Saturday, December 26, 2015

My Bookish Christmas Haul!

I hope you all had an amazing winter season, and were able to spend a lot of time with your friends and family in the past couple of days, as well!

I'm currently on vacation with my family in a gorgeous part of Washington State - we decided to escape the depression fallout from the big holiday being over by fleeing our house at 7am this morning - so while I'm here and taking tons of pictures to show you all, I wanted to check in with a bit of holiday wrap up of my own! Especially, of course, because I wanted to show off all of the pretty books - and one bookish DVD - I found under the Christmas tree with my name on them yesterday.

(And the best part is, quite a few of these titles were taken from my Top Ten Tuesday just this past week!)

  • Brooklyn, Colm Toibon
  • The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Patrick Ness
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo
  • Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking, Susan Cain
  • Why Not Me, Mindy Kaling
  • One Little Spark! Mickey's Ten Commandments and the Road to Imagineering, Marty Sklar (included in the same package as What Color is Your Parachute 2016... we all know I'll end up working for Disneyland someday!) 

And my sister, Delaney, ended up getting one gift that might as well be for her just as much as it is for me, too: a copy of Anna Karenina on DVD, starring Keira Knightley and Jude Law.

Of course, because giving is always better than receiving I have to bring up the bookish gifts I gave, as well: my sisters loved my picks for them, including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's We Should All Be Feminists (Maddie read it on the ferry ride over to our vacation spot), and Delaney's currently engrossed in the new book from Freakonomics authors Steven B. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, When to Rob a Bank!

So I guess this all means that the frenetic energy and constant events of the holiday season are wrapped up for good for this year. Hope you and yours are starting to feel a little rejuvenated after the stress of December, and that you're gearing up for a great 2016!

What new books did you receive for Christmas? More importantly, what books did you give? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Wouldn't Mind Santa Leaving Under My Tree

"Top Ten Tuesday" is a bookish meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish!

Christmas, Christmas time is here! Time for joy... especially in the form of beautiful, sparkling lights, wreaths and mistletoe, and what some would say "irresponsibly large" mugs of peppermint hot chocolate. And with all of this wishy-washy Washington weather we've got going on this time of year, I'd say it's also time for staying inside and earning that triumphant feeling of completing your Goodreads Challenge for 2015 (75 books complete, yay!).

So, with all of the books that have been rounding out my end-of-the-year reading, it makes sense that I would be placing quite a few titles at high-priority on my Christmas list... so much so, to the point where my Mom almost threatened to not accept it, without a couple of revisions first. Then, even after she went ahead and ordered some, as well as dispersed other titles to other gift-givers (like my cousin, serving as a Secret Santa at an extended family gathering), she let me run loose inside of our local Barnes and Noble, under the pretext of having me choose books for my two younger sisters, too, but also making sure I picked up the titles she had overlooked.

Needless to say, I'm pretty confident in the amount of new books I'm getting for Christmas... in fact, because of the aforementioned Secret Santa, I already got two of the ones on my list! However, for the sake of shaking things up, and giving my Dad some new titles to stay on the lookout for, here is yet another list, of the Top Ten (ish) books I would love to see under the tree come Christmas morning.


1. The Rest of Us Just Live Here, Patrick Ness
I've been talking to everyone about this new YA, and I still have yet to get my hands on it, in part, because I've been holding out for a physical copy. #grabbyhands

2. Why Not Me, Mindy Kaling
Despite my dislike of The Office - yes, yes, just consider it a personality defect and move on or whatever - I died over Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? all the way back in 2012, and am fully ready to get my guffaw on with her sophomore written work.

3. Inside the O'Briens, Lisa Genova
I recently detailed why I'd buy this book for my Mom on a Gift Guide for this year, but afterwards, I've pretty much decided I just want it, too. She can read it afterwards.

4. Six of Crows, Leigh Bardugo
A super-hyped fantasy title, written by the author of the Grisha trilogy? Yes, please.

5. Vicious, V.E. Schwab
Yet another super-hyped title, but also one I've been hearing about consistently for a couple of years now. Its enduring popularity among its readers makes me really want to delve into this story, about
college roommates, turned enemies... with superpowers.

