Monday, January 4, 2016

2015 End of the Year Survey.

Every year, Jaime at the Perpetual Page Turner hosts an end of year survey for bookish folk to recap what they read the previous year. I've filled it out a number of times, as I find it to be a great way to see what I loved, hated, and want to do more of in the new year.

I'm going to answer as many questions that apply to my reading as possible, but I delete those that I didn't have an answer for.


Number Of Books You Read: I read 75!
Number of Re-Reads: 13 (and that doesn't include any Fables. I'm sure I read the first 8 before)
Genre You Read The Most From: Young Adult or Graphic Novels.
Pages Read: 19953

1. Best Book You Read In 2015?
Looking at my list, there are a few that stand out:
-All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
-The Martian by Andy Weir
-Ghost Medicine by Andrew Smith
-Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Truthfully, The Martian probably wins. I mean, I convinced my husband to read it....

2. Book You Were Excited About & Thought You Were Going To Love More But Didn’t?
Perhaps The Girl on the Train, although, I don't usually read thrillers, so I guess I wasn't surprised that I didn't love it all that much.

Also want to say how disappointed I was in the end of Fables. Boo.

Oh, and Serena. I'm sure the only reason I finished it was because I was in the care driving home from Florida and just needed to get through it.

And one more...Where'd You Go Bernadette? I didn't get it.

 3. Most surprising (in a good way or bad way) book you read? 
I would have to give this to two books-The Alex Crow by Andrew Smith because of pure craziness. And The Red Pony by John Steinbeck...I just loved it.

 4. Book You “Pushed” The Most People To Read (And They Did)?
Definitely The Martian. Not only did I convince my non-reader of a husband to read it, I've pushed it on fellow teachers and some other friends.  

 5. Best series you started in 2015? Best Sequel of 2015? Best Series Ender of 2015?
I devoted a big chunk of time this year to reading all 22 volumes in the Fables series. It started out amazing...and then fizzled.

The only other series I read was Daughter of Smoke and Bone, which I enjoyed for what it was.  

 6. Favorite new author you discovered in 2015?
Looking at my list, I read a lot by authors I've previously read. So...I would have to say Liana Moriarty. I enjoyed What Alice Forgot more than I thought I would and want to read more of her work.

7. Best book from a genre you don’t typically read/was out of your comfort zone?
The only real book I read outside my comfort zone was The Girl on the Train, and while it wasn't my cup of tea, it was still good (if that even makes sense).

 8. Most action-packed/thrilling/unputdownable book of the year?
There were a number of titles I flew through in one sitting-All the Bright Places, Landline, and Ghost Medicine  all spring to mind. But really, it goes back to The Martian.

 9. Book You Read In 2015 That You Are Most Likely To Re-Read Next Year?
The Martian? No, really. I actually listened to it this year, so I think reading through the print version might be in the cards.

10. Favorite cover of a book you read in 2015?
I loved the edition of Ethan Frome I read in the spring:

11. Most memorable character of 2015?
Because it was the most memorable book at the end of the year, Troy Stotts from Ghost Medicine.

12. Most beautifully written book read in 2015?
Definitely a tie between Everything I Never Told You and A Lost Lady.

13. Most Thought-Provoking/ Life-Changing Book of 2015?
I think Go Set a Watchman offered everyone a lot to think about. 

14. Book you can’t believe you waited UNTIL 2015 to finally read? 
Perhaps Tina Fey's Bossypants. 'Twas hilarious.

15. Favorite Passage/Quote From A Book You Read In 2015?
I'm actually going to pull the quote from the opening in All the Bright Places, even though it's not by Niven...

"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places." Ernest Hemingway

16.Shortest & Longest Book You Read In 2015?
The longest book I read was Dreams of Gods and Monsters by Laini Taylor at 613 pages. Truthfully, that shocked me. I love reading chunksters!

The shortest is Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton (truthfully I read a lot of short books this year).

17. Book That Shocked You The Most
All the Bright Places. For sure.

Oh, and The Alex Crow. Because really.

18. OTP OF THE YEAR (you will go down with this ship!)
(OTP = one true pairing if you aren’t familiar)
Snow and Bigby in Fables

19. Favorite Non-Romantic Relationship Of The Year
I really loved the relationship between the friends in Ghost Medicine.

