My Favorite Books A-Z

Ellie, over at Musings of a Bookshop Girl posted this fun meme the other day. (I had to look up the meaning of the word meme recently, as I’ve been seeing it more and more. Am I the only one who didn’t know that a meme is simply “a concept that spreads via the Internet”? According to Wikipedia, a meme could be a hyperlink, video, picture, website, hashtag, or, apparently, a fun little game that you can paste on your blog and bore your readers with.)

So, the idea of this one is to name your favorite books that start with each letter of the alphabet. Here goes:

0-9 One for the Money – Janet Evanovich

A  Anne of Green Gables – L.M. Montgomery
Big Boned (a Heather Wells mystery) – Meg Cabot
C  (The) City of Ember – Jeanne DuPrau
D  (The) Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
E  Emma – Jane Austen
F  (The) Faith Club – Ranya Idliby
G  Good in Bed – Jennifer Weiner
H  The Harry Potter series – J.K. Rowling
I  If Looks Could Kill – Kate White
Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
K  No title
L  The Little House Collection – Laura Ingalls Wilder
M  Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
N  Nineteen Minutes – Jodi Picoult
O  Olive Kitteridge – Elizabeth Strout
P  Pride and Prejudice – Jane Austen
Q  Queen of Babble – Meg Cabot
R  Rebecca – Daphne Du Maurier
 Something Borrowed – Emily Giffin
T  The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger
U  (The) Undomestic Goddess – Sophie Kinsella
V  Valentine Princess – Meg Cabot
W  Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen
X No title
Y  (The) Year of Living Biblically – A.J. Jacobs
No title
Not too surprising that I hadn’t read any X’s or Z’s, but I was surprised that I hadn’t read any K’s! At least, not according to my Goodreads account. Maybe I’ll have to make that a priority for this year.

Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure by Matthew Algeo

My claim to fame is being the first student at my high school to earn a score of 1 on the AP History test. Before you congratulate me, you should know that the scale is 1-5: 5 being the best. I’m pretty sure my 1 was cemented by the grader when I completely invented my own war to write about for the second essay…

Social studies has always been a challenging subject for me. The thing is: I’m interested in the subject. I really am! I would listen to my AP History teacher (in my opinion the best teacher at my high school) and become completely enraptured by the story. I listened, participated, and nodded in agreement, copying down every inch of his flowcharts. I’d host study parties where we’d pour over our notes, and summarize Mr. Richards’ lectures day by day. But sitting down to take the test, it was like a completely different subject. I just couldn’t remember the ins and outs of each act, who passed it, and in what year. I couldn’t explain the ramifications of a particular war on a particular population; the terms and details just slipped my mind.

I used to talk online with this guy from London (don’t ask… we somehow played a game of online Pictionary together late at night once, and an e-friendship began). It was just plain embarrassing how much more American history he knew than I did. Then, when he asked what year of high school Americans took British history, I felt like such a doofus…

My sophomore year of college, I took another history class. This one also featured essay tests, and I pulled many late nights studying pile after pile of flashcards. I managed a B in that class (one of three B’s I got in college).

I think the issue is that I just have no retention for this stuff. I swear, every time I hear about a historical event, it’s like the first time. But, I’ve realized in my adult life, that one of the best ways for me to learn about history is through literature. When I read a historical novel, and tie the events to characters and plotlines, it makes the story more real to me. In college, after reading Snowflower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See, I ended up researching and writing a whole paper on the Chinese traditions of foot-binding. My Faith Club just finished reading A Lineage of Grace by Francine Rivers, which was PERFECT for me, because it told the stories of the five women in the lineage of Christ in five novellas.

For this reason, I’m making more of an effort to read about history. I think it’s important, and I look forward to learning more about becoming a more educated American citizen. And, all of this brings me to my review of the title:

This past month, for my book group, we read Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure: The True Story of a Great American Road Trip by Matthew Algeo. This is really Algeo’s memoir of his re-creation of Harry and Bess Truman’s cross-country trip from Independence, MO to Washington, D.C. and New York the year after Harry’s presidency culminated. Harry thought that he and Bess could travel, by car, with zero security, and achieve anonymity. Well, he was wrong. But Algeo tells the story of how the Trumans tried. Algeo has received some flack for this text; people saying it wasn’t necessary to stay in every hotel, eat every meal, and drive every road identical to Harry’s trip.

