Tuesday, December 30, 2014

2014 books

For nine months this year, I enjoyed the luxury of reading what I wanted, whenever I wanted. I plucked random books from shelves in the library, reread books I loved as a teenager, and discovered new authors. It was lovely. I'm glad I eased up on my reading aspirations, especially after the intensity of last year.

But, I'm ready for another reading challenge. My to-read list on Goodreads currently has 214 books on it. And frankly, that's 214 books I want to read that I've forgotten about. So it's time to focus and start chipping away at all those (hopefully) wonderful books. I've seriously considered only reading books on that list for all of 2015, but that's a tad too restrictive, especially since I love rereading books. So my goal for 2015 is to read 50 books from my to-read list.

But first, let's talk about the books I read this year.

Goal: Read 60 books

Books read: 66

First reads: 46

Rereads: 20

Books by female authors: 33

Books by male authors: 33

Longest book: The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexander Dumas—1276 pages.

Shortest book: Quidditch Through the Ages, by Kennilworthy Whisp—64 pages.

Pages read: 26,744

Average number of pages per book: 405

  • 5 stars: 21
  • 4 stars: 17
  • 3 stars: 21
  • 2 stars: 7
  • 1 star: 0
Favorite book (fiction): The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak. My poor heart—this book is almost too much for it. One minute I'm basking in the gorgeous writing and the next I'm crying over a character I love. I cannot recommend this book more highly.

Favorite book (nonfiction): Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand. I love the World War II time period. (Huh. I just noticed both my favorite books are set during WWII. Point proven.) And this story is too incredible to not be true. Before you say you don't like nonfiction, give this book a try. I'm pretty sure you'll love it.

Favorite reread: Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine. This is one of my favorite books of all time, so rereading it is always a treat. I keep trying to find a fairy-tale retelling that measures up to this one, but I don't expect to ever succeed at that venture (although Shannon Hale's Storybook of Legends comes close). This book is just too awesome.

Best discovery: The Secret Keeper, by Kate Morton. I'm so glad I found this book, especially since it led me to The Forgotten Garden, which is one of the best books I've read this year. Both books develop slowly, which gave me more time to revel in the lovely writing and enjoy the characters' stories. Whodunnit mysteries don't appeal to me all that much, but a good family mystery does, apparently. And each book had immensely satisfying endings, the kind that make you both marvel and ache.

Best escape book: Scarlet, by Marissa Meyer. This book was distracting enough to make me forget about a disheartening BYU loss. And to eliminate any temptation to turn on the TV. And to keep me from sleeping at night. I love it when books do this, but I would be in trouble if they were all like this.

Funniest book: Someday, Someday, Maybe, by Lauren Graham. I didn't expect this book to be amazing, since it doesn't seem fair for someone to be beautiful, smart, funny, a fabulous actor, and a good writer, but . . . apparently it is possible to be all those things if you're Lauren Graham. This book has the charm I love about Gilmore Girls, and it had me laughing out loud many times. I kind of want to read it again right now.

Saddest book: And the Mountains Echoed, by Khaled Hosseini. The saddest thing about this book isn't so much that no one seems to get their happy ending, but that the tragedies they deal with are battles real people face every day that just can't be won. Still a great book, though.

Weirdest book: Dangerous, by Shannon Hale. Don't get me wrong, I thoroughly enjoyed this book. But there are aliens that take over peoples' bodies, and aliens weird me out.

Yawn award: Families and Faith: How Religion Is Passed Down Across Generations, by Vern L. Bengtson, Norella M. Putney, and Susan Harris. This study and its findings are very interesting, but, like most published studies, the writing is pretty dry. If I didn't have to review it for the Deseret News, I would have just read the conclusions and skipped everything else. There was definitely a lot of skimming going on as it was. . . .

Chick award: What Is Hidden, by Lauren Skidmore. This is probably the funnest book I read this year. (And yes, "funnest" is too a word.) I grinned like a lovestruck teenager through most of it.

Book in most need of a proofreader: Gadiantons and the Silver Sword, by Chris Heimerdinger. The Tennis Shoes books are entertaining—I adored them when I was a teenager. But the proofreading is just awful in this book. I have some experience with the rigorous tests required to be a proofreader, and I cannot fathom how this book made it to press as is. Moral of the story: don't skimp on editing.

