Friday, February 24, 2012

Book Review: If You Ask Me: And of Course You Won't

Book 5/30 in the 2012 Reading Challenge.  Date completed: February 24, 2012.

Oh, Betty White.  Is there anyone more adorable?  Methinks no.  I grew up largely holding the hand of my grandma, and we spent much of my childhood watching Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood.  When those weren't on, we were watching The Golden Girls.  I've loved Betty White since before I was C's age.

So I went into reading her newest book, If You Ask Me, a bit biased.  I knew I'd love it.  I pretty much knew I'd give it five stars.  I bought the audiobook from iTunes in the hopes that it'd be read by Betty herself and was not disappointed.  This absolutely made it worth the extra money.  Betty White is just a doll.  She's everything I hope to be one day.  Funny and wise and generous...  Plus, like I've already mentioned:  ADORABLE!  I have to keep reminding myself that she is NINETY years old.  It doesn't seem possible!

If You Ask Me is filled with anecdotes and life lessons from Betty.  She talks about her love of animals, her incredible Hollywood career, her late husband, friends, family, and more.  I'm not just being polite when I say I've learned a lot from Betty's book.  Her narrative had me giggling and it had me crying.  Sometimes simultaneously.  She is just such a neat person.  So humble and amazing.  I feel like we could be good friends.  My only complaint about this book was that it was too short.  ;)

Five stars.  I don't care if that's irrational.  I'm probably going to buy her other books, too.  And I'll probably also give them five star ratings.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Book Review: Still Missing

Book 4/30 in the 2012 Reading Challenge.  Date completed: February 17, 2012.

Another audiobook for me - listening in the car and while I am doing my chores is so convenient.  Still Missing was recommended to me along with Room and I'd Know You Anywhere (which I haven't gotten to yet, but have waiting).  It's another kidnapping story, told in the form of the victim's counseling sessions as she tries to cope with what's happened to her.

Annie is a Canadian real estate agent with a content, if not boring, life.  She's got a great boyfriend and a successful business.  She's got a wonderful dog, Emma, and she's got the home of her dreams.

Enter "the freak".  The seemingly decent man who abducts her from an open house, takes her to a cabin in the mountains, and among other abuses rapes her nearly every night for almost a year.

I won't spoil the main plot points, and I won't tell you how she goes from hostage to therapy patient, but this is a really complex story with all sorts of crazy drama that unfolds at the very end.  We're talking TWISTS, people.

I enjoyed this book.  I gave it four stars.  I'm getting rather irritated, though, because I bought Michael J. Fox's audiobook - Lucky Man, and it didn't download properly.  So now I am struggling to get it fixed in order to listen past the 20 minute mark.  D'oh!

Anyway, Still Missing was good.  Worthwhile.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Book Review: One Day

Would be book 4/30 in the 2012 Reading Challenge...  Had I finished it.

Another unsuccessful read for me.  I hate these.  I probably could have finished One Day, even though it was taking me an eon to get through, had I not rented the movie.  I couldn't resist it, though.  The book was a dragging-slow read for me and I figured best case scenario, watching the movie might intrigue me enough to finish the book.  Not likely since I tend to be unable to read books after watching the movies, but in this case, I wouldn't have tried.  And frankly, I've never been so thrilled with my decision and insight (shush, just because I didn't anticipate tragedy from this story!  I am calling it insight that I couldn't bring myself to read it!) to put a book down and not pick it back up.

This story is heartbreaking and awful.  It's like When Harry Met Sally meets City of Angels.  Although When Harry Met Sally is one of my favorite movies, City of Angels is one of my least favorites.  One Day is completely unrewarding and torturous.

Don't read it.  And don't watch the movie.  Putting Anne Hathaway's cute little face on any story this tragic should be illegal.

Onward, ho!

Book Review: Tara Road

Book 3/30 in the 2012 Reading Challenge.  Date completed:  February 7, 2012.

I might have mentioned before that my grandma is my absolute best friend in the world.  When I went home in December for a visit, I spent as much time with her as possible, and she sent me on my journey to Europe with a couple of books from her favorite authors.  One of them was Maeve Binchy's Tara Road.

Tara Road is the story of Ria and Danny Lynch's romance and their beautiful and happy home on Tara Road in Dublin.  Well, the first half of the book is the story of their romance.  The second half is about their devastating break-up and how Ria travels to America for a summer to find herself.

