Friday, October 30, 2015

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon.

“I was trying so hard to find the single pivotal moment that set my life on its path. The moment that answered the question, 'How did I get here?'

But it's never just one moment. It's a series of them. And your life can branch out from each one in a thousand different ways. Maybe there's a version of your life for all the choices you make and all the choices you don't.” 

I was excited to read Everything, Everything ever since reading a short synopsis with it's debut. There is something that sucks me in like a good YA novel with an interesting premise.

In Yoon's debut, Madeline has a rare disease where she is not allowed out of her home. Any germ or allergen can make her sick, so her mother has arranged for around the clock care, homeschool tutors, and regular check-ups to make sure Madeline is healthy.

But things all change when a new family moves in next door, and Madeline spots Olly (Oliver) outside. The 2 begin communicating, at first with notes on their windows, but then through e-mail before Madeline's nurse arranges for them to meet in person.

The novel carries on from there, with a love story between the two.

So, what did I love about this novel? Besides it's interesting premise, it very much reminded me of young love. When you're young and in love, you take risks you might not otherwise. You might stay out later, say things that might get you hurt, or take a chance on a kiss that you shouldn't. That's the beauty of young love. And I think Yoon captured that turmoil and risk well, and portrayed it in a way that felt honest and true. 

Because of Madeline's illness, and her confinement, she is slightly more immature than your average 18 year old, so her responses and insights rang true with me. And it reminded me of my own feelings of young love-that giddy rush and surge of butterflies.

However, I also think Yoon tackled some heavy topics well. Olly's home life is rough, with an abusive and drunk father. And while that storyline could have swung into cheesy land, I think Yoon navigated it well and responsibly (in a way that made sense and didn't trivialize what was actually happening). 

I also think Yoon brought up interesting points about risk and fear...and how sometimes, you have to fight fear to take a risk. Sometimes it is worth it. It gave me a little nudge to take a leap of faith now and then. 

“Everything's a risk. Not doing anything is a risk. It's up to you.”

I think that's an important point for teens, and well, for me as an adult. It's okay to take chances and reach out for things you think are outside of your grasp. I need to do that more.

My one complaint with the novel had to do with the "twist." I think, as any avid reader, I've become quite attuned to "twists" and when they're coming, and that was true for this novel as well. However, I don't think the twist detracted too much from the story, and while I think a compelling ending could have been written without it, I still enjoyed the novel as a whole.

So if you're looking for a well-written contemporary teen romance, I suggest you give this one a chance. It was just what I needed on readathon day. 

“It's a hard concept to hold on to--the idea that there was a time before us. A time before time. 

In the beginning there was nothing. And then there was everything.” 

*Everything, Everything was the 6th book I finished for #15in31! Hooray!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Teacher Man by Frank McCourt.

“You have to give yourself credit, not too much because that would be bragging.”

Truthfully, I've never read anything by Frank McCourt, even though I own his books and have heard marvelous things. He was always one of those authors I just ignored...for no good reason, but because I was never drawn to their work.

So I forced myself to pick one of his works as a choice for #15in31. I thought Teacher Man would be the perfect choice, as I always seem to hit a wall every October (I think most teachers do-it's a long month).

Unfortunately, I struggled getting into this one. And if it wasn't for the readathon and the promise of other books on the horizon, I would have had a horrible reading month. But I persevered and finished it, while I enjoyed the end much more than the beginning, it was not my favorite book.

Perhaps it's just McCourt's style of writing, but I almost found him flippant about his role and responsibilities. His writing, in places, lacked the depth and detail I enjoy in memoirs about teaching. For me, well, teaching is a serious job. And it's also a job that is pretty lonely. Think about it...a teacher spends all day in the company of people that are not their equal. At least, that's how many feel. It's your responsibility to teach children content they don't know. You have to be professional. There are rules. Paperwork. And sometimes you just want to talk to another adult.

I'm serious, teaching, while rewarding, is incredibly lonely. 

And in teaching memoirs, I really look for the depth and analysis that usually comes with it. And while McCourt did dive in later in his book, I missed it. But I think that was a clash of styles. I just found his writing a tad too dry for my taste.

The other piece that was frustrating for me, and that is more of a frustration with the system than with McCourt, it the manner of class content. I'm sure things have changed drastically in the last 20-30 years of public education, but teachers, at least in my area, have very little say in their class content. There are certain books I have to teach. There are topics, etc that I have to get across because my kids will be tested on it. And while I loved McCourt's combination of creative writing and food...I know that would never fly in this day and age. So maybe I'm just bitter. ;)

However, I did enjoy some of McCourt's more touching stories about single students. There were quite a few that I was rooting for, so I was glad to hear about their lives after the classroom. I think that many teacher worry about those kids. And some do manage to make it. :)

I also enjoyed McCourt's astute observations about education, like this gem, 

"This is the situation in the public schools of America: The farther you travel from the classroom the greater your financial and professional rewards.” 

