Monday, December 22, 2014

2014 Goodreads Reading Challenge

Good morning!

This year I did the Goodreads Reading Challenge. I set a goal for myself in January that I would read at least 30 [new] books. This was a really good thing for me because I have a "bad" habit of re-reading the same books over and over. Granted, I did do a bit of that this year, especially when I needed a break from some of the more intense books. I re-read the Fablehaven series (again... so good) and a few individual books that I've enjoyed before or wanted to refresh my memory.

I also thought 30 was an ambitious but reasonable number. Some of my Goodreads friends set goals of 50 or more books and, a week or so out from the new year, they haven't yet neared that goal. On the other hand, one girl set a goal of 127 books and has read 125, so I guess anything is possible!

I did do a book review post over the summer, so I'm not going to review those books here again. : ) Instead they are listed in bold, and I'll just skip over them to the next set!

1. Peter and the Shadow Thieves (Peter and the Starcatchers Book 2) - Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson

This book series is based on the story of Peter Pan... but it's mainly meant to be prequels. Only the 4th book takes place with Wendy and the Darlings, the story most are familiar with. I read the first book in the series last year because of the play that was released on Broadway (with Christian Borle... my fav). This book, the second in the series, was very good, and I gave it 4 stars. 

2. The First Phone Call from Heaven - Mitch Albom ... I gave this one three stars. It's not my favorite Mitch Albom book. I think after reading "Have a Little Faith" I was expecting more.
3. Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles, #1) - Marissa Moyer ... I got this out of the school library after seeing it reviewed online. I gave it 3 stars because while it was an okay story, it wasn't really for me.
4. Bossypants - Tina Fey

I really enjoy Tina Fey and her writing. I gave this one 5 stars. A. and I also watched the first season of 30 Rock on Netflix over the summer and we found it very funny. : )

5. Seeds of Rebellion (Beyonders, #2) - Brandon Mull 

I know I've said this before, but I really love Brandon Mull's storytelling abilities. His Fablehaven series is one of my all-time favorites, and while the Beyonders series took place in an entirely fictional world, I still really sunk my teeth into it. The second book was just as enthralling as the first and I gave it four stars... I think only because there were a few slow parts that were tough to get through.

6. Chasing the Prophecy (Beyonders, #3) - Brandon Mull ... I gave this one five stars. It was a really excellent end to the series, and again, I admired Brandon's talent of creating a new world and weaving this exciting tale around it.
7. The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett ... I thought it was about time I actually read this book. I watched the movie when I was younger and I had a picture-book version, but never read the real story. I thought it was a very good children's book and gave it four stars.
8. Hollywood Stories: Short, Entertaining Anecdotes about the Stars and Legends of the Movies - Stephen Schochet ... This was a Kindle Lending Library Read, and while there were some neat epithets, I only gave it two stars. A lot of the stories were repetitive and overall it just read like a bunch of compiled Trivia sections.
9. I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban - Malala Yousafzai

My gosh... I can only dream that I would ever have the courage and eloquence of this girl. This book was extremely enlightening and I am so glad that I read it. It really made me realize how fortunate we are in "the West" and how we take education for granted. This was a five-star book.

10. Ender's Game - Orson Scott Card ... I recently re-read this one. It's a very captivating story and might not be for everyone, as it's very sci-fi and a little violent to imagine these little kids getting into the situations Card has invented. I gave it four stars.
11. The One and Only - Emily Giffin
12. The Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern
13. Redfield Farm: A Novel of the Underground Railroad - Judith Redline Coopey
14. An Abundance of Katherines - John Green
15. 11/22/63 - Stephen King
16. The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing - Melissa Bank
17. The Giver - Lois Lowry
18. The Happiness Project - Gretchen Rubin ... This was a book my friend C. lent me. It was interesting, but after a while I got kind of sick of Gretchen's preaching and all of her brilliant ideas. There was some good stuff in here but by the end of Gretchen's year I was ready to be done with her book. : ) Three stars.
19. If I Stay - Gayle Forman

I also recently re-read this book. As a musician, I found all of the musical references throughout very interesting. The love story was captivating, but my favorite character was probably Gramps. I think one of things I liked most about this book was the description of a happy family - one where the kids and parents generally get along, and the kids don't always know better than the parents. Be warned: you will need Kleenex. Four stars. 

20. Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage - Molly Wizenberg ... This was another loaner from C., and I gave it four stars. It was a very interesting read and I enjoyed Molly's writing style. It was entertaining and informative.
21. Where She Went - Gayle Forman ... The sequel to "If I Stay." This time, written from Adam's point of view instead of Mia's. It was very good and I like that the author didn't romanticize Mia's or Adam's lives after the accident. Four stars.
22. A Homemade Life - Molly Wizenberg ... I thought I would enjoy this other book by Molly since I liked Delancey, but I didn't like it as much. There are a lot of recipes involved if you're into that sort of thing. Three stars.
23. The White Queen - Philippa Gregory 

I love Philippa Gregory's books, but I feel like they are starting to get a little repetitive. I understand it's historical fiction (which I like to read)... but with all the focus on the same time period and country, I am starting to lose interest, Philippa, I'm sorry. This one had an added element of witchcraft, I guess. I gave it three stars. 

