALS and of his miraculous survival. The first half of the book details SEAL training. I recommend reading that, but you'll really want to get to the second half about how Marcus survived. 

Marcus's personality comes through in his writing, specifically his intensity, intelligence, love for family and fellow SEALS, and sense of humor. I am thankful that he and men like him stepped up to protect our freedom.

3. A book you pick solely because of the cover

Wreckage by Emily Bleeker, 3 Stars on 2.26.15. Oh my gosh. This was a tough assignment because I love to read about books. I was tempted, but never did read the description. Holy schmoly it was hard not to do. 

4. A book your friend loves

Some Luck (Last Hundred Years: A Family Saga, #1)
Some Luck by Jane Smiley, 4 Stars on 2.2.2015. This book was recommended by my favorite book-loving co-worker. I read Smiley's Thousand Acres several years ago and enjoyed both books set in rural Iowa. This is the first in a trilogy, so I'm looking forward to finishing the story.

This is the first book in a trilogy called "The Last Hundred Years" that will follow the Langdon family from 1920 - 2019. Even though it's part of a series, "Some Luck" won't leave you disappointed as a stand-alone novel. Each chapter covers one year to emphasizes the affects of time. In fact time is the real theme of the novel. Just like real life, comparing one year directly to the next doesn't seem incredibly dramatic. But the years go by quickly, and before you know it, life in 1953 at the end of the novel barely resembles where it began in 1920. 

One of the things that drew me to this book is that it is set in rural Iowa, a place very close to my heart. I related the book to the life of my grandparents who established the Iowa farm that has become my family's legacy. Although the town where the Langdons live is fictional, many of the other towns and landmarks mentioned included in the book are familiar to me. I think the book will especially appeal to Iowans for that reason. Smiley shows a refreshingly deep appreciate and respect for our state, and especially for farming families.

I love the concept of exactly 100 years of a family. It reminds me of the Colombian "One Hundred Years of Solitude," and I wonder if that novel partially inspired this idea. However, 100 years is the only thing the two books/series have in common.

5. A book published this year

The Girl on the Train
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, 3 Stars on 4.26.2015. I would also like to read Jenny Lawson's new book, Furiously Happy that is sure to make me laugh.

Rachel loses her job due to her alcoholism, but continues to take the daily train to and from London in order to make her roommate think she's still working. The train makes a stop by her favorite house, and Rachel delusionally comes to "know" the couple who lives there. One day she sees something unusual happen there, and next day the woman in the house disappears. And of course Rachel gets involved.

The good: There Is a nice mystery involved that will keep you guessing.

The bad: It's impossible to like any of the characters because they are extensively flawed. 

More bad: I got tired of Rachel constantly blacking out from drinking so much. It felt like an easy way out to hide pieces of the story from the reader.

The comparison: It reminded me a lot of Gone Girl, which wasn't my favorite book for very similar reasons.

6. A book by an author you've never read before

Beautiful Ruins
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. 4.5 Stars on 6.1.2015. Earlier this year I read What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty to satisfy this challenge, but then figured out that I've already read her book, The Husband Secret. Crud! Another contender was The Silent Wife by ASA Harrison.

It's not so much the story, but it's the way it's told. The chapters volley from a tiny Italian village in 1967 to present day Hollywood. An American actress becomes ill on the set of Cleopatra and is hidden away in an impossibly small Italian hotel. The hotel owner, Pasquel, sees his opportunity to impress the glamorous American and inadvertently disrupts the plans of the movie's publicity director. 

This poignant book finds the balance of avoiding predictability, yet satisfying readers. It's also subtly funny. I look forward to reading more books by this author.

7. A book by an author you love

Palisades Park
Palisades Park by Alan Brennert 4 Stars on 4.19.2015. This is my least favorite of his three books, but I love the way he writes.

This is a historically accurate tribute to Palisades Park, a once-popular amusement park in New Jersey. The bulk of the story takes place in the 1930's - 1950's, before, during, and after WWII and The Korean War. The story of the park and of the war-influenced era is told through three generations of the fictional Stopka family, who owns a french fry stand near the giant salt water pool. Little Toni dreams of becoming a high diver, and artistic Jack wants to become a magician. One achieves that dream, and the other takes another direction.

Alan Brennert is one of my all-time favorite authors. I absolutely loved Honolulu and Moloka'i. This book was good, but I didn't connect with it as much as his other two books.