This book was a light, easy read.  I enjoyed it a lot and I rated it four stars.  In looking for a picture of the cover on Google, I discovered that it was adapted into a movie starring Andie MacDowell, which I'm pretty excited about - looking forward to checking for it at the library.

Ria is an average girl, and at a young age falls head-over-heels for the dashing and oh-so-charming Danny Lynch when they meet working at a real estate office.  A romance follows, followed by a surprise pregnancy and their quick marriage.  Danny has a lucky run with business and ends up partners with Barney McCarthy, a  tycoon, and also a not-so-sneaky adulterer.  Ria feels continual sympathy for Barney's wife, Mona, but never suspects in the slightest that Danny's not only following Barney's business lead, but also his extramarital one.  Danny is a bit of a snake, and rolls through several affairs unknown to Ria before, at nearly 40 years old, he finally comes clean to her after impregnating and falling in love with a 22 year old girl called Bernadette.

Ria is overcome with grief at his decision to proceed with a divorce and the possibility of losing the home they created together and also a bit in denial that he'll actually follow-through with it.  When an American woman calls her home unexpectedly trying to reach Danny to find out about a home exchange, Ria seizes the opportunity to get away from Dublin and convinces the troubled Margaret to exchange homes with her.

Though they're essentially thrown into a "wife swap" sort of experience when they realize how different their lifestyles are, each of the women eventually finds her serenity and from around the world they develop quite a deep and meaningful friendship with one another.

This wasn't the best book in the world and parts of it made me irrationally mad at my husband on behalf of Danny Lynch (sorry, M!) and very frustrated with Ria for her na├»vety, but overall I did enjoy it and was quite refreshed with it after dragging through The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, if for no other reason than it was different.  And because it's my grandma's book.

The other day we were shopping at Tesco - my new favorite store - and as we passed a small book display, I noticed another Maeve Binchy title.  I bought Minding Frankie just out of principle, because I'm going to really enjoy reading more of her work and passing them on to grandma so we can continue to book-share.  :)

Book Review: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Book 2/30 in the 2012 Reading Challenge.  Date completed: February 6, 2012.

My Reading Challenge this year is off to a seemingly grim start.  My second book, Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo is what I finished next, and with it's vastly positive reviews, I had high expectations.  I was disappointed.

I listened to this book in audio format rather than reading it traditionally, even though I own all three of the books in this trilogy in e-Reader format (bought them on sale early on last year).  Perhaps that was my mistake.  Most people who fell head-over-heels for these books, I believe, read them traditionally.  For me, I think I only managed to finish the book because I enjoyed the narrator's voice.  The story didn't really captivate me.  I found myself unable to keep up with the characters and at times the plot.  It just didn't reel me in like I'd hoped it would.  I very seriously doubt I'll read the sequels.

I rated this two stars.  It wasn't that it was a terrible story, it's just that it was all over the place.  Larsson dwells on the fact that the heroine, Lisbeth Salander, is such a rebel with her lithe build and her tattoos and piercings.  Maybe it's because I am from the generation I'm from, but mohawked, tattooed, pierced girls don't shock me much.  Maybe it's just that I'm a heterosexual female and had no sexual attraction to her excessive descriptions.  I liked her character, but I wasn't overly intrigued by her.  I also didn't like the way the writing would flip-flop from using a character's full name to using just their first or last name so excessively.  In one passage, you'd hear a character referred to by all three.  It was difficult to follow.  Lisbeth, Salander, and Lisbeth Salander.  And with names obviously a bit foreign to me - Blomkvist, Armansky, Henrik - I'd have preferred to stick to just the first or the last, rather than skipping around so much.

This book was just not my thing, which disappointed me more than anything.  I'd have really liked to enjoy it, but I suppose my expectations were just too high for it, given that it has been so widely talked about.  I've not decided yet if I'll watch the movie.  It's not something I'll actively pursue, I don't imagine.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Book Review: The Happiness Project

Book 1/30 in the 2012 Reading Challenge.  Date completed: January 15, 2012.

Gretchen Rubin's The Happiness Project was the perfect book for me to read at the start of a new year.  Uplifting and optimistic, Gretchen details how she spent a year making and combining various resolutions to expand on her happiness.  Each month she focused on a different aspect of her life and carefully thought out resolutions that she could apply to her daily life.  The book is basically the reflection of how things panned out for her.  I believe a friend recommended this book to me a while back and I sort of shrugged it off.  Then I started seeing it on Pinterest.  Again mostly shrugged it off.

