Friday, December 30, 2011

My Top Ten Books of 2011

It's that time of year again! Time to think back and reflect on the best reads of the year.

Many of the books I read provided very satisfying reading experiences, and it is a challenge to narrow my list down to the Top Ten.

Most Magical Reading Experience and Most Favorite Book of 2011: The Night Circus
With very vivid descriptions, this book is an experience for the senses.

Funniest: The Year of Living Biblically
Laugh-out-loud and read-out-loud funny!

Best for My Heart: Life of the Beloved
One to read again and again.

Favorite Cooking Memoir: Beaten, Sauced, and Seared
Honest and stressful!

Most Controversial but a Very Fast Read: Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother
Don't read before you go to bed because it will really wind you up!

Excellent Food for Thought: Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough
Prompted several interesting conversations with my husband, Mr. Wrong. I mean, Mr. Wong.

Best Biography and Most Inspirational: Unbroken
Crazy that it's true.

Most Effectively Written from a Dog's Perspective: The Art of Racing in the Rain
Read with your pet on your lap, and a box of tissues by your side.

Best Fiction: Mudbound
Seamless fiction, just like it should always be done.

Best Historical Fiction: Pillars of the Earth
I'm usually not that big of a fan of historical fiction, but I enjoyed this one plenty.

Thank you for reading my blog this year! I appreciate all of your comments and book recommendations. 

What were your favorite books this year? Please leave a comment and let me know so that I can check them out!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

This story begins with Victoria, a foster child, leaving her final group home at the age of 18. On her own for the first time, she finds herself homeless until she finds a job at a florist. She had spent time with one foster mother who taught her the meanings of different flowers, and so Victoria brings an added dimension of floral arranging with her.

This book was both predictable and original. Predictable in that I guessed some of the plot development, but original in the whole meaning of flowers thing. The story goes back and forth between past and present which was very effective and did leave me hanging chapter after chapter.

A really easy read, and just original enough for me to recommend it. I mentioned in my last post that the Steve Jobs book was not one to curl up with, but this one would definitely be a good choice for that cold winter's day.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

I picked up this book for a couple of reasons. One, it's #1 on the NY Times Bestseller list and I like to keep up with what America is reading. Two, I went to the same high school as Steve Jobs. I had a government teacher who also taught Steve Jobs, and this teacher pointed out more than once, "If I had invested in Apple back in the day, I would not be here teaching you now." Hum, someone was not happy with his job.

When I was in the first hundred pages of this book and friends asked me what I thought, I answered that I wasn't really liking Steve Jobs as a person.

The reading was slow going (or not going) for awhile until I had 500 pages left (out of 600) and a week left to finish it before it was due at the library. So I told myself to read 50 pages a day (always a bad sign when a book is supposed to be for fun). But then the book picked up and I finished it ahead of schedule.

After finishing, I can't say that I like Steve Jobs any better as a person. I am not convinced that it is necessary to be so rude, arrogant, and demeaning in order to succeed or to motivate your employees. I can write that there are several things that I respected - 1) the book includes a letter he wrote to his wife for their 20th anniversary that is very sweet and 2) he had very high standards of excellence and wouldn't settle for anything less and 3) he gave Isaacson free reign over what he wrote in this biography and didn't try to censor or control the content.

A pretty interesting book. Not recommended if you're looking for something to curl up with on a winter's day, but recommended if you're curious about how Apple and Pixar developed and who this Steve Jobs guy was.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

My Very First E-Reader

Look what arrived on my doorstep! A Kindle Touch. Thanks, Santa! Actually, thanks, Boomer!

Some of you have asked me when/if I was going to buy an e-reader. When I told my friend about an extended trip I have planned, she wrote back: "Are you getting a kindle or ipad?  I can't imagine you being able to drag enough books along for all the traveling down time at the rate you read." This showed me how well she knows me and I appreciated her concern.

Yes, I now own an e-reader. I'm having fun using it and finding free books to download. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Kitchen Counter Cooking School: How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices into Fearless Home Cooks by Kathleen Flinn

Didn't I just write a post saying how I read a lot of cooking memoirs? Well, here's another one. This one is by Kathleen Flinn who wrote The Sharper Your Knife, the Less You Cry.

This time around, she's back in Seattle and takes on a project to teach regular non-chef people how to cook. This project started when she observed a mom and daughter in the supermarket buying all sorts of packaged foods that could easily be made from scratch for much less money.

She teaches a group of nine women who, for various reasons, were scared of cooking or had never learned how to cook beyond using a box mix, the basics of cooking like how to use a knife, cook meat, make a vinaigrette, bake bread, and cook soup. She follows up with them six months later to see how their cooking and lifestyles have changed now that they're more comfortable with cooking.

The most inspirational chapter for me was about not wasting food. So much food and money is wasted when we throw out food because we forgot about it (check your produce drawer). I took a look in my own fridge to figure out what I needed to use up (sour cream) so that I don't have to throw it out.

A fun, easy, and educational read.

PS: If you have any suggested uses for sour cream (about 1/2 cup), please let me know asap. 