20. Favorite Book You Read in 2015 From An Author You’ve Read Previously
All 3 of the Smith titles I read this year were fabulous, with Ghost Medicine taking the top spot.I also really enjoyed A Lost Lady by Willa Cather.

21. Best Book You Read In 2015That You Read Based SOLELY On A Recommendation From Somebody Else/Peer Pressure:
So many...but The Martian springs to mind!

22. Newest fictional crush from a book you read in 2015?
Uhhhhh....none of them.

23. Best 2015 debut you read?
Probably Everything I Never Told You.

24. Best Worldbuilding/Most Vivid Setting You Read This Year?
Brandon Sanderson's Mistborn. Just a fabulous setting. AND I STILL NEED TO READ THE REST OF THEM.

25. Book That Put A Smile On Your Face/Was The Most FUN To Read?
I loved the memoirs I read by Amy Poehler, Tina Fey, and Mindy Kaling. All had me cracking up at different points.

26. Book That Made You Cry Or Nearly Cry in 2015?
All the Bright Places and Ghost Medicine.

27. Hidden Gem Of The Year?
Ghost Medicine. Seriously. It was one of the last books of the year and it was so flipping good. More people need to read Smith. Period.

28. Book That Crushed Your Soul?
All the Bright Places. It reminded me of some students. Broke me down over and over again.

29. Most Unique Book You Read In 2015?
I really loved Anya's Ghost. I definitely think it was incredible unique!

30. Book That Made You The Most Mad (doesn’t necessarily mean you didn’t like it)?
Teacher Man. I just...thought I would get so much from it, but I found it so dry....

Sunday, January 3, 2016

2016 Reading Plans and Challenges.

I used to be a very avid participator in reading challenges, events, and readalongs. But over the years, as I've become busier with teaching, those things have fallen by the wayside. It was easy for me to dive into anything that seemed interesting when I had nothing really going on.

But now, so long after creating this space, I have come to only enter and participate in those things I'm truly interested in. I stumbled upon the book blogging community by accident, and while I love certain aspects of it, I'm selfish in many ways at this point in my life. I want to read what I want to read...with not real rules or expectations or demands placed on my time.

I read for two primary reasons-to educate myself and to forget about the real world. And, quite honestly, the books I read for those categories are incredibly different and diverse. I love reading YA literature, science-fiction, and fantasy, and those are things I will continue to read (and not feel bad about it as I have in years past), but I also love the classics. They give me the opportunity to exercise my brain and challenge myself.

And, over time, I have come to realize that having a balance between those two kinds of reading escapes is what works for me. When I start demanding things of myself, I get stressed and fall into a reading slump.

However, I really like making lists of things to read and committing myself to some things I might not get to otherwise. Enter: Reading Challenges.

Now, one thing I'm doing differently this year is making sure that I'm picking books I'm really excited about (in the past, I've picked books that I felt I "needed" to never read them). I'm also working on reading from my own shelves. I have also reached the point in my life where my acquisitions need to slow down. I literally have hundreds of books in my small apartment that I've never read. I need to remedy that.

So, here are my plans for this year.

This "Challenge" isn't really a reading challenge. Instead, it's more of a lifestyle change. I've always been an avid book buyer. Going to the bookstore generally means I bring home 4-5 books, read 1-2 of them, and then repeat the process. So, I have a lot of books on my shelves. I have enough unread books to read for years without buying anything new.

So, as of the first of this year, I'm putting myself on a "no-buy." Exceptions include picking up books by favorite authors, getting books as gifts or in bookswaps, grabbing something from the school library, or if it's a title that will help my teaching in some way (I often pick up history books to look at topics I'm teaching in more detail-I find that necessary). I did order a few books I've been craving since instating my "no-buy" but I truly do feel setting myself up to read from my shelves is the way to go this year.

If you're interested in #Readmyowndamnbooks you can visit Andi at Estella's Revenge to learn more.

#PotterBinge is an event that I'm already participating in, but I'm going to continue my reread of the series throughout this month. So, I found it fitting to include here. I would like to do more rereading in 2016, which leads me to...

My own Reread Project. I actually need to update the page I made for this project, as I HAVE reread quite a few books in 2015 (most recently The Old Man and the Sea). There are quite a few classics I want to get back to, so I think setting a goal of 5 rereads for the year is a great place to start!