24. Peter and the Secret of Rundoon (Peter and the Starcatchers, Book 3) - Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson ... This was supposed to be the last Starcatchers book and I gave it five stars because it was action packed and very exciting to read. (It probably should have stayed as the last Starcatchers book, haha.)
25. The Girlfriends' Guide to Pregnancy - Vicki Iovine ... My bff M. found this in a bookstore and sent to me after I announced my pregnancy. Some people give it really scathing reviews because they consider it anti-feminist, blah blah whatever. I found the entire book hysterical, especially after trying to get through How to Expect When You're Expecting, which can be a little frightening. Additionally this book is from the nineties, so the section about maternity fashion is now unintentionally hilarious. Four stars.
26. The Catcher in the Rye - J.D. Salinger ... Another one I felt I should read because I never had. I found this book so stupid and pointless. Maybe if I had been reading it with a purpose in a literature class I would have found it more interesting, but I really hated whiny jerkface Holden and his stupid controversial language by the end of the book. One star.
27. Birnbaum's 2015 Walt Disney World: The Official Guide ... Surprise! I'm going to Disney again. (Or not surprise, I'm pretty sure I've mentioned it.) I got this to get the updates on Magic Bands and Fast passes... which I also could have read about online. It's nice to have the guide. I didn't rate it.
28. Looking for Alaska - John Green ... Another John Green book. For some reason I wasn't expecting the plot twist in the middle of the book; I guess I didn't read the book jacket or look too far into the chapter titles. It was a good story, but another one about death, and I needed a break after this one. Four stars.
29. Winter Garden - Kristin Hannah 

I borrowed this from my grandma and it's probably one of my favorite books I read this year. I really like historical fiction, and last year I read a few very interesting books about World War 2. However, what was really interesting about this book was that instead of learning about World War 2 England (War Brides by Helen Bryan) or WW2 Japan (Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden), there was a lot of insight to WW2 Soviet Russia. Five stars. Go read it!

30. Fangirl - Rainbow Rowell ... Two of my cello students are avid readers and this was on their "best book" list from last year, so I wanted to check it out. It was very entertaining to me, a Harry Potter fan. Also, it took me back to college life, which I miss. Five stars.
31. Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn ... I really wanted to like this book, but it was so strange! I didn't find any of the characters likable and the end of the story was just... eh. Three stars after all the hype.
32. Peter and the Sword of Mercy (Peter and the Starcatchers, Book 4) - Dave Barry & Ridley Pearson ... Remember when I said the third one should have just ended the series? This book just dragged on and on. There were some good bits but on the whole I found the entire book unnecessary to the series and was glad when I finally finished it! Three stars.

Right now I am reading "The Life of Pi" ... I literally just started it two days ago and it's been a busy few days so I don't have much of an opinion on it yet. I also got two more library books for over Christmas break and am hoping to get some more new books for Christmas. : )

I know I won't be reading as many new books this year because I will be busy once the baby comes, but I am always up for new recommendations. Leave them in the comments!

And Merry Christmas! : )

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

All things Christmas

Hello again!
I haven't dropped off the face of the earth. I have just been super busy, and super tired. In case no one has ever warned you - pregnancy sucks up a TON of energy! I have been lurking on the blogs I follow, but I haven't been commenting and obviously I haven't been posting. Another thing about pregnancy - even though I would like to talk about it and write some posts, I also feel like a lot of the information is TMI. :-\
Anyway, since we're just a week away from Christmas eve, I thought I'd go the "survey" route again. I found this one at "Running with Spoons." I copy/pasted it right from the blog (hope that's okay, Amanda - you have full credit!) and the cute formatting she did came right with it. Enjoy!

Before Christmas…
Do you send out Christmas cards?
I do! This year it has been on a rolling basis. I meant to take care of all of that over Thanksgiving break but... TIRED.
How soon do you start shopping?
I will start as early as October or November if I find things that make me think of people. This year I am actually done at this point - I set a budget, I stuck to it, and I don't want to shop anymore : )
Do you have a lot of gifts to buy?
I buy for A., obviously, and my parents and brother. We also get for his parents, sister and brother-in-law, and our nephews. I get for my grandparents. This year I got dog toys for Penny, my parents' dog, and my brother's new dog. I usually don't get presents for friends unless I see something that I just can't pass up! So overall - there are not too many presents to buy, but I try to put thought into everything I get, which makes it a more complicated process. 
Do you bake cookies?
Normally - yes. This year - if I feel like it next week, I'll do some baking... but if not, I don't think anyone will be heartbroken! : )

Do you put up a Christmas tree?
Yes! We have our big tree in the living room. I have a four-foot tree for all of my Barbie ornaments. I have a Charlie Brown Christmas tree that I put in the guest room, and this year at school I bought a little tree from a fundraiser and the kids decorated it for me!
If so, is it fake or real? 
All of my trees are fake - except for the little one I got for school this year. My least favorite part of decorating is putting lights on the tree, so when I could afford to get a tree that was pre-lit, I was like- DONE. 
Do you like tinsel?
Only in garland form!
Do you use homemade or storebought ornaments? 
I think the majority of my ornaments are store bought... I am sure we will have more homemade ones once the family starts growing! : ) [You can see a post I did about ornaments from last year, here.]
Part of my Barbie ornament collection from my uncle. 