8. A book at the bottom of your "to be read" pile

Things Fall Apart (The African Trilogy, #1)
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, 4 Stars on 4.24.2015. I added it to Goodreads "To Read" shelf in 2009.

This short book was written in 1958 by a respected professor of African studies. He created fictional characters to exemplify the affect of white man's interference of tribal life. It's much more an issue of religion than race. The fictional characters help connect the reader to the Ibo tribe's way of life and rituals. It's sad to see the start of its destruction. 

Some may say there is a lack of action and no real plot twist, but there is more than enough of a plot to hold your interest. Please keep in mind that the purpose of the book is to educate and to help people think of the tribes in a different way.

9. A book with a color in the title

Black Like Me
Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin, 4 Stars on 6.11.2015. My original plan was The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, but I was scared off by mixed ratings on Amazon.

In 1959, John Howard Griffin, a white writer from Texas, dyed his skin and passed as a black man in order to explore racial issues. For seven weeks, he traveled around Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia. He changed nothing about his identity other than his skin pigmentation. 

I was worried that this book would no longer be relevant since many changes have taken place in the last five decades. The book is relevant. Americans, especially, should work to understand what has happened here. I know things have improved, but I'm not naive enough to think the problem has been completely resolved. My hope is that it will continue to improve with every generation.

10. A book set somewhere you've always wanted to visit

Breakfast at Tiffany's
Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote, 3 Stars on 5.25.2015. Places I would like to visit include New York City, Italy, Egypt and Chile.

This book is sort of a female version of "The Great Gatsby," but without the sizzle. It's written from the perspective of an average guy who gets pulled into the mysterious life of his glamorous neighbor, Holly Golightly. For me, it wasn't long enough to fully develop.

11. A book you started, but never finished

Don Quixote
 Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavadra, 5 Stars FINALLY on 4.16.2015 I also considered 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Tin Drum. It seems I have good intentions, but trouble finishing some classics. :)

You know that movie "Dumb and Dumber"? Of course you do! Well, Don Quixote is the original version of that. It's unbelievable that the hilarity of this clever, clever Cervantes' novel has held relevant for 500 years. If you've taken even a basic Spanish class, I'm sure you've studied at least a bit of Don Quixote, by far the most famous Spanish novel. 

This is a great translation for recreational readers and is surprisingly entertaining and easy to read. However, be prepared to set aside a major chunk of time to get through the packed 1,000 pages. One thing that surprised me is that nearly all of the famous Don Quixote scenes such as his great battle with a windmill happen in the first 50ish pages. It makes me wonder how many people take the time to get through the entire book. More people should. It is packed with action and creativity and will make you fall in love with a madman and a dolt. 

Some of my favorite parts of the books are the upfront descriptions of each chapter that are written to give you a heads up about what you're about to read. Most of them specifically tell you about the subject matter, but I loved some of the completely random ones:

Chapter XXXI
Which deals with a great many things

Chapter LVIII
Which recounts how so many adventures rained down on Don Quixote that there was hardly room for all of them

Chapter LXVI
Which recounts what will be seen by whoever reads it, or heard by whoever listens to it being read (my favorite!)

Chapter LXX
Which follows chapter LXIX, and deals with matters necessary to the clarity of this history 


12. A book with a lion, a witch, or a wardrobe

All the Light We Cannot See
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr, 5 Stars on 1.4.2015.

Lillian reluctantly joins her mother-in-law on a dream vacation to Fuji she won from a yogurt company. The plane goes down leaving the survivors on a remote island. The remaining survivors are rescued more than a year later, but have agreed to tell the world a complicated web of lies. 

The story held my interest starting with the first sentence, but some of the characters lack dimension. I chose this book solely because of the cover, which was one of the criteria on my "2015 26 Book Challenge". It was odd to start reading without having any clues about the story line. This was lighter than my usual choices, but it was the right kind of break I needed from some more serious reading I'm trying to accomplish.

13. A book with a female heroine

Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleveland
Hope: A Memoir of Survival in Cleavland by Amanda Berry and Gina DeJesus, 4 Stars on 5.3.2015. Others that I may read include My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliviera and When She Woke by Hillary Jordan.

I suggest this book if you are interested in learning how Ariel Castro could have kept three girls hidden in his home for more than ten years. I read Michelle Knight's book last year, and was surprised at how much brighter this book was than hers. I'm not saying this was a cheery book, but Michelle described a lot more violence. It's obvious that NONE of them were treated well. But there was definitely a difference in their treatment. 

