Sunday, December 30, 2012

Books That Didn't Suck in 2012

What. A. Year.

It hasn't been a bad year, by any stretch of the imagination, but it has most certainly been a year of sweeping change. Let's recap, shall we?

  • Left a job I loved in March
  • Entered a job I loathed in March
  • Rented a house in June and Greyson and I moved out on our own
  • Greyson's ear tube surgery in June
  • Laid off from job I loathed in September
  • Gained a job I love in December
  • Looking forward: job I love kicks up another notch in January 2013 with some travel and lots of interviewing/writing for our alumni magazine
No wonder I only read 30 books in 2012. Whew!

Even though it's a small amount, it's been a year of adventuresome reading. Every year seems to develop a "theme" or trend of some variety. This year was largely about genre fiction. That is, books which are easily recognizable as fitting into a genre, though who the heck knows how they're marketed. That's variable. It was also the year of the chunkster!!! I have previously been terrified of ye olde chunky novels, but the Outlander series definitely took away some of that fear this year. 

Since I read so few books this year, I'm simply gushing about some of my faves below -- no certain number -- just the ones that stick out the most. 

Wicked by Gregory Maguire was a sweeping, inventive, epic, political romp! I was so impressed with the depth of this one. I expected something much frothier but I got a masterpiece. 

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon took away my fear of chunksters and reminded me that I do like romance, I do love historical fiction, and lit-crushes are fantastic. JAMIE!!! All of the books in the series (I've read the first four) have been highly entertaining.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert is full of flawed, eye-roll-worthy characters. However, it was great fun to read. Heather and I zipped right through it. I thank her SO much for an awesome buddy read. And I'm sorry I've sucked at buddy reads ever since we tackled this one. 

The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman is just lovely and touching and beautifully written. It's also a great choice for people who aren't terribly keen on short stories as they are short stories, but they're all related to the garden. Gives a nice sense of cohesion. Just superb. 

A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness made me cry til my eyeballs nearly rolled across the floor. But it's a good cry (says everyone, including me). 

Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake was a total YA surprise. It's nicely written, super scary, and it had a refreshing (not totally formulaic) plot! This one made me jump at the bumps in the night for a while after closing it up. 

Biggest Disappointment of the Year? Because there always is one...

Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness. I read Discovery of Witches earlier this year and quickly snapped up Shadow of Night when it was released. I had issues with some of the characters in the first book, and those were only magnified and bogged down by too little editing in the second book. I'll read the third because I want to know what happened, but I don't have very high hopes. :-/

I only participated in a few challenges this year...

1. I totally conquered the E-Books Challenge with 14+ books read. Will do this one again in 2013.
2. I sucked it up at the Reading the Awards Challenge. 
3. I was respectable at my personal Tournament of Books Challenge. Will attempt some of these but with less gusto in 2013.
4. And I surpassed my goal of reading four Chunksters for my personal version of the Chunkster Challenge (I read e-books and they're not officially allowed). Definitely on this one again in 2013. 

And there's always a lot of talk of goal setting this time of year. My one and only goal for 2013 is to read WHATEVER I want, WHENEVER I want. It worked this year with minimal pressure or guilt. I think I've found my groove. 

Cheers to great books in the new year!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Anatomy of a Christmas Gift

Today has been a supremely lazy day. While there is most certainly MORE I could do around my house in regards to cleaning. I am not. I am in my jammies, under my electric blanket, with a laptop and a book. Imagine my surprise when I heard a knock on the door.

What did I find??? A SUPERB Christmas box from Heather. Follow me along through the process of opening.

Multiple packages, beautiful paper, and a darling family photo card. 

OWL SOCKS!!!! With a note that reads: "I just want you to KNOW I am having a VERY hard time sending these..." 

Books, books, books!!!! Diary of a Submissive by Sophie Morgan (which Heather did not enjoy), and an extra copy of A Tree Grows In Brooklyn since mine was lost in an unfortunate incident. 

A big surprise!!! Rampant by Diana Peterfreund. You can read the note yourself. It made me snort. 

This is the most beautiful thing ever. Read note! Read!

And a close-up of my very own Night Circus crimson cranberry dream cowl. Yum!

The End. 

Thank you, my darling friend. You make me smile all the smiles. :) Hugs!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Christmas Recap

One more Christmas down and let the recovery begin!!! This year has been such a whirlwind. It's kind of nice to sit in bed with my laptop the day after Christmas and reflect.

The most exciting, unusual, and surprising part of Christmas this year was the snow. In Texas. If you follow me on Twitter or Facebook you've probably seen me ranting about 70+ degree weather this fall and winter. But as we always say in this area, "If you don't like the weather, wait a few minutes and it'll change." Well played, Texas weather. Well played. 