Yep. We all know this. Again, perhaps I am bitter (after only a few years in a classroom officially), but public education is very much under attack in the United States, so it almost makes me feel better to know I'm not alone. And that others see it.

Anyway, it was a fun read after I got through the first 75 pages or so. And while I did enjoy some of the snippets, I found it to be a dry read overall. And I'm not too excited about getting to Angela's Ashes. We shall see.

*Finishing Teacher Man marks the 5th book read for my #15in31 challenge! Huzzah!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Remembering Rachel.

Picture taken December 26, 2009

Last Monday, we lost my grandmother Rachel.

Back in August, she decided she was done. While not sick with anything specific, she was tired. IN her lifetime she's had heart surgeries, diabetes, arthritis, and dementia. And she was tired of treating it. So, she gained hospice care in her home, and spent the last two months in a slow decline.

And while we knew it was coming, it didn't make last Monday any easier, or the days after.

I got a text message from my mom with the news while I was in my fifth hour. I excused myself and called my siblings as my mom asked. And then I broke down a little in the English office. It was a few minutes later that my principal found me and then ushered me to his office with his arm around me. He let me compose myself and he arranged for a sub for the rest of the day. I drove home relatively calm, calling my aunt.

It wasn't until I got home and flung my arms around Matt that I really let myself go.

The days following weren't easy. The visitation was all day Wednesday, and the funeral on Thursday. We had a burial service in addition to mass, and that was the hardest part of the week. We all placed a red rose on her casket to say our final goodbyes. As I grasped the wood of her casket, I just sobbed.

It's hard to say goodbye to someone who has had such a profound impact on your life. My grandmother was a spirited and independent woman. Her husband, my grandfather, died 34 years ago. Every night, while she still could, she said a rosary in his name. She lit candles at church for all of us, and in the years when I was really struggling (the early years of this blog), she said extra prayers for me in hopes I would finally land the job I dreamed of.

She also prayed for Matt and I-we struggled a lot financially, and knowing she was rooting for us always encouraged me. There were many times where we would chat at family gatherings and she'd grasp my hand and tell me it would be okay-that it would all be better one day.

She loved Matt. She told me once that he was my perfect other half, and that in some ways he reminded her of my grandfather-proud, strong, and undeniably caring. She always cheered for us.

I'm not sure if it has really sunk in, and I know these things take time. But she was my last grandparent, and that is a sobering thought. Where have all my wise sages gone? Who will root for me and cheer me on? And tell me things will be okay?

I know it will get easier, but it's still a little raw and open.

I just miss her spirit and sass....but I know I have a bit of the same in me, and I suppose that makes it easier.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Weekly Wrap-up for October 18, 2015: Readathon, #15in31 Progress.

What a crazy weekend! 

I participated in the readathon yesterday and for the first time in a few years, I actually read most of the day. I took a very laid back and relaxed approach to the whole event, and I think it really worked out in my favor. I didn't really participate in any challenges, but I enjoyed myself anyway. And I got a lot of reading done. 

Here is my complete stack:

I actually finished Teacher Man on Friday night, but I'm including it anyway since I only read for about 9 or 10 hours yesterday. I also through in Volume 18 of Fables, even though I read it this morning. And without those two, I still managed to read just under 1500 pages and finish 5 books from cover to cover yesterday. It was a fabulous reading day. :) I also really enjoyed everything I read, so that's always a bonus.

With all of that reading, and finishing another volume of Fables this morning, I caught back up where I should be for #15in31. I have 11 books under my belt for the month, and while I have 4 more volumes of Fables to go, I have a few novels I also want to read this month. We'll see how much progress I keep making, especially considering this is a busy week and the grading is still piling up.

I'm so glad that I'm pushing myself back into reading. I MISSED it. SO MUCH. It's very easy to get caught up in other things-watching TV, etc-so I'm glad I'm returning my first love. I'm probably not going to be as focused next month with NaNoWriMo, but I might tackle another #15in31 in December. I'm enjoying it so much and with 2 weeks off from school, I'll have time to read some lengthier books.

In any case, while I would love to keep the reading trend going to day, I have laundry and grading to keep me busy. I hope you all had a great reading week!

Friday, October 16, 2015

My Official 2015 October Readathon Post.

Saturday Night (11:31 pm):

This is officially my last post of the night. My eyes and body are tired, so I'm heading to bed for whatever sleep I can get.

I had a very successful and relaxing day. In addition to just relaxing here at home, I spent the whole day with Matt, watched a fabulous football game, and read...a lot. It was what I needed to feel a bit like myself again, if even just for a day.

But I'm pooped now, and while I want to continue reading, I know I need the sleep more because this week is going to be busy and draining.

I ended up reading 5 full books today, and count 6 as being finished. Huzzah for that. I'm catching back up for my #15in31 challenge, and with more volumes of Fables sitting on my shelves, I might be able to complete the challenge.

Anyway, here are my final stats for the night. Let me know how you did.