One thing that struck me in both books is that they really never were given a chance to get away in all that time. It was also interesting to read Amanda's account of the rescue. The news made it seem like her neighbor had more to do with it than he really did. 

It would have been nice for readers if all three girls had collaborated on one book, but it's understandable that they didn't all three remain best friends after the rescue. It's such a tragedy for everyone involved, but it is a story worth reading about. We all need to work together to bring home missing children and to prevent this from happening again.

14. A book set in the summer

Fever 1793
Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson, 4 Stars on 4.19.2015. My 13-year-old daughter and I listened to this book road trip to Kansas City for a softball tournament. The book turned out to be a highlight of the trip since all six games were rained out.

Be glad you weren't living in Philadelphia in 1793! Things weren't going very well there. Yellow fever started spreading in August and didn't slow down until the first frost. Half of the population fled the city, and 5,000 people died in three months. The story is told through a fictional 14-year-old girl. Her friend is one of the first yellow fever deaths.She fleas her home when her mother becomes ill, and discovers a strength she never knew she had.

I listened to this audiobook on a road trip with my 13-year-old daughter. I love historical fiction and wanted to introduce her to the genre. I love how these types of books help me learn and connect to history. It was the perfect book for us to enjoy together!

15. A book of poems

Ask Me: 100 Essential Poems of William Stafford
Ask Me: 100 Essential Poems of William Stafford, 3 Stars on 4.26.2015. This is something I never would have read without the challenge, and it was a nice change of pace.

I don't normally read poetry, but a friend leant me this book to fulfill the poetry component of my 2015 reading challenge. I really enjoyed it. Themes include nature (especially rivers and smoke), war (Stafford was a pacifist), memories of people, and quirky experiences. My favorite poem in this book is "The Little Ways That Encourage Good Fortune'.

Like most poetry, it helps to read slowly, and I often read poems more than once to pick up the meaning. It would make a great coffee table or night stand book. 

16. A book you learned about because of this challenge

The Innocent Man: Murder an...
The Innocent Man by John Grisham, 4 Stars on 6.17.2015.

It is horrifying to think about an innocent person convicted of a crime. It happens in this true story told by John Grisham. Ron Williamson spent twelve years on death row and Dennis Fritz was sentenced to life in prison for a murder they had nothing to do with. Sadly, the police and prosecuting attorney wholeheartedly believed in their guilt and did whatever it took to put them away. This included intense police interrogations, which led to what the police considered confessions. Witnesses who thought they were being helpful or had ulterior motives gave false testimonies. The small Oklahoma town of Ada wanted revenge for this awful crime. The defendants knew truth was on their side, but were ultimately found guilty by juries. Thankfully, DNA analysis was eventually used to free the two men. Even then, many people still considered them guilty. This is a fascinating story. One thing I noticed is that Grisham vilified the attorney who prosecuted Ron and Dennis, but I know there are always two sides to the story. No one is 100% bad nor 100% good. I would have liked a more fair view of that attorney who I’m sure thought he was doing the right thing. It is reminder of why people should be “innocent until proven guilty” and not the other way around. Well done.

This was actually the last book I read as part of my 2015 reading challenge. I finished it on June 14, 2015.

17. A book that will make you smarter

Finished It: A Team's Journey to Winning It All
Finished It by Cassie Reilly-Boccia, 5 Stars on 2.6.2015.

This book should is a must-read for every softball coach, parent and player. AND, it's a should-read for everyone else who does not fit into that category. The book extends beyond the sport of softball and beyond the Crimson Tide. It's about teamwork.

The comfortable cadence of each chapter begins with background on the team, and ends with Cassie gradually re-living the day when Alabama won the national championship. It's hard to put down!

One of the main points that sticks out is the importance of each role on a team. Cassie connects many roles to the success of her team. She explains how the championship could not have been won without the fans, the video producer, trainers, coaches, and each athlete, including the Wolfpack sitting on the bench. Every person matters and can find a way to make a difference. This idea relates on and off the field. 

I credit Cassie with instilling a passion for the game in my daughter, who was fortunate to have taken lessons with Cassie throughout her stay in Iowa. Cassie is an incredible person, a talented writer, and a heck of a softball player!

18. A book with a blue cover

Peter Pan
Peter Pan by J.M, Barrie, 3 Stars on 3.17.2015. My original plan was The Beginning of Everything by Robin Schneider.