6. Uprooted, Naomi Novik
If the hype weren't enough to get you, the gorgeous cover decisions would have roped me in right quick. A Beauty and the Beast retelling with a lot of new magic to stir things up, I am so ready for this read!

7. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, Marie Kondo and Kathy Hirano
Yes, mother, I really did put a book about cleaning on my Christmas List. One of my resolutions for 2016 is going to be trying to embrace my minimalist side, and this title has been touted by one too many of my favorite YouTubers to be ignored!


8. The Sleeper and the Spindle, Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell 
An astonishingly gorgeous illustrated story, detailing the story of a queen rescuing a princess from a sleeping enchantment. I'm a fairy tale kid through and through.

9. The Game of Love and Death, Martha Brockenbrough
A game of bets and influence between Love and Death, seeing whether the humans they pick to be their unwitting pawns will conquer the forces that threaten to tear them apart: and, bonus points, they pick a couple living in Seattle in the throes of the Great Depression. Score!

10. The Epic Adventures of Lydia Bennet, Kate Rorick and Rachel Kiley 
Say hello to the supes adorbs Ly-dee-yah Bennet, younger sister to snarky, wonderful Lizzie, and unsung star of the Lizzie Bennet Diaries webseries. This installment is actually a continuation, after the LBD ended, so we can see how Lydia recovers from the Wickham heartbreak, and finds her own story beyond the lives of her sisters.

What's on your Top Ten? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Gift Guide 2015: My Mom and My Sisters

Holiday season truth: I LOVE gift guides! True, mainly it's so they can help me figure out what I want for Christmas, but I'm also the kind of person for whom the opportunity to give presents is just as grand as the joy of receiving them. There's nothing better than knowing you've bought someone just the right thing, so even though I've already perfected my gifts for my family back in November, I can't help but daydream what I'd buy them (if I had all the money in the world... maybe one day!). 

My Gift Guides I did a while back in 2014 for Mother's Day and Father's Day got quite a bit of traffic, which makes me think that it was only the perfect time to do another seasonal installment of a gift guide, but out of the five other members of my family, I decided to focus purely on the most important women in my life: my Mom, and two younger sisters! (Dad and baby bro, maybe you'll get your own gift guide some other time.)


What she's like and what she likes:
A high-powered hospital administrator who actually graduated from UW with her undergrad in English, Mama loves books when she can actually get around to finding time to read them. She likes nonfiction and women's lit, especially the kind that makes you cry, and likes to pass off the books she enjoys on to me... so I've got to make sure they are titles I'll like, too!

Why I can't buy her any more presents: 
She's notoriously unyielding when it comes to the yearly edict that she really doesn't want anything, and a couple of costly family things have come up recently that has shrunk her list of acceptable gifts to a quite small margin. 

But if I could, I would buy her... 

A God in Ruins, Kate Atkinson
The companion novel to Atkinson's Life After Life - which I've already passed along to my mother, and is currently sitting on her bedside table - this would be the perfect period-set piece to have a good cry about.
10% Happier, Dan Harris 
A book about how little changes in your life and outlook, can result in tangible improvements to your happiness! Even if you don't have much time at all in your busy schedule, you can still find ways to improve your attitude.
The Royal We, Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
There's no one in our family who quite understands my fascination with royalty like my mom... she loves Will and Kate almost as much as me! This fictional account of a whirlwind romance between an American and a future king of England would be perfect.
Inside the O'Briens, Lisa Genova
From the master of conveying the mental state, Lisa Genova - whose work, Still Alice, about a woman coming to terms with her Alzheimer's diagnosis, I've raved about before - comes this moving story about a doting father and police officer, who must face the onset of Huntington's Disease.
Work Rules! Insights from Inside Google, Lazlo Bock 
My mom is obsessed with books about efficiency, specifically in the workplace, so I'm sure she'd be interested as to what goes on at the headquarters of one of the world's biggest internet entities.


