Friday, December 19, 2014

Jenn on Books: 2014 Reviews

I seriously considered writing a new review on all of the books I read this year, but I realized......that is crazy, and an insane amount of work. Try again, crazy pants.

Instead, I'm just going to copy & paste the notes I wrote on GoodReads as I read each one, and perhaps elaborate just a touch on a few of them.

Let's go!


1. The First Phone Call From Heaven by Mitch Albom // I loved that this book had so many components - mystery, drama, spiritual, supernatural. It was a great story with an exciting, thought-provoking theme that pulled the reader through many character's emotional states. It was a good way to start the year.

2. The Douche Journals by Schmidt // Such a short, silly, mostly hilarious book written "by" one of my favorite characters currently on TV. It barely qualifies as a book, and more of a journal of ridiculous quotes, and none of what was said compares to the hilarity on the actual show, but I loved it just the same.

3. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin // Taking this book on at the start of the year was a great idea. It motivated me to get my butt moving to make something 2014, and though I didn't stick to a theme or goal for each month the way Gretchen did, it helped me set and focus goals that organized this year into being one of the best I've had in a long time!

4. Love & Misadventure by Lang Leav // I wanted to read some poetry this year, and I just happened on this book around the same time as Valentine's Day so I thought it was fitting. A couple of the poems were just absolutely fitting and perfect, and others were sort of silly to me. It was a quick read, though, and the good ones made this worth the read.

5. This Is What Happy Looks Like by Jennifer E. Smith // By description, this book sounded like it would be the type of juicy YA read I was craving (as I made it to March without any YA under my belt!) The relationship excitement and tension? Oh, it was there. And it was pretty exciting, too. The puppy love felt here was between a small town girl and well-known hear-throb whose paths crossed when he used the wrong email address one day. The plot is such a dreamy realization of a 16 year old fantasy, and that part of it was incredibly fun. But there were other parts, like Daddy issues, that I couldn't help but roll my eyes at. It was cheesy - - double coated in YA cheese. But I really liked the relationship story that was told.

6. Walt Disney by Bob Thomas // While looking into Disney facts for our future family vacation, I started to pick up little bits of information about Walt Disney and suddenly wanted to know more about this ingenious man who created something so massive, common, and immortal. This book was absolutely perfect for telling the whole story, all aspects of it. And I drank it all up. I loved this book and everything I learned from it.

7. Uganda Be Kidding Me by Chelsea Handler // I love Chelsea and her brand of humor, and the way she doesn't take anyone (including herself) too seriously. But I could never be her friend. I would be absolutely terrified of her pranks and name-calling, and I'd fall apart. Reading her books is safe. She can't see me, I still get to laugh (and I do, genuinely), and I get to enjoy a quick easy read. No surprise, I loved reading this one.

8. The Duggars: 20 and Counting by Michelle & Jim Bob Duggar // Having just wrapped up my curiosity about Walt Disney, I suddenly wanted to know more about this big, sprawling family and what makes them tick. I knew this book was a bit outdated, but I had to start at the beginning of their story, so I picked up this book from the library. I thought the way they switched between Michelle & Jim Bob talking was a bit jarring. You wouldn't realize they switched until you'd see something like "I (Michelle)" popped up mid-sentence, after you already pictured Jim Bob saying it. That was frustrating, but I still really enjoyed discovering how they make such a large group function on a daily basis, and I respected their resolve for what they do (even if I still sort of think they're nuts).

9. Celebrations by Maya Angelou // Still on my poetry kick, I wanted to read something by a more well-known poet. This was the only thing readily available at the library by her, so I grabbed it and ended up really liking it. There were a few that went over my head, and others that I found so perfect - particularly one written for Mother's Day.

10. A Love That Multiplies by Michelle & Jim Bob & Duggar // Continuing the story, I had to read this one next. It was much of the same, but I think I felt a little bit more "these people are crazy" after reading this book. I still love watching their story and sometimes think their life is pretty great, the way they are just so sure about everything, but it almost seems like they've taken "telling it like it is" to a new level. I liked reading about the developments since their last book, though, even despite Jim Bob mostly creeping me out.

11. Growing Up Duggar by The Duggar Daughters // The show was advertising this book by showing the girls working on it and recording the audio book, so naturally - I wanted to hear what they had to say. I think it was even more annoying to me in the ways I found the other Duggar books annoying - the way they talk to people about how things are and how terrible other things are. They slammed Harry Potter in this book! Yeah, no thanks, girls. I think they're all nuts, not even kissing their husbands before their wedding day. What if they're all sloppy and horrible at it? You have to kiss that for life? Yikes.

12. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell // I read this one over the Summer, largely while nursing Jake for his many naps while we were staying at my in-law's cottage. I totally loved it! It was a really fun escape from reality. I know that I should have been more creeped out and angry with the main character, but instead I was rooting for him in a way I probably shouldn't have. I really enjoyed the ending, in a rom com sort of way, and the shipping I did for this couple was definitely my favorite part of this story.

13. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell // I heard such good things about this book, I couldn't wait to get to it! The relationship here was a little slow to grow on me. The way Eleanor was described so out there that I couldn't really get a grip on who she was at first. I don't know that I ever "fell" for their relationship the way many others have, but the themes and the hardships in the story were so real, raw, and deep that I really loved seeing them navigate all of it. The ending? The ending was not my favorite. I know there was this postcard thing going on, a hint of what could come sort of thing, but...meh. I guess I wanted one last thing to spark that love for this couple that everyone else seemed to have, and it fell short for me. Regardless of that fact, this was a great book. I loved it.

14. The Longest Ride by Nicholas Sparks // Meh. Nicholas Sparks is losing his spark. I used to fly through his books, craving to read another chapter, wanting to know what happened in the love story and feeling connected to it like a good chick flick. His books don't do it for me anymore. They're too predictable and he repeats the same themes over and over again. The plot was good, and the themes behind the love stories were great, but Luke & Sophia's relationship was pretty boring to me. I liked the story of Ira & Ruth better, and I loved how their lives were weaved together in the end, but the bulk of the story wasn't very thrilling. It took me FAR too long to read this - it didn't pull me in at all. And I suppose this is personal preference, but I didn't like reading the bull riding details. Blech. No interest.

15. Happy Handmade Home by Elsie Larson // I probably shouldn't have read this, because now there's too many projects I want to add to my list! I did feel like a lot of the ideas were repeated in slightly different ways, but I think they were meant to be inspirational, get the gears turning examples, anyway. My favorite part, though, is that they are letting people know that it's okay to be as crafty, colorful and homespun as you like!


16.  The Nesting Place by Myquillyn Smith // I loved the natural inspiration her story tells, and loved her personal story - I wasn't expecting that. I'm not a renter and I think I've moved an average number of times, but this really speaks to starting even in imperfect situations and taking risks right where you are, even if it doesn't suit popular opinion. Loved it!

17. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg // I really enjoy reading nonfiction, but sometimes it takes me a while to get through it. This book started out strong, with a really interesting story about a man with memory damage, dried out for a whole lot of technical speak, but then pulled me in for the recap. As with most nonfiction, I found things that applied to my life and inspired a desire for change. I can't say that I've changed a lot since reading this book, but the fundamentals are part of my knowledge now, and I hope to put them to good use.

18. Stirring The Pot by Jenny McCarthy // I don't really have a lot I can say about this book (or any of her books) other than I enjoy them. They are usually quick, and invoke a few authentic LOL moments, which is sometimes a great breather!

19. Love In Maine by Connie Falconeri // This started out BAD. Worse than soap opera, bad. At least soap operas make you wait to see a pairing come together (sometimes an unreasonable amount of time). This book was basically like....I'm hot, you're hot, let's just get to it. Therefore the whole camping trip was painful to read, and Henry being naked while he stoked the fire and cooked dinner....seriously???? Their moodiness and banter was annoyingly hard to read in the beginning of their relationship, but when they finally started showing some actual cat & mouse struggle instead of forced angst, it got a little more interesting. It turned a corner after that, and suddenly it was full of the good butterflies you find when you're shipping your OTP! I went from wondering if I'd be able to get through this to not being able to put it down for 9 chapters. This is not at all great literature - I don't think anyone would expect that of a book written by a fictional soap opera character, anyway - but it turned out to be pretty decent in the end. Worth a read if you want something fun and shippy!

20. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell // This book....it was so full! So many things happening at once. It was just an ordinary story, but with so many themes running through it - I can hardly decide where to start. Within the first few minutes of reading, I was mad. As a rabid Potterhead I saw the blatant rip off that was Simon Snow instantly, and it made me angry. I even stopped and googled for more information, and it wasn't until reading an interview by the author stating that she just needed something to stand in for Harry's world that I got over it and decided to enjoy it for the fangirl aspects it provided. And then...there was so much. Relationships - between sisters, mother-daughter, daughter-father, boy-girl (healthy and unhealthy), between roommates, even wizard-vampire, and then the college experience, anxiety problems, writing struggles, plagiarism, excessive drinking - it was everything from every YA novel all crammed into one. It left little time to concentrate on any one theme, and just when you felt like you were diving more deeply into something, it was time to forget about that issue and focus on the next. Complicated. A little disorienting. Busy. But interesting. I felt a bit of foreshadowing when Cath was reading an old fic to Levi and didn't have an ending to give him. She said something about it being left to the reader to decide. And she went on to not mention if she finished Carry On in time, or where things lead with Levi, or what her Mom's deal really was. Can I just say, I hate that? It reads lazy. There's no mystery there. This wasn't a thriller. The ending dragged on a bit as the author struggled to tie up all the loose ends, and it felt like she just got lazy and said, "screw it, I'll just leave it up to their imaginations and claim intentional creativity". The only guess I can make here is that she wanted to inspire her own fanfiction. She wanted the readers to perpetuate this story - to finish Simon's story, to finish Levi & Cath's - like a giant secret poll so she could decide where to lead them next, if anywhere. I could get behind the premise of that, but it still feels lazy to me. And why was there no mention of Cath wearing glasses until 3/4 of the way through the book, and then they could stop saying it? It was too late for me. My mental picture of her didn't have glasses by the time she said so, so I just decided to ignore that. I rated it as high as I did because despite all of this, it kept my interest, I liked Levi a lot, and I appreciate a fellow fangirl. Worth a read!