Number of Pages Read: 1,476 (that's a pretty awesome number, even though 400 or so of those pages are from graphic novels).
Books Finished: 6 (I read 180 pages last night in Teacher Man to finish it, and read Everything Everything, Volumes 15, 16, and 17 in Fables, and The Impossible Knife of Memory today)
Cups of Tea: 5 (English Breakfast, Chai, and a couple glasses of iced green tea)
Instagram posts: 4? 5? I lost track. 
Snacks: We didn't really eat a formal dinner, but Matt made a big batch of nachos to snack on while we finished watching the game, and peanut butter cookies to end the evening. :)
Cat Snuggles: 6
Husband Distractions: Oh, too many to count. I took a long break this evening to watch the game (MSU WON), and he tried to get me  to clean or watch a movie, but my book was just too good.

Saturday Afternoon (5:25 pm):

I really didn't intend to be away that long! But here I am! After a late breakfast, I ended up falling asleep on the couch for a little while. I didn't sleep long, and while I would love to go back and sleep some more, I know I need to keep myself awake to get a good night's sleep tonight.

I did get some reading done-2 more volumes of Fables. I'm enjoying the series so much! I think I'm going to read one more volume while the game is on (MSU v. Michigan), and then switch over to an actual novel to end my evening. I'd be perfectly happy with reading a total of 5 books today, even if 3 of them are graphic novels. :)

Anyway, I want to get settled back in to the couch since the game just came back on. I hope your reading is going well. I know that I'm enjoying this quieter participation this time around.


Number of Pages Read: 916
Books Finished: 4 (Everything Everything, Teacher Man, and Volumes 15 and 16 of Fables)
Cups of Tea: 3 (English Breakfast, Chai, and now a class of iced green tea, which will probably be my drink for the rest of the night)
Instagram posts: 3 so far. I'm going to post again in a moment with my 4th book of the day. :)
Snacks: We ate breakfast at around brunch. ;) I also made some mini-hot dogs as a game-day snack, and we stuffed ourselves on those. I'm not in a snacking mood today.
Cat Snuggles: 4-mostly Sparty. I'm snuggled under an afghan my grandmother made me, and he happens to like the blanket. I'll take it
Husband Distractions: 3. Making a list for the grocery store, making him a snack, and then the game. But I'm not complaining. He's gotten me a couple drink refills. :)

Saturday Morning (11:21 am):

Hi guys. I just finished reading Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon. Just as I suspected, it was the perfect book to start with for a readathon. :) I love engrossing YA books on days like this. I can fly through them and get in the mood for a lot of reading.

I think I'm going to settle in with a few volumes of Fables next, as Matt is now awake and making me a very late breakfast/brunch. Something short is just what I need to get through the afternoon.

I haven't entered any mini-challenges, and I don't think I'm going to. Honestly, my body is so exhausted from this week and all the Lupus flaring that's been going on that I am perfectly content to have a quiet kind of readathon. :) I'm sure I'll update in a few hours. Happy reading.


Number of Pages Read: 500 (All of Everything Everything and the 180 pages I read in Teacher Man last night. That totally counts)
Books Finished: 2 (Everything Everything and Teacher Man)
Cups of Tea: 1 (English Breakfast, my favorite)
Instagram posts: 2 so far. I'm about to make my third. But I posted my reading stack last night and a pic of my reading this morning
Snacks: None so far
Cat Snuggles: 2 (Sparty and Lily both snuggled with me this morning as I read)
Husband Distractions: 1. I had to make him a grocery list this morning so he could go buy snacks, etc for the day. :) He's amazing

Saturday Morning (8:53 am):

Good morning! I'm finally up and ready to read. I actually woke up at 5:30 this morning, but forced myself to go back to sleep because of how absolutely exhausted I knew I'd be without a few more hours of sleep. I'm glad I did so. But I'm finally ready to start reading and joining in on all the fun.

My goal for today is just to relax, so I'm going to try and pop on whenever I finish reading or just need a break. Again, let me know if you're participating so I can come cheer you on!

Since I finished Teacher Man last night (I read about 180 pages!), I'm going to dive into one of the YA titles in my stack-Everything Everything. I saved it specifically for today, so I'm excited to read it.

I'm also including my beginning of event survey here-HAPPY READING! I'll check back in later!

Intro Survey:
1. Where are you reading from today?
I'm reading from the lovely Rochester, Michigan (35-40 minutes north of Detroit). It's pretty cold outside today, so I'll be snuggled up on our couch.

2. Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
All of them? I think I have a great stack of books (seen below), so I'm craving a bit of everything. I am excited to read a few volumes of the Fables series, but Rowell's new book is also a big contender.

3. Which snack are you most looking forward to?
Today is also the big MSU v. Michigan football game, so my husband has a lot of game-day snacks in the house for us to munch on while we cheer for the Spartans (GO GREEN!). Out of those...probably our chips and salsa. YUM.

4. Tell us a little about yourself!
I'm a 30 year-old English and History teacher. I'm married to my high school sweetheart and we have three cats, and all 4 of them will likely bother me today while I'm reading. :) I love reading the classics, which is why I started my blog in the first place, but I'm a big YA reader as well.

