Friday, January 29, 2010

TLC Book Tour - How to Save Your Own Life by Michael Gates Gill

Wow. This is such a weird year of reading for me so far. I barely got to 50 books by the end of last year. Already this year, I have finished 7. I only read 3 non-fiction books in total last year. So far, I've read that already this month. And I never, EVER read Self-Help books. But when Lisa contacted me about doing a book tour for How to Save Your Own Life: 15 Lessons of Finding Hope in Unexpected Places by Michael Gates Gill (208 pgs, Gotham, 2009), I just couldn't help myself but say yes. For some reason, I really wanted to read this book.

Michael Gates Gill was the privileged son of Brendan Gill, who wrote for The New Yorker. Gill grew up in a 25 room mansion, rubbing elbows with the rich and famous, such as Rex Harrison, Ernest Hemingway and even Jackie Onassis. He went to Yale, since his father was a Yale graduate. He became a member of Skull & Bones because his father was a member. Upon graduating, he even got a job because of his father's influence and his Yale connections. This is how Gill started his career at J. Walter Thompson, ad agency.

Gill worked at JWT for 26 years, until he became redundant. In the world of advertising, apparently to be successful you must be young and new. So Gill lost his job. This started a horrible downward spiral for him: He also lost his home, his wife, much of his dignity, and was diagnosed with a brain tumor. But with one step into the door at the local Starbucks, Gill found a place to hang his hat and a calling to serve coffee to the masses. Now...this doesn't seem like much. But to Gill, it was a chance to redeem himself. Not only that, but he realized how much he actually disliked working in the ad agency....and how much he actually enjoyed this slower, simpler life. His first book, How Starbucks Saved My Life, shares more of his personal story.

This book is broken into 15 chapters or "Lessons". With titles such as "Listen...To Your Own Heart to Find True Happiness" and "Live....Each Day With Gratitude Like it Might be Your Last", Gill could come across as preachy and condescending. But he really doesn't. There are a fair amount of references to God and the Bible. These are important to Gill, and therefore a big part of his writing. While at times a bit cliche, Gill's message is a good one: Be Happy with Who You Are. And if you aren't happy with your job or your life, then you need to make the steps to change that. Before it's too late. He was forced out of his job, only to find it was the best possible thing to happen to him. In this book, he is trying to get the reader to self-examine and make life changes if not happy.

Filled with lots of personal examples, this book is a quick read. It has a lot of heart, and you can really tell that Gill is happy with his life today. Maybe those of us that aren't quite so happy, should stand back and take a little stock in our own lives. With today's economy, some of us are being faced with a lot of the same situations Gill was faced with. It's nice to see that there really is light at the end of a dark tunnel. And while I'm not sure it was enough of a push for me to actually change things in my own life, 15 Lessons will definitely be something that will stick in my mind for quite a while to come. 3.75/5

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Essays - Couldn't Keep it To Myself

Essays. Webster's defines an essay as "a short literary composition on a particular theme or subject, usually in prose and generally analytic, speculative, or interpretative." I can't remember the last time I sat down and read an essay. College, I would presume, and it certainly wasn't for pleasure. But part of my goal for reading challenges is to try to "expand my reading horizons". So one of the books I picked for the Women Unbound Challenge was a book of essay called Couldn't Keep it to Myself by Wally Lamb and the Women of the York Correctional Institution: Testimonies from our Imprisoned Sisters (368 pgs, Harper Collins, 2003). I'm afraid this is going to be a rather long review, but even then, I don't think there is a way to do justice to this book.

Wally Lamb, the bestselling author, was a teacher first. When he wrote his first two novels, they were both picked up by Oprah Winfrey and her book club, causing them to become instant successes. Because of the success, Lamb was forever being asked for speaking engagements or to support causes. And because he is such a nice man, he has an incredibly hard time saying no. In fact, Lamb had to write down his refusal on an index card and keep it next to the phone. It was the only way he could say no. But when the prison librarian at York Correctional Institution called to ask Lamb to lead a writing workshop at the prison, he couldn't find the card. And so he said yes.

A rash of suicide attempts had happened at York. The overall mental well-being of many of the prisoners was despair, and the staff there thought that using writing as a coping tool might be of value to the women housed at York. I used to keep a hand-written journal. I wish I knew why I stopped using it, to be honest. When I could put feelings on paper, it always made me feel lighter. In the way using this blog for my venting has lightened my mood, writing in a journal was indeed therapeutic for me. The same was thought about the women at York. Maybe if they could write down their feelings, it would make them feel better about themselves. And Lamb was asked to lead the workshop. But once the workshop had ended, Lamb was once again put on the spot. "Are you coming back?", they asked him. He gave each woman an assignment: Write an essay. Entrance to the next "class" was that essay. What started out as a committment that seemed like a burden, to something that fills him with hope and love: Lamb returned to teach another workshop. And he has not stopped returning.

What he came to realize, is that these women were more than just criminals. More than just their crimes. "There are things that need to be known about prison and prisoners. There are misconceptions to be abandoned, biases to be dropped. There are a heart and a mind that need opening. There are many. We are a paradoxical nation, enormously charitable and stubbornly unforgiving. We have called into existence the prisons we wanted. I am less and less convinced they are the prisons we need."

"To imprison a woman is to remove her voice from the world, but many female inmates have been silenced by life long before the transport carries them from the court house to the correctional facility. Because incest and domestic violence cut across the economic divide, women of all means are schooled in silence. Of the eleven contributors to the volume, eight have been battered and nine have been sexually abused, a statistic that reflects the norm for incarcerated women. Their essays, then, are victories against voicelessness -- miracles in print."

I think this book has two points. The first being, using writing as a tool for coping with the bad things in life is healthy. Each woman "grew" into a different person by giving voice to their pasts. It was a way to release the inner demons.

The second point being that the prison system is flawed. The eleven women that contributed essays to this book each has a story to tell. And each is equally heart-breaking. Most of these women were let down by society and by the system long before she committed any crime. It seems to me the chain of events leading up to their convictions were almost inevitable. Both of the above quotes come from Lamb himself, questioning the prison system itself. It's easy to believe that these women are criminals, and to just lock them up and throw away the key is the right thing to do. When you look at the system as a whole, it seems to work. But to break it down by an individual case by case scenario, the sheer wrongness screams out from the pages.