What she's like and what she likes: 
Primarily referred to on my blog as "The Cheerleader," Sister #1 recently was elected as president of her sorority for the coming year, even though she's only a sophomore! She's a total culture vulture across all forms of media, and has a fond regard for the paranormal (ie, she things her old room in her sorority house is haunted). 

Why I can't buy her any more presents: 
She's spoiled enough as is, and I already spent $25 on her - the most expensive gift I purchased for anyone this year! - so I really can't swing buying her the books I know she'd love. 

But if I could, I would buy her...

The Thousand Dollar Tan Line (Veronica Mars #1), Rob Thomas
When my sister left me for a job at Yellowstone National Park over the summer, I was moribund, but at least I knew she'd be thinking about me, thanks to the three seasons and movie DVD of Veronica Mars that I made her take with her! Thankfully, she loved it, and now I have someone to obsess over Logan Echolls with. They only think I need to do now is get her to read the novel continuations of the story, as well!
Dirty Rush, Taylor Bell
As a sorority women, I can definitely attest the dramatizations you've seen in contemporary media are completely crazy and have almost no foundation in reality whatsoever. However, every sorority girl I know followed the Rebecca Martinson email scandal with vigor... and if she provided the forward for this novel, it's sure to be a riot.
Simon vs. The Homosapiens Agenda, Becky Albertalli
I laughed and cried and died over this super-adorable book this summer, and I was texting her passages from it the entire time. Might as well make her read it!
Think Like a Freak, Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner 
Freakonomics is one of her favorite nonfiction books, and economics itself is a topic she has to study in the Foster Business School, so this is a real high-interest no-brainer.
A Dream Dictionary
So, every week, my sister and I try to plan out a tea date at our favorite tea store on the Ave, Tea Republik, and talk about what's going on in our lives. One of our favorite things we used to do with our tea, was make a big deal out of reading the dregs at the bottom of the cup, Trelawney-style, and sometimes we do the same thing with dreams! A dictionary would perfectly aid our endeavors.


What she's like and what she likes:
The youngest of the daughters in our family, Sister #2 is a high school sophomore with a penchant for dramatics, both on and off the stage. After an early adolescence spent coming of age in the web-wilds of Tumblr, with an affinity for concerts and the rights of humankind (yay, we raised a music lover and a feminist!), this sister is super cute and super contrary: every instance of, "Ooh, you'd love this book!" releases a tirade on all of the reasons I'd be wrong. 

Why I can't buy her any more presents: 
Like I said, voicing my choice of books for her hasn't worked out very well for me in the past... even though with several of them, she's gone on to buy the book for herself. 

But if I could, I would buy her... 

Rookie, Yearbook 4, Tavi Gevinson
This sister has never been your typical, Seventeen-reading teenager (though she does read Seventeen as well). This Tumblr-child would absolutely be more in tune with the precocious hipster Weetzie Bat vibes of Rookie, an online magazine ran by wunderkind Tavi, whose top online content is printed here in book form!
Audrey, Wait!, Robin Benway
This novel, about a teenage girl who has to cope with the fallout when her ex-boyfriend's band gets famous with a song about her, would definitely appeal to my band-following baby sis.
The Glam Guide, Fleur de Force
She loves all things beauty and makeup - and is far better at applying both of those things than I was at her age! - and she's a fan of quite a couple of YouTubers, so I have a feeling she might like this book (and if not, I've been a follower of Fleur's for like a year now, so I'd take it, anyways!).
Lost Ocean coloring book, Johanna Basford 
Being a fifteen - almost sixteen - year old is a stressful time! Coloring books are a super-trendy way to unwind, and the coloring pages from Johanna Basford are almost pretty enough to frame when you're done.
We Should All Be Feminists, Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche 
Yeah, yeah, one of these things is not quite like the other. As you might have seen, Sweden recently chose to distribute a copy of this book to every 16 year old in their entire country, as a means of instigating conversation in the classrooms of one of the most gender-equal countries in the world. Like I mentioned before, she's turning sixteen soon enough, as well, and I feel like this would definitely appeal to her burgeoning social justice-y tendencies.