I spent the afternoon of Christmas day at Chuck's house with his girlfriend Michelle, the Rockets, Michelle's kiddos, and her parents. And Greyson-cutie, of course.  I loaded up the gifts and the broccoli/cheese casserole, and shortly after I arrived the snow started pouring down. I stayed from about 1:00-4:30 when I was afraid road conditions would be going downhill, and by the time I got back to my house--45 minutes away-- the traffic was crawling along at 20 mph on very slick, icy roads. Crazy! I tucked my car into the garage for a change, did laundry, and cleaned. And I even read a little. 

It was nice that the kids got to spend some time outdoors having snowball fights and whatnot. But I tell you, Texans don't get to practice their icy driving skills very often, and I prefer to stay out of that mess. I'm planning to pick Greyson up a little later today, but right now temps are still in the 20s, so I'm holding out for something over freezing. :) 

Greyson had a fantastic Christmas. He enjoyed being cute and showing off. He was enthralled with a pair of gloves he received. He was running around in a Spongebob pajama shirt when I got to the house, and he spent some quality time sitting in my lap watching The Lorax. He has a few more gifts and his stocking to open here at my house, but he certainly made a haul at his dad's. :) The Rockets were in equally good form with some really cool gifts and lots of yummy stuff to munch on. 

Christmas has been a little odd and spread out for me this year. We had our family gathering with my cousins on December 16th. Then David and I spent the weekend in Waco on the 21st and 22nd, and then we had the gathering at Chuck's yesterday. I've had a wonderful time on each of these excursions, but it's been different, for sure! But good different with plenty of time to enjoy good company on each outing. 

Some Christmases are bookish ones, but this Christmas was decided owly! The family has caught on to the fact that I adore owls, and the owl-related gifts are pouring in. 
  • A green owl figurine from "Greyson"
  • A porcelain owl figurine from Mom
  • Owl kitchen towels from Mom
  • Owl coffee mug (Mom)
  • An owl insulated cup and insulated coffee cup (Mom)
  • There's also an owl cell phone cover that didn't make it into the picture, owl recipe cards, and an owl oven mitt. All Mom! Go Mom! 
  • Oh! And Mom's boyfriend Rick gave me a bathroom trash can with an owl on it. Love!
Mom also gifted me a very nice bakeware set (the red and yellow pieces are pictured here and there's a larger green one). David gave me a 10-piece Corningware set that I absolutely needed and love. My cousins-- Kevin and Carol Ann, and their bunch--gave me a large set of assorted teas and a nice heavy mug for my office with a pen and ink on the front. Last but not least, Chuck and Michelle also gifted me some Bath and Body Works soaps and a Starbucks gift card. Antibacterial and coffee -- seriously, every mom needs as many of these things as possible. 

Santa is here!

Relaxing, watching The Lorax in my lap.

And what's Christmas without some books? This year, I bought my own books, but that's the way of things. If I don't receive books, I gift some to myself. :D 


I picked up an e-book copy of The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller. If you haven't read it already, it's on sale for $3.99. Get 'em while they're hot!

I also snagged Howl's Moving Castle for $1.99 in e-book format. I've never read Wynne Jones, so this will be fun! 

With that, I'm off to shower and assess the driving situation outside. The house is very quiet when Greyson is not home, and I miss the little booger something terrible. 

In the meantime, tell me about your Christmas! Any books? Family fun? Harrowing travels? I hope it's all good stuff. :) 

Monday, December 17, 2012

This Is My Hair On Fire

Not me. Thank goodness.
WOW! If you smell something burning, it's my hair on fire!

Week One at my new job went swimmingly. Only problem: I have been sick with a ridiculous hacking cough. No other symptoms really, except pesky seasonal allergies (thanks to the wonky Texas weather). I have a doc appointment on Thursday morning, and I'm just hoping it's not bronchitis.

Alas, my hair wouldn't really be burning out of control if it weren't for this absolutely NOT RESTFUL weekend. All of my online grades were due this morning which threw me into hours, days, of research paper grading, spreadsheet making, and general drudgery. But it's done now. *happy dance*

We also had my mom's side of the family's Christmas celebration yesterday which meant a whole lotta cookin' for me. I made Texas Trash (Chex mix on crack), chocolate-dipped pretzels, and peanut butter blossom cookies. Oh! And Meg's super fantabulous almond bars. 

Needless to say, Greyson had a GREAT time opening gifts. He received a set of magnetic blocks, bath crayons, a triceratops monster truck, LeapFrog laptop, a package of five capes (super hero style), and a set of monkey lounge pillow and blanket.

He calls the capes his "Hero-ro." He is IN LOVE with them. Had a full-on toddler meltdown when I wouldn't let him take one of the capes to school today.

Other than that, not a whole lot shakin'. That's enough! Trust me!