There is a short biography of each of the contributing authors in the book. Each of the essays are a look into the past -- to the life that was lived and events that led up to incarceration. But the biographies tell a bit more. You learn a bit about each crime that was committed and where each woman is today. Each woman's voice is distinct; each woman's writing varies. And yet, there is a common thread that runs through each essay: the violence and horrific childhood that shaped the lives of each woman. Here are just a few examples:

Convicted of Larceny by Embezzlement, Carolyn Adams' life has been one of mental health issues and pain. She was not only sexually abused by her father starting at the age of 6, but when she was in the 7th grade, she found herself pregnant. Not even understanding what was going on, she was sent to a home for unwed mothers until she could give birth. "I find the one that says 'Baby Boy May'. His face is pink and wrinkled and he's sucking on his tiny fist, eyes shut. I stare at him for a long time, memorizing each part: his perfect miniature feet, his tuft of blond hair, his tightly shut eyes. I can't connect the child lying here to the "it" I carried inside my body. This baby was the secret. He doesn't seem real. Just as he opens one dark blue eye, a had clamps onto my shoulder. 'Young lady, didn't you see that sign? Children aren't allowed on the nursery ward. Now scoot before you get into trouble'. " After her release from prison, Carolyn today volunteers at a wellness center for battered women, CRIS Radio for the Blind and a service center for the elderly. She continues to write to help her advocacy of the mentally ill.

Brenda Medina has been incarcerated since she turned 18 in 1993. She was convicted of homicide (gang related) and is serving 25 years without parole. Raised by her parents, her mother was mentally ill and beat her. She joined a gang at a young age to find someplace she belonged. She was known for being tough and stoic. " 'I'm not dying for nobody,' I said. 'No matter how many times they drag me over to seg'. He stopped bouncing and leaned forward. Looked me in the eye. 'You've got it backwards,' he said. 'That's exactly what you are doing. Every time you convince someone else what a hard case you are? Every time you earn yourself a ticket, or a lockdown? Your spirit dies a little more. They can make it pretty tough for you in here, Brenda, but they can't kill your spirit. Only you have the power to do that.' I had never cried in front of him before that day. Still incarcerated, Brenda completed her GED and has completed 36 hours towards an associates degree. She is a bilingual tutor. She is now a writer, photographer and editor for the York Voice, the inmate newsletter. She also designed, organized and implemented the first ever Latino Appreciation Week at York. Writing has become her "sanctuary".

Barbara Parsons Lane was convicted of manslaughter, due to emotional duress. When she was 6, she was molested by her grandfather -- who had molested her mother when SHE was a child. Her mother committed suicide years later, leaving an emotionally unstable daughter to pick up the pieces of her life. In her essay entitled Puzzle Pieces we learn a little more about why she has been incarcerated: "I am tired now, sick of puzzles and memories. My grandfather is long dead, and my mother, now, too. And I'm in prison for having taken the life of my husband, the man who molested my granddaughter, the child of my child." Lane has since earned an associate in science degree from the local community college, graduating with honors. She is a certified tutor and maintains her membership in the active support group, Survivors of Abuse and Struggles, a writing- and reading-based group for victims of battering. She is also deeply involved with the prison's PUP partnership, training dogs to assist special needs adults and children.

These are just a few of the voices you hear ringing out from this book. The final essay is written by Dale Griffiths, one of the teachers at York. She was instrumental in getting Lamb to come, and keeping him on as a volunteer. These are MY students. The ones who fell through the cracks at public schools. By my seventh year of teaching at York, I had gathered, edited and "published" four booklets of my students' writing -- stories describing worlds where love and hate blur and where sexual abuse, violence, and drug addiction are both commonplace and epidemic. I'd long known the statistical connection between childhood brutality and incarceration. Now I knew the writers, too. Each of those statistics has a name, a face, a history.

If you get a chance to read this book, I encourage you to do it. It is hard to read. Brutally honest and forthright, it tugged at my heart strings like nothing I've ever read before. I spent many a page openly weeping. I have never considered myself privileged. But I do realize now that a childhood like mine is a treasure. Although I didn't feel like it was exciting, and I couldn't wait to grow up, I was certainly lucky not to have to deal with the issues that these women did. This book also makes me hug my kids just a little tighter each night, and say "I love you" a couple extra times a day. No child should have to endure the violence these women did. If this book does nothing else, it should give you a reason to look at the injustice that is indeed the American prison system. Heart-breaking and gut-wrenching, this book will leave you, the reader, wanting to do more. I know I do. Now, I just need to find a way to channel that desire into action. A 5-star review, and then some. 5/5

Saturday, January 23, 2010

1st Graphic Novel of the Year - American Born Chinese

Even before I started my obsession with Graphic Novels, I had planned on reading Gene Luen Yang's American Born Chinese (233 pgs., First Second Books, 2006). Not only did it win the Michael L. Printz award in 2007, but so many other bloggers have read and loved it, including Dewey, our beloved friend. So....I'm not only using this as a selection for the 2010 Graphic Novel Challenge, but also as a notch on the perpetual Printz Challenge.

One bright and starry night, the Gods, the Goddesses, the Demons, and the Spirits gathered in Heaven for a dinner party.

This book, told in Graphic Novel format, contains 3 separate tales:

The first tale is the legendary Chinese fable of The Monkey King. The Monkey King was the ruler of all the monkeys on the Flower-Fruit Mountain. When the Gods were having their dinner party, he tried to attend. But because he was a monkey (and didn't wear shoes) he was denied admittance. This changed the Monkey King. He was embarrassed by it, and decided to change himself. He required all monkeys to wear shoes. He studies the 12 disciplines of kung fu to become more than just a monkey. In fact, he transforms himself into a different type of deity all together.

The second tale is about Jin, an American-Born Chinese. His parents immigrated from China and met in college. Jin's mom told him the reason she chose to marry Jin's father. "Of all the PhD. students at the university, he had the thickest glasses. Thick glasses meant long hours of studying. Long Hours of studying meant a strong work ethic. A strong work ethic meant a high salary. A high salary meant a good husband." When Jin is 9, his family moves out of Chinatown, and Jin has to start a new school. Where he is different; the outsider. He suffers from bullies and bouts of embarrassment over his culture.

The final tale is of Danny, the American boy that has a Chinese cousin, named Chin-Kee. Chin-Kee is the epitome of a negative Chinese stereotype. He has buck teeth, a thick accent, and even eats cats. Danny is so embarrassed by Chin-Kee's yearly visits that he has to switch schools every year.

What can be said about this beautiful little book that hasn't already been said?? It truly is a masterpiece. We follow Jin through grade school, where he befriends the student, Wei-Chen, who has just arrived from Taiwan. At first, Jin tries to ignore the other student, but when the two boys start talking about toys (Transformers), they soon become best friends.

