Monday, April 30, 2012

The Perks of Being a Wallflower

I adored The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It was one of several YA books I wish I'd read when I was a teenager. (Sadly, when I was a teenager I just read a lot of trashy romance novels.) The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a coming of age story where the main character has to come to terms with the past.

I listened to the audio book and it was one of those that I kept exercising so I could hear more of the story.

Charlie, the main character, is a socially awkward teenager who becomes friends with some other misfits. I loved Charlie. He's a sensitive kid who is so thoughtful. At Christmas, he and his friends exchange gifts. I was almost overwhelmed with the beauty of the gifts Charlie picked out.

The ending was a bit of a surprise for me. In some ways I really didn't like it as I thought it was kinda out of left field. The more I've thought about it, though, the more it makes sense. It's a book I've been rolling over in my brain since I finished it a few months ago.

Great YA read. It's frequently on banned book lists, so even more of a reason to pick it up!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Laughing Without an Accent

I've used Firoozeh Dumas's Funny in Farsi in class before. It's wonderful. Dumas writes hilarious stories about her Iranian family. Her family moved to the United States when Dumas was in elementary school.

Her books cover many topics. Laughing Without an Accent includes a wonderful story about her uncle's funeral and life. It's so full of love. If you need something funny, but with some weight, you should pick up Dumas's books. I listened to this audio book and kept exercising to keep listening! High praise that a book makes up for the torture that is running.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Wildflower Hill

Wildflower Hill by Kimberley Freeman was a total stay up late reading book. I stayed up til 3:30am because I was so enthralled.

Wildflower Hill is the story of a woman and her grandmother. The book alternates between the two main characters as the younger woman moves from London to the sheep station she inherited from her grandmother in rural Australia.

One complaint that I had was that it seemed so similar to Kate Morton's novels. If it had been one of her books, I wouldn't have been surprised. Being like a Kate Morton novel certainly isn't a bad thing-- I loved The House at Riverton and The Forgotten Garden, just that it was kind of strange that the books seemed so similar.

In any case, I gave Wildflower Hill five stars on goodreads. I loved it. If you like historical fiction or Kate Morton's books, you should definitely pick this up.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight

I was pretty disappointed by The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight. I read some really great reviews from people whose reading tastes are similar to mine. The premise sounded fun, and I adore non-paranormal, romancey YA. However, this book just didn't do it for me.

The novel is about a teenager traveling to England for her father's second marriage. Along the way, she meets a love interest in a young Brit. In the book Hadley, the main character, falls in love, she also grows up about her father's relationship with a new woman and comes to terms with her family situation.

I never connected to Hadley or her love interest, Oliver. I never felt any spark in their relationship. to me, the whole thing was just, "eh." I wish I hadn't bought this book, but you can't win them all.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Eiger Dreams

When Eiger Dreams was on sale for my kindle, I grabbed it. (Incidentally, my husband said, "Don't we already have that book?" after I finished it. We did. I just wanted to read it on my kindle since I was going to read it in bed after he turned his light off.) I've loved Krakauer's other books: Under the Banner of Heaven, Into the Wild, Three Cups of Deceit, and Where Men Win Glory. I have not read Into Thin Air yet.

Eiger Dreams is a number of articles that Krakauer wrote, primarily for Outside and Smithsonian magazines, in the 1980s. The stories felt a little dated, especially one where Krakauer mentioned the upcoming 1989 mountaineering season. The subject matter doesn't necessarily need to be brand new, but it seemed distracting to read about what might happen in 1989, 23 years ago.

I've become more active lately, mostly in terms of running, but in general being outdoors. I consider myself reasonably willing to hike and rock climb. Eiger Dreams was about crazy stuff I would never do: climbing K2 for example. One year on K2, approximately one person died on the mountain for each five who reached the top. Krakauer told the story of that year and how the people died. It was horrible material, but so interesting. I can't imagine the frame of mind people are in when they decide to do such risky activities.