This weekend should be fun. I'm heading out to Waco to spend a few days with David, and when I get back it'll be Christmas time!!! Greyson has more presents under the tree with his name on them, and I hope the Rockets like their gifts too.

Reading? Non-existent. *sigh*

What are you up to?  

Monday, December 10, 2012

Things Are Revving Up!

Whew! Today is my last day before the new job starts, and I've been running around like a crazy lady trying to do last minute things to make life easier leading up to Christmas! By noon I had...

  • Shopped for groceries, including the ingredients I'll need for Christmas goodies (almond bars, dipped pretzel sticks, peanut butter blossoms, cranberry bread, and Texas Trash). Not to mention some friendly take-to-work items like Greek yogurt cups, cheese sticks, and such. 
  • Shopped for Christmas gifts -- stocking stuffers and some clothes for Greyson. 
  • Shopped for clothes! I had a gift card to one of my fave stores, and I found some hella good deals on shoes and clothes (blouses for work, $6)! 
When I got home, I whipped up some Mongolian beef that I can take for lunch later in the week. I will also be mixing up some bruschetta fixins, and I'd be wise to mix up and freeze some pumpkin pancakes. While I have lots of good plans in my head, I kinda doubt I'll get around to all of these. 

I've also now officially picked out my Return To Work outfit...

Are those shoes heavenly or what? Vera Wang. On sale y'all. 

And did I mention I have a horrible cold? I actually don't feel too bad, but I sound extremely horribly bad. Like Tanya Tucker ate razor blades. Picture that! 

I have every intention of spending my evening on the couch with the heat cranked up since it'll be 29 degrees tonight (in Texas!). Probably with this book...

I've mentioned my slow reading mojo, but this might be the book to break me out of it. Making an Exit: From the Magnificent to the Macabre -- How We Dignify the Dead by Sarah Murray. Holiday'ish right? Not really, but it's interesting and I haven't read much non-fiction this year. I think it might be the something different I need right now. 

How's your Monday? 

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, Vol. 2

THIS is The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, volume 2. It is edited by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and wirrow and created through art-and-words collaboration from HitRECORD.

I reviewed the first volume of Tiny Stories last year, and I absolutely loved it. It saddens me to say that I was not as pleased with this volume.

One of the things I loved most about the first volume was the wicked sense of irony in some of the stories. The sharp, clever marriage of the images and text. Somehow I found the clever factor lacking quite a lot in this volume. Most of my favorite tiny stories were in the opening pages, which made the rest of the book a bit of a let-down.

Was it bad? No. It had big shoes to fill, and I simply didn't like it as much as the first volume. That said, I've read it twice and marked several favorites (none of them had images available to share).

Let it be known far and wide that I am still crazy in love with HitRECORD and the way they work. They split all their profits with the artists and writers who produced the stories and artwork and submitted/collaborated on the website. They are a great art-and-words collective doing something really unusual and beautiful. Even though I didn't enjoy this collection as much as the first, it's worth having on the shelf, and it's worth supporting such a wonderful ongoing project.

Click to embiggen. 

Enjoy a bit of Joseph Gordon-Levitt talking about this volume.


Pub. Date: November 2012
Publisher: HarperCollins
Format: Hardcover
ISBN-13: 9780062121639
Source: I received a copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Check!

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Personally: Of Thankfulness, Relief, and New Job News!

I don't even know where to start this post because the last few months have been such a huge rollercoaster ride. As you're well aware, I was laid off from my job as Interactive Media Director in mid-September. I stayed positive, but as with any lay off, there were highs and lows. I've learned some of the most important lessons of my life since then...

Lesson #1: I needed a break. I've been running myself into the ground for years. Y'all know it. I know it. I work hard and often, never any less than three jobs -- one full-time and two side teaching gigs online preferably. Never have I been more thankful for my online teaching opportunities. They've really held me over through this unexpected break, and they've kept me busy and occupied with something wonderful and positive. However, I needed to find more balance in my life. More time for Greyson. More time at home. More time for myself. Less time in traffic, fewer weekends in the office. I like myself more now than I have in a long time. I've taken steps toward a healthier lifestyle, and I spend more quality time with my son.

Lesson #2: Higher education is truly where I belong. I have always felt a calling to be an educator -- a bone-deep, soul-deep, spiritual calling. I've known it since high school, and even though I've had some great professional and educational experiences away from higher ed, I always come back. I've been an educator since 2003, I joined a college faculty in 2004, and I've never truly been away since then. I love the people I meet in higher education, I love the "issues" and the "causes" in higher ed. I thrive on a college campus.