While we're talking about classics, I'm also going to be taking a more active part in The Classics Club's Women's Classic Literature Event. I have quite a few classics on my shelves by women that I'd like to get to in 2016, so this is the perfect venue to get to those and share that with other readers.

(I actually made a personal goal to be more involved in the Club in general...especially as I helped create and cultivate the Club at it's website).

And, speaking of awesome women, I also need to turn my attention back to Willa Cather. I also need to update the page for this project, as I have made progress. I would like to read 3 books by Cather this coming year to make some good progress toward completing her complete works.

And...I would also like to make some progress reading Dickens. It's actually been a year or two since I've read any Dickens, but I'd like to read at least 2 of his works this year. I'm still not sure if I want to go in order of publication, but we'll see what grabs me.

The last of my personal projects is my Shakespeare Project. While I have read MANY of his plays, and most of those multiple times, I still have a ways to go to get through his complete works. I'd like to make a dent in the histories, but I'm only 3 away from finishing off his, we'll see what ends up happening. I think 6 plays over the course of the year is a manageable number!

The Mount TBR Reading Challenge coincides really well with all of my other challenges and projects, as I really AM focusing on reading books that have been sitting for a period of time. There are different levels to this challenge, which you can read about on the challenge page, but I'm going to go for Mt. Kilimanjaro, which is reading 60 books from your TBR. As I read 75 books total in 2015, I think this is a perfectly manageable number, and as all the unread books on my shelves are on my ever-growing TBR, this is a perfect challenge to coincide with #ReadMyOwnDamnBooks. Bring it on.

*I really like that I don't have to make a list of books for this challenge. Hurrah!

The only "Traditional" reading challenge I'm participating in this year is the Back to the Classics Challenge. I've participated in this one a number of times (sometimes I've completed it, sometimes not even close). I enjoy the categories, so it's a good place to go to when I'm not sure what to read next. And a few of the titles will crossover to other challenges and projects. :)

Here is my list with the challenge requirements:

1.  A 19th Century Classic - any book published between 1800 and 1899.
I'm probably going to read a Dickens title for this category. I'm leaning toward The Old Curiosity Shop (Will count toward my Dickens Project)

2.  A 20th Century Classic - any book published between 1900 and 1966. Just like last year, all books MUST have been published at least 50 years ago to qualify. The only exception is books written at least 50 years ago, but published later.
I'm leaning toward a title by Virginia Woolf (will also count toward my Women's lit Challenge)

3.  A classic by a woman author. 
Any of my remaining titles by Willa Cather-most likely The Song of the Lark.

4.  A classic in translation.  Any book originally written published in a language other than your native language. Feel free to read the book in your language or the original language.
I already know that this is going to be Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. I tried to read it a couple years ago but set it down and never returned to it.

5.  A classic by a non-white author. Can be African-American, Asian, Latino, Native American, etc.
Truthfully, I'm having a hard time selecting a title within the time frame, so I will have to come back and update this one (the title I wanted to read, Bless Me, Ultima was published in 1972, so it isn't old enough to count for the challenge).

6.  An adventure classic - can be fiction or non-fiction. Children's classics like Treasure Island are acceptable in this category. 
I'm going to put down Don Quixote for now, but that might change. :)

7.  A fantasy, science fiction, or dystopian classic. Dystopian could include classics like 1984, and children's classics like The Hobbit are acceptable in this category also. 
Ummm, is it cheating if I just say 1984? ;)

8.  A classic detective novel. It must include a detective, amateur or professional. This list of books from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction is a great starting point if you're looking for ideas.
I've been craving a reread of some Sherlock Holmes, so I think one of the novels will be a good choice for this category.

9.  A classic which includes the name of a place in the title.  It can be the name of a house, a town, a street, etc. Examples include Bleak House, Main Street, The Belly of Paris, or The Vicar of Wakefield.
I have a few options for this: A Tale of Two Cities, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, or The Hunchback of Notre Dame most likely....

10. A classic which has been banned or censored. If possible, please mention why this book was banned or censored in your review.
I'm thinking either a Hemingway or Gone with the Wind....

11. Re-read a classic you read in school (high school or college).  If it's a book you loved, does it stand the test of time?  If it's a book you disliked, is it any better a second time around?
I think I'm going to tackle Oedipus Rex for this category. It's one that I know I read in high school, but I don't have any strong memories about it.