Book I was most pleasantly surprised by: Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen. It's always a pleasant surprise when I actually enjoy a so-called classic, but I really didn't expect to like this one. I just picked it up so I could complete my Jane Austen To-Read list. But this book is funny, and doesn't have nearly as many balls as the other books. Don't listen to the naysayers—this one is worth your time.

Book I was most disappointed in: Where I Was From, by Joan Didion. For nonfiction writers, Joan Didion is an idol. I loved every one of her essays I read for my graduate program, which is why I picked one of her books to read during my last semester. Oh, how I wish I could reverse that decision. This book has almost no trace of the writer I admire, and I'm still bitter about it.

Most thought-provoking: Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt. This is one of the first books I read that really made me think, and I love it for that. 

Fueled my hope for humanity: The Book Thief wins this one by a mile, but I'm trying not to highlight any book more than once. So here's my second choice: Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel. I think I'm a little bit of a dystopian junkie. This one isn't your typical YA love story set in revolutionary chaos—99 percent of the world dies in a flu pandemic, and the poor survivors have to pick up the pieces of a world that went completely dark, the memories of life before the world ended haunting them all the time. How do you keep going after such loss? Read and find out. (Spoiler alert: Star Trek plays a role.)

Book I'm most glad I abandoned: The Map of Time, by Felix J. Palma. I don't mind too much if a book gets off to a slow start, but this one was so slow that not even the prospect of time travel could keep me going.

Book I'd love to see as a movie: It's about time we had a Brandon Sanderson movie, don't you think? Mistborn is the one I'd most like to see as a movie, but since I didn't read that book this year, I'll go with Way of Kings

Book I don't want to see as a movie: The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway. The only things more boring than fishing is (1) watching someone fish and (2) watching someone golf. Sure, the old man gets attacked by sharks a couple of times, but that doesn't change the fact that 90 percent of this movie would be the most uninteresting thing ever.

Book I would love to live in: Anne's House of Dreams, by L.M. Montgomery. If I can't live at Green Gables, then Anne's little house with the garden and the brook is the next best thing.

Book I'm perfectly happy not living in: Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson. If you've been victim to the sharp steel edges of my parents' bar stools, you'll have deep sympathy for Raodin, who has to suffer the pain of a stubbed toe for an eternity. Sure, not everyone in this book is stuck in Elantris, but if there was even a chance that I'd have to endure that kind of torture forever, I'd travel to another world, no questions asked.

Favorite character: Picking just one is too stressful. I can't do it.

Least favorite character: Kokor, from The Call of Earth by Orson Scott Card. Some people are just impossible to like. Like those people who have severe I'm-a-martyr syndrome and who think they are justified in ruining other peoples' lives to make themselves feel better. These people tend to be arrogant and have extremely low self-esteem. There is absolutely nothing likeable about Kokor.

Most interesting character: Shallan, from Words of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson. Just when I thought I had this girl figured out, we'd find out more about her and I'd have to reevaluate everything I thought I knew. I know I praise Brandon Sanderson all the time, but the way he writes Shallan is really quite masterful.

Most relatable character: Cara from Allegiant, by Veronia Roth. I've already forgotten a lot of what happens in these books, but I do remember liking Cara a lot. She's Erudite, sure, but she also has things like emotions and common sense. She's not in the spotlight very much, and I think that's the way she prefers it. Sounds like me to me.

Book crush: Howl, from Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones. Howl isn't the kind of guy I would want to be married to: he's vain, whiny, and extremely high maintenance. But he sure knows how to melt a girl's heart with his attempts to hide his goodness behind a mask of cowardice, and the obvious affection he has for everyone he complains about most. He's just an adorable mess.

Best cover: Cress, by Marissa Meyer. This cover does everything a cover should do: it's pretty, it uses an appropriate font, and it gives you a hint of what the story will be about without giving much away. My favorite thing about this cover is how clean it is—there's a refreshing use of white space going on. I'm also a fan of covers that don't show people from the front; it takes a lot more creativity to create a book cover without slapping a picture of a model on the front. Getting just a glimpse of Cress and her hair does a lot to make the book seem more mysterious and interesting.