Everyone knows the story of Peter Pan, but I wanted to see if the original 1911 version was any different from what we know today. The essence is the same, but of course the book has more and different details. On the surface Peter Pan is a fun, whimsical story, but sadly it represents the death of a child. I enjoyed the book's creativity and can see why it has remained popular for several generations.

19. A book you were supposed to read in school, but didn't

Treasure Island
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson, 2 Stars (for me personally) on 6.7.2015. It's a classic that I've never read. The only book I know I didn't finish was from my senior year in college, the Spanish version of 100 Years of SolitudeI got tight on time, so I finished it in English. Is that cheating? 

This is the book that put pirates on the map (marked with an "X", of course!) It clearly defined the setting for Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean ride, and later for their movies. It's an entertaining story about a young boy who becomes involved in an exciting treasure hunt on a far-off island. 

It's not the book's fault, but this just wasn't the right kind of story for me. It's a pretty one dimensional action and adventure story, which understandably appeals to the intended young male audience. A middle-aged lady like me is looking for something with a little more substance. I'm giving it a 2 star "It was ok" rating.

Okay, I wasn't going to tell you this, but the first book that came to mind was Romeo and Juliette. I have always considered it to be a great stroke of luck to have never read it. My class was supposed to read it in 10th grade, but we happened to combine with another school that year. The other half of our new class had read it in 9th grade, so my half got out of it. I did suffer through Julius Caesar in 10th grade, which is pah-lenty of Shakespeare in my opinion.

20. A book "everyone" but you has read

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (Harry Potter, #1)
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, 5 Stars on 3.21.2015.

I read this book as part of my 2015 26 Book Challenge to fulfill this requirement: A book "everyone" but you has read. I'm glad I finally read this classic children's book. You all know what it's about. You all know it's amazing. So I'll keep this short. The two words I would use to describe it are creative (not surprising) and readable (surprisingly so).

For some reason I didn't expect it to be such a children's book. I know that's odd, but I know so many adults that have read it that I forgot it was written for children. I expected it to be heavy and complex, but it is very easy to follow. It's about magic, but it's not dark. There are a lot of characters, but they are easy to keep straight. It's descriptive in just the right doses. It may seem incredibly long for a child, but it's really only an average length novel. 

If you haven't read Harry Potter, I suggest you do!

21. A book with a great first line

Maude by Donna Foley Mabry, 5 Stars on 5.24. 2015. "I was barely over fourteen years old, and it was my wedding day." Other suggestions were Out of Africa by Karen Blizen or "Rebecca" by Daphne du Maurier

This is the true story of the author's grandmother. Maude was born in 1892 and suffered a series of unfortunate tragedies throughout her life. In addition to the captivating story of this determined and hard-working woman, the book is a great illustration of the massive changes that affected the United States throughout the first 80 years of the 20th century. Maude's granddaughter inherited Maude's ability to tell great stories, and I'm so glad she shared this book.

22. A book with pictures

I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban
I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai., 2 Stars on 3.10.2015.

Malala became a well-known spokesperson for girls' education in Pakistan and around the world at a young age. As a result, she is shot in the face by Taliban when she is 15. The book starts with a lot of history on Pakistan and Malala's home in the Swat valley. Admittedly, I found parts of the book to be slow, and it was difficult to follow all the names and cities. I know this was in part due to my own negligence and unfamiliarity with the topic. The second half was easier to get through. I have a lot if respect for Malala, but it felt like something was missing from the book that I can't quite put my finger on.

23. A book from the library

Fall of Giants (The Century Trilogy, #1)
Complete 5.19.2015. Fall of Giants by Ken Follett, 5 Stars on 5.19.2015. I have meaning to do this for ages, but I finally figured out how to rent Kindle books from the library because of this challenge.

Wow, wow, wow! Of all the books I've read so far, this one seems like it would have been the most difficult to write. Follett incorporates a broad understanding of the world during WWI and Russian Revolution. In addition to global politics, Follett details the lifestyles of British, German, Russian, and American aristocrats and working class. The book is balanced between the thoroughly researched motivations behind the wars and the personal lives of fictional characters used to tell the story. Important historical figures are also nicely integrated. 

My personal interest leaned toward the stories of the characters, but the in-depth history of the wars was also impressive.

24. A book you it again!

A Wrinkle in Time (A Wrinkle in Time Quintet, #1)
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle, originally 5 Stars when I was young, but I suprised myself and dropped it to 3 on 4.28.2015. My 13-year old science fiction loving daughter and I used it to pass the time to and from softball events. I also thought about The Bridges of Madison County by Robert James Waller. I didn't love that book when I first read it, but I think I might love it now that I'm all grown up and since my sister now lives in Madison County. It really does kill me to re-read a book since there are so many good books out there!