5. If you participated in the last readathon, what's one thing you'll do differently today?
This is probably my 8th or 9th readathon, so I consider myself a pro at this point. My main goal is to read. I might do a couple mini-challenges here or there, but I really just want to relax and enjoy some books that have been sitting on my shelves.

Friday Evening:

Hi everyone! It's Friday, October 16, and I am settling in for a night of relaxation before the readathon tomorrow. Truthfully, I was really excited for this readathon when they announced the date, as I knew it was a weekend when I had nothing going on. And then life happened and while I'm not going anywhere tomorrow, my mind is definitely in a different place. I'm also in the midst of a pretty bad Lupus flare-I haven't had one in months, but I've been so stressed and overwhelmed by everything for the last month, I know that I triggered it myself.

Anyway, I'm still planning on reading a ton tonight and tomorrow, so I thought I would pop in and post my stack for tomorrow, as well as my plans.

I'm hoping I an get through a couple of things, not only to get caught up on my #15in31 challenge, but also to relax. I'm so in need of some relaxation.

My stack:

  • Fables Volumes 15-22 by Bill Willingham: I just purchased the rest of the series last week because I really want to finish it by the end of the year. In some ways, I feel like I'm cheating by reading these for #15in31, but I know they'll make great readathon material. I can generally fly through them in an hour or so. And I have 8 volumes left. That sounds like an epic readathon.
  • Teacher Man by Frank McCourt: I'm just under halfway through this one, and I really want to finish it. Truthfully, I'm pretty sure this book is why I stalled in my #15in31. I like it, but it isn't something I want to race through to find out what happens, if that makes sense. I already told myself I can ignore it for the weekend if something else grabs me.
  • Carry On by Rainbow Rowell: I've loved all of Rowell's books thus far, so I was really excited to snatch this one up at the bookstore the other day. I'm pretty sure I'll dig into this one soon, but we'll see what kind of mood I'm in tomorrow!
  • The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson: I was on a BIG Anderson kick earlier in the year and read a good chunk of her work, but missed this one. And since a student is reading it, I thought I would give it a try. 
  • Alexander's Bridge by Willa Cather: I've been craving more Cather, and while I read this one not that long ago (2013), I kind of want to reread it. So...that might happen. It's also a short little book!
  • Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon: This is one of those books everyone's been talking about and I saved it specifically for the readathon. I know it'll be a fast read and pretty engrossing, so perhaps I'll get to it tomorrow night. 
  • The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith: I have two Smith titles on my #15in31 challenge list, but this one shouted out to me when I was pulling books. I'm not sure if I'll end up reading it because there are some others I want to read more, but it's a contender. Smith's books always grab me.
  • Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster: I thought I needed another classic option, and this was another title on my #15in31 challenge list. I loved the other Forster book I read, and like the Cather title, this one is short-perfectly doable in readathon time.
  • Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: I've been savoring this one slowly over the last month, so I imagine I'll read a little bit of it tomorrow. I'm loving this reread of it, so I'm not in any hurry to finish it.
Super ambitious, right? Yep. But I know that plans always change and I inevitably grab a different book off the shelf anyway. I don't know why I even bother. I just like stacking books. ;)

I'm going to update this post throughout the day tomorrow, and I will also be super active on Instagram (alliedanielson) and on twitter (@alliedanielson). I would love to cheer you on, so if you're participating, please let me know!

In any case, I'm starting a little early and diving into Teacher Man. Happy Reading tomorrow!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Lost Lady by Willa Cather.

“If her image flashed into his mind, it came with a brightness of dark eyes, her pale triangular cheeks with long earrings, and her many-coloured laugh.  When he was dull, dull and tired of everything, he used to think that if he could hear that long-lost lady laugh again, he would be gay."

It has been quite some time since I read Cather, which saddens me. Cather has not always been a favorite of mine (I disliked My Antonia in high school), but over the last few years, I've come to cherish her work and her vision of the American frontier. 

For this #15in31 challenge, I wanted to make sure I incorporated some classics in my reading. We all know that a good YA novel or a thriller can fly by and keep us motivated, but I didn't want my month to be dominated by those books. I also wanted things of substance-books to savor and love and remind me why I love the classics so much. So a couple of Cather's shorter works ended up in my challenge pile, and this slim little volume found it's way into my hands as the fourth book for this reading challenge.

In A Lost Lady, our narrator, Neil, tells us the story of the last 30 years and his memories of Mrs. Forrester, second wife to a well-off railroad man. In Sweet Water, the Forresters were the well-to-do city folk who built a grand house for the summer and would invite their city friends to visit. They were seen as grander than the rest of the town's population and as a boy, Neil idolized Mrs. Forrester. She was a beautiful woman and carried herself with so much grace that she stood out as an anomaly in the country. 

Over time, Neil became a part of the Forresters' world. He dined at their home frequently with his uncle, and learned to see both of the Forresters as great people.

Until he doesn't. 

The older Neil gets, he begins to see that our illusions and impressions of the people around us change. And while we think people may be a certain way, well, we learn their true colors. 