However, I thought it was kinda cute. Here’s Matt Algeo, total history geek–I’ll bet he did well on the AP test–following in the footsteps of one of his historical icons, Harry Truman. (I picture Algeo being like the tour guide I had in London, who seemed to be so interested in Jack the Ripper, that maybe he thought he really was Jack the Ripper.)

Algeo intersperses a triad of details from his own trip, from the Trumans’ trip, and historical context of the 1950s. The three facets keep the story moving, and kept me interested. (Of course, it didn’t hurt that I was like: “McCarthyism?? That happened at the same time as Truman, what????” I told you. It’s pathetic.)

As a Midwesterner, I enjoyed hearing about Algeo and Truman’s experiences driving across Highway 36, a journey I know well from traveling back and forth from Kirksville to KC for many years. I also identified with Truman’s Midwestern values, and enjoyed the details about the Truman home and library that I’ve visited many (oh, so many) times over the years.

Harry Truman’s Excellent Adventure is a worthy read, and Algeo has convinced me to read a second of his books: The President is a Sick Man: Wherein the Supposedly Virtuous Grover Cleveland Survives a Secret Surgery at Sea and Villifies the Courageous Newspaperman who Dared Expose the Truth.

Cinder by Marissa Meyer

One of the four novels I finished over Spring Break–and the only one that counted for anything other than pure pleasure reading–was my pick for the “Science Fiction and Fantasy” category of the 2012 Mixing It Up Challenge that I pledged to complete at the beginning of the year. The following was my reaction to the mere thought of that category: Ugh. However, I knew it would be a fairly easy genre to check off my list, albeit not the most enjoyable.

While scouring a few of my favorite book blogs, including Forever Young Adult, I read many positive reviews for a new Cinderella story, Cinder by Marissa Meyer. This Cinderella story, however, has something that Ella Enchanted does not: cyborgs. And androids. And Lunar queens. However, the cover intrigued me–not because I’m a shoe girl (I know, I know… I’m turning over a “woman” card)–but because the femininity of the cover led me to believe this book was written more for my demographic than Lord of the Rings.

 

So, after completing my latest Bailey Weggins pleasure read, I cracker open Cinder one evening, in Florida, before bed. I read the first half of page. And closed the book. “Don’t like it?” B asked. “I just can’t do it,” I replied. “I’m less than one page in, and am already rolling my eyes at the cyborg reference.” I put it down immediately, and pulled out a different novel I’d brought along–a failsafe Meg Cabot young adult novel.

But, laying there under the covers–well, the sheet, since we were staying with senior citizens in Florida who turn on the A/C but leave it at 85–my guilt overcame me. Reluctantly, I got out of bed again, returned the Cabot novel to my carry-on, and pulled out Cinder once again. You have to read a sci-fi, Katie, I told myself. You might as well just get it over with.

Well, suffice it to say, I’m glad that I decided to stick with this read, because within 20 pages, I was hooked. The next morning, relaxing on the beach, I looked at B and said, “You know a science fiction author is good when you read a scene involving cyborgs, androids, and Lunars, and you don’t even stop to think about how unrealistic it is. I just bought the whole thing, like, yeah, that totally makes sense.”

The plot of the story is basically this: Cinder is a teenage girl living in a city known as New Beijing. This novel is set way, way, in the future–after WWIV, when apparently all the countries on Earth are going to bond together and live in peace and harmony, and our new enemy will be our Lunar neighbors living on the moon. So, anyway, Cinder is a cyborg, meaning she’s a human with some robotic replacements, including one of her feet. (Ooo! Ooo! Cinderella reference!) She lives with her legal guardian (evil stepmother) and her two sisters (Peony and Pearl).

A horrible plague is demolishing the population of New Beijing, and when it strikes Peony down, the evil stepmother sends Cinder off to be a scientific guinea pig to find a cure for this disease. No guinea pigs have ever survived the tests, until Cinder, which of course makes her a very valuable asset to science and society. Why she is immune, and how can this information be used to save the millions who are dying?

