Friday, January 31, 2014

January Reading Challenge Update

As you may recall from my last post, I have decided to take part in the 2014 Reading Challenge through Goodreads. I set a conservative goal of reading 26 books this year, and so far I'm doing great. This month I read four books, which puts me at 15% of my goal, and two books ahead of schedule. (I may not have done much writing this month, but at least I've been reading!)

Here are this month's reads:

Playing Nice, by Rebekah Crane

As far as everyone at school is concerned, Marty Hart is the nicest girl you could ever want to meet. She seems to have mastered the art of pleasing everyone, and appears to do it with ease. But when her Welcoming Committee duties lead her to an unlikely friendship with new girl (and combat-boot-wearing rebel) Lil, she begins to see that life doesn't necessarily have to fit into the neat little box that she always thought it did. And perhaps, if she can learn to break away from her mother's control and begin to live her own life, she can finally discover what it's like to be truly happy.

This is the first novel from Rebekah Crane, and I really enjoyed it. The characters are smart, and witty, and flawed, and (for the most part) come to life really well in the story. Like you find in most YA fiction, there are a few unfortunate moments that feel a bit cliche. But as a whole the book is so enjoyable that those moments can be easily forgiven.

Cat's Cradle, by Kurt Vonnegut

His quest to write the story about what happened on the day the first atomic bomb was dropped leads our witty narrator John on a life-changing adventure in which he meets some incredibly eccentric characters, converts to an illegal religion, becomes the dictator of a tiny Caribbean island nation, and eventually survives the total destruction of the planet. And it's every bit as crazy as it all sounds.

I've been a Kurt Vonnegut fan for years. And while this wasn't my favorite of his novels (that honor still goes to Slaughterhouse-Five) I still completely enjoyed it. His style can feel a bit abrupt and choppy until you get used to it, so it can almost feel a bit lacking in narrative flow at first. Once you tune in to the style, though, it all makes perfect sense. If you read this one, prepare to do some deep philosophical pondering.

Looking for Alaska, by John Green

Miles Halter heads off to boarding school with hopes of leaving his less-than-exciting life behind and discovering his "Great Perhaps." While there he meets the beautiful and captivating Alaska Young, who quickly steals his heart. What follows is an emotional roller coaster of a coming-of-age story, filled with self discovery, laughter, pain, love, and loss.

This was my first experience with John Green, but I was comfortable calling myself a fan after about the second page. The characters and their story completely sucked me in and didn't let go. (And, I have to admit, left me with a bit of an emotional hangover when it was all said and done.) I love Green's fast-paced and easily flowing writing style, and his character development is outstanding. I'm definitely looking forward to reading more of his work.

The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, by Douglas Adams

This second installment of the Dirk Gently series finds the holistic detective once again embracing the impossible in order to solve life's mysteries and save the universe. And this time, many of those mysteries have to do with the Norse Gods, who are having a bit of a rough time adapting to life in the modern world.

I don't think I've ever read anyone who can turn a phrase quite like Douglas Adams. Every one of his books is filled with line after line of pure brilliance that keeps me happy from the first page to the last. (It turns out that I'm a sucker for ridiculously clever personification.) The Hitchhiker's Guide series will still always be my favorite, but the Dirk Gently set is also definitely worth the read.

How about you? Read any good books lately? I'd love to hear about them!

Monday, January 6, 2014

Because I Love a Challenge

As I've mentioned before, I often find myself inspired by Miss Riki. (And if you still haven't started following her, please do.) I've learned a lot from her over the years, and have grown considerably (as a blogger, and as a person) thanks to her. And now she's done it again.

For the past couple of years I've followed - and loved - her participation in the Goodreads Reading Challenge. And every year I've thought "That looks like fun. I should totally do that." But then I didn't. Because of stuff, and things, and other reasons.

This year, though, I'm happy to say that I've finally taken the plunge, and signed up to participate in the challenge myself.

Since this is my first time, I'm starting conservatively with a goal of 26 books this year. (I figure averaging a book every two weeks seems reasonable.) The optimist in me says that I'll totally blow that goal away in no time. The realist in me says that sometimes conservative estimates are good.

I'll share my progress with you as I go. (Probably monthly. We'll just have to see how it goes.) I hope you'll enjoy the journey with me, and I hope that together we can find some really great books to read this year.

Because you know what they say...

Thursday, January 2, 2014

It's Okay to Be Cliche

I've never really been one for making New Year's resolutions. Not that I have anything against anyone who does make them. It's just that for me, personally, they seem rather pointless. And they mostly fail. Because January 1st isn't any more magical than any other day, and if you're going to decide to make a change in your life you can do it at any time. No need to wait for a new calendar.

Don't get me wrong. I do like the beginning of a new year. I like the excitement, and the possibilities just waiting to fill up that nice new calendar. For a little while, at least, everything seems fresh and new. So I totally get the hype. I just usually don't do anything about it.

But yesterday when I woke up with somewhat more than normal energy, I was excited to attack the day. (It probably had a little something to do with the kids having spent the previous night at my mom's, which meant that I actually got to sleep past 5. It was awesome.) And as I started making my mental to-do list for the day, I realized that I really felt like working out.

And then I started thinking about how long it had been since I had actually done that with any regularity, and realized that it was longer than I would like to admit. So I decided to take advantage of the quiet house (thanks, Grandma!) and have some healthy me-time. And I was feeling really good about that decision... until I remembered that it was January 1st.

And it all just felt so cliche. How many people swore to anyone who would listen that they were going to start exercising this year? And how many of those people are going to actually do it for a few days, and then go back to parking their buts on the couch because exercise is too much work, and TV is more entertaining? Did I really want to risk looking like one of those people?

It actually took me a little while to convince myself to go ahead and work out anyway, despite the risk of looking cliche. (Sadly, I'm not making that up. I seriously considered waiting a few days just to avoid looking like someone who had made a New Year's resolution.) But in the end, I decided that my desire to exercise and feel good was more important than my desire to avoid looking cliche.

Of course now this means that I will actually have to keep exercising regularly, just to prove that it wasn't just a resolution that will be broken in a few days. So I guess the timing was pretty good after all. :)