Mr. Forrester falls on hard times. The bank where he had saved most of their money goes under, and then he suffers a stroke. The couple falls into hard financial times and Neil stays home from college to help them-taking care of Mr. Forrester and keeping Mrs. Forrester company.

This is when Neil sees the truth about Mrs. Forrester and his good opinion changes. She shuns the people who used to help her and pulls away, relaying on shady individuals who only seek to profit. It saddens Neil, who truly believes that the grandeur of a lady like Mrs. Forrester has been lost.

The book also spotlights the change in America going on in this time. Old businesses, like the railroading companies that Mr. Forrester had been involved with, were dying. The frontier and all of its promises was no longer a beacon for hope for many. Instead, people were moving back to the cities for work and hard times. The beauty and glory of the countryside was gone, and moments like those in the Forrester house were becoming few and far between.

Cather's work here really depicts that change in American culture-from the seemingly simple life in the country dying as the American dream, to the harsh realities of the city. The Forresters certainly reflect that change as the old way of living dies out. It's a fabulous juxtaposition of two worlds. And Neil's narration glides us through that change and the ending of an era.

This is certainly one of my favorites by Cather now. While different than some of her larger novels, My Antonia or O Pioneers!, it contains many of the same ideas-life on the American frontier, family, and the changing of eras. 

“He came to be very glad that he had known her, and that she had had a hand in breaking him in to life. He has known pretty women and clever ones since then,-- but never one like her, as she was in her best days. Her eyes, when they laughed for a moment into one`s own, seemed to promise a wild delight that he has not found in life. "I know where it is," they seemed to say, "I could show you!"

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins.

“Is it possible for home to be a person and not a place?"

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins is one of those books I saw EVERYWHERE on the blogs a few years ago. I had remembered the name, and the mostly positive feedback about the novel, so when I was scouring the media center's bookshelves last week for this #15in31 challenge, I snatched it, thinking it would make a quick read and break up some of the other titles.

So, I read it. And it was mostly enjoyable because it delivered on what it promises to be-a YA contemporary romance with a happy ending. Every once in awhile, we need that. Not everything can be all doom and gloom!

The novel opens with Anna Oliphant (really, her name...) being left at an American school in Paris by her parents for her senior year of high school. Her father, a writer very similar to that Nicholas Sparks fellow, determined that being away in Paris would be good for Anna, even though she doesn't speak any French.

Anyway, Anna struggles through the first few days and weeks, but falls in with a great friend group. There's Meredith, who lives next door to her in the dorms. Josh, who's a fabulous artist but not so keen on all the school nonsense. His girlfriend, Rashmi, is probably my favorite secondary character because girl doesn't put up with nonsense. And last, the beautiful Etienne St. Clair, an American with a British accent and a French father.

The novel basically follows Anna and her friend group through the year, as well as Anna's growing feelings for St. Clair who has a girlfriend. The novel takes the readers to many of the sights in Paris, which provides an amazing backdrop to the story. As someone who has no interest in going to France (for many reasons), it was nice to see the city in a different way.

The story has a lot of elements of your traditional YA romance. Boy meets girl. Girl has feelings for boy. Boy is already taken. But that doesn't stop a friendship from growing. Obstacles stand in their way. They kiss. They fight. They find their way back together.

It's adorable. And it's done well. I mean, what else would you expect? It's a book that delivers on it's promise of story, and the writing is well done and entertaining, so the book itself was fun to read. It's just one of those books that delivers well and leaves you all warm and fuzzy feeling because it ended the way it should. Sometimes we need that.

There are two companion novels to Anna and the French Kiss, which I may pick up at some point in the future if I need a similar warm, fuzzy feeling. And if you need a light read, I highly suggest giving this a try. 

“I mean, really. Who sends their kid to boarding school? It's so Hogwarts. Only mine doesn't have cute boy wizards or magic candy or flying lessons.” 

^That line slayed me. :)

**This was my third read for my #15in31 challenge! HUZZAH!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.

“I have lost control over everything, even the places in my head.”

I'm going to be perfectly frank and say that I had absolutely no interest in reading The Girl on the Train when it debuted. I'm not a huge fan of thrillers, and even though I was told that this was a really good one, it wasn't something I had to pick up.

And after reading it, I stand by my initial thoughts. 

It isn't that The Girl on the Train isn't a fast read because it is. I flew through it in just a few hours when I was home sick last week. But had I not been sick and focused on finishing on a book for #15in31, I think this would have dragged for me. I also don't think the book is bad, it just isn't my usual cup of tea.

The biggest reason why I didn't feel so in love with it was the main character-Rachel. Very soon into the story we learn that Rachel's life isn't all that great. She's unemployed, but still pretends to go to work every day, she's recently divorced and insanely jealous of her ex-husband Tom's new family, and she's a pretty big alcoholic. And while there are reasons for all of those things and her very negative outlook on life, it's hard to like her. To feel any kind of sympathy when she does completely moronic things.