The 3 stories eventually come together, all related in a surprisingly beautiful ending. It is basically the story of loving the person that you are. And if you try to change yourself to fit another's persons image of how you "should" be, then you will eventually lose yourself. It sounds deep, and it is. But it is told with a light-hearted humor and really great pictures. Just a small example:

"The only other Asian in my class was Suzy Nakamura. When the class finally figured out that we weren't related, rumors began to circulate that Suzy and I were arranged to be married on her thirteenth birthday. We avoided each other as much as possible."

Not only is this a wonderful tale that highlights the pain of stereotyping and racism, but also teaches a lesson on self-appreciation and self-awareness. An incredibly quick read (I was finished in about an hour), American Born Chinese is absolutely a must-read. Warm, heart-breaking and yet uplifting, this is one book that I can not truly recommend enough. And for anyone that ever says Graphic Novels are just "comic" books, I think you have a lesson waiting for you. A true 5 Star read!!! 5/5

Friday, January 22, 2010

What?? A Review?? How Unusual! Breathers: A Zombie's Lament

Yeah, I know. I'm lame. The month is over 2/3's over and I've barely had time to review any books. Of course, I'm going to make this a banner reading year. I've already completed 5 books. Hopefully, I can manage to get all of my reviews in a little quicker this year!! I picked up Breathers: A Zombie's Lament by S. G. Browne (320 pgs, Broadway Books, 2009) for one reason only: Chris' recommendation. Which makes it a selection for the 20/10 challenge - Bad Bloggers Category!! Well...that and I happen to love Zombies!!

I wake up on the floor in the darkness.

This is the tale of Andy Warner, zombie. He reanimated after a car crash killed him and his wife. In this world, sometimes the dead reanimate and become zombies. Although there are a lot of different theories, no one actually knows why this happens. It just does. Now Andy lives in his parent's wine cellar. Andy's father can barely contain his disgust over having a zombie for a son. His mother can't even touch him without rubber gloves, Lysol and a can of air freshener (sorry, but zombies are still decaying!) At at least he isn't in a kennel at the SPCA or worse.
When Andy isn't drinking wine or VO5 Shampoo (if you've never needed a daily intake of formaldehyde to keep your decomposition rate slow, you probably wouldn't understand!), he is attending UA meetings. Undead Anonymous is group therapy for the recently undead. Because it takes some adjustment to being a zombie. Literally at the bottom of the food chain, zombies in our society have no rights whatsoever. If a zombie doesn't have a human (or "breather") guardian to claim him, he can be shipped off to a research facility or become a crash test dummy or worse (and yes, there really is a worse!)

It's at the UA meetings that Andy comes to realize how much has been taken away from him after he reanimated. But with the help of his new friends and the lovely Rita, Andy decides it's time for Zombies to have rights too.

Man, where do I begin?? This book is part romance, part zombie/horror, part black comedy and part social statement. It opens with Andy finding out that in a drunken state he murdered, mutilated and stuffed his parents in the side-by-side frig. (not a spoiler...this happens by page 2). The first half of the book shows us how Andy got to this point....then the aftermath. So funny in parts you just can't help giggling, it's a hard book to put down. Andy is such a great character, but in a really warped sort of way. Kind of like Tony Soprano. I mean, when watching The Sopranos, Tony is the anti-hero. You WANT him to succeed. You don't want to see him get arrested, even though you KNOW he's a bad guy. You KNOW he's a killer and had his best friend whacked. And yet, you still cheer him on. Andy is like that. You want him to find happiness with Rita. You want him to win his fight for zombie oppression. And yet, he's still a flesh-eating zombie.

Even through the dark humor of the book, is the underlying social statement of racism, bigotry, and discrimination. Zombies have no rights at all, even though they USED to be human. Are they still? Can you be undead, and yet still have your humanity?? Lots of questions.

But mostly, it's just tongue-in-cheek, black humor. "You don't find many zombies in the southern states, since heat tends to speed up decomposition. That and when you're a zombie in a region that has a reputation of prejudice against minorities and outsiders, you tend to stick out like good taste in a country-western bar."

"Maybe it's just me, but a bunch of reanimated corpses wandering around a graveyard after ten o'clock on a Friday night isn't exactly the best way to break the zombie stereotype."

"Eventually, someone's going to realize my parents aren't home and even if I've managed to get rid of the physical evidence, I'm going to be suspected in their disappearance. But once you eat part of your mother during a candlelight dinner with your undead girlfriend, you pretty much know that you've chosen a path most people just aren't going to understand."

This book is one of those rare gems that you pick up, not knowing that much about....and find out how truly fabulous it is!! If you like zombies, read this book. If you like to laugh, read this book. Hell, it's fun. Read it for no other reason than that!! 4.5/5

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Long Week of Good Stuff

See? It's not always doom and gloom over here!! This week, there will be no whining or rantings. Just a rundown of the last week, and it's been a pretty good one!!

Last Wednesday was my birthday. I don't usually mention it. I hate the idea of getting older. It's not so much the number that bothers me anymore. As far as I'm concerned, age is just a state of mind. You are only as old as you feel. Trouble is, I'm starting to FEEL old. I'm on my feet alot more with all the hours I'm putting in at the restaurant. And my knees have been bothering me a bit. My shoulder seems to be taking a long time to actually heal up. I know it's because I'm getting "older". Sucks, that's for sure.

But this was a pretty great birthday. I had to work a double on my the actual day, and I woke up to sound of someone banging on my door. As I staggered down the stairs in my Jammie's, I found the most gorgeous flower arrangement sitting on the steps. Yellow roses and all sorts of pretty yellow flowers (I have no idea what they are called. Wish I had taken a picture now) in a beautiful vase. All from the wonderful Michelle @ Michelle's Masterful of my very best blogging friends. Such a sweetie!! My co-workers decided it would be fun to torment me by singing all night. They even made me a cake. It was just nice that no one forgot. I got a check in the mail from my parents that was way over the top. All in all a great day even though I worked most of it. We had planned on celebrating with the family later on in the weekend, since I didn't have to work then.

A few weeks back I won tickets to a concert that was on Friday night. It was 3 Days Grace, Breaking Benjamin and Flyleaf. Bands that I like ok, but nothing I'd really bend over backwards to see. HOWEVER, 3 Days Grace is Chad's favorite band. So, plans were made for him to go to the concert with my nephew. Nic is 17, and I'd be pretty comfortable with the two boys at the Civic Center (Chad's only 13). Besides, the Red Cross is literally one block from there. I'd be able to drop them off and make sure they got home ok. Unfortunately, the day before the concert I find out that Nic was home with a horrible fever and a bad case of the flu. So, I took Chad instead. I would have loved to do it in the first place, but I know 13-year-olds. Figured he wouldn't want to go with his "old" mom. Of course, with no other options, he was stuck. BUT, we had a great time. Apparently, I'm not TOO uncool. I knew most of the songs, and free tickets aside, they were 2nd row in the lower bowl. Fantastic seats. I bought him a cool hat. Sang songs. Had a blast.