Cinder becomes entwined with Prince Kai, who is soon to become emperor, when his childhood android needs repair. (Oh, I forgot to mention that Cinder is a reputable mechanic.) In her work on the android, Cinder figures out that Queen Levana, the Lunar queen, has been plotting and spying some pretty evil stuff. Prince Kai is a smidgeon away from having to marry Queen Levana, as it seems to be the only way to dispel her plot to war with Earth.

Then there’s a ball, etc., etc. (It’s a Cinderella story, remember?)

I (gladly) admit that I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I was bummed to find out that the next installment in this four-book series (known as the Lunar Chronicles) is not set to be released until 2013. And, yes, I’m going to be the sci-fi dork at the bookstore that day, ready for round two. So, Ellie at Musings of a Bookshop Girl, thank you for inspiring me to push my literary boundaries this year. Were it not for the momentum of the Mixing It Up Challenge, I would never have picked up Cinder, and found this new series that I can’t wait to enjoy!

Oh, and I totally predict that this series is bound to take off and be the next Hunger Games. I even envision a series of movie releases in the future.

Sisterhood Everlasting

Last weekend, a rare gap in my library holds queue left me perusing the audiobooks on the shelves. I’d picked out a Jennifer Cruise novel–one that would be an easy listen as I waited for a much-awaited read to become available on my list–and was on my way to the self check machine when an author’s name caught my eye. The author was Ann Brashares, and, upon closer inspection, the title was Sisterhood Everlasting. Could it be? I wondered. And it was. A fifth installment of the Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants series. Not just another book in the series, but a “reunion” book–a story of the characters ten years later.

I was absolutely giddy in the aisles of the library, as I practically danced to the check-out line, then to my car, where I had the first CD going before I’d even left the parking lot.

On her blog, Brashares writes:

I promised myself that after taking a break from them and trying out some other things I would come back and find them later in their lives. So that’s what I’ve done in Sisterhood Everlasting. I’ve rediscovered Carmen, Lena, Bridget, and Tibby on the cusp of their thirtieth birthdays. Though it felt right to be away—all of us off doing our different things—it felt wonderful to come back together.

And I couldn’t agree more. Reconnecting with well-known characters is like reconnecting with old friends. You pick up right where you left off, and you get a little thrill whenever a reference is made to your shared past. For the entire week, I found myself taking an extra lap around the block before pulling into my destination and reveling in a little extra traffic–anything to listen to a little bit more of their story.

After recently abandoning another “ten years later” book from a series I’d loved as a middle schooler, I was thrilled to find an author who’d done it right. It’s quite a feat to create a novel with a plotline that holds up on its own, stays true to its characters, and doesn’t discount any of the events from the original series. Brashares took the challenge and delivered beautifully.

Upon reading the first two novels in middle/high school, and enjoying the third and fourth upon their releases, I was pulled into the lives on the four teenage girls. As a reader, I experienced their family issues, first kisses, first loves, traveling adventures, and meaningful friendships. I envied the bond that held them together, and felt blessed to have my own close girlfriends in my life. Brashares created genuine characters with relatable issues, and presented the trials and tribulations of teenage girls with complete honesty.

And now, reading about the same characters who’ve grown to be young adults, as I have, I was able to connect with them on another level. No longer are their problems about growing up, they’re now about being grown-ups. Again, the issues are real: marriage, babies, careers… and death.

Without giving any spoilers, I will admit that, about two discs into the novel (100 pages?? It’s hard to reference since I listened to this one!), I thought she’s ruined the series. What? I found myself saying. How could she do that? But, being so devoted to the characters, I stuck it out, and am glad I did. (That’s all I’m going to say.)

Overall, I would suggest this novel to anyone who fell in love with the original series. If you aren’t familiar with Carmen, Lena, Tibby, and Bee, then I suggest you get reading. And don’t you dare take them out of order. Start at the beginning, and enjoy experiencing the bonds of friendship, becoming a part of the sisterhood yourself.

Side Note: Here’s a review of the book posted on one of my favorite book blogs, Forever Young Adult.

Side Note #2: I had this post all written and ready to go on Monday, hit “Publish” and WHOOSH! it was all gone. Grrr… I was too p.o.’ed to re-write it again until today (while I’m home sick).