Do you put Christmas lights outside your house?
I put them on our porch rails. Neither of us have been motivated enough to figure out actual outdoor lights yet, and also I am terrified of ladders.
Do you put lights on the tree? 
The lights are already on the tree! YAY
How about popcorn and cranberries?
No... nothing edible on the tree.
Is there a wreath hanging on your door?
Yes! and one in the foyer, too.

Christmas Eve…
Do you celebrate it?
Yes! One of the reasons I enjoyed this survey from Amanda is that she is also Polish and so her Christmas traditions are similar to mine. Growing up we always did a lot on Christmas eve - my family isn't Catholic so no Midnight Mass, but we would go to our Methodist church for one or two services, then go to my grandparents' house to exchange gifts with them, my aunts and uncles, and cousins. Seafood and lots of Christmas treats. As we got older and my dad's family spread out, that tradition kind of fell through, so we started going to my mom's side to celebrate my cousin's birthday, which is on Christmas Eve. 
Last year was my first Christmas Eve away from home, and we celebrated with A.'s family. I went to a local church for their candlelight service.
Do you hang up your stocking?
We do! Our last house actually had a mantle. Not at our new place, but I hang them off of our bookshelf. : )
Have you ever left cookies out for Santa?
Always when I was younger! And carrots for the reindeer. And one year, an inkpad to get Santa's fingerprint to try and determine if my parents were really involved in the whole spiel. LOL

Christmas Movie?
A Year Without a Santa Claus! I'm watching it now. I also really, really love White Christmas. 
Character from any Christmas Movie?
Snow Miser. And Buddy the Elf!
Christmas Song?
Silent Night... it reminds me of the reason for the season, and takes me back to twenty-plus years of Candlelight services at church. 

Christmas Memory?
I really love all of the family bonding I get to do around Christmas, but sometimes it can get hectic. One of my favorite Christmas memories that always sticks out is one Christmas night when my mom and I spread out on the couch and watched Christmas movies, with just the Christmas tree lights on in the background. It was so peaceful after all of the running around during the day. 
Christmas Cookie?
My mom makes meringue cookies every year, and they're my favorite. They melt in your mouth!

This or That…
Give or Receive?
I love to give gifts!
Ham or Turkey?
Either... mmm, food!
Star or Angel?
Either... right now we have an angel. I have also used Santa hats as tree toppers.
White Lights or Coloured Lights?
White lights.
Blinking Lights or Still Lights?
Were you Naughty or Nice this year?
I try to be nice!

What do you want for Christmas this year?
Some new maternity shirts so I don't have to rotate the same sweaters through my wardrobe every week : )
When do you open your gifts?
Christmas Eve with A's family, Christmas morning with A., and Christmas day with my family. 
What’s the best gift you’ve ever gotten?
It's hard for me to pick one. Being able to spend every Christmas with my family is a pretty big deal and people have always given me nice and thoughtful things. Last year A. did get me a snowflake necklace that I'd had my eye on for two years!
What’s the worst gift you’ve ever gotten?
One year when I was about 8 years old, my grandpa wrapped up empty boxes for me and all of my cousins. Not a nice trick to play on a kid! Also, when I was 11 or 12 my aunt got me a training bra. I was so humiliated to open it in front of everyone!
Do you like wrapping gifts?
I don't mind it - I set up shop in a room with a TV and play a Christmas movie while I get it all done in one shot. 

Can you name all the reindeer?
Better yet, I can SING all of the reindeer!
Have you ever gotten a kiss under the mistletoe?
I don't think so. That's an actual thing? 
Do you go caroling?
I've gone several times with church and with school groups. Most people seem to appreciate it, actually. 
Do you drive around and look at the Christmas lights?I haven't in recent years because I'm not sure where I'd go in my new area, but we always did that as a family on Christmas Eves before or after church. This year I did take A. to see an area attraction called "Lights on the Lake" for the first time. I've also seen the lights at Hersheypark Christmas Candy Lane, which is cool!
Have you ever had a white Christmas?Yes, but not in recent years! (Which is okay since we're always traveling on Christmas!)
Who do you celebrate Christmas with?Our families... yes, we enjoy it!
Have you ever had your picture taken with Santa? 
Yes, usually with my brother, and we have this gem...
Check out those sweatsuits! LOL
What part of Christmas do you look most foward to?
Spending time with family. Honestly, even without any gifts, it would be nice to be with everyone. I can't lie, I am so looking forward to next Christmas and creating all kinds of new traditions with my son : ) 

I will be back sometime soon to write a giant post relating to books... I actually have been planning that one in my head. See you soon, and Merry Christmas! : )