Who are the important women in your life, and what would you gift them with this holiday season? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Monday, December 14, 2015

Review: The Happiness Project (and Finals Week Tips!)

We've hit the part of the Seattle winter where it basically just keeps raining nonstop until February, with just a few gray days thrown in to keep holding on to hope. Similarly, it's also the first day of FINALS WEEK here at UW! Just the right time for me to read about a woman's quest to lead the ultimate happy life... 

Gretchen Rubin - a non-fiction writer and ex-lawyer living in New York with her husband and two young daughters - decided that she wanted to be happy. Not that she wasn't already... she just knew she wasn't getting as much out of life as she felt she should be. In an effort to prevent herself from watching her own life and her daughter's precious childhoods go by without her full attention, Rubin made the powerful decision to plan out a year of 11 Happiness resolutions, each with their own mini-goals attached. The Happiness Project is her documentation of her year of happy!

First of all, I liked the sentiment behind The Happiness Project a lot. I would bet dollars to donuts that there are a lot of people out there who aren't living their "happiest lives," and that even those who might already feel like they are happy people, might have something to benefit from little tweaks to their daily lifestyle, schedule, and attitude, that Rubin suggests. And it also appeals to my need for structured improvement in my own life: I'm a super goals-oriented person, and will flock to anything about being more happy and productive, so this was a concept I bought into pretty completely.

Which might explain why I wish there was more delineation within the book as to how a reader might be able to implement this program for themselves. Thankfully, there is plenty of information available elsewhere - for starters, Rubin's blog and Your Happiness Project starter tips on her website -  but yet, it all pales in comparison to the amount of work she says she did gearing up for it. If there had been more concrete, replicable work displayed in her own book, I think it would have been easier to grasp the breadth of what kind of effort she put in.

However, I realize that's potentially a matter of personal taste. Of the problems I had with the book, the ones that I did have were mainly matters of personal choosing; for instance, the resolutions she chose to develop and the manner in which they were discussed. Parts of the discussion within the book were also a little gratuitous and self-indulgent, and a little like bragging.

The biggest problem I had, in terms of "buying in" to The Happiness Project, was her treatment of the topics of depression. She acknowledged that the lack of depression in her life, versus those else who might follow her plan, would provide a notable difference, but didn't attempt to explore the topic at all. She also didn't attempt to apply or describe the application of her Project plan to any alternative lifestyles other than her upper middle class, straight, white, pretty one. I felt like a lot of her experiences just weren't translatable to a large amount of people, and she didn't acknowledge those areas of difference, nor does she make any motions to explore them further. That isn't exactly what she set out to do with the book, but it would have provided additional context and interest to the results of her project.

Final Verdict: The Happiness Project was an optimistic and friendly look at ways to improve your happiness, but  didn't address areas in the lives of readers that might serve to prevent it. While the topic was fun, the application and method wasn't terribly clear.

And how about this Final(s) Verdict: If there's anything in the deep, dark, gloomy days of winter that might make your life even more of a downer, it's Finals Week. Here are some tips from me, as to how you can knock out those last few obstacles between you and the golden days of Winter Break!

  • Don't get overwhelmed. As much as you may feel like you're being crushed by looming projects and exams, and as much as you think that all of your roomies and friends are getting done before you, there are still people on campus who are in the same situation. Everything you have to do is doable. You just need to get it done. 
  • Accept where you are now, and only go up from there. It's easy enough to send yourself into a massive shame-spiral when prepping for Finals: oh, if only you had just made study guides earlier / gone to the review sessions / reviewed the class lecture slides / etc! The fact is, you're where you're at right now, and the only thing you can do is go forward. 
  • Know your knowledge style. For me, that means making expansive handwritten review notes with lots of color-coordinated post-its and having all of my books within arm's reach. For you, that might mean listening to lecture audio while writing out a million flashcards and brainstorming essay topics with friends. Learn what methods work best for you, and employ them to your advantage. 
  • Take fun breaks! The only thing you're going to get from keeping your nose to the grindstone for long periods of time is a very messed up nose. Besides, it's the holiday season, and there are way too many bright, glittery things to check out to just sit inside all day! Even if it's a 10-minute Pinterest-palooza, give yourself time to sit back in the midst of a heavy study crunch. 