Lesson #3: The most formative higher ed experience I had as a student was at my alma mater (MA, BA). While I started my college career at Baylor University, I transferred after my sophomore year to join the New Media program at a mid-size university in rural northeast Texas. It was the university I grew up knowing, and like most hard-headed 21-year olds, that didn't make it particularly attractive back then. However, what I found when I transferred was a transformative experience. I enjoyed my peers more, I bonded with the faculty, and all the relationships I built prepared me so thoroughly to be an educator and to be a confident, prepared professional. I've made friendships that will last a lifetime with smart, insightful, astonishing people. I could not be more thankful for getting my education in this place.

Lesson #4: I am tougher than I thought. One of my biggest fears in life is not being employed. Specifically, not being able to provide for my family and myself. This experience has just showed me that I have the backbone to stand up and take care of things -- budget, scrimp and save, endure, network, create opportunities, use all the skills I've been blessed with to get through.

Lesson #5: I have strong faith. I've thought before that I lost it, but it's still there. Faith in people, faith in myself, faith in my purpose, and faith in God.

I got a call last night offering me the job of Public Relations Director at my alma mater.

It's been a long interview process (about four weeks). It's been stressful. You may have been reading throughout the phone interview, panel interview with the search committee, and finally a lengthy meeting full of campus tours, meeting admin, and a sit-down discussion with my potential supervisor last Friday. It's been a lot. It's been stressful because I've wanted it so badly. So badly that I was afraid to say how much I wanted it.

In light of this amazing, wonderful, fantastic news, I'm apt to get teary-eyed. And I'll probably do it again typing this last bit. (Yep, here they come.)

I am so profoundly thankful.

I am thankful for work that I believe in -- writing, editing, social media, storytelling, in the name of institutional advancement and higher education. I am thankful to be joining a team of good people. I am thankful that my supervisor values my experience and my vision. Thankful for my family and loved-ones who have rallied around me. For the scads of you who have commented on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and here. It's truly humbling to see so many of you pulling for me, praying for me, and sending your love over the miles. I could not ask for more. I am overwhelmed with goodness.

It feels like I am in the exact right place.

Thank YOU.

Monday, December 03, 2012

It's Monday! Maintaining the Reading Mojo...

Click HERE to get in on the action.
Oh my HEAVENS. Have I mentioned that it's the end of the semester and I'm UP TO MY ARMPITS in paper grading? Seriously, people. I always get to this point in the semester, wonder where all the time went, and starting pulling my hair out by the handful over research papers and final projects. I always say it'll be the death of me, but it never is. It just means more days at Starbucks, camped out with a Pike Place roast and earbuds.

I'm taking a quick break to check in on the blog and update you on my reading. It's been a little spotty overall, what with all the going and running and grading and holiday madness. However, I am trying my bestest to keep reading SOMETHING at all times.

I'm still slogging through The Count of Monte Cristo for the Estella Society Readalong (#countRAL). I say slogging because I'm on a slow part and I cannot wait for this bit to be over. Done. Gone. Vamoose! When I'm not stuck in a slogworthy chapter, I really enjoy the book. But wow, Dumas, how about that wordiness??? And y'all think Dickens is bad. Puhlease!

I also had to abandon my latest read for the Girls Night Out Book Club. Saddies! My Nook underwent a software update and now I can't open any of the epub format e-books I've downloaded from outside B&N (Kobo, Google Books). I'm almost certain there's a fix in Adobe Digital Editions, but I need to carve out the time to do the fixin'. The book we were reading is I'm Down: A Memoir by Mishna Wolff. Isn't that cover just the end-all, be-all of weird/awesomeness?!

In short, Wolff's family is white, but her dad acts black after the neighborhood where they live changes around the family. All the stereotypes = achieved. It's really an interesting book -- especially from the point-of-view of Mishna as a child trying to navigate various cultural stereotypes between her home neighborhood and a predominantly white and privileged private school. The reviews in my book club were mixed, but it made for good discussion. I would like to finish it if I can get it up and running again.

Because I haven't been making much progress with all the technical issues and the overwhelmingly long books, I decided to pick up a couple of shorties to keep my enthusiasm from flagging.

Nine Horses, by Billy Collins, is a book of poetry I first read many years ago. I always love Collins for the quiet dignity in his poetry and the humor. While this book can't hold a candle to my favorite, Sailing Alone Around the Room, it was nice to revisit it. I found a few gems I'd forgotten. 

The Tiny Book of Tiny Stories, vol. 2 is an exception to my rule. I accepted it for review from the publisher because I enjoyed the first Tiny volume so much. Expect a review of this one later in the week. 

I have so many new books in my house, I'm feeling a little overwhelmed with where to go next! I'm leaning toward The Knife of Never Letting Go or Girl of Nightmares. Both are YA that should move along at a good clip and keep me enthused. 

What are you reading? Are the holidays and other obligations stalling your reading progress? 

Images by Freepik