Sunday, the girls had their first basketball game. 2nd - 4th graders. Not very experienced. But we won 15 - 9. Bella scored a basket and Ana played a fantastic defensive game. The coach even told the other girls if they all played like Ana, they'd be winning by 40 points! She tied up another player at least 5 times for jump balls, and hustled her little butt off. I'm such a proud mama!! Then we went back to my in laws for my "birthday" party, complete with balloons, dinner, a red velvet cake (my favorite) and presents. Mike got me the coolest Jack Skellington hoodie and tote bag (huge Nightmare Before Christmas fan), some Ed Hardy sneaks, and a Ramones tote. My in-laws got me some good smelly bath stuff, money, and flannel PJ's. And the kids actually spent their own money to get a present. They seem to know me better than anyone. They got me a book. And not just any book, but Under the Dome by Stephen King. Yeah. THEY know me well. Ana and Bella even wrote me stories and drew me gorgeous pictures. All in all a fantastic birthday!!

Since Monday was a holiday, I took the kiddies out to spend Christmas gift cards at the mall. Fun!! And finally, ending up a great weekend, I woke up this morning to 4 books in the mail. I'm really haven't been doing a lot of ARC's lately. I'm been trying to weed through the lists. I have a backlog of books to read anyway, and I hate committing to something if I don't have the time. BUT, I was pretty excited to hear about these:

I love a good thriller. I haven't read a book by Dekker before, but I've heard good things. The Bride Collector is being released in April, and I can't wait to dig in to this one!!

I've read both of Joe Hill's books, and am extremely excited about his new book, Horns. It will be released on Febrary 16 (my dad's birthday!). I love a good scary story, and Hill being Stephen King's son has it in his blood!!

I don't read a lot of "Chick Lit" or Women's Contemporary Fiction any more. But Nicole from The Book Reporter has been extremely good to me, and when she asked if I'd review this, I said yes. I've reviewed a couple of Kristin Hannah's books for them, and I've enjoyed each one. Figured Winter Garden would be just as good. It is set to be released on Feb 2nd, so look for this review soon.

SO excited about this one. I actually squealed when I read Nicole's email asking me to take part in this blog tour. And another squeal when I got the book this morning!! Hex Hall by Rachel Hawkins in the first in a series about a reform school for "wayward Prodigiums" IE, witches, faeries, shape shifters, etc. SO much fun!! The book is being released on March 2. Will let you all know blog tour dates soon!!

That's it for me. I have a couple of books to review this week: Breathers by S. G. Browne and The Astonishing Adventures of Fanboy and Goth Girl by Barry Liga. Also, will be reviewing Couldn't Keep it to Myself. And maybe a Library Loot post too. Till then, happy reading!!

Friday, January 15, 2010

Another 2009 Review: Monster by A. Lee Martinez

I guess if I could get my act together and finish reviewing all the books I read in 2009, I might actually get to the current years! It's weird, because I'm usually not this far behind. And I should probably be doing, I don't know, mini-reviews? But so far, each book I've read deserves its own full-blown review. As does this book, Monster by A. Lee Martinez (304 pgs, Orbit, 2009). This book was a 100% purely impulse read. Not for a challenge or because I'd seen it reviewed on someone's blog or I'd read something else from the author. Nope. None of those things. I saw it, I liked the cover, I decided to read it.

The thing was big and white and hairy, and it was eating all the ice cream in the walk-in freezer. Four dozen chewed-up empty cartons testified that it had already devoured half of the inventory and it wasn't full yet. From the safety of the doorway, Judy watched it stuff an entire carton of Choc-O-Chiptastic Fudge into it's mouth with a slurp. The creature turned it's head slightly and sniffed. It had vaguely human features, except its face was blue and it's nostrils and mouth impossibly huge. It fixed a cobalt eye on her and snorted. Judy beat a hasty retreat and walked to the produce aisle where Dave was stocking lettuce. "I thought I asked you to stock the ice cream," he said. "No need," she said, "Yeti is eating it all.".

When a couple of Yeti's decide to run amok one night at the Food Plus Mart, Judy, a 3rd-shift stock-girl, has her first encounter with Monster. Finding no one else to call for help, she decides on Animal Control, even though she's sure they won't believe her. But when she calls, Animal Control transfers her to the Cryptobiological Containment and Rescue Services. And they send out an agent: Monster, who happens to be be blue tonight. (He was bit by a basilisk, and the anti-venom treatment left him with an "unstable enchantment". IE, he changes colors each time he wakes up. And with each color comes some bizarre side effect! Blue is good. It means he's invincible.) With Chester, his paper gnome assistant (who's really a 6th-dimensional entity using the paper gnome as a way to interact on this plane), Monster spends his nights catching cryptobiological creatures.

See...there is magic that fills the world today. But not everyone can see it. Merlin's Lobe is a cluster of nerves in the brain, dealing with the perception of magic. In most humans, or incognizants, the lobe is not developed. These people can't see magic, even if it's right in front of them. There are also a few people that CAN recognize magic, but they forget about it almost as soon as it's not in front of their faces. They are light-cognizants, and that is what Judy seems to be. Once the Yetis have been dispatched, she completely forgets she ever saw them.

But Judy seems to be a magnet for all things magic. After the Yeti incident, she comes across a bunch of trolls, a kojin that destroys her apartment, an Inuit walrus dog-type monster, and a hydra, just to name a few creatures. A little too much to be a coincidence. But why are all these strange things happening to Judy? And will Monster be able to help her and save the world at the same time?

I have to say, I picked up this book on a complete whim. I hadn't heard anything about it. I hadn't read anything by the author. But the cover TOTALLY stood out and I loved it! After reading the first page, I knew I hadn't made a mistake. This book was hilarious! Tongue-in-cheek humor paired with all sorts of mythical creatures. What more could a person ask for? Oh yeah, did I mention that the entire fate of the universe is at stake?

As much fun as this book was, there were a few downfalls. Neither Monster, nor Judy were very likable. I'm not sure it it's planned that way, or if the character development just fell a little flat. You don't even feel very sorry for Monster, when his girlfriend from Hell (literally...she's a succubus from the Fiery Pits) makes his life miserable. If it wasn't for Chester, the paper gnome, Monster would be completely unsympathetic as a character. He's rough around the edges and bends over backwards to NOT get involved with people.