21. Why We Broke Up by Daniel Handler // I picked up this book because it was different in format, and YA (love). I enjoyed the premise - the author is handing a box of mementos from her relationship with a high school boyfriend to her ex and talking about each thing's importance. I spent a lot of this book annoyed with the "look how smart and different I am" theme (that, yawwwn, is in SO many books these days!), but the end was so good. Despite knowing what happens (just by reading the title), of course I wanted the relationship to work out. I can't help it. Knowing the details of a relationship like that, wanting the whole "cool guy dating a less cool girl" thing to work out for once - it just leaves me wanting a happy ending. So silly of me, but I was sad when the break up actually happened, but thrilled with the way it changed the whole book. The emotions, the depth, the truth of heartache...it's all there, waiting for you at the end. I ended this book wanting to know Ed's side of the story, his reaction to the box, and where Min went from there. Sequel, pretty please? :)

22. Popular by Maya Van Wagenen // This girl - I am so proud of her! She took on a big, scary social experiment at 13, documented it, and then published a book by the time she was 15! I'm more than a little jealous of her ambition. This was really fun to read, and I was able to relate to her - easily - despite being double her age. She didn't sound like a young teen! I think she took some things in the guide a bit more literally than I would have (and I'm not totally sure where the pilgrim shoes came from?), but I am totally impressed with her. I can't wait to see what she does next!

23. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart // Such a quick, interesting, worthwhile read. I found some plot points easy to work out (despite all of the implied mystery) - decades of soap opera watching have done that to me! But I loved it. It was gorgeous, and complicated, and thought-provoking. Definitely read this one!

24. Conversion by Katherine Howe // I have mixed feelings! I was sooo excited for this book, and was a little let down. I expected there to be more of a supernatural side to it, and it was so subtle it was barely there. Instead, it was a long missive on what can possibly be behind some supernatural ideas. And when I say long....I mean, the author is crafty with words and paints a good picture (I really enjoyed some of the images she described), but she over-explained and went on tangents constantly. The book was SO slow moving until the last 50-60 pages. I know she was drawing from fact, and she tried to remain as close to the stories as she could, as well as focus on the pressures placed on teens in modern day vs the past and the similarities that exist there, and this book was very thorough in those ways. But as for what I wanted the book to be or what I was lead to believe it would be.....it fell short. I still give it 3 stars because I felt the author was good at her craft, and because of the excitement I felt in last 50-60 pages.

25. Yes Please by Amy Poehler // Loved it, love her! I really enjoy memoirs and I liked getting a little insight to what lead her to and through her SNL days and Parks & Rec. Funny, interesting read!

26. Like Bees to Honey by Caroline Smailes // This book was SO weird, and kitschy, and kind of hilarious (Who knew Jesus paints his toenails and chugs beer?!), but also really good. It was fun and interesting, and slightly poetic. I found this so randomly at the library - I'm glad I did, it's worth a read!

27. Captivated by You (Crossfire, #4) by Sylvia Day // I can't help it...I love these, I know it's smutty. I'm torn about there being more! I wanted more resolution, it ended a little lamely for me. But I'm excited there's still more to be enjoyed - don't take too long!!!

28. A Million Little Ways by Emily P Freeman //I feel so energized & enlightened after reading this book, and I'm able to focus 2015 on some discoveries it lead me to. Which is really a priceless gift! It was a little too saturated with bible thumping for my taste (don't get me wrong, I have a deep and real relationship with God but scripture and doctrine are not my jam), and I felt a little "lectured at" at times. I feel as though had that been toned down a bit, the message could have shouted more clearly, but I still found it - and adore it. I love this book for what it made me see!

29. The Here and Now by Ann Brashers // This is such a different take on a dystopian community, I really loved it. The love story wasn't as exciting as it could have been, I wasn't excited over it and I usually am in ya novels. One moment really got to me, when she described seeing her baby brother get sick, as of course I pictures my own babies. That sat with me for longer than I would have liked, but i don't blame that on the book at all, rather I credit the writing, I suppose! Definitely an entertaining read - a little different than I expected, but good!!

30. Clash of the Couples by Cyrstal Ponti, etc (anthology) // I loved reading this book - anthologies can be so refreshing! Having stories broken into little mom-manageable pieces is perfect for me, and made this a fun book to navigate. The stories were very relatable, and I found myself saying things like "Ohhh I have to show this part to my husband!" as I went along. My favorite part was finding new bloggers to read after getting a clear picture of their story and a brief understanding of who they are. Loved it!

PS - I'm currently reading Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky, and loving it so far! On the docket for next week? My True Love Gave To Me. It's an easy-to-read, fun anthology chock-full of Christmas stories. I think it's perfect timing! I can read it in small chunks between the prep-chaos and get in the holiday spirit a little bit at a time. These will technically be 2014 books, but I'm unplugging in a few days for Christmas break, so I guess I'll just have to share my reviews on those in the new year!

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