The articles covered different topics. There's one on calculating mountain height and the thought that Mount Everest might not be the tallest mountain the world. While really interesting, this one felt dated when you think about today's GPS system. Another that I really enjoyed was about Alaskan bush pilots. Those guys do some amazing flying.

One of the stories profiled a mountain climber who grew up in the south, but moved to the west. His comment about that move felt dead-on to my similar move: "I grew up the Deep South, where you're surrounded by thick, soft trees, and it's hard to see the sky barbecue of the humidity. the landscape, by and large is flat. Nature doesn't confront you there. It was a tremendous transition for me to come out West for the first time. I was overwhelmed by the rocks, by the scale, by the wide-open space."The first time I came to Wyoming, my dad and I drove. In western Nebraska I-76 branches southwest toward Denver while I-80 continues west into Wyoming. At this point the sky opens up and you feel like you can see forever.

There's some great stuff in Eiger Dreams.

Saturday, April 7, 2012


Surely you remember Ken Jennings? The guy who won about 500 consecutive episodes of Jeopardy? (Shockingly, that was back in 2004.) He wrote a book about trivia entitled Braniac in 2006. Last year he wrote another book called Maphead

Maphead is about geography. There's all kinds of wonderful stuff in it. Jennings talks about vintage maps, the National Geographic Geography Bee, and geocaching. 

Map collecting is a common hobby. People like pretty maps even if they aren't too into geography. Evan and I have a map of the US that we had mounted on foam board so we can track our travels. (We use push pins. I love adding a new pin.) The Library of Congress has thousands of old maps. It has so many it doesn't even know what it has. Archivists are still cataloging the collection. Recently Congress purchased a map for $10 million. It is the oldest map that uses the term America.

As someone who knows a lot of random trivia, even Jennings was stumped by some questions at the National Geographic Geography Bee. The Bee began in response to numerous stories of people not knowing even basic geography. The kids, in fourth to eighth grade, mostly boys, many with an Asian background, compete each year in a competition that includes information about bauxite exports from Mozambique and other who-in-the-hell-knows-that type questions.  These questions were seriously crazy.

I've heard the term geocaching before, but in passing and it was never anything I was interested in. However, it sounds really cool. Jennings gave a bit of history of it and of GPS. I use GPS on my phone when I run to keep track of distance and the discussion in the book made me realize just how new this technology really is--and how cool.

There's tons more other geography related information in Maphead: google maps, travelers who have visited 100+ countries, map projections, and on and on.

Overall, I loved this book. If you are a travel, geography, history nerd such as myself, I think you'd like it too. Despite Jennings apparent nerdiness for winning on Jeopardy so much, he seems like a really cool guy.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Black Like Me

This is a book everyone should read. The more I learn about the civil rights era and the time before it, the more horrified I am. This book is the memoirs of John Howard Griffin and the time he spent passing as a black man in the South. Griffin, a white man, dyed his skin and was able to fool people in to thinking he was black to see how blacks were really treated.


The treatment he received from whites was horrible. He was treated as if he were a child. He was asked all kinds of sexual questions from whites' beliefs that blacks were hyper sexual. He felt that he was in danger on many instances. He wasn't welcome in white stores and waiting rooms, even though he was paying the same amount for a ticket or wanted to purchase the same goods as whites. Griffin could never stop moving. A black man standing or sitting could easily attract unwanted police attention.

A telling incident happened when Griffin was riding a bus. The bus driver refused to stop where Griffin asked to be let out. Griffin spoke of his helplessness of not being able to do anything, even get mad, much less get off the bus, while the driver acted like such a jerk. 

One of the things I found really interesting was how the blacks Griffin interacted with felt such a connection with each other. I do suppose, though, that if the color of your skin is all anyone can see, it also strongly connects you with others who look like you. The people Griffin met talked about their status in society quite a bit.

Not surprisingly, the treatment he received after this book was published wasn't much better. He and his family became virtual outcasts in their hometown. People were horrified by a white man telling such a story.

It's quite a different book from The Help. But if you liked The Help and want to know more about how blacks were treated during that time period, you should definitely pick this up. This was a quick and powerful read.