12. A volume of classic short stories. This must be one complete volume, at least 8 short stories. It can be an anthology of stories by different authors, or all the stories can be by a single author. Children's stories are acceptable in this category also.
This is another great option for some Sherlock Holmes stories. I also have an anthology of Mark Twain stories, so that's another idea.

There you have it, my 2016 reading plans. Let me know what you're planning!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

On Bringing 2015 to a Close.

I fail so miserably as a blogger.

Well, maybe that's not true. I had such great intentions about blogging all month, reading a ton of books, and enjoying a lot of comfort reads. That didn't happen.

It started when I got really sick right before Thanksgiving. Instead of spending that weekend catching up grading essays and planning, I spent it in bed and lounging around watching TV. Not very productive. I went back to school with 3 weeks left, and 5 sets of essays to grade, plus smaller assignments, etc. My grading piles were insane, on top of prepping for classes, debate, the Toys for Tots Drive I run with my NHS students, taking on a Homebound student, and so many other commitments. There were days where I got 3-4 hours of sleep. So...reading and blogging took a backseat. However, I worked really hard and brought nothing home with me over break so I could truly enjoy it. Which I have. I've read a little, slept a lot, and spent a lot of time with family. In all, it's been relaxing.

But I'm getting that itch to dive back in, and now that our semester is coming to a close and large grading assignments are behind me, for the most part, I really need to get my personal life back on track. I truthfully haven't had time to myself since before my grandmother passed away. Being out for a week put me SO FAR behind that I think I JUST caught up. I need to get my life back together.

In good news, I got my results for the first portion of the National Board Certification I'm going for. I passed, and with a pretty decent score (not in the highest range, which I'm not surprised about). I actually thought I bombed the portfolio, but now I feel a big surge of confidence...and I'm going to take on two parts this spring-the content test and the video portfolio. Now that I know what I need to do, I feel a lot better about this process.

I also want to set aside more time to read. I think I am a much better person when I set aside time for myself to do the things I want to do. And reading is that. I also want to be more mindful of what I'm reading. I'm going to be participating in a few challenges (posts will be going up through the next week or so), but I mainly want to read from my shelves. I've reached the point where I have so many unread books sitting here that I need to give them some attention (literally...hundreds of books). I placed a last order for the remaining Penguin Clothbounds I need for my collection and 2 newer releases earlier today, and I think I'm done collecting books for the year (with the exception of the bookswaps I participate in). I just need to focus on what I have, because these shelves are starting to feel overwhelming and unfamiliar (in that I've read less than there are unread, if that makes sense).

In any case, I'm glad 2015 is coming to a close. In many ways, it was a super challenging year for me on many fronts. I'm hoping 2016 has better things in store.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

December 2015 Reading Plans and November in a Nutshell.

Well then. Hello.

I found that I needed to take a step back from blogging early in the month. With my grandma passing away in late October and missing almost an entire week of work, I spent weeks trying to play catch up. I also got bogged down with 3 debate tournments in 2 weeks (I'm one of the coaches this year), as well as regular grading and other commitments. Needless to say, reading and blogging took a backseat to everything else going on. To put it in perspective, I read a grand total of 2 books this month. One was Macbeth, which I read with my Shakespeare class. And the other was a romance novel I read on Wednesday as I was home sick. So....yeah. After the success of #15in31 in October, everything came to a crashing halt.

So, for December, I have grand reading plans. I have that HP challenge going on, and since December is usually the time of year that I comfort read, I think that'll fit in wonderfully. I'm also 6 books away from my book challenge number on Goodreads (of 75 books for the year), so that's some good motivation.

But I miss the excitement of #15in31, so I decided to host my own this month. I'm not sure if anyone wants to join, but I found it to be a good push in October, and I want to get more reading done.

Feel free to let me know if you want to join in!