But see for yourself how much fun and how witty the writing really is: She didn't like to talk about it, but sin was a high-pressure job. It wasn't hard to get people to do bad things, but competition was stiff in her demon-eat-demon world. A demon was only as good as her last inspired atrocity, and even that didn't count for much.

He ran for the house as lightning bolts and miniature meteorites exploded around him. A shard sliced him across the cheek, and Monster learned that Elvis's downfall was engineered by vampires, that a dairy farm in Iowa had several super intelligent cows plotting the overthrow of the human race, and the mathematical equation for cold fusion, which he forgot almost immediately.

But Martinez also has a pretty good take on humanity itself: "Do you know what separates humanity from the other beasts of the world?" asked Lotus. "It's not the ability to make tools or complex language or any of that other nonsense you tell yourselves. No, humans are unique in all this world because they are the only creatures that can make themselves miserable. And do you know how you do it? You do it by expecting to be happy. You're so busy thinking about happiness, obsessing about finding it and why it isn't where you expect it to be, that you completely miss the point.

Pretty spot on, don't you think? Regardless of some of the problems, Monster is a really fun book to read. A book for 100% pure enjoyment purposes. I would definitely recommend this book! 4.25/5

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

TLC Book Tour - Body Scoop for Girls by Dr. Jennifer Ashton

When I was asked to be a part of Dr. Ashton's book tour, I hesitated a little. I'm not usually one to review books like this. But with 2 girls in the house, I was a bit intrigued and figured I'd give it a go. The Body Scoop for Girls: A Straight-Talk Guide to a Healthy, Beautiful You by Dr. Jennifer Ashton (304 pgs, Avery Trade, 2009) is a no-nonsense look at the teenage girl's every changing body.

First off, just let me say this: Dr. Ashton is not your mother's OB. She is young, hip, and understanding of the teenage girl. From page 1, she becomes an advocate for her patients. In her practice, she specializes in treating teenagers. This book is written as a guide to help those teens understand their bodies just a little bit better.

The book is laid out in 3 sections: What to Expect When You're Adolescent, The Straight Talk on Sex, and Your Body's Lifetime Warranty: Staying Healthy for Life.

"The way health, sex, and physical information is handled by schools, teachers, doctors and even some parents, you'd think today's girls were living in a time warp. Sex ed is still taught exactly the same way it was 30 years ago (often it's all-abstinence-all-the-time). Most parents still have a tough time talking with their daughters about their bodies. Even doctors don't seem to want to talk straight with girls. Old-school doctors always seem to fall into two groups: The "Just-Say-No" group (as in "Can we talk about safe sex?" "No.") and the "Free Love" group ("Whatever you do is beautiful. Just use condoms.") Come on people! This is the information age! If you ask me, both these approaches are disrespectful to girls. I believe in giving you all the information you need, at the right age, so you can make smart choices for your body and your emotional health. That doesn't mean I'd tell you it's OK to have sex at a young age. In fact, I'll tell you the medical reasons why that's not a good idea. But I'll also expect you to use your own best judgement and I'll treat you accordingly, with respect for the choices you make."

That paragraph pretty much sets the tone for the entire book. She is frank and honest, and treats the reader as an adult. Dr. Ashton doesn't preach to girls at all. Instead she gives them all the information necessary for THEM to make informed decisions. I think this book is perfect for the young, teenage girl because it's an excellent resource. It was hard being a teenage girl when I grew up. I can't even imagine what it's like today. The world we are living in has changed immensely since I was a teen. and I know the pressure has increased exponentially.

In the first section, she guides you through explanations about your changing body, from puberty to piercings. In an easy to read format, complete with Dr. Ashton's "Playlists" (certain advice that she offers over and over) and questions to ask yourself, Dr. Ashton gives a no-holds barred explanation for all topics, especially those that girls might find embarrassing to talk about. Each chapter is filled with facts, do's and don'ts, and "myths" to be debunked.

The second section is a forthright discussion on sex. I am under no delusions that girls are having sex at younger and younger ages all the time. I hope to be able to talk to my own daughters about it, and using this book would be a great idea. Dr. Ashton gives many reason why it's important for your physical and emotional health to wait until you are older. But if you aren't going to wait, she gives the 4-1-1 on birth control and information about STD's.

The final chapter deals with a girl's overall health and welfare. One chapter deals with weight and how to keep and maintain a HEALTHY weight. Another discusses smoking, drinking and drugs. And a final chapter on mood disorders.

I find it extremely hard to review a book like this one. Not fiction or story, but all information. I sat down and read Body Scoop in a couple of hours. It is definitely one that I will be putting on the shelf and saving for a few years till my daughters are at the age to need it. That time seems to be creeping up on my faster than I would like. As for Dr. Ashton and Body Scoop, I will have to give both a definite thumbs up!

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Sunday Salon: 2010 Challenge Edition, Volume 2 and the Melancholy Post

The Sunday Salon.comTechnically, I can still call this a "Sunday Salon" post, since I started it on Sunday!! I was actually going to write this up last night, but the time got away from me at work. Most weekends when I work at the Red Cross is super-slow. The last few nights have been extremely busy though. So...less time to read and post.

And right now, I seem to have the blues. Hence, the melancholy nature of this post. I'm not really sure why. Probably a combination of any number of things: The weather. The past week it has snowed a foot, and the temps have been in the negative numbers. When I went out to start my truck this morning, the gauge said -9! I just can't ever seem to warm up. I hate being cold. How about the fact that it is dark so much of the time?? It's already 10 days into the year, and I've only finished one book. There was no time for Bloggiesta this weekend, and I would have loved to spend some time on my blog. I had wanted to move to my own domain, but the name I wanted is already taken.

Or maybe it's because my birthday is this week. Another year older. For the most part that never bothers me. But I have to say this year is a bit different. Not much has changed, and I think that's the problem. Another year....and not much to show for it. Sounds kind of silly when I put it into words. But I worked SO hard this year, and yet, everything is the same as last year. Still struggling. I do have an interview this week, so maybe things will start to look up. Regardless, I need to get myself out of the blahs.

And what better to curb the blahs than join more challenges!! If there is one thing that I like more than challenges, it's making lists!! And I've had fun this week finding more challenges for 2010!

A Tournament of Reading is a Medieval Literature Challenge hosted by Meghan @ The Medieval Bookworm. Now, actual Medieval Lit would probably be a bit more than I could chew off at this point in my life. Would love to read a little Chaucer, but not sure if I'm up to that challenge right now. BUT I do love Historical Fiction. It's been awhile since I've stuck my toes in that particular pond, and I really miss it.