Are you done with your Finals yet? What are some of your favorite study tips? Let me know, in the comments below! 

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Review: The Queen of the Tearling

This book had come recommended by so many, and was on the list of books I was most excited to pick up for my Blogoversary in July. However, I didn't get the chance to really devote myself to its political intrigue and high fantasy world until I was finished with some of the busiest parts of my Fall... but after that, I was completely committed.

The Queen of the Tearling, by Erika Johansen, follows the journey of Kelsea, a young girl raised in secret, with the knowledge that she would become Queen some day. As she battles skillful assassins and treacherous court life in her quest to reclaim her throne and title, she finds that the realities of life in the kingdom she was raised to reign are even more terrifying than those who try to keep her from it. She'll be the one to change everything... whether or not her enemies are ready to keep up.  

This book is addicting: frenetic pace, quiet power, strong and driven characters... and, of course, high fantasy, which I love. Lots of twists and turns, and secrets-to-be-revealed. However, like I also said, it took me a while to get around to finishing this book. I wanted to read it, but I wanted to take the time to really read it fully, and in the end, I wasn't disappointed that I took it slow. When I did get the chance to commit to a page count, I soared through it, that kind of effortlessly enjoyable reading where you happen to glance up at the page number, and think, Wow, am I on Page Whatever already? Still, I had to set out to deliberately make the time for it. 

When it comes to the world-building, it was a pretty unique high fantasy novel, in background... yes, I'm talking about the 24th century slant. Yeah, this book has a setting that contains recognizable elements of the past, while also being set in the future! As it turns out, modern medicine and technology have died in a post-apocalyptic crossing voyage, a kind of utopian Noah's Ark event, that has plunged the world into a magic-laced Dark Ages. So... beat that. 

Another interesting angle to the novel, was that it has a deeply feminist slant, especially in the opinions of  Kelsea, our main character. I was actually a little surprised to hear people be skeptical about it for those kinds of reasons: they had heard it was very political. When I think of politics in high fantasy, I think of the court intrigue in Game of Thrones, and while there is quite a bit of that, what my friend was talking about was actually the strong political statements being made in the context of the narrative. 

Keslea is passionately feminist (yay!), but that passion is also matched with expressed strongly atheistic sentiments (enabled a little bit by some strong ecclesiastical subterfuge and corruption), and there's also commentary on issues of slavery, pedophilia (especially in terms of men in positions of power), extreme poverty, and more. Phew! That's quite a laundry list of issues represented in the context of one work. 

However, none of these political opinions are shoehorned into the story itself... they all make sense within the context of what's happening in the world at the heart of the story. Still, yes, it does feel a little political at times, but not needlessly. 

One thing I don't necessarily agree with is the classification of the novel as YA - which I've seen done in a couple of different places - as opposed to just regular Fantasy, mainly because of that kind of political nature, but also the brutality of the violence and overt nature of some sexual themes of the book. I just think it found more themes in common with Game of Thrones than Throne of Glass, but then again, members of both those audiences might enjoy this novel as well. 

Still, this book might be one of my favorite reads of the whole year, and it definitely wasn't a quick one. If I waited half a year to get my hands on the first installment of the franchise for my bloggoversary, you can bet one of the first things I'm doing after 2015 is over is getting my hands on its sequel.

Final Verdict: The Queen of the Tearling, though thick with detail and tough topics, is also a fierce adrenaline rush kind of read. You can't read it in one afternoon, but that doesn't mean you won't want to try. Definitely pick up a copy!