2016 Challenge

PopSugarI already have a hunch that 2016 is going to be a great year. I’m taking a pottery class (anybody in the market for dishware!?), planning a move back to Chicago in February, and taking on a new reading challenge! Popsugar once again put together a list of categories to tackle this year, which I love, and I’m upping my goal to 20.

This year I had three family members pick 5 categories each for me to read. I picked 5 myself, as well.

  1. An autobiography
  2. A book guaranteed to bring you joy
  3. A book about an unfamiliar culture
  4. A murder mystery
  5. A book recommended by a family member
  6. A book set in Europe
  7. A book written by a comedian
  8. A book you can finish in a day
  9. A book that takes place during summer
  10. A book with a blue cover
  11. A book translated to English
  12. A book recommended by someone you just met
  13. The first book you see in a bookstore
  14. A science-fiction novel
  15. A book that takes place on an island
  16. A class from the 20th century
  17. A book becoming a movie this year
  18. A National Book Award Winner
  19. A book set in your home state
  20. A self-improvement book

Here we go.


Source: Popsugar


A Brief Review – Book #13-14

art, planet, and drawing image

I recently read two books about people trying to survive on different planets. One was Little Bee, about a Nigerian refugee who fled her war-torn country to find peace in London, a place so different from home it might as well have been another world. The other was The Martian, and the guy was literally on another planet.

I was surprised by these stories, both in how captivated I was with the writing and by how much I enjoyed them! I’m checking two boxes off of my reading challenge list:

A funny book – The Martian
A book you own but have never read – Little Bee

Little Bee was at times dark and depressing, but had so many uplifting moments of hope and determination that it didn’t feel like a generally sad book. The title character was a Nigerian refugee who ends up in London. You can’t tell much from the back cover, so it’s best to dive in and let the plot unfold as you go. Sad things happened, as did scary and heartbreaking things. But through it all, Little Bee’s sweet, innocent voice narrated as though everything would be okay. When she wasn’t narrating, the other main character (also female) took over. She was a funny, successful English mother who provided comic relief and sometimes hard truths. Her son, Batman, was my favorite character. Their stories are very much intertwined, and I loved watching them unfold. I would highly recommend this one – it was moving and smartly written!

The Martian was the first book in a long time to keep me on the edge of my seat. If you’ve completely missed previews for the blockbuster movie, it’s about a man who is left for dead on Mars. Spoiler alert: he’s alive. And trying to get back to Earth! I read this book on the train while biting my nails from worry. Who would’ve known that space exploration would be such a thriller for me? I did skim a majority (read: all) of the heavy science and math portions. They didn’t make sense and I assumed they never would, so I continued on to the bits that did. The main character, Mark Watney, is the smartest fictional character I have ever encountered, and had a great sense of humor. When I wasn’t nervously reading as fast as I could, I was laughing at his outrageous statements. It was the perfect recipe for me, a very non-scientific mind. I loved this book. Time to see the movie!


Source: Tumblr

Paris is a Party

If you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life it stays with you, for Paris is a moveable feast.

I picked up A Moveable Feast from my shelf just over a month ago. I needed something new to read during my commute, and I’ve enjoyed Hemingway in the past. I figured I’d love his memoir about the years he spent in Paris. After finishing it, I thought for a while about what to write in my recap. I was still thinking about what to say on November 13 when terror shook the City of Lights, Beirut, and the rest of the watching world.

This book is nothing if not a love letter to Paris itself. Hemingway’s quote above sums up his feelings in one sentence. A few days after the attacks, NPR ran the story below. This memoir is flying off the shelves in Paris. It’s been placed at memorial sites, by the bars that were attacked and by the Bataclan. It’s a sign of resilience, defiance even. It’s a moving gesture, and so heartwarming in a time of real negativity. I can’t imagine what Parisians must be feeling in these days after the attack, but the message they’re sending is clear: they will be resilient.

The title of the memoir in French is “Paris est une fête” – Paris is a Party

A Brief Review – Book #11

He knows all about carrying the world on your shoulders, all about letting her into your heart, all about making a sad song better.

Picture this: New York City, 1980’s, teenage boys with devil lock hairstyles. I googled that. It was exactly what I expected. Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson centers around a group of teenagers who turn to a “straight edge” lifestyle after abusing or depending on alcohol, drugs, sex or some wild combination. It centers around a boy named Jude (see quote above) who, within the first 50 pages, loses his best friend to an accidental overdose. The rest of the book follows him as he rebels, then turns straight edge, and tries to manage his life in a world with unreliable adults and peers/mentors who don’t always have his back.

The characters in this book were unique in certain ways, and it was interesting to stick with a story that detailed a culture I knew absolutely nothing about. I learned a few things about New York in the 80’s, a time during which one of my favorite books was also set, and about lusty, gutsy teenage boys with pent-up rage they have no idea what to do with.