And all 3 of the main female characters have those flaws. I wouldn't classify any of them as strong females, and that was hard for me to jump on board with. Rachel was by far the worst, but Anna was also a weak female. As Tom's new wife, she just blindly goes along with everything and sees herself as better than Rachel (sorry, you helped a man cheat on his wife. That's something I am never okay with and I hate when that tries to be "justified"). And Megan, well...she had a lot of issues and was, like the other two females, weak.

I kind of wanted to give them all a good shake.

I digress.

The story does move quickly, and I am sure that fans of thrillers will soak this one right up. However, there weren't a ton of twists to the story and I figured out the ending long before it arrived-perhaps that's why I didn't enjoy it as much?

In any case, I am glad I read it to see what all the fuss was about, but I think I'll stick to my gut next time around and read what I think fits my style.

“I have lost control over everything, even the places in my head.”

*This was my second book read for the #15in31 challenge! Huzzah!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

The Red Pony by John Steinbeck.

“No matter how good a man is, there's always some horse can pitch him.” 

For my #15in31 challenge, I decided to start small, with a slim volume by John Steinbeck called The Red Pony. It has been a long time since I've read any Steinbeck, but I went through a phase a couple years ago where I bought a bunch of his titles in hopes of reading his complete works (a goal I still want to accomplish, perhaps when I finish with Cather). In any case, this is a slim little volume about the same size as Of Mice and Men, so I thought it would make a great starting point for my challenge (see this post if you're lost).

Truthfully, I didn't know much about The Red Pony before reading it, which was probably a good thing. When I started, I thought it reminded me of Black Beauty, but that vibe slowly disappeared as I flew through the novella.

I actually don't see The Red Pony as a complete novel/novella. It reads more as 4 related parts loosely connected with similar character names. There is no real connective plotline, just characters who are reintroduced in each of the 4 chapters.

But there is a connective theme. This is definitely a coming of age story, as young Jody Tiflin learns about life on the ranch and the cycle of life and death. He also learns that adults he once thought were infallible aren't, and that you can be disappointed by life.

The characters are all well-defined from the beginning. Jody stars in all of the chapters, as a young boy who is facing the harsh reality of life on a ranch and growing up. His mother is a strong and constant presence in all 4 chapters, as she tries to protect Jody from some harsh realities, while also allowing him the opportunities to grow up when things don't go as planned. Jody's father, Carl, is a tough man with no outward love for his son. He's bogged down by the responsibilities of running a ranch and having a little boy running around. But he does his best to provide and give opportunities to Jody.

Billy Buck was my favorite character, and perhaps the most complex. As the hired hand on the ranch, Billy Buck is also the man with all the old-school knowledge-about horses, life, the weather, etc. Jody idolizes him and respects his opinions as fact, until Billy Buck fails. And while Steinbeck doesn't dwell on the harshness of the realization for Jody or Billy, it lingers in the remaining pages, reminding us that we all had moments where we realized the adults around us can't always fix everything.

It was a short, quick read, but definitely as complex as Steinbeck's other works. It left me thinking and eager to read more Steinbeck...perhaps this month for my challenge. I know I have Cannery Row sitting on my bookshelf, so you might see more Steinbeck coming up soon.

What did you think of The Red Pony? Any other Steinbeck you would recommend? I haven't read a great deal by him, but I'm eager to read more (I think I've only read Of Mice and Men, The Grapes of Wrath, The Winter of our Discontent, and The Pearl in addition to this title).

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Weekly Wrap-up for October 4, 2015: On Being Busy and #15in31.

Hi everyone!

It has been a little while since I've done a weekly wrap-up kind of a post, so I thought it would be good to jump on this morning and catch up. I have a lot to get done today, now that I'm finally feeling semi-human, but I'm seeing this as a bit of a priority.

The truth is, during the school year, school and the work that goes into being a high school English teacher, takes precedence over everything else in my life. I determine what I can actually do at night based on what grading I have to do. I plan weekend activities around how much school work I have to do. It's really quite sad.

I have noticed that the last couple of years my at-home workload has gotten lighter. Probably because I am creating less new material to use in my classes (that's what happens when you teach a class multiple times-you have lots of things stored up, so you're not creating a lesson from scratch for every day of the week). I've also become a lot better about cramming in work at school and being more productive. That's hard for me because I don't really grade while the kids are working (I can't concentrate, and I inevitably get called on to help, which is fine because that's my job). In any case, I'm still working to create that work/home balance.

This year I made a goal to leave by 3:30 every day. That has yet to happen. Truthfully, I'm productive when I'm at the building after school. It's quiet because most teachers go home, and I have free reign of the copier! But I'm working towards getting my stuff done at school and bringing less home at night, with the exception of weekends. That's a hard balance, but I'm trying.

I'm telling you all this because for my own sanity, I do need to reestablish some time for myself, and that's the goal I have moving forward. I love my job, I'm good at it, but I need to spend some time doing other things.