Queen of Babble by Meg Cabot

I’ve recently discovered the wonderful land of book blogging. Book blogs, for those of you who don’t venture far into the blogging world (besides my insightful ramblings, that is), are exactly what they sound–blogs strictly about books. I’ve been reading some of Dana’s stuff at Much Madness is Divinest Sense for awhile, and she gave me the idea to try the Mixing It Up Challenge this year, hosted by Ellie at Musings of a Bookshop Girl. Then, more recently, I stumbled across Forever Young Adult, a blog committed to young adult literature. I could hardly contain my excitement when I noticed a link to Meg Cabot’s blog, who has been one of my oh-so-very-favorite authors since I discovered the Princess Diaries in about sixth grade.

Since I can’t pretend that Sharing Closet Space is a particularly focused blog (you’ll find posts on everything from weddings to running to just how cute my puppies are), I’ve decided to add yet another facet to my broad base of topics. Besides just keeping you updated on my progress in the Mixing It Up Challenge this year, I’ve decided to keep a running log of the books I read in 2012. This is really for selfish reasons, more than anything else–I want to be able to go back on New Year’s Eve and reminisce about all the pages I’ve turned in the past 365 366 days (it’s a leap year!). I want to run the facts, like, “I’ve read x number of books this year, x amount of which were by new-to-me authors, x amount of which were fiction, x amount of which were classics, etc., etc.”

Why not keep a list like this to myself? Well, because how much more fun will it be for you to keep track with me, tell me what you’ve read or would like to read, and recommend books I might like? I’m hoping this year, my friends, we can start a bit of a conversation on Sharing Closet Space. So far, I feel like I’ve been talking at you… and if I’ve learned anything in my education classes, it’s that the best things happen in conversation.

So, it’s happened. If you venture on up to the top of my blog, you’ll see a new tab labeled “Book Log“. This is where the list will be housed, and if you click on it now, you’ll see the very first book I read in 2012.

Queen of Babble in the Big City by Meg Cabot

I’m telling you right now that I’m never going to make an excuse for devouring a good piece of chick literature. It’s an important part of modern fiction, if you ask me, and I read a good amount of it. If you haven’t read any of Meg Cabot’s works, you’re seriously missing out. The Heather Wells mysteries are some of my favorites, and for the young adult realm she’s also written the Princess Diaries series, All-American Girl, and a few more series that are currently on my holds list at the library. Meg Cabot is the type of author you want to pick up when you have a few days off work, and can curl up on the couch with a cup of tea or in a bubble bath with a glass of wine. Just like Pringles, once you start, you just can’t stop–you’ll keep flipping pages, and without a glance at the clock, you’ll reach the end of the novel and race to your computer to request or buy the next in the series.

In Queen of Babble, the reader is introduced to Lizzie Nichols, a recent graduate (well, almost) who is jetting off to London to spend a romantic summer with her British boyfriend. However, things don’t go quite as she planned when she arrives in London–starting with the horrific jacket Andrew wears to pick her up at the airport. Soon enough, Lizzie finds herself living with her friends at a chateau in France for the summer, helping the venue put on fabulous bridal affairs. Lizzie is surprised when her degree in the history of fashion allows her to save the day, and is swept off her feet by Luke, the son of the chateau’s owner.

Queen of Babble in the Big City takes place after the whirlwind summer has ended. Lizzie and her friends have moved to NYC in pursuit of their dreams, and Lizzie is forced to realize that a history of fashion degree may not have created the most economic stability in her life. However, after befriending the best-known bride in the city and taking her hand-me-down wedding gown from horrendous to fabulous, Lizzie realizes that she has the cojones to handle life independently. All is not smooth sailing, though. Lizzie’s friend, Shari, reveals her bisexuality by starting a new relationship with a woman. Lizzie’s boyfriend turns out to be a bit of a commitmentphobe, and, to top it all off, his father steps on and breaks her sewing machine. My only complaint (ahem, Meg Cabot), is the cliffhanger at the end. And the only reason I’m complaining is because I don’t have the next in line, Queen of Babble Gets Hitched, to start tonight.

Cabot has done it again, by creating a character you just can’t help but fall in love with. Lizzie is believeable and relatable, funny, and someone who I can imagine sitting down and having a diet Coke with. After meeting Lizzie Nichols, Heather Wells, and Mia Thermopolis, I look forward to getting to know Meena Harper, of Cabot’s Insatiable series, which is upcoming on my TBR (to-be-read) list.