I'm not pulling a big pile of books for this month, but I do have some things I know I want to finish:

  • The last 2 volumes of Fables by Bill Willingham: For some reason, I have been putting these off. I read the other 20 volumes this year, so what's 2 more? Truthfully, I don't want the series to end.
  • Harry Potter: I'm taking part in the #potterbinge readalong, but haven't picked up anything. I really want to reread the series, plus the schoolbooks and Beedle the Bard, so that's 10 books right there!
  • A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens: It's been a couple years since reading this one, and I am definitely feeling it this year. 
  • Little Women by Louise May Alcott: This is another title that will be a reread, but I'm craving it. It also reminds me of the holidays, so it's another great fit.
  • Austen. I used to read an Austen every Christmas, but I missed it last year. I'm thinking it'll be Persuasion or Emma this year. 
  • The Old Man and the Sea by Hemingway: I started this in early November...and didn't finish it. I feel like that's pathetic. It's 80 pages.
  • The Shadow and Bone trilogy: I had planned on reading these over Thanksgiving, but you can see how well that turned out...
  • Carry On by Rainbow Rowell: I was so excited to get my hands on this...and there it sits on my shelf, mocking me.
  • Stand-off by Andrew Smith: Yep. Another book I was so excited to get. And there is sits. 
Anyway, I really just want to relax and read, and I need to find the time to do so. I miss that part of my life!

Thursday, November 5, 2015

The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson.

“You're the one who doesn't understand, I've been standing on the edge with you for years.”

I went on an Anderson binge at the very beginning of this year. In about a month, I read Speak, Catalyst, Twisted, Chains, and Fever 1793. Basically, I read almost every Anderson book in our media center (with the exception of Forge, which has been checked out by a student every time I try to grab it). I'm pretty sure that I've read a majority of Anderson's teen works (I mean, I read Wintergirls last yep). And I consider myself to be a huge fan of her writing. I think Speak is a fabulous novel that all high schools students should read, and when I taught it last school year to my struggling readers class, they loved it (side note about that class-I miss teaching it. But if it were up to me, I would teach everything). We also included Catalyst and Wintergirls as choices in our big book battle project last school year (which we are doing again this school year with some new titles).

So, I have no idea why I jumped over The Impossible Knife of Memory. Perhaps I can blame it on the fact that at the time, I wasn't buying any books and was reading a great deal of young adult fiction readily available in our media center, and we don't have a copy of this one (no worries, I requested it). In any case, it jumped out at me as a suggestion on Amazon when I was ordering for a book swap, so I purchased it on a whim. It's Anderson. I knew it would be good.

And I was definitely right. However, I don't think this is Anderson's strongest work, but I still loved it. 

Hayley Kincain and her father have been on the road for the last few years. This has allowed them to constantly travel, but when Hayley's father decides to return to his mother's house and enroll Hayley in a regular school, things get bad. Hayley's dad, Andy, is a veteran, and since returning from Iraq, he has yet to deal with what he saw and did while on tour. And while Hayley does all she can for her father, he has to confront his demons.

What I really liked about this book was the focus on the relationship between father and daughter, given Andy's bad mental state. Personally, I have no connection to a veteran with PTSD. I know some about the disorder and what it does, but I've never been impacted by it. Seeing Andy struggle through Hayley's eyes gave me a lot of perspective into the disorder and what can trigger it. As someone who teaches about PTSD in both of my subject areas, I found to this to be very helpful, even if coming from a work of fiction.

I find, very often, that when I teach about PTSD in relation to Vietnam (it's a focus in our American lit curriculum), I have a hard time connecting that information to my students. Now, at least, I have more to share (and I am more inspired to seek out other works that discuss it in more detail). 

Anyway, the relationship between Hayley and her father is complex, and while she does all she can, she can't fix his demons for him. I think that in and of itself is an important concept for teenagers. I can't tell you how many times I've seen kids try to battle each other's demons. Heck, I do it myself. So that lesson and message was one I found a lot of value in. 

I also quite enjoyed the scene where Hayley's father comes to school as part of a Veteran's Day event and speaks to a few of the kids. We do a similar event (it's actually this week), so looking at the build-up and struggle of veterans to speak about their experiences...well, it was a fresh perspective on what it's like. It also gave me even more respect for the men and women coming into our building, and everything that they have sacrificed.

All that being said...there were parts I didn't like. I think the romance was cheesy and distracting from the core message of the book. I also found Hayley to be a bit contradictory in her words and manner, and wished, at many points, that she would just DO something.

I also, quite frankly, felt the ending and climactic scene were a bit of a let down...almost a cop out. I think I expect a little more from Anderson, and well, I just didn't get it at the end. 

Overall, definitely a book I will be recommending to the right student, and a great addition to Anderson's canon.

“Killing people is easier than it should be.” Dad put on his beret. “Staying alive is harder.”

*Finishing this marked another book read for #15in31. I was on a roll!