The biggest thing that has fallen apart since getting a fulltime teaching job is reading. There are some days where I come home so mentally drained that the idea of picking up a book fills me with dread. That's when I binge-watch a show. But I'm okay with that. I'm not okay with going a month without picking up a book. So I'm trying to remedy that.

When the #15in31 challenge popped up in my Instagram feed, I debated for a moment before joining in. I know it's crazy. I rarely read 15 books in a month during the summer, so how would I do it during the school year? Ha! But why not try? So I am. I think this challenge is a great way to inspire myself to keep pushing forward with that work/home balance and jump back into the things I love doing-reading and writing about books.

I think it'll also serve as a great warm-up to November and NaNoWriMo. It's been a few years since I've participated, but I'm jumping in this year.

In any case, I had a great weekend of reading. Truthfully, the only reason it was so successful was because I was super-sick Thursday and Friday (I came home from school on Thursday with a 102 fever, so I called in for Friday and stayed in bed coughing and sneezing all day). But that meant a lot of time to read and relax and take a little pressure off myself. I ended up reading 4 books! You'll see reviews for them in the next couple weeks because I've already written them (look at me go!)

Anyway, I'm hoping I keep this balance going so that I can do more of the things I love doing. :)

Have a fabulous week!

Thursday, October 1, 2015

#15in31: Reading Challenge October 2015!

A few days ago, Andi at Estella's Revenge posted about a reading challenge she was undertaking in the month of October. After looking at it and mulling it over...for about 20 minutes, I decided to jump in and join the fun.

The #15in31 challenge is basically to read 15 titles in the month of October. Since that's rare for me even in a fabulous month of reading, it truly is a challenge. However, I think I can do it.

School is finally getting a calm point (it always seems crazy at the beginning of the year). I also have a couple free weekends, and the 24 hour readathon later this month. What better time to challenge myself?

And even if I fail to hit 15 books, at least I'll make some progress and hopefully put a dent in the piles of books I've been meaning to get to.

In choosing my books, I decided to go completely random and snatch things that I've been meaning to get to for awhile, some slim classics, and some fun reads. I think I have a good eclectic pile to pick from for the month, so hopefully I don't get bored. I also picked more than 15 books to give myself some variety. Let's take a look!

From left to right and top to bottom:
  1. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: I might be cheating by adding this to my list since I've already started it, but I do plan on finishing it this month,'ll count. 
  2. The Time Machine by H.G. Wells: I haven't read anything by Wells in quite some time, so I thought this would be a good short read (perhaps the day of the readathon). 
  3. Alexander's Bridge by Willa Cather: This is another shorter read that I thought we be good for a one-sit read. I also keep meaning to get back into Cather, so this might be a good starting point. 
  4. The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards: I've had this title sitting on my shelf for a long time, so perhaps it might be time for me to get to it!
  5. Wildwood Dancing by Juliet Marillier: I've read this once before-a long time ago-and I've been wanting to reread it at some point. I know it'll be a fast read, thus why I picked it. 
  6. March by Geraldine Brooks: This is another book that has been sitting on my shelf for far too long. I love Little Women, so I know I'll like this one. It's also pretty slim. :)
  7. The Marbury Lens by Andrew Smith: It's Smith. I'm not sure if it needs more explanation....but I did just get this in a book swap, and I've been holding onto it until I could devote an evening to it. 
  8. Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon: This is a newer release that I've been hearing a lot about. I have a hunch it'll be another fast read.
  9. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: This is a title that has also been sitting on my shelf for a really long time. I bought it shortly after it came out, but I just haven't gotten around to it! I think it is also perfect for the season, so I'm looking forward to reading it on a gross evening. 
  10. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: I might be the last person alive to read this. But based on what I know, I know it'll be another fast read.
  11. Teacher Man by Frank McCourt: I've been meaning to read this for ages. My copy is old, and it needs to be loved, I think.
  12. All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr: As soon as this book debuted I marked it as a title I needed to read. But I haven't gotten to it (are we sensing a trend?). It's a bit longer, but I think it'll be perfect for this month.
  13. The Red Pony by John Steinbeck: I wanted another short classic to read, and this was probably one of the shortest on my bookshelves. It's also been awhile since I've read any Steinbeck.
  14. Where Angels Fear to Tread by E.M. Forster: I loved the other Forster I read a few years ago-A Room with a View- so I have high hopes for this one.
  15. A Lost Lady by Willa Cather: Another Cather. I'm pretty sure this one is well loved, and after reading the back, it's close to the top of the pile.
  16. The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman: Fitting for this time of year? I think? It's also been some time since reading Gaiman (I think the last Gaiman I read was The Ocean at the End of the Lane), and that was a couple years ago...if I remember correctly.
  17. Stand-Off by Andrew Smith: Not going to lie, I'm probably going to read this one this weekend. Winger might be my favorite Smith title, so the sequel? Yes please.
  18. Gwendolen by Diana Souhami: This is an old ARC that I've held onto because it sounded so darn interesting.
  19. Half-Broke Horses by Jeannette Wells: I've never gotten around to this one, even though I've meant to. I love The Glass Castle, so high hopes!
  20. How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez: Yet another title I've been meaning to read for years. I also thought I owned a copy, but in my book culling this summer I couldn't find it. Thankfully our media center had it!
  21. Once We Were Brothers by Ronald H. Balson: This was an impulse grab from a media center display. It looked interesting and different from some of the other things I grabbed.
  22. Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins: I've heard a lot of positives about this, and I need a sappy YA story. I do.
  23. The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins: I'm also sure I'm one of the last people to read this...a student keeps harassing me to read it, so I feel like I owe it to her (I convinced her to read The Martian and she loved it, so I need to return the favor).
  24. The Husband's Secret by Lianne Moriarty: I really liked What Alice Forgot, and this is the only other Moriarty title our media center had. 
  25. Not pictured, but probably more Fables....I'm really into the series, so I'm sure I'll read a couple volumes. I only have one more here that I haven't gotten to, but I'm hoping to pick up a few more.
There you have it. My super ambitious list of titles to read this month. I'll be updating my progress as much as possible and posting on instagram (@alliedanielson) as I get to each title. Let me know if you have any other fast reads to recommend!