Here are the rules:
This challenge is designed to get us all reading a little more medieval literature in 2010. The challenge will run from January 1st to December 31st, 2010, and will be hosted right here at Medieval Bookworm. Challenge genres include history, medieval literature, and historical fiction. Medieval, for simplicity of definition, will be from 500-1500, and literature from all over the world is welcome, not just western Europe.

There are 3 levels:
Peasant – Read 3 medieval books of any kind.
Lord – Read 6 medieval books, at least one of each kind.
King – Read 9 medieval books, at least two of each kind.

You’re not required to make a list or stick to one, but it would be fun if you did! A recommendations post will also be up today, to help you make choices.

For me, I'm sticking with the Western Europe lit because I'd never be able to whittle down my choices. I'm also going for a Lord/Lady designation, but who knows what will happen once I get started! Here is my pool of books that I would love to draw from:

  • Here Be Dragons by Sharon Penman (this is a re-read for me, but since I haven't read the rest of the series, I thought I would revisit this wonderful book!)
  • Falls the Shadow by Sharon Penman
  • The Reckoning by Sharon Penman
  • The Queen's Man by Sharon Penman
  • Katherine by Anya Seton
  • The Arthurian Series by Bernard Cornwell
  • The Once and Future King by T. H. White
  • The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley
  • The Plantagenet Prelude by Jean Plaidy

The Gilmore Girls Reading Challenge, hosted by Lisa @ Lit and Life is a chance to read some of the books on Rory's Reading list. I'm a newbie to The Gilmore Girls, never having watched it while it was actually on in prime time. But that doesn't change my love for the series now. And since I got the entire Series on DVD for Christmas (thanks to my awesome in laws!), my Gilmore Girl's obsession is back!! Hence this challenge and the perpetual Rory Gilmore Books Project, which I'm also partaking in!

The challenge runs all of 2010, and there are 3 levels of Participation:

Emily: Read 5 books from at least two different categories.
Lorelai: Read 10 books from at least three different categories.
Rory: Read 20 books from at least four different categories.

I consider myself a total Rory! I would love to get at least 20 under my belt, but we will see. I will pick the books as the year rolls on!

Mind Voyages Science Fiction Reading Challenge is hosted by Robin of My Two Blessings. "Science fiction and fantasy books have always been my one true love ever since I read my first sci fi book back in the 70's. Whether it was Edgar Rice Burroughs, Arthur Clark, Ray Bradbury, Larry Niven, Piers Anthony, Anne McCaffrey or Robert Silverberg who captured me first, I don't remember. When I recently came across the Hugo Award Web site, the list of winners made my mouth water and tickled my imagination. All the books on the list looked so good that I decided to read through the list, starting with the oldest. But all those who were nominated looked too good to pass up, so decide okay, will take some side trips and read some of the nominees. Other ideas started popping up in my brain. That's what the sci-fi and fantasy genre does to you - expands your mind and gives you ideas."

There are several levels of participation for the challenge:

Moon Voyage : Read at least 6 winners on the Hugo Winners List
Sling shot back to Earth: Read at least 3 winners on the Nebula Winner's List
Venus Voyage: Philip K. Dick Quest - Read at least 2 of his books
Mercury Voyage: Robert Heinlein Quest - Read at least 2 of his books
Mars Voyage: Read at least 6 winners on the Hugo List and take a side trip through the 21st century and read at least 4 nominees.

Go into Warp Drive and visit the other planets:
Jupiter Voyage: Go side tripping 90's Style
Saturn: Go Side Tripping 80's Style
Uranus: Go Side Tripping 70's Style
Neptune Voyage: Go Side Tripping through the 50's and 60's
The I'm going to Pluto because Pluto is still a planet as far as I'm concerned Voyage: Mix it up, choose the number of books you want to read from each voyage, include some new books you pick up along the way and enjoy the ride.

I have no idea what level of participation I will go for, but I have a huge list of books to choose from, including:

  • Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein
  • The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin
  • Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card
  • Hyperion by Dan Simmons
  • Paladin of Souls by Lois McMaster Bujold
  • Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke
  • Doomsday Book by Connie Willis
  • Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear
  • Red Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson

And that's just to name a few!

Finally, the Cybils Award Challenge and the 2010 YA Challenge kind of go hand in hand. If you read my blog enough, you know that besides fantasy, my favorite genre is YA.

The Cybils Award Challenge is hosted by Michelle @ Galleysmith. It's a chance to read books from the Cybil Award Nominees. There are lots of levels of participation, but I think I will be going for the Shorties Rule – choose to read books in a specific short list (finalists will be publicized Jan 1, 2010. And the books I want to read are from a couple of categories:

Fiction: Fantasy & Science Fiction (MG)

  • 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass
  • Dreamdark Series by Laini Taylor
  • The Farwalker's Quest by Joni Sensel
  • Odd and the Frost Giants by Neil Gaiman
  • The Prince of Fenway Park by Julianna Baggott
  • Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories by Joan Aiken
  • Where the Mountain Meets the Moon by Grace Lin

Fiction: Fantasy & Science Fiction (Young Adult)

  • Candor by Pam Bachorz
  • The Demon's Lexicon by Sarah Rees Brennan
  • The Dust of 100 Dogs by A. S. King
  • Fire by Kristin Cashore (but I must read Graceling First!)
  • Lips Touch by Laini Taylor
  • Skin Hunger by Kathleen Duey
  • Tiger Moon by Antonia Michaelis

Fiction: Middle Grade

  • Captain Nobody by Dean Pitchford
  • Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson
  • Anything but Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin
  • Heart of a Shepard by Roseanne Parry
  • All the Broken Pieces by Ann Burg
  • Operation Yes by Sara Lewis Holmes
  • The Small Adventures of Popeye and Elvis by Barbara O'Connor

Fiction: Young Adult

  • Blue Plate Special by Michelle Kwasney
  • Carter Finally Gets It by Brent Crawford
  • Cracked up to Be by Courtney Summers
  • How to Say Goodbye in Robot by Natalie Standiford
  • In the Wild Nerd Yonder by Julie Halpern
  • North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Hedley (already read this one!)
  • Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson

I have participated in the YA Challenge for the last few years. It's one of the few that I always complete!! Hosted by J. Kaye @ J. Kaye's Book Blog. It runs through the entire year of 2010, and has various levels of participation:

--The Mini YA Reading Challenge – Read 12 Young Adult novels.

--Just My Size YA Reading Challenge – Read 25 Young Adult novels.