Saturday, December 24, 2011

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: How I Learned to Live a Better Story by Donald Miller

From the author of Blue Like Jazz and Father Fiction. Two movie producers approached him about turning his memoir into a movie and they all started meeting to write a screenplay. He starts thinking about his life and editing it and what makes a great story and movie. He challenges us to think about our lives and what kind of story we're living and if that's the story we want to be living.

Recommended if you want to take a look at the big picture of your life and what you're living for and what your life is about.

A quote from the book:
"I think this is when most people give up on their stories. They come out of college wanting to change the world, wanting to get married, wanting to have kids and change the way people buy office supplies. But they get into the middle and discover it was harder than they thought. They can't see the distant shore anymore, and they wonder if their paddling is moving them forward. None of the trees behind them are getting smaller and none of the trees ahead are getting bigger. They take it out on their spouses, and they go looking for an easier story." --Donald Miller

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Long Goodbye: A memoir by Meghan O'Rourke

Keeping this blog lets me see patterns in the kinds of books I like to read. I'm finding that I read a lot of memoirs, mainly about two different subjects: cooking and grieving.

Here's one about grieving.

The writer's mom died from metastatic colorectal cancer in 2008. In this book, she writes about her relationship with her mom, the process leading up to her mom's diagnosis, and her mom's treatment. She also writes about the whole year (and a bit beyond) after her mom's death and what her grief was like.

I liked that this book covered a year plus more about her grief. It's a misconception that grief is something to "get over" in two weeks or three months or six months. It doesn't work like that, if we're being honest with ourselves. O'Rourke reads studies about grief while experiencing her own feelings of grief and figures out that the loss of her mother is something that she'll never "get over." Rather, it's a loss that she will live with in some form for the rest of her life.

Monday, December 19, 2011

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

I was so excited that Jeffrey Eugenides, author of Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides, was coming out with a new book. In my review of Middlesex, I described it as "one of the most satisfying reading experiences of 2009 for me so far."

In contrast, The Marriage Plot was SO disappointing. It might even rank up there as one of the worst books I've read in 2011. The characters were annoying and I didn't like any of them. The plot was also pretty predictable and plodded along at a dreadfully slow pace. There was a lot of wordiness in the book as well, so I found myself skimming long paragraphs.

Middlesex is by far, the best book by Eugenides, so read that one, and please skip this one.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World by Henri Nouwen

A beautiful book about how much we are loved by God. A short book that can be read in a day, but is best savored over weeks or months. A book that I will definitely read again and regularly as it carries a message that my heart oftentimes forgets.

New at My Local Library: An E-Reader Petting Zoo

Earlier this month, an e-reader petting zoo opened up at my library. There are six e-readers on display and you can pick them up, try them out, and get a feel for which e-reader might fit you best. I love that it's called a petting zoo!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

You and Your Adolescent, New and Revised edition: The Essential Guide for Ages 10-25 by Laurence Steinberg

Note that this book considers the early 20s as part of adolescence. Some of you, my faithful blog followers, are barely out of adolescence. Welcome to adulthood! =D

This book covers everything you need to know about adolescents - physical changes, emotional development, cognitive development, friends, drugs, etc. It's all in here.

It was helpful for me to read this with my own adolescence in mind. This book would have been really handy to read as a 13 or 14-year old. It just explains a lot.

This isn't really light reading. It's more educational. Definitely recommended if you work with adolescents, if you have an adolescent, if you're gonna have an adolescent anytime soon, or if you're just curious about what was going on with yourself during those junior high, high school, and college years.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

I read this book in two parts. I initially checked it out, read 100 pages, and got stuck. Then, I had to return it to the library because there was a waiting list.

A couple of months went by and it was announced at my church that there would be a sermon series based on this book in January. Furthermore, Louis Zamperini, who is the subject of this book, would be at our church for a service. Also, at the Christmas Eve service, every family that attends will receive a copy of Unbroken, and I volunteered to help pass out the books. If I'm going to distribute a book, I need to have read it (that's my own personal policy, not the church's policy).

And so, I checked the book out once again from the library.

This time, I got sucked into it. I picked up where I left off and flew through the remaining 300 pages.

Unbroken is the biography of Louis Zamperini, a running/track star in the 1930s who participated in the Berlin Olympics. He was in the Air Force during World War II where his plane was shot down over the Pacific. He drifted in the ocean for 47 days before landing on a Japanese-occupied island. He was then held as a POW until the war ended. The book also follows him in the years after he was released and as he adjusted to life back in the United States.

A fascinating, stunning, and amazingly redemptive story. One of the best books that I've read in 2011. I give this my highest recommendation! A warning that the first 100 pages kinda drag, but press on! It's very much worth it.

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosnay

This is by the same author of Sarah's Key which I raved about. I'm not nearly as enthusiastic about this one, but it was still a page-turner.

Antoine and Melanie are siblings who revisit a beach resort area 30 years after they last vacationed there as a family. Memories, both good and bad, resurface leading to the revealing of some family secrets.

A predictable and not that noteworthy of a page-turner, but a page-turner nonetheless.