All the books I read in 2014 (titles in bold are the ones I recommend most highly):
  1. Northanger Abbey, by Jane Austen
  2. Wizard's First Rule, by Terry Goodkind
  3. A Ring of Endless Light, by Madeline L'Engle
  4. Where I Was From, by Joan Didion
  5. Divergent, by Veronica Roth
  6. Anne's House of Dreams, by L.M. Montgomery
  7. Insurgent, by Veronica Roth
  8. If You Knew Then What I Know Now, by Ryan Van Meter
  9. Allegiant, by Veronica Roth
  10. On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction, by William Zinsser
  11. Families and Faith: How Religion is Passed Down Across Generations, by Vern L. Bengtson
  12. Way of Kings, by Brandon Sanderson
  13. Words of Radiance, by Brandon Sanderson
  14. Steelheart, by Brandon Sanderson
  15. Someday, Someday, Maybe, by Lauren Graham
  16. The Best American Essays 2013, edited by Robert Atwan
  17. The Paris Architect, by Charles Belfoure
  18. And the Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini
  19. What Is Hidden, by Lauren Skidmore
  20. Howl's Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones
  21. Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson
  22. If I Stay, by Gayle Forman
  23. True Colors, by Kristin Hannah
  24. The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexander Dumas
  25. Castle in the Air, by Diana Wynne Jones
  26. Anne of Ingleside, by L.M. Montgomery
  27. Tuck Everlasting, by Natalie Babbitt
  28. Dangerous, by Shannon Hale
  29. Warbreaker, by Brandon Sanderson
  30. Mort, by Terry Pratchett
  31. Eastward to Zion, by Susan Aylworth
  32. The Book Thief, by Markus Zusak
  33. Shades of Milk and Honey, by Mary Robinette Kowal
  34. Ella Enchanted, by Gail Carson Levine
  35. The Piano Tuner, by Daniel Mason
  36. Glamour in Glass, by Mary Robinette Kowal
  37. The Memory of Earth, by Orson Scott Card
  38. Water for Elephants, by Sara Gruen
  39. The Call of Earth, by Orson Scott Card
  40. Anatomy of a Misfit, by Andrea Portes
  41. Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption, by Laura Hillenbrand
  42. Firefly Lane, by Kristin Hannah
  43. The Old Man and the Sea, by Ernest Hemingway
  44. Firstborn, by Robin Lee Hatcher
  45. Quidditch Through the Ages, by Kennilworthy Whisp
  46. The Secret Keeper, by Kate Morton
  47. Tennis Shoes among the Nephites, by Chris Heimerdinger
  48. Gadiantons and the Silver Sword, by Chris Heimerdinger
  49. The Feathered Serpent Part 1, by Chris Heimerdinger
  50. The Feathered Serpent Part 2, by Chris Heimerdinger
  51. The Sacred Quest, by Chris Heimerdinger
  52. The Fires of Calderon, by Lindsay Cummings
  53. Stone of Tears, by Terry Goodkind
  54. The Lost Scrolls, by Chris Heimerdinger
  55. The Forgotten Garden, by Kate Morton
  56. Cinder, by Marissa Meyer
  57. The Golden Crown, by Chris Heimerdinger
  58. Till We Have Faces, by C.S. Lewis
  59. Warriors of Cumorah, by Chris Heimerdinger
  60. Scarlet, by Marissa Meyer
  61. A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens
  62. Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel
  63. Cress, by Marissa Meyer
  64. Tower of Thunder, by Chris Heimerdinger
  65. Kingdoms and Conquerers, by Chris Heimerdinger
  66. The Storybook of Legends, by Shannon Hale
Previous years:

Thursday, December 11, 2014

When $100 is magical

Once upon a time, I accompanied my mom to the grocery store. She grumbled something about only having 10 dollars, and then quickly went into the store while I waited in the car. Though confused by my mom's tone of voice—she made it sound like 10 dollars was a useless lump of change—I imagined all the wonderful things I would buy with that kind of fortune. Why, I could get 20 candy bars for that much money! I could get 10 things off the dollar menu at Wendy's! I could buy a beautiful bag of marbles, a book, maybe even a Barbie.

Ten dollars was all it took to open up a whole new world of opportunities.

It wasn't long before people started tossing bills at me in exchange for watching their kids for a few hours. Payment for my services soon turned into checks that went straight to the bank.

In no time at all, money went from being a treasure to a commodity. I needed much more than 10 dollars now to imagine a life of riches. One hundred dollars would do it.

As a poor college student who now understood the feeling of helplessness caused by having only 10 dollars for groceries, an extra 100 dollars had enough power behind it to change my entire month. I could buy enough food to last for weeks, fill my car with gas several times, or even splurge on fast food just once without feeling guilty. It would be 100 less dollars I would have to save for tuition, or would pay for a nice chunk of books for one semester.