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty.

“But maybe every life looked wonderful if all you saw was the photo albums.”

What Alice Forgot is not a book I would normally pick up. It doesn't scream to me that it's something I would really love, but after hearing rave reviews, I added it to my Amazon wishlist to investigate at some point the the future. And then, my book swap partner gifted it to me, so I picked it up one afternoon and read it straight through.

And that is why we don't judge books.

I ended up really love Moriarty's book. It was funny, entertaining, and gave me some things to think about. It also led me to checking out another of her books from our media center-The Husband's Secret (which is still sitting unread on my nightstand, but you know...).

What Alice Forgot opens with Alice coming to on the floor of her gym. She doesn't remember why she's there, or who she's with. In fact, she still thinks she's 29, newly married to her love, Nick, and expecting her first child. But no. She's actually 39, has three kids, and is in the midst of divorcing Nick.

It's not a truly original or groundbreaking premise for a book, but it is well-done. I think that Moriarty did a fabulous job of showing that relationships do change over time and that what we think we want forever may not be the same ten years down the road.

“Relationships don’t stay the same. There isn’t time.” 

As Alice has lost her memories of the last ten years, we, the readers, get to go along for the ride as she "meets" her children for the first time, sees a ten-years-older Nick, and watch as she struggles to understand why her priorities have changed so drastically. In some ways, it's a bit heartbreaking to see Alice battle her sense of self and what she thinks is most important.

Her relationship with Nick is what really drew me in. As someone who got married young (I married Matt when I was 24, but had been dating him since I was 16/17), I know first-hand that people can change drastically in a marriage. What you think you both want can and will change. Sometimes people change together (so far, that would be Matt and I), and sometimes we don't. Alice and Nick lost that connection, so she searches to find out why.

Alice uncovers a lot of secrets about herself along the way, and slowly begins to fill in the missing pieces of her life. Her journey gives a lot to think about. I mean, would my younger self be happy with where I am now? I don't know. But Alice is forced to face that over and over again. 

She's also forced to come to terms with her younger self...and allow herself to feel that freely again. As older Alice, she's lost sight of some of that whimsy. And younger Alice doesn't get the sterner, more serious older version. That's a good message for us-not to lose that sense of youth. 

“She had always thought that exquisitely happy time at the beginning of her relationship with Nick was the ultimate, the feeling they'd always be trying to replicate, to get back, but now she realized that was wrong. That was like comparing sparkling mineral water to French champagne. Early love is exciting and exhilarating. It's light and bubbly. Anyone can love like that. But love after three children, after a separation and a near-divorce, after you've hurt each other and forgiven each other, bored each other and surprised each other, after you've seen the worst and the best--well, that sort of a love is ineffable. It deserves its own word.”

There was a larger side story surrounding Alice's sister, Elisabeth, that I have to mention. Elisabeth is someone Alice used to be close to, so when she thinks she still has that closeness, she has to learn Elisabeth's story. Unlike Alice, who had 3 healthy kids, Elisabeth had struggled and struggled to get pregnant, having multiple miscarriages and going through rounds of medical interventions. It's a side story that in some places feels disjointed, but I appreciated it for being there.

In contrast to Alice, Elisabeth's life has been much different, and like Alice, I think she forgot who she used to be before being consumed with her infertility. But, in watching Alice, I think Elisabeth also learns to let go of what she has become and ends the novel much happier than she started.

I also appreciated the raw honesty of her story, as it's something I can understand on some level. It also added another layer to Alice's own transformation and challenges.

“Each memory, good and bad, was another invisible thread that bound them together, even when they were foolishly thinking they could lead separate lives. It was as simple and complicated as that.”

In all, What Alice Forgot was a great read and I know that more by Moriarty is in my future. I am curious to see how they turn this into film, since so much is in Alice's head, but Hollywood can supposedly make miracles happen, right? ;) Let me know what you thought about this one!