25. A book that is more than ten years old

Messenger (The Giver, #3)
Messenger by Lois Lowry, 3 Stars on 5.23.2015. This is the third book in The Giver series. I also read Son, the last book of the series. I read the books out of order, which I definitely would NOT recommend.

The Giver has become a classic book that frequents middle and high school reading lists. However, a lot of people don't realize The Giver is the first in a series of four books. Lois Lowry took several years to publish all four books, starting with "The Giver" in 1993, "Gathering Blue" in 2000, "Messenger" in 2004, and finally "Son"in 2012. The second book takes place in a different, be similarly strange society compared to the first book. I was surprised that there was no overlap in the characters. I was also expecting this third book to also be a similar stand-alone story, but it did start to link together some familiar characters. I do recommend you read the books in order. 

In "Messenger", The perfection of The Village starts to unravel as people trade parts of their character for selfish desires. Matty discovers a special gift that will be needed to restore peace. I liked, but didn't love the book.

26. A book based on a true story

A Wrestling Life: The Inspiring Stories of Dan Gable
The Wrestling Life: Inspiring Stories of Dan Gable, 4 Stars on 5.1.2015. Because I love college wrestling and happen to live in Gable's hometown. Other books I'd like to read are  or The Heart of a Champion by Bob Richards. 

A legend in the sport of wrestling, Dan Gable shares his best stories. It's an unusual format for a biography. Each chapter can be read independently, and it feels like the kind of anecdotes you would pick up from a person after sitting down to dinner with him a few times. 

This book would be great for any athlete. It shows the mindset and relentless work it takes to become a champion.

If you are interested, please look me up on Goodreads where I post ratings and reviews. You should be able to find me under "Ann Schaffer". My profile picture is in front of the Eiffel Tower.

Challenge Complete!

Sunday, January 4, 2015

We Seriously Need to Find Some New Ways to Wear an Infinity Scarf

One of my favorite ways to relax over Christmas break was to watch old movies and get my knitting needles going. I made an infinity scarf. And then I made an infinity scarf. And then I made another infinity scarf. It was a long break. 

This morning I realized that there is really only one socially acceptable way to wear an infinity scarf, at least here in Iowa.
I would like to propose a few other ways to rock an infinity scarf. K?
The Kris Kross (will make you...JUMP! JUMP!)
The Mystery Girl
The First Day of School Backpack
The Headband/Neck Warmer
The Shoulder Shawl
The Labradoodle
The Other Labradoodle
In hindsight, I should have applied a touch of makeup before snapping selfies, but I assume you were paying more attention to fabulous scarf fashions than my naked face. I double labradoodle dog dare you to wear one of these new styles the next time you go out. Fashion froward, my friends! Let's do this!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year...It's a Small World!

Happy New Year! I hope everyone had a fun and safe New Year's Eve this year. We went out to eat with some friends and were home early since TJ had to work at the fire station New Year's Day. We ate at a Japanese steakhouse in Waterloo, and the chef was the best we've ever experienced.

TJ stopped at a gas station to get something to drink this morning, and his debit card pin number would not work. On closer inspection, he realized the debit card had someone else's name on it! The restaurant had given him the debit card of the strangers seated next to us at the hibachi grill! We remembered that the guy next to TJ was Jake, which was a variation of name on the card.

I used dexknows people search to find Jake's phone number, and talked to Jake's grandmother. I don't know if he lived there or just had the same name as his grandfather. I tried to explain the situation, but I could tell she either didn't believe me or didn't understand the situation. TJ was at the fire station by this time, so he called police dispatch to see if they could help locate Jake. Firefighters work pretty closely with dispatch because they handle all 911 calls, so he was hoped they would help. This is where it gets weird. The dispatch operator recognized Jake's name. Coincidentally, Jake's mother is also a dispatch operator! How lucky is that! Jake came to the fire station to switch out the cards. Luckily, neither one of us had used each other's cards. We'll keep an eye on our account just in case, but it looks like everything is going to be okay.

I also called the steakhouse to explain what happened so they might avoid that problem in the future. The owner was horrified and is taking the situation seriously. We are very fortunate that this situation turned out the way it did, but it's a good reminder to ensure you receive the correct card back at restaurants and similar places.