Sunday, August 31, 2014

Books: 2014 Part 2

Yay reading!
Part 1 here.

0. Super Lexi ***** This is only a 90-page children's book and doesn't really count (hence the 0). But I'm including it in my list anyway since the illustrations were done by my brother-in-law and they are fantastic. Check it out! The book is written from the perspective of a girl on the autism spectrum (I think? It doesn't say specifically) so definitely unique, but her voice is still relatable and very cleverly written. The first in a series to come (2nd due out soon!).

1. Eyeing the Flash by Peter Fenton *** Autobiography of becoming a carny during his high school years. Details of his co-workers and day-to-day life, plus concise, clear descriptions of games (and how they scammed people.) I should probably give it 4 stars because it was well-written and fairly interesting, but ugh - carny life. It seems like the worst to me.

2. Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World's Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin ***** FANTASTIC. If you thought the creation of the atom bomb was a boring story about physicists doing sciencey stuff, you thought wrong. I mean, there are definitely physicists and sciencey stuff. But there are also spies and assassins and missions to blow up factories and coded information being sent to the KGB and lots and lots of secrets. Well-researched, well-written, utterly fantastic. I knew how the story ended and I was still on the edge of my seat. Read it.

3. Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do by Tom Vanderbilt ** Eh. I really wanted to like this, because I love driving, but it was a struggle to finish. I do think it was interesting information that most everyone would benefit from knowing, but in the end it needed better editing. It was a bit too long, the narrative wandered and the point got lost. See here for it's best tip.

4. My Story by Elizabeth Smart *** Harrowing. Read this if you are curious about the details of Elizabeth Smart's ordeal (although it's not salacious by any means). She has been added to my list of role models.

5. Twenties Girl by Sophie Kinsella **** Super cute. Lara's Great-Aunt Sadie dies and starts haunting Lara. The girl's relationship is hilarious and heart-warming. There is a romance of course, and it's good too, but the real stars here are Lara and Sophie. I loved their funny back-and-forth.

6. The Winter Sea by Susanna Kearsley **** A historical romance. Set in Scotland, Carrie begins to have visions of a past ancestor while she works on her novel. I liked how the narration flipped between Carrie and Sophie (her ancestor), so you can see both the story and the process of writing the story. I don't want to give away anything, but I will say the ending was satisfying.

7. Daring Greatly: How The Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead by Brene Brown ***** Life-changing. Seriously. Just read it. I can't tell you how many revelations I got out of this book. I went online and immediately bought a copy after I finished the audiobook so I can reread it, if that tells you anything. (Her Ted Talk is here.)

8. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion ***** A genetics researcher on the autism spectrum decides to undertake "The Wife Project" and find himself the perfect mate using a questionnaire. Written from his perspective. Quirky, enjoyable, hilarious. I loved it. (Warning - some swearing.)

9.The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman **** Nobody "Bod" Owens is raised by ghosts in the graveyard to protect him from the man who killed his family. It does start off with the murder but the intensity lessens after that. I kind of like these creepy but not gross/scary stories. Everything seems realistic in spite of the fantasy aspects and I love his characters, flaws and all.

10. The Nazi Officers Wife by Edith Hahn Beer **** Autobiography. A straightforward yet touching account of how one woman survived WWII by pretending to be an Aryan German and marrying a Nazi. The mental toll of what she had to do seems astounding. Insightful observations of both herself and the people around her.

11. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes **** Poignant love story between a quadriplegic and his caretaker. Which, I know! sounds really sappy and depressing, but please don't let it deter you. The writing is superb and the story is deeper than that. Is love enough to make a life truly worth living?

12. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart * I feel like I saw recommendations for this everywhere so I read it, and I hated it. The only reason I finished it is because there is a mystery and I had to know what happened. Spoiled white rich girl and her family live on an island every summer, but it's been two years since she was fifteen and the terrible accident she can't remember. I hated what happened. I hated the story. I hated the characters, I hated the ending, I hated the writing style. Boo.

13. Life Below Stairs by Alison Maloney ** I thought this was the book that inspired Downton Abbey, but that one is actually called Below Stairs, so... tricky. Also this book quoted from Below Stairs a lot, and I get the impression they were just trying to cash in on the Downton Abbey craze. Still, it was a quick, easy read and gave all the stats about life as a servant in Edwardian England, so I guess it fulfilled my purposes.

14. The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo *** She wrote another YA novel that I liked (Because of Winn-Dixie) so I checked this one out. It's kind of odd but also kind of charming. About a little mouse who goes on a quest for a princess.  I can see myself reading this with my girls when they get old enough.

15. The One and Only Ivan by K. A. Applegate **** Another YA novel. And this one is about animals, so I'm not even sure how this made it onto my reading list as these two things generally don't interest me, but I loved it! It's based on the true story of a gorilla who lived in a cage for 27 years. It's written from the gorilla's perspective and the writing is simple and direct and thoughtful. A sweet story with a happy ending.

16. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein ***** This was SO GOOD. And SO intense. A secret agent gets captured by the Gestapo and is forced to write out her mission amidst threats of torture. Incredibly well-researched, and she included so many details about flying for the British during WWII without overwhelming the reader. And I love love loved the two main characters. It's always refreshing to read about strong, smart women who genuinely love and care for each other as true friends. A page turner, for sure.

17. Book of Mormon Girl by Joanna Brooks *** Joanna writes a great blog (here) that I enjoy reading (and highly recommend) so I decided to read her memoir as well, and while I didn't like it quite as much as some of her blog posts, I still consider it a worthwhile read. If you like her blog, if you want to know her journey from orthodox to unorthodox Mormon, if you like reading about Mormon cultural issues, if you grew up a conservative Mormon girl and now find yourself decidedly less so, then I think you will enjoy this.

18. On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta **** Another YA, because apparently that's all I read now. And I DON'T CARE because this one was great. (It won a Printz award.) Amazingly beautiful writing that sucks you right in emotionally. Although I will say I didn't realize there were two different narrators telling two different stories at first and it confused the heck out of me before I figured out what was going on. So that could have been better. Part romance/part mystery/part drama/part coming-of-age. All awesome.

19. Shade's Children by Garth Nix ** Another depressing dystopian novel. I read this for a book club (which hasn't happened yet....Jeff), otherwise I probably would have never picked this up, since it is basically an R-rated Action/Sci-Fi film in book form. Machines come to earth and kill everyone above the age of 14 and put the rest in meat factories so they can harvest their organs. Blech. And it ended too abruptly.

So that makes 36 books read so far this year. Think I can make it to 50? Probably only if I stop rewatching episodes of The Office...

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Gatlinburg Trip: Part 2

We always referred to this as the Gatlinburg trip, even though we never actually went to Gatlinburg. We should have called it the Pigeon Forge trip, because we went to both the Dixie Stampede and Dollywood, which are in Pigeon Forge.
I got exactly zero pictures of the Dixie Stampede, so you'll just have to take my word for it that the girls loved it. It's like a rodeo, but classier, and they serve you dinner.  And there were no utensils. You ate everything with your hands. H liked that. T used the contraband fork and spoon I smuggled in.
The next day we went to Dollywood. I guess none of us checked the weather when planning this trip because it was pouring when we got there.
This necessitated ponchos, which the girls just loved wearing.
On the plus side, there was barely anyone there and the rain stopped after a few hours.
They rode the carousel about six dozen times and most of the rest of the kiddie rides at least two or three times. AND LOVED IT.
In the end though, this was H's favorite activity for the day: jumping in puddles.
T even went on a ride that drops you straight down and loved it so much she went on it three more times, much to all of our surprise.
Needless to say, they got a little wiped out with all the activity.
So, successful outing in spite of the rain. Until next time, Gatlinburg Pigeon Forge.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Gatlinburg Trip: Part 1

Two weeks ago Seth and I took the girls to meet up with my Dad for a weekend in Tennessee.
If you're wondering, this is how Seth normally does the Smoky Mountains:
This is how me and my family do it:
What can I say? We like our A/C. And our mattresses. And our indoor plumbing. And not camping, because blech.
Seth told me his goal was to get off of pavement for some of our trip and we obliged him by spending a day in Smoky Mountains National Park and seeing Mingus Mill and the Mountain Farm Museum.
He is trying to indoctrinate T into his nature loving ways, but the Toolson is strong in that one.
This is up where they diverted the water for the mill from the stream.
At the Farm Museum. They chased a chicken under this house.
We also went to Clingman's Dome, which is the highest point in the National Park, and it theoretically has some great views. This is another picture from our camping trip 4 years ago. See what the view is supposed to look like?
The day we went, it looked like this. We were literally inside a cloud for most of the hike. So much for the views.
And of course, it cleared up after we left and went to eat lunch at Newfound Gap. Here's T and her Grandad at the top of the monument there. Can you see them?
And here's H trying to climb said monument.
H actually enjoyed the hike up to Clingman's Dome and being outside. She may be Seth's only hope for a family member that likes camping. T mostly sat in the stroller and refused to get out.
Four years ago.
Two weeks ago.
More details of our thrilling trip coming soon!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

For Seth: Happy Anniversary!

Amanda and I both got married in 2009 and we always laugh about how different our wedding days would have been if we'd had Pinterest around back then.
But then I got to thinking, and I realized there is absolutely nothing I would change about my wedding day. It was, hands down, the best day of my life.
Well, okay, maybe I would go back and make sure that we do not accidentally send my father-in-law ahead to the luncheon with our car keys locked in his trunk. I think everyone waiting FOREVER for us to show up so we could eat lunch would have appreciated that.
But other than that, best day ever. I'm so glad we got married.
Here's to five years. Here's to us. Here's to many many more anniversaries to come. I love you!