I would recommend this to readers who, for whatever reason, could use a reminder about what teen angst really feels like. File this one under a book with a number in the title.

Keep an eye out for the movie!

Source: Le YouTube

A Brief Review – Book #3-10

I’ve finished 10 books towards my goal of 15 this year, but have only reviewed two on this blog! My blogs during my time in Italy were all about food, travels and life in general but when I wasn’t eating I was reading. A lot.

Let’s play catch up. Here are the last eight books I’ve read, complete with a two sentence summary because it’s Friday and we’ve got things to do:

3 – How to Be Both by Ali Smith 
A book by a female author – 
Odd in it’s setup, but definitely unique. I wasn’t mad that I read it, but I wouldn’t convince someone else to.

4 – Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins 
A mystery or thriller – 
An intriguing mystery, but let’s stop calling it the “next Gone Girl.” It was not nearly as suspenseful, in my opinion.

5 – Quiet by Susan Cain
A nonfiction book – So good, in so many ways. It changed my life, maybe it will change yours, too.

6 – Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt
A book that made you cry – Packed to the brim with emotions and such a beautiful story. I adored the characters and their honest, gritty feelings and personalities; I will recommend this one forever.

7- The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs
A true story – The incredible (true) story of a man who had the intelligence and support to change his circumstances, and couldn’t quite do it. It was fascinating and I’d highly recommend it.

8 – Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
A book set in a different country – A touching page-turner and 100% movie material. It didn’t knock my socks off but it was really cute and I enjoyed it!

9 – Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
A book with a one-word title – I liked the movie, but thought the book would be too dry. I was proven wrong page after page; I tore through this and it surpassed my expectations.

10 – Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling
A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit – (Hogwarts.) I MEAN COME ON.

So… what should I read next?

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A Brief Review – Book #2


I can’t stand it to think my life is going so fast and I’m not really living it.

I am fascinated by Ernest Hemingway and his fellow Lost Generation expats. The Paris Wife lured me in two years ago and I wanted to know more. 

Enter Reading Challenge Book #2: The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (a book written by someone under 30). Ernest was about 27 years old when he wrote this story. It is told from the perspective of Jake Barnes who is in love with a woman who doesn’t love him back, drinks like a fish and has endless vacation days. Jake is the narrator but not necessarily the main character. He is the observer. We see everything and everyone through Jake’s eyes.

There were a few things that didn’t make sense to me while reading this:

  • How the characters spent money endlessly
  • How they traveled endlessly
  • How they drank endlessly
  • How multiple men were with the same woman (and knew about it)

However, the language they used was crazy interesting and I was pulled into the characters’ never ending soap opera of a life. I don’t think it was too far off from Hemingway’s actual life, what with all the women and booze and bulls. There wasn’t a ton of actual plot, in my opinion. It was more of an account of a few weeks (months?) in the life of a man and his friends drinking and writing telegrams in post-war Paris and Spain. And that was okay.

What I found most interesting about this book was the parallels to life at the same age (mid to late-twenties) in current day. The quote I chose at the top is something that resonated with me. Something that was written 90 years ago! Ernest, you philosopher.

I’d recommend this book if you are interested in the Lost Generation, or drinking in Parisian cafes or deeply descriptive bull fighting scenes (could have done without).

Source: Tumblr

A Brief Review – Book #1

“Let me look at you.” She held me at arm’s length. “My, you are a feast to the eyes.”
She was the only person in the world who’d ever say such a thing to me. Nobody else considered me even a light snack to the eyes. Most people would consider me a light purgative to the eyes.

This was one of a hundred excerpts that made me laugh mid-commute while I read Lake Wobegon Summer, 1956 by Garrison Keillor. This book was a joy to read. I chose it because a local coffee shop I like names its sandwiches after popular authors, and I never order the Garrison Keillor because I feel guilty for not having read any of his work. The sandwich looks really good, so I went to the library.

It took me a few chapters to get into the swing of things with Gary, a pubescent teen in the middle of a slightly oppressive town in Minnesota, but once I did it was smooth sailing. It felt like watching an old tv show like Golden Girls: simple and funny but ultimately endearing. Gary is, if nothing else, a lovable goon who is observant, sexually confused, a (sort of) devout Lutheran and a fantastic writer. Reading this story, you get to spend a few days inside the head of this crazy character as he taunts his dorky older sister and imagines his deceased Grandpa watching him disapprovingly from Heaven and complaining about him to Jesus, among other things. His funny observations of the town, it’s “simple, Scandinavian people,” and everyone he comes across make this a worthwhile read.

I would recommend this if you can get down with the slow, syrupy summer days of the fifties that don’t really exist anymore. Actually, I was born in 1990 – I have no idea what life was like in the fifties. If you’re looking for a chuckle, and appreciate subtle humor, give this a try!

Also, this is the first book of my 2015 reading challenge (book by an author you’ve never read before), so buckle up 2015 I’m comin’ in hot!