This time, though, the money wasn't a medium to get frivolous things. I stood in awe of it because every little bit made a noticeable difference in my quality of life.

Well, I graduated from college, and soon even the magic of 100 dollars disappeared. Now that I had established some stability with plenty of wiggle room, my dreams suddenly got a lot more expensive.

So the last four years when I've gotten my Christmas bonus (always $100 or less), I've stopped for a minute to think about the responsible things I could do with this extra money. Buy Christmas presents for other people. Put it in savings. Make an extra student loan payment.

But none of those options ever sound appealing. One hundred dollars isn't going to make much of a difference, no matter which good cause I try to dedicate it to. (Not to mention the bonus always comes in cash, which means a 20-minute trip to the nearest UCCU branch if I want to be boring and responsible.)

But there is one thing that has high potential for personal satisfaction: guilt-free indulgence. It's how I started my Harry Potter wand collection. It's paid for a couple extra movie tickets and delicious restaurant meals.

And this year, it allowed me to live one of my fantasies: a bookstore shopping spree.

This $100 was magical.

It started out like this:

Usually I'm more impressed by $100 bills, but this was the most
enthusiasm I could muster on a Tuesday right after work.
And turned into this:

This was before the BYU-Utah game happened.

I love Christmas.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Dream diary: Part 5

A spur-of-the-moment trip to Ogden
On a random Thursday night, Tiffany and I decided to spend the night at our aunt's house in Ogden. Without telling her. Her family didn't mind, although there was no room to sleep inside so we slept in someone's truck. And the next day I had to shower in a public bathroom. I knew I was going to be late for work that day, so I kept trying to text my boss to tell her that, but something always prevented me from finishing that stupid text: I was too slow, a plane crashed near the house and we had to dodge the flying debris, my aunt's entire family swarmed in to prepare for a surprise birthday party (no idea whose). Ignoring the new hole in the roof, we started preparing for the party as if it were a celebrity event; stylists were even brought in to make us pretty. My stylist turned out to be my boss, so I didn't have to worry about texting her (that was by far the most stressful part of the dream). She gave me Shirley Temple curls, and I was not happy about how young it made me look, especially when an attractive guy showed up at the party. We were about to leave when Tiffany ran into an old friend, and they started planning a trip to Europe, starting at the Washington, D.C. Temple. Because it's so close, obviously.

The toddler-sized Wizard of Oz
There's something wicked brewing in the world, and Emma, Captain Hook, and Prince Charming (from Once Upon a Time) have taken it upon themselves to stop it. Of course. Someone discovers that the evil mastermind behind it all has set up shop in a windowless room on a . . . bus, I think. But a really cool one. Our heroes make it to the room, which is shielded from view by a green curtain. Emma pushes the curtain aside, expecting to see the Wizard of Oz/former boyfriend/flying monkey, but instead finds my two-year-old (at the time) nephew Jaxson sitting on a bar stool in front of a bunch of computer monitors, his legs swinging in the air as he types stuff on keyboards. This affirmed my belief that this kid is a genius, so I immediately set out to recruit Bronx—Jaxson's twin brother—to be part of the evil mastermind team. I found him happily playing with stuffed animals in Shannan's room.

A set of unlikely events
My ward had a pool party in my parents' living room, and my dad ran for mayor of Elk Ridge.

Harry Potter and the Muggle duel
It was one of those dreams where I was convinced I was awake, because, in my dream, my alarm went off and I started getting ready for the day. I noticed that a lot of things seemed to be out of place, and my bathroom was a complete mess. I had just about decided that I must have been sleep walking when I saw that my front door was slightly ajar. I went over to shut and lock it, just as these two guys tried to break into my apartment. They were stronger than me, so they busted the door open anyway. So I grabbed one of my wands (I really wish I knew which character's wand it was) and Crucio'd them on the spot. (Hey, you break into my apartment, you suffer the consequences.) Then I Imperiused them so they would leave and never come back. (The fact that this worked should have clued me in that I was dreaming, but I was still certain I was awake.) Then I started cleaning up my bathroom—there were a bunch of swimming suits hanging up to dry—when my bishop came over and reminded me that we were running 1.15 miles after my tithing settlement. On my way out, he asked my sister (Shannan) if she wanted some celery. Then, finally, my alarm went off for real, and I was no longer confused.