--Stepping It Up YA Reading Challenge – Read 50 Young Adult novels.

--Super Size Me YA Reading Challenge – Read 75 Young Adult novels.

I'm probably good for the Just My Size Challenge


That's it till next Sunday!! I'll probably finish up my final round of challenges!! Happy Reading!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

GLBT Challenge....AND the January Mini-Challenge

One of the main challenges I wanted to join in 2010 was the GLBT Challenge, or the Challenge That Dare Not Speak It's Name. For some reason, I actually didn't get around to signing up.

So...this post is not only my sign-up. My initial post. My list of books I'd love to read. But it's also my chance to the do the first Mini-Challenge!! See? I really can multitask! Which is what I will do first. The point of the mini-challenge is "to write a paragraph or two on why this challenge and/or this issue is important to you."

Goodness. Seems like it would be easy. It should be. But like everything in life, there is always a little more to it than just black and white.

I grew up in a small farming community here in Illinois. And when I say small, I mean "TINY". My hometown has a population of about 520. My high school, when it existed (it has since consolidated with other schools and was actually leveled!) never topped 80 for all 4 grades. Life was simple and everyone came from the exact cookie cutter family. Differences weren't really tolerated. In fact, they were bad. Being gay was against everything that was taught to us. Hell, the bible said it was it must have been.

Fast-forward a few years, and I went to college. Differences were not only common; they were celebrated. I now had friends from different races, nationalities, religions, and dare I say, sexual orientations. Amazingly enough, I embraced all that was different in the world around me and just accepted. I've seen first-hand what hate can do. During my years at Bradley, I had the unfortunate opportunity to take classes with a guy named Matt Hale. If you are from the area, or even Illinois, you probably will know who he is. If not, I'll explain. Mr. Hale was a local area boy that became the leader of the World Church of the Creator. A White Supremacist. A particular nasty one at time. I even had a class with Hale, and if I say he was an ignorant, redneck pig, that's being way more generous than he deserves. He led a KKK group onto MY campus, reeking all sorts of havoc. It was a really scary time, and it brought out a lot of hate, the likes of which I had never seen face to face before. And which I never want to see again.

After I graduated, I met a guy that turned out to be my best friend. To this day, I can call him that. He's the sweetest, kindest person I know. He's my children's godfather. He is mine and Mike's closest friend. He loves me and my family unconditionally. And he's gay. He has experienced the bigotry of the uninformed. I would love to shield him from that if I could. But that is the way of the world, as much as I hate it. So, in my own little way, I'm working to change it. I had a friend one time comment on a BBQ we had at our house. She said coming to our house was like going to a meeting of the Rainbow Coalition. I looked around and realized it was true. We have friends that are black, Native American, Chinese, Spanish, gay, straight, white....and just about any mixture you can imagine. I want my children to grow up in a world where THAT is normal. Where being different isn't a bad thing. Where there is no such thing as different. A world where people just are. A place where every person is free to love whoever they choose, no matter what gender. That is what I believe in, and it is what my children are going to believe.

As far as the reading challenge, I have a few books that I want to read. I'll do my best to hit the Rainbow level. But I know how well I usually do on challenges, so we'll see in the end what I can accomplish. I know that I will pick up huge amounts of titles for my TBR, as well. So this list is just a start!!

  • Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block
  • Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters
  • Fingersmith by Sarah Waters
  • Normal by Amy Bloom
  • Rubyfruit Jungle by Rita Mae Brown
  • The House you Pass on the Way by Jacqueline Woodson
  • Suicide Notes by Michael Thomas Ford
  • Sex Talks to Girls: A Memoir by Maureen Seaton
  • Sugar Rush by Julie Burchill
  • My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger

Hopefully, this will be a wonderfully enlightening challenge. Many thanks to Amanda for hosting!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

2009 In Review

It feels weird to do a review post when I haven't even finished posting all my 2009 reviews. But the way I'm going these days, I didn't want to end up posting this wrap-up post in February!!

I sometimes find it rather depressing to read everyone's wrap-up posts. I can not even come close to touching the numbers of other bloggers. There are just not enough hours in the day. But since I've decided to go with the Zen approach to blogging, I'm carrying that over to my reading!!

So....since my numbers are low, this shouldn't be too long for all of you to read! I finished 2009 with a total of 49 books. That's one less that last year and the same as 2007. I'm nothing, if not consistent!! Of course, with the addition of Graphic Novels to my reading, I would have thought I could squeeze in a few more this year. My hopes of ever hitting 100 are swiftly getting dashed. Maybe when I retire, and only have puppies and kittens to take care of! Till then, it's a Dare to Dream kind of thing. I will forever put up 100 as a goal I'd love to make it to someday.

Since 49 is the total, I'm going to give you the top 5....and a few that made the runners-up list. (in no particular order)

  • Looking for Alaska by John Green such a great book. Heartbreaking, but ultimately a wonderful look at teens, love and grief.
  • Hunger Games/Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins - It's hard to have one on the list without the other. I can't even tell you which one I liked better either. Both were fantastic. YA dystopian series. My son thinks these are the Best. Books. Ever!
  • The Knife of Never Letting Go/The Ask and The Answer by Patrick Ness - The same as above. Can't very well have one without the other. Although, this time I actually think I liked The Ask and The Answer better than the first (boycolt!) YA Dystopian Series, like none I've ever read. Gut-wrenching, heart-breaking, heart-pounding intensity. SO GOOD! I actually bought both for Chad for Christmas. Though he insists nothing will be better than HG, I'm trying to get him to read these soon!
  • I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith - I can't begin to describe what a surprising delight this book was! A look at one of the oddest, most eccentric families ever. Just plain wonderful!!
  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman - A year-end Best of List would not be complete without something from Neil Gaiman!! He's been on my list the last 2 years, and this book was no exception. Fantastic YA book, so deserving of the Newberry!!

Well....those were definitely the best I read this year. To be honest, there were very few books I read that I didn't enjoy. I have a few that also made my Honorable Mention:

Finally, a few numbers to add to my (pitiful) list of stats!!

Books Read in 2009: 49

Total Pages Read: 16,286

Novels: 37

Comic/Graphic Novels: 6

Non-Fiction: 3 (AWFUL!)

Short-Story Collections/Essay Collections/Novellas: 2 (AWFUL!)

Young Adult/Children's: 24

By Men: 22

By Women: 27

New-to-Me Authors: 30

So....all in all, it was a rather low in quantity year. But I do have to say, the quality of the books I read was fantastic!! I still have a couple of reviews to finish up before I start my 2010 reviews. (of course, I haven't actually finished a book yet this year, so it's all good!) I have a bunch more challenges that I've signed up for/will sign up for. So, a couple posts announcing those. Then....we'll just see how it goes!!