It wasn't till I was standing in the airport in our home town waiting to board the first flight out of our Christmas vacation at home with our families and into our newest adventure in the UK that I picked up the book at the newsstand from the bestsellers shelf.  That was December 29.  I dove in as soon as we were airborne.

The Happiness Project doesn't exactly read as a "self-help" book.  Nor does it truly feel like a "how-to" guide.  It's more a concentrated memoir of sorts.  I enjoyed the format quite a bit.  I said to myself several times while reading it that it couldn't have been better timed for me - the new year hanging over us, the new adventure, and the bittersweet month we'd spent re-familiarizing ourselves with our families from whom we were so long detached...  It was certainly a good time.  I felt like the book was really speaking TO ME because I had such mixed emotions on December 29 about the road (or skies) ahead.

However, I only gave The Happiness Project something like two stars.  It wasn't my favorite book.  I found Gretchen to be a bit annoying at times, though I can't pinpoint why exactly I felt this way.  Parts of the book I very much enjoyed, other parts I just found to be so-so.  For example, I felt like most of the mentions of her husband were very blah.  It could be just her writing style but I kept getting irritated by his personality.  I wanted to shake her up and tell her to dump the loser.  But at the same time she kept talking about how wonderful he was and how she needed to cut him more slack.  I guess I just don't really subscribe to the doting, obedient, overly-serving wife ideal.  Maybe I should.  But I immediately assumed she was extremely religious and then in a later chapter she goes into how she isn't, actually.  So I think that threw me off, too.  Minus her husband, I'd probably have rated the book higher.  Reading back over that sentence it seems unfair but I can't help it.  It's not a book I'd recommend to everyone I met, but certainly I'd recommend it in some cases.

And I will say this:  it was inspiring.  Made me want to sing in the mornings (which I now sometimes do) and clean out my closets (which I admit I pretty much enjoyed before, too).

Overall, it was the right choice for the first book of the year.  I just couldn't justify giving it a super high rating.  Call me stingy.  ;)

Little by Little

We finally got our internet functional last night, so as far as my nerdy self is concerned, we are back in business.  I might never browse the web and check my email from my iPhone again.  Good grief!

Really though, thank goodness for small favors - without the iPhone I'd have been even more disconnected from the world.

I've been reading (and listening to audiobooks) a lot lately to fill my time.  So I've got some book review updating to do.  The biggest reading news for me is that I met my goal of 25 books last year.  It's not a lot, but I'm so excited about it.  This year I've resolved to try and hit 30.  We'll see how it goes, I hit 25 on the nose last year and basically by the skin of my teeth.  I just joined a book club, though, so that'll help.  I am pretty sure it's going to lean towards "the classics", which sadly really aren't my most favorite, but I am open to it anyway for the experience of finally being in an actual book club and having some geeked out camaraderie.

A is settled in at her new school and thriving.  She's also getting involved with her new girl scout troop and we have cookies out the wazoo here at home.  M is settling in at work.  We added a puppy and a kitten to the family (insert sound of exasperation here), and we got our first snow this past weekend.  Things have been good - mostly.  We are still waiting on two of our four household shipments to arrive.  By this, I basically mean we have yet to receive any of our furniture.  Fortunately the government offers temporary furniture so we haven't been forced to sit on the floor so far.  And we bought new mattresses since we left our mattresses behind in Okinawa (we wanted to err on the side of caution where all that mold and humidity was concerned...) so we've been sleeping comfortably.  Still doing much of our living out of suitcases and boxes, though, until our proper things arrive.  Hopefully it'll be soon, but I'm not holding my breath.

C just had her third birthday (sniff!) and is doing well.  She's such a monkey.  She's just like me - super suspicious and cautious of new people.  A is just like her daddy - the social butterfly.  C is the opposite.  It makes me laugh.  We went to a play group and she got completely overwhelmed and asked to come home.  She'd prefer to sit on the couch with me and color and have Mickey Mouse Clubhouse on TV over playing with other similar-aged children.

Haven't taken any grand European adventures just yet, but we are certainly adjusting.  Missing certain aspects of Okinawa and of course aspects of America - we talk about missing grandma on a daily basis - but we're optimistic.  Book reviews coming up.
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