Thanks for reading my blog in 2009!! Hopefully, you'll stick around for a great 2010!!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Some Final 2009 Book Reviews: The Ask and The Answer by Patrick Ness

A Book Review, you ask?? Well, duh. This IS a book blog!! Yeah, I know. It's been awhile. It's the beginning of a new year, and where are all my wrap-up posts? I'll probably be finishing all my wrap-up posts soon. I finished 2009 without reviewing at least 5 books. I've always said, I will review (or at least discuss) all the books I've read, so I still need to do that. And while some will have to wait, I could hardly finish up any 2009 wrap-ups without reviewing one of the books that will undoubtedly make my Top 5 Reads!! So, I give you The Ask and The Answer - Chaos Walking Book 2 by Patrick Ness (528 pgs, Candlewick, 2009). Read for the YAC 2009, the YA Dystopian Challenge, and basically because after reading The Knife of Never Letting Go, there was NO WAY I could NOT read this book!!

"Your noise reveals you Todd Hewitt." A voice -- In the darkness. I blink open my eyes. Everything is shadows and blur and it feels like the world's spinning and my blood is too hot and my brain is clogged and I can't think and it's dark -- I blink again. Wait. No, WAIT -- Just now, just NOW we were in the square -- Just now SHE was in my arms.

As with Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, it will difficult to review this book without giving anything away. First, I don't want to spoil anything for people who haven't read The Knife of Never Letting Go. Because NEED to read that book. And secondly, I don't wait to spoil anything from THIS book. So, basically this is going to be a non-review of a book that I LOVED.

What can I say then about The Ask and The Answer? The book begins almost immediately from the point that The Knife of Never Letting Go ended. Todd awakens to find that they have indeed made it to Haven, although it seems that the Army has made it there before him and Viola. Haven, now called New Prentisstown, is under the control of Mayor Prentiss. And Todd has no idea where Viola is or what happened to her.

In this book enemies become friends and friends become enemies. Although the pace of this book is not quite as neck-breaking as the first, it is equally gut-wrenching. Todd is forced to do things he would never have done before. And he loses himself because of it. The once-innocent Todd learns the ways of the "New" world. And shatters himself in the process. Things are not always black and white now. And the shades of gray can be very dangerous. But one thing we know about Todd....he's strong. And good. And nothing can possibly change that. Or can it??

I don't know if it's possible, but I would have to say this book is better than the first. I wasn't quite as dizzy reading it. But my heart-strings were pulled and manipulated just as much. I have a new character I love: "boycolt, boycolt". (that is just for you Nymeth and Maree!) Once again, we are sucked completely into the lives of Todd and Viola. We see a glimpse into the psyche that is Mayor Prentiss and we see lots of darkness. We see what it is like for his son, Davy, growing up with such a man as a father. And we find a new enemy out there. So many questions as well. Is the Answer enemy or friend?? And what will happen when the settlers reach the New World?

I, for one, am having a hard time waiting for all the answers to come. Book 3, Monster of Men will not be available in the US until May. I'm already chomping at the bit to get it! (pun, definitely intended!) As far as I'm concerned, this is a Must Read Series for anyone that wants to be completely and totally drawn into a dystopian world. It almost physically HURTS to read it, the intensity is so high. But again, isn't that the sign of a fantastic book?? Most definitely given a 5 Star review!!

Friday, January 1, 2010

A New Year

A New Year. Hell, it's a new Decade! I'm not one for resolutions. I've always felt that making New Year Resolutions is setting a person up for failure. Too much pressure to make drastic life changes. Besides, failure depresses me. My mind set is a little different. Especially since I have such a hectic schedule right now. I just try to live my life day to day. I don't think that turning a page on a calendar should be a catalyst for inspiring change. If a change is needed, then do it.

All of that said, I've been looking back on my year in blogging and can see that a change is in order. This past year, I posted less than I have in any of the preceding 3 years. And I stressed about it. I have enough stress in my life without throwing blogging into the mix. I'm through with feeling stress over it. I'm not going to pressure myself to make sure I post a certain amount per month. Blogging started out being fun, and I'd like to make sure it stays that way. I will try to post more. I feel like I have neglected my blog and my blogging friends this year. I do have lots to say, and I would love to be able to broadcast it all. I'm just not going to feel bad if I don't accomplish it.

This past year there were so many conversations about "top-tier" bloggers. I gave up on popularity contests in high school. I. Don't. Care. There. I said it. I will state for the record that I realize I'm not a "top-tier" blogger. I don't have hundreds of followers or thousands of posts. I don't have thousands of hits a day. So be it. In the past three years I have carved out a tiny little niche for myself in the blogosphere. And I like it. As far as I'm concerned, there is plenty of room in the book blogging community for everyone: from the biggest blogs to the smallest; from those that post multiple times a day to those that only post a couple of times a week. I blog for me. To keep myself from going (completely) insane. The jury is still out on whether it's working or not. I know I will still check my blog stats. But I'm not going to feel bad if they never change. I'm happy just being me.

I'm not going to pressure myself to read more ARC's. Or more Classics. Or more non-fiction. I've come to the decision this year that I'm happiest in my reading when I don't have to "force" myself to read a book. It's not fun, and I don't enjoy it. But I like joining challenges and trying to stretch myself in my reading. I'm just not going to put any undue pressure on myself to complete a challenge or read something I won't enjoy.

And finally, I'm not going to use my blog as a crutch. This past year, I've whined about my life way too many times. I have fallen back on using this blog as a release for all the bad stuff that builds up inside me. I don't really like doing that. Yes, it's great to let things out sometimes. But I don't want anyone to think they NEED to comment on something I've said or feel sorry for me.

The point of this post? I probably won't change how I blog. I probably won't change how I read. What I want to change is how I FEEL about it. I'm not putting pressure on myself to do something I dislike. I'm not going to feel bad about not reaching the exceedingly high expectations I usually place on myself. In essence, I'm not going to try to change my habits. I'm just going to be. I know: very Zen, isn't it?? I'm hoping this approach will bring the fun back into something I have loved for the last 3 years.

I hope you all had a wonderful Christmas. Mine was perfect. I received a few wonderful presents from my wonderful blogging friends. I received a few wonderful presents from my wonderful family. But most of all, I spent time with the ones I love. And it was wonderful!! (Sorry. Should have busted out the old thesaurus. But wonderful just seemed to work, ya know?)

Here's wishing you a beautiful and blessed New Year. Peace to all of you !!